Do we really listen to certain music because we think the band or the singer is ‘cool’? I do hope not.
We certainly weren’t giving the matter any thought at as we luxuriated in the riches of 60s pop that rained down on us after the success of Love Me Do and Please Please Me.
The whole ‘were you Beatles or were you Stones’ question was a post-rationalisation by NME writers more interested in their own philosophical musings than the music itself.
I was 13 when I heard Love Me Do, 14 when Please Please Me was released three months later.
It was a momentous time for me. Between the release of those two records, just before my fourteenth birthday, my mother had given my sister and I a carrier bag each – containing underwear and pyjamas – and told us to go to a friend’s house down the road.
And that was the last we saw of the house we had lived in for seven years with a stepfather who had beaten and bullied us. We had been, largely, cowed into submission.
But in my fourteenth year, I had grown five inches and with increased height had come physical strength. I used the height and the strength to fight back. Oddly, it was that – me fighting back – that made my mother decide it was time to go.
Three days later, pathetic carrier bags in hand – all we had left of our previous lives – we were back at my grandfather’s house, where we had lived for six years prior to this disastrous marriage.
Back to me sharing a bed with Uncle Jack; back to one tap, cold water only, in the scullery; back to the toilet out in the back yard; back to bare floorboards and such cold that ice would form on the inside of the windows.
Do you remember that winter? January 1963 was the coldest of the 20th century; the coldest recorded for 150 years. But I was comfortable with my background and the emergence of The Beatles – touted at first as working class lads from Liverpool – could not have been better timed.
These four guys were like me. If they could do it, so could I.
Love Me Do shone through the dross of pretty young Americans called Frankie and Bobby and Ricky.
Mind you, the name – Beatles; that sounded stupid. But, you know, we got used to it.
And then, as the snow took hold and yesterday’s Daily Sketch made do as toilet paper in the iced up backyard loo, Please Please Me came out like the sun.
But even that was eclipsed nine weeks later by the first album.
The Please Please Me album was a revelation. Now we began to realise – these guys are writing their own songs!
But they were also covering songs by people we’d never heard of.
There was the sophistication of Arthur Alexander’s Anna (my personal favourite), the sweet pop soul of Baby It’s You (part-written by Burt Bacharach), the throat-tearing excitement of Twist And Shout (a Motown classic before we knew about Motown).
And standing alongside these ‘professional songs’ were the McCartney-Lennon songs – every bit as good, making excuses to no-one.
And by the way, if you think I got that wrong, check out the back cover of the album sleeve. McCartney-Lennon was the order and stayed so until She Loves You (where it reverted to Lennon-McCartney, as it had been on Love Me Do).
We were now in a different world, and things started moving at a speed that only 14-year-olds could keep up with. In the middle of 1963, along came The Rolling Stones.
Their cover of Chuck Berry’s Come On didn’t sound like a cover (we barely knew who Chuck Berry was at the time; we found out pretty fast); Come On sounded like The Beatles on speed (we didn’t know what speed was……etc).
Which was not altogether a bad thing, because their follow up single was a Lennon-McCartney cover. Jagger and Richards were in the room and watched John and Paul ‘knock out’ I Wanna Be Your Man in 15 minutes. That, and a lot of pressure from their manager Andrew Loog Oldham, persuaded the two Stones they should give this songwriting lark a crack.
Their first attempt was As Tears Go By, a top 10 hit for Marianne Faithfull in June 1964. The Stones themselves took another seven months to ‘dare’ (according to Keith Richards) to release one of their own songs as a single. The Last Time made the top spot, and even cracked the US top 10 for them.
But look at the speed of all this. Between October 1962 and February 1965 – 29 months – the world had been stood on its head. Apart from The Beatles and The Stones, we had The Hollies, Billy J Kramer, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Lulu, Gerry & The Pacemakers.
Not to mention Bob Dylan.
I was studying Grade 7 piano. I refused to attend any more lessons. I told my mother I wanted a guitar. In early 1964, having learned to play three chords in three different keys, I formed my first band.
So do you think, honestly, we had time to sit around asking ourselves, “Is this cool?”
It just was. Bloody cool. And it kept getting cooler. We weren’t bothered whether The Stones were cooler than The Beatles; whether we should be listening to Sandie Shaw; whether Freddie & The Dreamers were just bloody embarrassing.
We understood quality though. We knew Dusty Springfield was a touch above. And we understood that sooner or later we would have to take Bob Dylan seriously. And that it was all over for Elvis.
But we also knew, and you can’t post-rationalise this, that The Beatles were the vanguard, the leaders and the high water mark.
They went from Beatles For Sale to Rubber Soul to Revolver in barely 18 months. They went from Love Me Do to Tomorrow Never Knows in three and a half years.
Now that is cool.
But it doesn’t take anything away from The Stones, who made live their arena. After following The Beatles down the road to psychedelia – a blind alley for The Stones – they put their heads back on straight, recorded Beggar’s Banquet and slowly established themselves as the world’s biggest concert draw. They also, during the next ten years, recorded seven albums replete with stadium anthems that have kept them going for another 40 years.
Which is also cool.
So – all I’m saying – don’t ask again. We didn’t have to take sides. It was all just bloody wonderful. And it still is.
And if you don’t believe me, believe this – Mick Jagger less than a year from his 70th birthday; The Stones celebrating 50 years, and still delivering.