The Beatles v.s. The Rolling Stones

By David Schoen

The Beatles were a legendary British Rock Band formed in Liverpool, England in 1960. The Rolling Stones are a legendary British Rock Band that formed in London, England two years later in 1962. Though many of their appearances, performances, trends, songs, and styles were vastly unique, both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones shared many similar qualities. There is no doubt that the bands had a mutual impact on their English Rock Band counterparts during the musical explosion known as "British Invasion" of the early 1960s. The Beatles even named their 1965 album Rubber Soul after they overheard a musician describe the singing style of The Rolling Stones’s Mick Jagger as “plastic soul.” However, since the Beatles erupted into the music scene two years prior to their London peers, they had a profound influence on the Rolling Stones both musically and visually.


The Beatles and the Rolling Stones both entered the music lexicon at the start of the 1960s. The Beatles consisted of John Lennon (guitar), Paul McCartney (bass), George Harrison (guitar), and Ringo Starr (drums). The Beatles were more prone to creating jangle pop songs with a Liverpudlian Merseyside sound during the early 1960s. Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones originally consisted of Mick Jagger (lead vocals), Keith Richards (guitar), Brian Jones (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass), and Charlie Watts (drums). The Rolling Stones were heavily influenced by the Blues and were seen as a "bad boy" version of the Beatles due to their harder and rougher-sounding songs in their early- to mid-1960s incarnation. The two groups soon found success around the world with Rock songs established with the help of catchy melodies, great guitar-work, memorable lyrics, and skillful beats. Though both styles of the groups were slightly different (with the Beatles screaming their invigorating "Woo!" in "Twist & Shout" whilst The Rolling Stones screamed the more aggressive "Hey! Hey! You! You!" in "Get Off of My Cloud"), the bands had a mutual respect for each other. A direct influence that the Beatles had on the Rolling Stones was the songs the latter group would play. The Beatles-penned song "I Wanna Be Your Man" was lent to the Rolling Stones, proving to be their first hit before the Beatles even recorded their own version of the track. Off-stage, the Beatles also had songs that the Rolling Stones played. During their September 1965 tour of Ireland captured in the film Charlie Is My Darling, the Rolling Stones were seen mimicking the Beatles. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are seen playfully covering three Beatles's songs; "I've Just Seen A Face," "Eight Days A Week," and later "I Feel Fine." But the Beatles's influence on the Rolling Stones included not only the songs to perform, but also the format and sound of a song.

Album and Song Formats

The production formats that the Beatles had for both their songs and overall albums were paralleled in the works of the Rolling Stones. The average length of a Beatles record through 1965 was a little over 33 minutes. The average length of a Rolling Stones album from through 1965 was roughly the same amount of time at a little over 32 minutes. The average number of tracks on a Beatles album by 1965 was 14 and the average number of tracks on a Rolling Stones record by 1965 was 12. Many Beatles records prior to their 1965 album Help! featured a select few covers of old Rock & Roll standards by artists such as Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. The Rolling Stones also copied this technique, covering artists Berry and Holly in the early 1960s before releasing albums primarily made of their own material after 1967. Prior to 1968, many popular music stations would not typically play songs over 4 minutes in length. Contrasting radio norms, the Beatles released the 7-minute single "Hey Jude" on August 26th, 1968. The single proved immediately successful, becoming the longest single to ever top the British charts at the time and spending more time at number one (9 weeks) on the United States Billboard charts than any other Beatles single. The Rolling Stones then released a 7-minute single of their own entitled "You Can't Always Get What You Want" nearly one year later on July 4th, 1969. Both "Hey Jude" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" featured extended ending codas, prominent piano playing, and repeated widespread choruses. Not only did AllMusic's Richie Unterberger state that the song was "the Rolling Stones's counterpart" to "Hey Jude," but Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger even said that he liked what the Beatles did on their song, stating that "the orchestra was not just to cover everything up-it was something extra. We [the Rolling Stones] may do something like that on the next album" in a 1969 interview. The two songs both served as innovative 7-minute epics that pushed the usual borders of radio executives.


During the mid-1960s, both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones moved on from their standard songs. The groups began evolving their songs by using different instruments and creating otherworldly sounds to record increasingly innovative music. The Beatles were one of the first British Invasion groups that used Baroque Orchestration within some of their songs, including session musicians who played cellos, horns, and violins. The Beatles recorded their landmark song "Yesterday" for their fifth album Help! on June 14th, 1965. The orchestration that the Beatles used on "Yesterday" was a major influence on their London rivals. The Rolling Stones began using similar orchestration on a number of their own recordings, starting with their cover of the Marianne Faithful song "As Tears Go By" which they recorded on October 26th, 1965. Later in 1965, guitarist George Harrison grew a fond admiration of Indian culture and music. On the Beatles's sixth album Rubber Soul (released in December 1965), Harrison used an Indian sitar on the second track "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" in accordance with the vocal melody. In The Beatles Anthology from 1995, Harrison said the song "just needed something" so he "picked up the sitar" and "found the notes." The "something" that Harrison used proved quite influential on the Rolling Stones, who would record their number one hit single "Paint It Black" also using the sitar a few months later in March 1966. The Beatles used a flute-like harmonium on their single "Strawberry Fields Forever," released in late 1966. Similarly, the Rolling Stones used flute-like pipes on their single "Ruby Tuesday," released in early 1967, almost a month after The Beatles's "Strawberry Fields Forever." Aside from instruments and sounds, the visual styles of the Beatles also had an influence on the Rolling Stones.

Album Artwork and Titles

The Beatles's eighth album was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, released during the "Summer of Love" in late May 1967. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band featured artwork and songs permeating with hallucinatory psychedelia, instilling a widespread legacy for many to call it one of the most influential and exceptional albums ever made. Rolling Stone Magazine even deemed Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band the greatest album ever made. The Rolling Stones released their psychedelic album Their Satanic Majesties Request in December 1967, featuring equivalent-sounding songs and a nearly identical vivid cover to The Beatles's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Journalist Richie Unterberger of AllMusic wrote that The Rolling Stones's Their Satanic Majesties Request is viewed by many as "sub-Sgt. Pepper posturing." In 1968, the Beatles wanted to move away from their psychedelically ground-breaking phase, with John Lennon even claiming that they wanted to "get back to basic music" in a 1970s interview for The Beatles Anthology. To this end, the artwork for their next album, The White Album, featured minimalist imagery solely with a plain white background and the band's name in the right-center of the cover. The Rolling Stones also used minimalist imagery on their follow-up to Their Satanic Majesties Request, their 1968 album Beggars Banquet. The White Album was released on November 22nd while Beggars Banquet was released on December 6th. Even Beatles album titles were an influence to the Rolling Stones. The Beatles began recording their album Let It Be (featuring a famous title track as well) in early 1969. The title of the Rolling Stones's next album released in December of 1969 was Let It Bleed.

Copying Covers - 1967 Psychedelia in the Beatles's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (top left) vs. the Rolling Stones's Their Satanic Majesties Request (top right). Additionally, 1968 Minimalism in the Beatles's White Album (lower right) vs. the Rolling Stones's Beggars Banquet (lower left).


The appearance of the Beatles even served as an inspiration to the presentation of the Rolling Stones. On February 9th 1964, the Beatles played live on the famous Ed Sullivan Show. Less than 260 days later on October 25th 1964, the Rolling Stones had their first performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Aside from lead singer Mick Jagger and bassist Bill Wyman, the three other members of the Rolling Stones wore eerily similar suits to those that the Beatles wore eight months prior. From May-November 1967, the Beatles wore psychedelic wardrobe for their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover shoot and their later film Magical Mystery Tour. In late December 1967, the Rolling Stones wore identical clothing for their album cover shoot for Their Satanic Majesties Request. The Beatles even allowed some members of the Rolling Stones to sit in during the shootings of some of their music videos during this time, including "A Day in the Life" and "All You Need Is Love." In spring 1968, members of the Beatles grew their hair long during their sessions for The White Album and the Rolling Stones subsequently grew their hair long for their December 1968 concert The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus shortly thereafter.

Though they were a unique band in their own right, the Rolling Stones were clearly influenced by some of the auditory and visual trends that the Beatles were forming throughout the 1960s. To their credit, the Rolling Stones have produced their own distinctive material before and after the Beatles broke up.

Also, the Rolling Stones have still been playing at their own pace, going strong now for nearly 50 additional years since the Beatles broke up. Nonetheless, it is extremely interesting to compare the Rolling Stones before and after the Beatles broke up because many of their similarities may have been more than just coincidences.

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