Beatles vs. Stones

On the occasion of a new book by Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, we explore the musical smackdown of the ages by asking a few other prominent Chicagoans to weigh in. Choose a side in the comments below.

(Left) The Beatles in 1967 after the completion of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; (right) The Rolling Stones in 1967 in London’s Green Park



We rank the 40 best albums ever by Chicago musicians

The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? The debate over which is the greater band has fueled arguments since both were recording Chuck Berry songs. This fall, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, the hosts of Chicago Public Radio’s Sound Opinions, have upped the ante with a new book, The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry (Voyageur Press; $35), that compares the two groups side by side, examining drummers, managers, and more. DeRogatis won’t admit his loyalties, but Kot definitively puts himself in the Stones’ camp. “I loved the Beatles, but the Stones had that edge to everything they did,” says the Chicago Tribune critic. “There was a certain time when [singer Mick] Jagger was fairly consistently voicing contempt for what mainstream society was turning into, what was valuable, what it held dear, what kind of people it was turning out. I grew up in a blue-collar suburb of Syracuse where there was a cookie-cutter thing, thinking, There’s got to be more than this. Their attitude was very appealing.” We asked a few other prominent Chicagoans to weigh in—we hope you’ll weigh in, too, in the comments below.

“The Beatles have a deeper appreciation of all music. There’s a humor, there’s a Broadway sense, and later on, the Indian stuff came in. The Beatles were always taking in stuff and filtering stuff out to us. There’s such a classical sense of arrangement, and their harmonies—what the Beatles did vocally is amazing.” –Jimmy Vivino, music director and bandleader for Conan O’Brien’s new talk show on TBS. Vivino moonlights in the Beatles tribute band the Fab Faux. They perform on November 13th at the Vic Theatre; for info,


“Once the Beatles realized they could do more in the studio, they didn’t compromise the quality of the music that was being written, but they went into the songs and created them inside themselves: double- tracking, multitracking, playing things backward, using orchestras in ways they’d never been used before. And on top of that you’ve got these amazing melodies.” –Chris Connelly, musician, novelist, and manager of Reckless Records in Wicker Park. Connelly reads from his novel Ed Royal on November 6th at Quimby’s;


“If you asked me 25 years ago, I’d say the Rolling Stones, but today I’ll take the Beatles. I guess I’m more laid back. In my old days I can relax and listen to the Beatles. It feels good. The songs are great songs.” –Joel Quenneville, head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks


“The songs are beautifully crafted and complex. There’s a lot of nuance there. Paul [McCartney] was one of the greatest bass players of all time. He would put the bass on after everything else was finished, and it shows. The bass lines are so melodic, and they bounce off the other stuff.” –Rob Kassinger, double bass with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For a list of November performances, visit


“In terms of sheer beauty and incredible innovativeness, some of the most beautiful rock ’n’ roll songs that have been written have been by the Beatles, and they would try anything. Some of the keys they were playing in were outrageous. They are phenomenal poets. The closest writing teams we have to look at were Lerner and Loewe and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Lennon and McCartney were of that caliber.” –Mark Delavan, baritone, who portrays Renato in Verdi’s The Masked Ball at the Lyric Opera, beginning November 15th;


“I’m a big fan of both bands, but the Stones now captivate me a lot more. I keep finding things, the details of the inflection of the voice or the guitar parts, and get a fresh enjoyment of it. Keith Richards’s rhythm guitar is fantastic. The open tunings are just magnificent. I also love Mick Jagger’s gift for delivering lyrics. Every single syllable has such conviction.” –Steven Rings, assistant professor of music at the University of Chicago, who is teaching a course this fall on the analysis of song cycles, including works by Schubert, Schoenberg, and Bob Dylan


“My more intellectual side likes the Beatles’ delicacy and complexity, but the Stones’ raw, raunchy, raucous, dark aspect sets them apart for me. It’s appreciating somebody else going to those deeper, darker places so I don’t have to do it myself.” –Michael Darling, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Contemporary art with a side of teen spirit? Darling curated Kurt, an exhibition of artists influenced by Kurt Cobain, at the Seattle Art Museum earlier this year.


“I don’t think the Stones match the number of purely great songs as the Beatles, even though they have been around for so much longer, but I prefer the Stones’ great songs. I like the dirt and the menace and the drums and bass underbelly in Stones songs.” –Ronan Marra, writer and director of Aftermath, opening November 6th at Signal Ensemble Theatre; Marra has written Aftermath, a jukebox musical about the late Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, who died mysteriously in 1969.


“The Rolling Stones are like riesling—razor sharp and with great longevity. The Beatles are like merlot, kind of easygoing, soft, and palatable, but they don’t have the hard edges of the Rolling Stones. I don’t get the visceral goose bumps from the Beatles that I get from the Rolling Stones.” –Alpana Singh, director of wine and spirits for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and host of Check, Please! on WTTW. Singh joins a panel discussion titled “The Perfect Meal,” part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, November 14th;


Photography: (Beatles) John Pratt/Stringer/Hulton Archive; (Stones) ©Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis



4 years ago
Posted by Lou80

It's the Beatles for me. The Beatles had 2 phenomenal singers in John and Paul, 3 great songwriters, an amazing bass player, a drummer that fit the band's ethos perfectly, an obsession with innovation, and an incredible diversity in their song styles. With the Beatles I want to listen to entire albums and just revel in the sound and the experimentation. And it's music that doesn't exclude anyone. I don't listen to it with nostalgia but with an ear for what it says to me now.

With the Stones, there are some great songs. They have a very singular sound but it has never really changed past a certain point. Mick is a great song stylist but not a great singer and I get bored of his voice. I'm happy with a compilation of their greatest hits. Plus their songs are too geared toward men. When I listen to their songs, it's with nostalgia, for an age when I thought rude, drunk, and depraved was a fine way to go through life. But it isn't, unless you've got a bank account like Mick's or Keith's.

4 years ago
Posted by strangebru

The Beatles are my all time favorite band. There harmonies, knack for a great pop song, lyrics, what can I say, were tops. They were even writing great songs for other bands, like Peter and Gordon’s World Without Love. Need I say more?
But the Stones were always considered the ‘bad boys’ and were often over looked for some of their, shall I say for lack of a better word, ‘prettier’ songs. I compiled a short list of their more melodic, sometimes even classical, sensitive and emotional songs. I personally think that at times their songs were surprisingly well crafted and rose well beyond what most people thought of them.
As Tears Go By
Lady Jane
Ruby Tuesday
Backstreet girl
She's a rainbow
Salt of the Earth
Wild horses

4 years ago
Posted by prudenceabbey

In 1966 when I was 16 I was absolutley in love with The Beatles,I had been for 2 years.Kids in my school seemed to think you had to be a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan(or neither and you were just a nerd.)For me there was no comparison.I loved The Beatles,but I did like some of the Stones songs too.I did not care if I was supposed to be one or the other.Too me that was ridiculous. I liked a lot of songs by other groups.But the Beatles were it for me, no one could even come close,and to date no one ever has,and I doubt anyone ever will.What other group ( or solo artists) have the second and now even third generation kids latched onto? By far, The Beatles.

4 years ago
Posted by Mr_Butterworth

it's like comparing rhythm and melody...whats your favorite color black or white?

4 years ago
Posted by RockNRoll

Beatles were for the hippies and the Stones are for the rocker.

4 years ago
Posted by Zahdio

No comparison. The Beatles were and are a true phenomenon. There were no weak points in their makeup. Great writing, great voices, great instrumentals. The Stones were great, but of a lower magnitude. It seems weird that anyone could ask for such a ridiculous evaluation. I guess you had to be there.

4 years ago
Posted by kat

When asked the Beatles or Stones question, my answer has always been The Kinks.

4 years ago
Posted by chuckago

This like comparing apples to oranges, they are both wonderful yet quite different. Just remember the Rolling Stones first hit in the U.K. was written for them by Lennon and McCartney "I wanna be your man" The Beatles then let Ringo sing it!!The Beatles also sang backup vocals on "Dandelion/We love you" by the Stones. Brian Jones played sax on the Beatles song "You know my name, look up the number".They were friends and rivals, together and apart creating the soundtrack to many lives!!!

4 years ago
Posted by Shades

In my teenage years (60's) I liked the Beatles and thought the Stones were OK. But when they started going off the deep end (in my opinion) with the change in hair, glasses, and music (Abbey Road, etc.??)they lost me. I did not care for their looks nor their music. Today the Stones still rock me! I am 58 and everytime the Stones are in town I am there. I cannot believe the teenagers today that are dancing in the aisles at the last concert in Soldier Field (2005??). I noticed that and it truly amazed me how a band in existence for over 40 yrs. can turn on such a multi aged crowd like the Stones do. The Beatles never have done that...I know, several are deceased! GO STONES!!!

4 years ago
Posted by ihateyou56

Dude, you all are missing the point. The Beatles are the gold standard, the Cadillac, as they used to say, of rock and roll, rock music, and pop music of the last 5000 years of recorded human history. The Stones, however, are (or were) the definition of rock 'n roll. They understood it and they took it to my generation with drive, intelligence and an anti-social, pro-drug attitude that suited me just fine. The songwriting, the rythyms, the forceful vocals and the incredible beat supplied by Keith and Charlie are the real thing and don't forget the undisguised sneering at all the phoniness and hypocrisy of women, relationships and society in general. Times may have changed but it was all the real thing. Who's driving your plane?

4 years ago
Posted by Uncle Frank

The Beatles started out as an Everly Brothers clone but with a little bit more rock than the duo. They were also fortunate to have emerged during a weak period in popular musical history. If you listen to the other songs that were on the Billboard top 100 at that time, it is readily apparent that there was little competition. The Stones were at their peak when Mick Taylor was with the band and have never come close to that since then. Both bands had their high and low points and are equally good.

4 years ago
Posted by Mark1000

The creative legacy of the Beatles is unmatched by any group. But I always thought The Who were a far better band than the Rolling Stones. An electrifying, unmatched live show in the early day. Then there was song writing. I liked the Stones, but I'd put their legacy third among the great bands of that era.

4 years ago
Posted by df1898

Back in the '60s, the debate raged among teenagers. Who was better? Girls seemed to fall in line behind the Beatles. And boys liked the harder-edged Stones. Clearly The Beatles' catalog is far superior to the Stones'. The Beatles could have issued singles off every track on those early Capitol LPs. The Stones? Forty Licks. A great Forty Licks to be sure, but there's still only 40 of them. Looking back on it now, we were darn lucky. My kids grew up in the '80s and '90s listening to "artists" such as New Kids on the Block. Maybe that's why they later developed such an appreciation for The Beatles, The Stones and Dylan -- among others -- when they finally matured.

4 years ago
Posted by Zarina

Some poster above praised the Stones for attracting a multi-aged crowd nowadays and said: "It truly amazed me how a band in existence for over 40 yrs. can turn on such a multi aged crowd like the Stones do. The Beatles never have done that." ... Actually one of them has. (1) I've been at a recent Paul McCartney concert and he brought in the same multi-aged crowd, from young kids to old folks, and a surprisingly large number of people in their 20s and 30s, singing and dancing like nuts. (2) Given that the Beatles stopped touring in 65-66 because of the screaming you really can't compare the two bands as live acts.

4 years ago
Posted by Jean Costello

This argument is possibly one of the most pointless and stupid in modern music.

The ONLY reason people are still interested in the Stones is that we can't believe they're still alive.

Had the Stones cashed out the same year as the Beatles did we wouldn't even be talking about them.

They would be nothing more than an interesting moment of 60's culture.

'Reinventing themselves' my foot. They've done nothing but recycle themselves since 1970.

The Beatles may have started in rock'n'roll but they quickly became something even more; an entirely new category.

There has been nothing like them before, during, or since.

Comparing the Stones to the Beatles is like comparing Jackson Pollack to Leonardo da Vinci.

A waste of time.

4 years ago
Posted by Fredmurr62

What did the Beatles ever do for American Blues Music?

4 years ago
Posted by Jinkies Scoob

i'm sure our authors have managed to mention "wilco" at least 40 times in this book...regardless, the beatles wrote songs that used more than I, IV, & V chords. i would not compare/contrast them based on their 'look'; this leads us into a visceral comparison, mr kot/derogatis, that is superficially representative of these groups. they're not even worth spending the time/resources in drawing a comparison because we're not even discussing "apples to apples" here.

3 years ago
Posted by Acewrite

It's apples vs. oranges, basically. In terms of recordings, the Beatles made MUCH better records, MUCH more consistently. Their percentage of filler/bum tracks has to be the lowest ever, and only maybe two that I would call outright stiffs (What Goes On? and I'm Down), which can't be said of any other band/musician that I can think of, even greats like the Stones or Dylan. There are songs that I hate, mainly McCartney's Granny Music like Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, but I still have to grant that they display great talent. Also they incorporated a wider variety of things, a greater expanse of different kinds of sounds. However, if you want to talk about soul, about groove, or how they meshed as a real band, the Stones win. Also I feel their sensibility is just closer to my own. So, paradoxically, though I think the Beatles produced and recorded more great songs, I feel closer to the Stones and their sculpting of the blues.

3 years ago
Posted by Woot

I respect the hell out of the Beatles for the way they revolutionized songwriting. They proved that you can do pretty much anything in the studio- the sky's the limit. They also had one of the best pairs of lyricists in Lennon and McCartney. But there are only a few songs of theirs that really get me stumbling over myself. It's possible I have not listened to enough of them, but I've listened thoroughly to the albums considered their best, and compared to what I consider the Stones' best, there's no contest in my mind. I listened to Sgt. Pepper probably three times through altogether and then never went back to it, whereas I have been listening to Exile on Main St. for a good eight months now. The Stones have the element of soul that I find missing in the Beatles' music, and I infinitely prefer anything with the blues over pop. I definitely consider the Beatles to be a pop band. Instrumentally, the Stones annihilate the Beatles. I would have to give the lyrical edge to the Beatles most of the time, but songs like "Wild Horses" and "Torn and Frayed" prove they can dig deep and get those really beautiful lines. Stones all the way.

3 years ago
Posted by ZORKO

The Beatles.

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