Battle of the Bands

In ‘Beatles vs. Stones,’ Professor John McMillian examines the careers of the two greatest rock and roll bands of the 20th century

Mick and Paul FinalIt’s an age-old tale: two popular bands have a fight, the media covers both sides, and both groups get plenty of publicity.

It certainly worked for the clean-cut Beatles and the wild Rolling Stones, two of the biggest rock bands in history. The rift between the groups was legendary, and is still debated among music fans today. But according to History Professor John McMillian, that famous feud was a complete fraud.

“In reality, the two groups were good friends,” McMillian said.

In his new book, “Beatles vs. Stones,” McMillian takes a closer look at the interaction between the two groups and how the rumored fight may have started.

“In 1968, there was a huge debate among rock fans about the politics of the two groups,” he said. “The thinking was that the Beatles were hippies, and the Stones were part of the New Left. It was a silly debate, and it was started by the fans.”

It’s been the subject of much discussion among fans and scholars, but McMillian brings a fresh take on the subject.

“People are convinced there’s nothing new to be said on this topic,” he said. “But I’ve got new source material.”

Rather than rely on the usual books and recordings, he went to a different source: underground press and magazines.

“I’ve probably spent about $3,000 on eBay buying vintage teen magazines,” he laughed. “I’ve got complete sets of the fan magazines for both the Beatles and the Stones, as well as lots of others.”

Inside those magazines he found plenty of evidence that the fans were largely driving the argument.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the age of their fans,” he said. “Especially for the Beatles in the U.S., their fan base was incredibly young.”

“Beatles vs. Stones” has enjoyed critical success. The New York Times reviewed it, saying, “Even the most gnarled and intransigent veterans of the Beatles-Stones debates will emerge enlightened by this book. McMillian is a scholar of the ’60s underground press, and his deft references to those far-flung sources demonstrate how profoundly these bands’ songs, statements and actions roiled the counterculture.”

For McMillian, seeking out underground sources for the great debate was the next natural step.

“Any good historian is always looking for new evidence,” he said. “You’ve got to be industrious. You’ve got to seek out new material. I write the kind of books that I would enjoy reading myself. My hope is that readers will enjoy it just as much as I do.”