When the Rolling Stones entered the scene in 1963, their comparison with The Beatles was immediate. The media began planting a false rivalry in the public eye, even though they were modelled initially after the fab four by then-manager Andrew Loog Oldham. But, rather than compete on the same field, he changed his mind and put the Stones forward as the dangerous flipside of the coin.
He styled them with unmatched clothing, long hair, and an unclean appearance. He wanted to make the Stones “a raunchy, gamy, unpredictable bunch of undesirables” and to “establish that the Stones were threatening, uncouth and animalistic”. So, when the two bands finally got the chance to meet for the first time, the tension had already been bubbling.
In 1963, while performing at the UK’s Crawdaddy Club, bass guitarist Bill Wyman spotted The Beatles standing in the audience. “We’re playing a pub … and we’re whacking out our show, and everybody’s having a good time, ya know? I suddenly turn around: there’s these four guys in black leather overcoats standing there. Oh, fuck me! Look who’s here!”
The Beatles had already become the next hottest thing in England, so the Stones were shocked that they’d decided to attend. But Ringo Starr of the Beatles remembered the night in a positive light. “The audience screamed and shouted and danced on tables,” he recalled. “I remember standing in some sweaty room and watching them on the stage. Keith and Brian—wow! I knew then that the Stones were great.”
Wyman continued: “So when we finished our set, we got chatting to them and had beers, and they stayed for the second set. And afterward, we all went back to the flat in Chelsea, where Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] and Brian [Jones] lived, hung out all night playing blues music, just talking about music and became great mates.”
It turns out that, although they’d been pitted against each other by the media, they ended up getting on really well and were admirers of each others’ work. Keith Richards even later admitted that Oldham’s desire to create a clear separation from the Beatles’ image was a necessary move.
Despite this need to categorise them as opposites, the bands stayed good friends throughout the years. George Harrison had helped get the band signed to their record label Decca, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the Stones’ second single, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man,’ McCartney and Jagger coordinated their record release schedules so that they wouldn’t have overlapping hits. Lennon had once partaken in an LSD-fuelled road trip with Keith Richards and even attended the famously unaired television special, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. On it, he played with Richards, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell, forming an all-star band by the name of The Dirty Mac.
Their “rivalry” continues on even as recently as 2020. In an interview with Howard Stern, McCartney said of the Stones, “They are rooted in the blues. When they are writing stuff, it has to do with the blues. We had a little more influences… There’s a lot of differences, and I love the Stones, but I’m with you. The Beatles were better.”
Frontman Mick Jagger responded in Rolling Stone, “That’s so funny. He’s a sweetheart. There’s obviously no competition.” He continued with, “We started doing stadium gigs in the Seventies and [are] still doing them now,” he continued. “That’s the real big difference between these two bands. One band is unbelievably luckily still playing in stadiums, and then the other band doesn’t exist.”
Although there is always pleasure in the faux rivalries of rock bands, like professional wrestling, it’s a spectacle that is hard to turn away from. But, the reality is, they likely found more in common with one another than anyone else around them.