Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger on a Train
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones represent two sides of one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest aesthetic debates. In this excerpt from his book Beatles vs. Stones, historian John McMillian describes how the Stones shaped their image in response to what the Beatles had done.
In order to share in the type of the success the Beatles were having, (Rolling Stones manager Andrew) Oldham insisted that the Stones make some image and personnel adjustments. On the theory that six members was at least one too many for a successful group, Oldham made them kick out pianist Ian Stewart – who anyhow had too square a jaw for Andrew’s liking. Keith Richards was bizarrely instructed to drop the “s” from his last name; Keith Richard, Andrew said, “looked more pop.” Meanwhile, he added a “g” to the band’s name, making them the Rolling Stones; otherwise, he said, no one would take them seriously. Twenty-six-year-old Bill Wyman was told to begin pretending he was twenty-one. But most significantly, Oldham persuaded the band to loosen up its performance. Though Jones still postured himself as the group’s leader, Andrew recognized Jagger’s electric appeal, and insisted that he share in the limelight.
The idea to style the Stones as the anti-Beatles, though – to toughen up their image, and encourage them to act as surly and defiant as the dared – came a bit later, and in fact that was the opposite of what Oldham originally had in mind. Instead, one of his first moves was to buy them a set of matching outfits. Wyman remembers a day when Oldham “marched us up to Carnaby Street to put us in suits, tabbed-down shirts and knitted ties.” On other occasions the band could be seen in tight black jeans, black turtlenecks, and Beatle boots. When the Stones debuted on national television, on Thank Your Lucky Stars, they were conscripted into hound’s-tooth jackets, high-buttoned shirts and slim ties, looking every bit as dainty and amiable as the pop bands they despised. Bill Wyman: “It’s obvious to me now that … Andrew was attempting to make us look like the Beatles. From his association with them he was well aware of the power of marketing, and he was initially slotting us as their natural successors rather than as counterparts.”
The Original ROLLING STONES
Band with BRIAN JONES
The following month, though, when the Stones embarked on their first national tour (sharing a spectacular bill with Bo Diddley, Little Richard and the Everly Brothers), they began wearing their outfits in a more slovenly style. One night, Charlie Watts unexpectedly doffed his waistcoat in a Fenland dressing room; eventually Keith Richards’ jacket grew so bespotted with chocolate pudding and whiskey stains that it was no longer wearable. Onstage, the whole group started moving more, and Jagger took to chewing gum as he sang. Offstage, a journalist observed, they appeared in “a jumbled assortment of jeans, silk cardigans, camel jackets and sloppy sweaters. None of the slick suits sported by Bill J. Kramer Gerry and the Pacemakers.” When the Stones appeared on a BBC program in October 1963, they frustrated their interviewer by greeting many of his questions with simple “yeah’s” and “no’s.” But rather than hurting their popularity, all of this seemed to boost their appeal! Their audiences were becoming more demonstrative, more raucous, to the point where the Stones, just as soon as they finished their sets, were forced to flee their venues through the back door and speed off as quickly as possible to avoid getting mobbed. Without ever devising or articulating a formula for instigating a cultural revolt, the Rolling Stones began to stumble upon one.
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