The long-running debate of whether The Rolling Stones copied The Beatles is one that has lingered for so long that even Paul McCartney offered his retrospective view on the age-old debate. Speaking to Howard Stern last year, McCartney cited: “I mean, we started to notice that whatever we did, The Stones sort of did it shortly thereafter… We did Sgt. Pepper; then The Stones did a sort of psychedelic album, there was a lot of that.”
Of course, the album that McCartney is referring to is Their Satanic Majesties Request which is when The Beatles’ influence over The Stones was most apparent. Even the album cover seemed to be a bit of an ironic take on Sgt. Peppers kaleidoscopic LSD splurge, which was released about six months prior. However, as McCartney hints, The Stones’ work was always heavily rooted in the blues, which doesn’t necessarily mix as well with the Hindustani influences that were colouring the Fab Four’s palette at the time.
This is actually a notion that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards tend to agree with. While Jagger dismissed the album as “nonsense”, Keith Richards is a firm believer that they strayed a little too far from their blues roots for the record to mimic the eclectically veering Beatles, and it had a negative effect on their sound.
As ‘Keef’ told Esquire: “If you’re the Beatles in the ’60s, you just get carried away—you forget what it is you wanted to do. You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like Satanic Majesties — ’Oh, if you can make a load of sh*t, so can we.’”
Later in his memoir, the guitarist claimed: “None of us wanted to make [Satanic Majesties], but it was time for another Stones album, and Sgt. Pepper’s was coming out, so we thought basically we were doing a put-on.” He and his bandmates have claimed that they were simply so “strung out” from endless recording and touring in the period that they figured the easiest root would be to cruise on the backseat of a bandwagon.
While Richards doesn’t mind the songs ‘2000 Light Years from Home’, ‘Citadel’ and ‘She’s a Rainbow’, he ultimately concludes that the record “was a load of crap”. In fact, ‘2000 Light Years from Home’ and ‘She’s a Rainbow’ are the only two songs from the album that the band have played live.
While fatigue and a loss of artistic direction may have been cited by Jagger and Richards as the key problems, Bill Wyman also offers up an explanation pertaining to the heady studio atmosphere at the time. As he writes in his memoir: “Every day at the studio it was a lottery as to who would turn up and what – if any – positive contribution they would make when they did. Keith would arrive with anywhere up to ten people, Brian with another half-a-dozen and it was the same for Mick. They were assorted girlfriends and friends. I hated it! Then again, so did Andrew (Oldham) and just gave up on it. There were times when I wish I could have done, too.”
Ultimately, whatever the reasons may be, aside from the few tracks that Richards championed, a lot of the others admittedly miss the mark to some degree relegating the record to the lower echelons of The Stones’ outings.