Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: 'The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry' by Jim DeRogatis & Greg Kot

In his introduction to The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry, Jim DeRogatis acknowledges that his and co-writer Greg Kot’s opinions may “make you curse one or the other of us as you consider hurling this book across the room...” Indeed I considered hurling their point-counterpoint on various aspects of Rock & Roll’s two biggest acts across my room more than once. But I refrained from doing so because this book is just too damn beautiful to treat with such violence. In an era when more and more people are reading books on creepy little handheld devices, Voyageur Press has made the real thing that much more attractive by creating a lavish package. In homage to the Satanic Majesties Request album jacket, the book cover features a neat hologram that reveals the faces of either the ’63 Beatles or the ’68 Stones depending on the angle at which you view it. Within that cover you’ll find loads of wonderful full-color and lovely B&W photos of the Fab Eleven (that’s Misters Lennon, Jagger, McCartney, Richards, Harrison, Watts, Starr, Wyman, Jones, Taylor, and Wood) and their related memorabilia. A great deal of these pictures was new to me, and I’ve read my share of books on The Beatles and The Stones.

I may seem to be spending undue space here going on about the design of The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, but it really is a major attribute of a book that can basically be read in a couple of hours. DeRogatis and Kot are the co-hosts of the music chat show “Sound Opinions”, and their book is apparently a lot like a transcript of one of their programs (admittedly, I’ve never listened to “Sound Opinions” because talk radio puts me to sleep). I really liked the format: a couple of Rock & Roll geek pals argue about whether The Beatles or The Stones were better conjurers of psychedelic rock or if McCartney or Wyman was the superior bassist (no contest, of course), etc. Theirs is certainly a fresh approach to two bands that have been written about and written about and written about and written about. The problem is their tendency to be dismissive without really supporting their opinions. If McCartney’s “Blackbird” is one of his definitive performances while “Oh! Darling”, in DeRogatis’s words, “just sucks,” I’m going to need a little more explanation. And good luck finding a Beatles fan who won’t be completely turned off by DeRogatis’s opinion that the Yellow Submarine film is “a turd” or a Stones freak who isn’t confounded when he writes off the amazing “Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” as nothing more than a “cheesy Big Top conceit.” DeRogatis’s opinions are particularly difficult to take seriously when he regularly makes sloppy errors that even the most novice fan of these bands will spot. He mistakenly credits a line in “Getting Better” Lennon wrote to McCartney, states that “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer” appeared on either side of the same single, and most embarrassing of all, rates “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” among Charlie Watts’s five greatest performances. Anyone who has ever perused the inner sleeve of Let It Bleed knows that Jimmy Miller played drums on that track. Kot pulls a couple of boners, too, when he applauds Brian Jones for playing the oboe on “Ruby Tuesday” and the recorder on “Back Street Girl”. DeRogatis’s suggestion that “She’s a Rainbow” is “about oral sex with a woman who’s having her period” is simply bizarre. Equally bizarre is when he holds up “You Gotta Move”—Jagger’s most outrageously mannered blues performance— as a rare example of the singer’s sincerity. Huh?

Regardless of the quality of their criticism, I liked the fact that DeRogatis and Kot seriously discussed topics that generally get overlooked in a lot of books about these bands, such as Wyman’s bass playing, Harrison’s guitar skills, and The Stones’ psychedelic phase (and I must doff my pointy Merlin cap to DeRogatis for having the guts to say what we've all known for 40-odd years: Satanic Majesties is better than Sgt. Pepper's). And though the book does suffer from its errors, offhand criticisms, and weird assertions, it’s a quick, breezy, and generally fun read. Any fan who already thinks “The White Album” is a better record than Exile On Main Street will not change his/her mind after reading the guys’ contrary argument, but that fan may next find him/herself sprinting to the turntable to hear those records with fresh ears. And that’s exactly what DeRogatis and Kot intended when they wrote this book.

Buy The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry at Amazon.com here.
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