The fact that ‘The Rolling Stones or The Beatles?’ has become a standard question akin to coffee or tea is a measure of how much the two bands have transcended culture and become fixtures in the fabric of society. Naturally, with any such debate, whether it be Messi or Ronaldo or Cats or Dogs, a degree of rivalry is involved.
In this regard, Keith Richards is a solid fellow to have on your team. He has never been afraid to ruffle a few feathers over the years, and when it comes to the Fab Four, his iconoclastic views proved no different. His first angle of attack was a tactically bulletproof one. With The Beatles hanging up their touring boots in 1966, nearly half a decade before their eventual break-up, the question mark has often hovered over their live output with a few critics dubbing them a studio band.
Keith Richards joined in the act when he candidly told the Radio Times: “Musically, The Beatles had a lovely sound and great songs. But the live thing? They were never quite there.” Aside from the screaming Beatlemania masses that would fervently disagree with this, a great many bands from the era joined in the live-trumping act, most notably The Who.
The Beatles’ latter-day spiritualism underpinned the second of Richards’ gripes with the Fab Four. Back in August 1967, The Beatles dubbed the Transcendental Meditation Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, their “spiritual advisor.” This was a move that seemingly rubbed the rocking Richards up the wrong way.
The Beatles later renounced their association with their former guru when they learnt that he shelved spiritualism to make sexual advances on the actress Mia Farrow. In the wake of the troubling incident, less than a year after they dubbed him their spiritual advisor, they cut off all ties to Yogi and apologised for what they called “a public mistake.”
Richards didn’t hold back with his comments on this particular subject, not only condemning them for their association but exclaiming that he felt the need to turn away from them completely and “excommunicate”. It was his understanding that a phoney had conned them and that reflected badly on their part.
Richards rebuked: “[Maharishi] was a fucking operator, a sucker job. But you have to think, what had being ‘The Beatles’ done to The Beatles?” Before musing that their penchant for the mystical realm of India during that period was a shot at escapism and nothing more. “They wanted somebody else to take them away,” he added.
Before concluding: “They didn’t want to be ‘God’ anymore, so they plugged it all onto the Maharishi.” And that is where Richards’ holistic issues with the working-class Liverpudlian’s stops, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t also dig into the specifics to boot. He also condemned the seismic Sgt, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band record, calling it: “A load of shit.” Later telling Esquire: “The Beatles sounded great when they were The Beatles. But there’s not a lot of roots in that music. I think they got carried away. Why not? If you’re the Beatles in the ’60s, you just get carried away – you forget what it is you wanted to do.”
Adding: “You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like [our album] [Their] Satanic Majesties[Request] – ‘Oh, if you can make a load of sh-t, so can we.’”
Once more, he pinned their changing oeuvre down to fatigue more so than innovation and jibed at the live act line again: “They stopped touring in 1966 – they were done already. They were ready to go to India and shit.”
Needless to say, it seems that Richards was more of a fan of The Beatles earlier stuff when they were paving the way into the future of pop culture for other bands like The Rolling Stones to follow.