Music has always been brimming with rivalries, friendly, vitriolic and everywhere in between. If we cast our minds back, we’ll find many examples of our favourite musicians squaring off against one another. The ones that instantly spring to mind are Blur vs Oasis, Drake vs Kanye and Prince vs Michael Jackson, and all three took on very different forms of the notion of rivalry.
Blur and Oasis’ war was certainly the most well publicised of musical rivalries. Centred around album sales and chart positions, it soon descended into a war of words in the press with volleys of snide remarks sent back and forth. There was even a tense charity football match, where the original cause was overlooked in favour of one-upmanship. The ‘Britpop Rivalry’ as it came to be known, embodied the worst of popular music, and looking back it was an overly cringe affair.
We’ve also had plenty of rivalries where musicians hate each other, totally surpassing the musical side of things. Kurt Cobain vs Axl Rose, Tupac vs Biggie, Morrissey vs Robert Smith, hell, even Tommy Lee and Kid Rock have a longstanding feud concerning former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, but that is a story for another day.
It doesn’t have to all be bitter hatred, though. There has long been discussion of the Stones and the Beatles’ rivalry, that back in the ’60s was concerned with who sold the most records and who could top the charts. However, this is largely a fallacy and Beatles bassist Paul McCartney went as far as to call talk of the rivalry a “misnomer”.
It seems that back in the day, musicians were less bothered about rivalries and were more concerned with having a good time. When you look back to the heady days of the ’60s, whilst a very rudimentary time in terms of where society was, you see that a lot of the musicians were friends. United in their will to change the world, they rubbed shoulders and cross-pollinated ideas in a concerted attempt by their generation to break free from the manacles placed upon them by their parent’s generation.
Bands were popping up everywhere, fashion and art boomed, and it resulted in a groundswell that kicked popular culture on its way to become the all-encompassing juggernaut it is today. In this exciting era, the Beatles and the Stones first met at London’s Crawdaddy Club in 1963 and became friends instantly. In a recent interview with Howard Stern, McCartney remembered that: “We all used to just go around London in cars and meet each other and talk about music with the Animals and Eric [Burdon] and all that.”
In this statement, McCartney perfectly captures the essence of the time, where all of its biggest names occupied the same social circle and flew around London having a jet setting life. Two other bands who also embarked were the Birds and the Who.
Don’t you mean the Byrds you might ask? No, we mean London’s The Birds, a rhythm and blues act from Yiewsley, West London. You might be wondering why we’re mentioning this unknown band in the same breath as the Who, the Beatles and the Stones. Well, the Birds’ guitarist was none other than Ronnie Wood, who would go on to play with Jeff Beck, the Creation, Faces and most famously, the Stones themselves.
Being natives of West London, one of the Birds’ local venues was the iconic Ealing Jazz Club. Similar to the role CBGB had a decade later in New York, the Jazz Club became somewhat of a focal point of the ’60s London’s scene. This is where the first iteration of the Stones met in 1962, it hosted Saturday night blues sessions where the likes of Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton played, and it also hosted early gigs by the Who and the Animals.
Given that it was such a hotbed of the stars, there can be no surprise that the Ealing Jazz Club also bred mini rivalries. Here we arrive at our point, one of these was between the Birds and the Who. This is ironic as in 2015, when discussing his memoir How Can It Be?, Wood explained that “Keith Moon actually sat in with us one night, he used to be a big supporter.”
He then went on to let the audience know that the Birds and the Who’s rivalry was all in jest. He recalled: “I remember one night, the Who came down. They had a hit with ‘I Can’t Explain’, and they all came in the Ealing Club saying ‘We’re Number One! We’re Number One!’, and we’re going ‘You Bastards!’ from the stage’. We had a friendly rivalry with them”.
Seemingly, this was the nature of musical rivalries back then, before drugs, music and debauchery took over the industry. They were simpler times, and it seems as if musicians were more supportive of one another then, as narcissism hadn’t taken hold. Even though society was completely different back then, and in many ways a lot worse, there’s a thing or two modern musicians could take from the attitudes of the iconic bands back then. Namely, support your peers.
Listen to Ronnie Wood explain the “rivalry”, below.