Once upon a long time ago, the media and music fans considered the Beatles and the Stones heated rivals. In reality, the two bands were “rivals” only on the charts — and occasionally mixed it up with each other on a mixing board.
The first “cross-pollination” seed was sown when Lennon-McCartney penned the Stones’ second hit, “I Wanna Be Your Man.” How the Stones got the song is a serendipitous story in rock ‘n’ roll lore. John and Paul were out for a stroll in London on September 10, 1963, when Jagger and Richards noticed them from inside of a taxicab. As Paul recalls:
“So they shouted from the taxi and we yelled, ‘Hey, hey, give us a lift, give us a lift,’ and we bummed a lift off them. So there were the four of us sitting in a taxi and I think Mick said, ‘Hey, we’re recording. Got any songs?’ And we said, ‘Aaah, yes, sure, we got one. How about Ringo’s song? You could do it as a single.’”
John, no doubt wanting to keep the Stones’ firmly in their place (behind the Beatles on the charts), later commented, “It was a throwaway. The only two versions of the song were Ringo and the Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it. We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?”
Jagger and Richards later credited Lennon and McCartney in inspiring the two Stones to compose their own material instead of being virtually an R&B cover band. Lennon recalled the birth of the song, as well as the songwriting powerhouse that became Jagger-Richards:
“Mick and Keith had heard that we had an unfinished song. Paul just had this bit and we needed another verse or something. We sort of played it roughly to them and they said, ‘Yeah, OK, that’s our style.’ So Paul and I just went off in the corner of the room and finished the song off while they were all still there talking. We came back and that’s how Mick and Keith got inspired to write, because, ‘Jesus, look at that. They just went in the corner and wrote it and came back!’ Right in front of their eyes we did it.”
The collaboration between members of the two bands didn’t end on that day. Lennon and McCartney pitched in via their vocal cords on the Stones’ 1967 “We Love You” single. The song was recorded during the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request album sessions; a song and LP Lennon would deride: “Satanic Majesties is Pepper. ‘We Love You’…that’s ‘All You Need Is Love.”
The Stones, more often than not founder Brian Jones, would musically reciprocate. Before Brian Jones became, as Lennon noted, “one of them guys that you dreaded he’d come on the phone,” Jones was a close friend of John and Paul and appeared on two Beatle songs.
On “Yellow Submarine,” Brian provided backing vocals and sound effects (the clinking glasses). Paul later invited Brian to play on one of the “You Know My Name, Look Up My Number” recording sessions. McCartney recalled:
“We thought he’d bring a guitar but he opens this case – and there is a saxophone. We said ‘well, we have this little number.’ It’s ‘You Know My Name’ and Brian plays the sax. It’s not terribly well played – a ropey sax solo – but it was just what we wanted. Brian was very good like that.”
The only other time a Beatle and a Stone played instruments together in a band (which Lennon called “The Dirty Mac) was on December 11, 1968, on the famed Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus set. Keith played bass and Lennon guitar on “Yer Blues.” Although the two bands shared session men (notably keyboardist Billy Preston who played on both Beatles’ and Stones’ records), they never shared a stage or a recording studio again.
Band members remained friends through the years, with Paul vacationing with Keith in Turks and Caicos in late 2018. When asked by comedian Marc Maron if watching the Stones now made him wish if the Beatles could still tour, McCartney morbidly quipped: “Yeah, but unfortunately two of mine are dead.”
Public domain image of The Beatles