Friday, December 18, 2015

Magical Mystery Tour vs. Flowers


Well, this was inevitable, wasn't it? One of the first Great Rock Fanboy/Critic Cliches, nice boy Beatles vs. those nasty greasers Stones, and we might as well indulge in it and get this business out of the way. Both long players are hodgepodge collections of singles and previously unavailable new tracks, released the same year (the summer of flower power), and given the nature of their origins, both consisting of tracks of wildly varying quality. Some consider Magical Mystery Tour to be the Beatles' true Summer of Love masterpiece, not Sgt. Pepper, and it's true that it's not only more adventurous but also a lot more fun than the more carefully planned and constructed Pepper's. The Beatles are throwing it away and taking a lot more risks in the studio, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Likewise, while the Stones LP isn't a self-conscious concept album in the vein of Their Satanic Majesties' Request, as a collection it better captures the snotty spirit of the Stones during their pretending to be hippies and convincing no one mid-60s phase. And as a collection of songs, it's arguably their British Invasion pop masterpiece, when they were fifth only behind the Beatles, Kinks, Who, and Hollies at that sort of thing. OK, so saying they were the fifth-best at British Invasion pop doesn't sound like high praise, but, um - yes, it damn sure is.

1. "Magical Mystery Tour" vs. "Ruby Tuesday" - The Stones track is one of their first baroque-pop ballads (well, baroque by Stones standards), the melody/countermelody a lovely blend of piano and recorder (thank you Mr. Jones; credited as always to Jagger/Richards, though it's actually a Jones/Richards composition).  The McCartney track is baroque-pop as well, but here he pulls out all the stops, layering the track with horns, massed harmony vocals, and assorted studio trickery.  Already on the first track, one key difference between the two bands at this point in their history is underscored: the Stones were still (mostly) tasteful and spare, while the Fabs were fully prepared to go over the top.  I'll give the slight edge to the Stones in this particular case.  Stones 1, Beatles zed.

2. "The Fool On The Hill" vs. "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?" - I'm going to indulge in yet another cliche and mention apples vs. oranges.  Both tracks are more or less equally strong lyrically and musically speaking, but in such totally different emotional and musical genres that picking one over the other completely depends upon one's particular taste or mood, and so I might as well just flip a coin (and indulge in yet another cliche).  Today I'm more in the mood for a punchy rocker that grittily sounds like it was mixed and recorded in the toilet stall on the cover of Beggars Banquet, as opposed to McCartney pop with a circular melody and squeaky recorder solo.  Stones 2, Beatles 0.

3. "Flying" vs. "Let's Spend The Night Together" - This is the most lopsided match up of this contest.  The Beatles jam (the first co-credited to the entire band) is just a pointless, go nowhere instrumental.  It's one of the very few Beatles songs that, even immediately after playing it, I instantly forget how the tune goes.  Mercifully, it's only slightly over two minutes long.  The Stones track is a classic, of course.  Instantly memorable chorus, driving piano riff, catchily blunt lyrics about sex. 3-0

4. "Blue Jay Way" vs. "Lady Jane" - Another no-brainer.  Harrison's psychedelic reverie wanders off into the smog of L.A., bereft much of an actual tune to hold onto.  While I've never been a real fan of the Stones song, feeling that the melody is bit too repetitive and basic (often a problem with the Stones), and Jagger's mannered vocalisms and even more mannered courtly medieval lyrics are smarmily insincere and off-putting (always a problem with him), at least it's memorable, despite being overrated as a "classic". And Brian Jones' experimental instrumentation (this time a dulcimer) once again provides a rather ordinary track with a crucial bit of extra musical spice.  4-0

5. "Your Mother Should Know" vs. "Out of Time" - While the chorus is certainly memorable, and the verses concerning an aging beauty queen an effectively biting bit of character assassination, the orchestral strings seem tacked on and superfluously unnecessary for this Stones track.  The bouncy McCartney tune is what you call a real sleeper - overlooked because of some of the mega-tracks it sits on the same album as, but it's one of the melodic highlights of Paul's career, a composition with multiple but fully integrated verse/chorus sections that's sheer fun.  4-1

To make the 11 track Beatles LP and 12 track Stones LP match up, I'm tossing out the Stones' karaoke "My Girl", which in no conceivable manner improves in any significant way over the Temptations, and you can easily live your life without ever hearing.

6. "I Am The Walrus" vs. "Backstreet Girl" - What an asshole.  The tune itself sounds like a gentle folky ballad and Mick tries to sing in a halfway sincerely romantic manner, but even a cursory listen to the lyrics curdle this pretty tune into whey.  Jagger doesn't want this peasant girl with crude manners to become part of his life, he's upfront about wanting her to know her place and be content to be someone he fucks now and then when he's slumming on the other side of the tracks.

The other tune is a masterpiece of psychedelic jabberwocky.  Goo goo goo joob!


7. "Hello Goodbye" vs. "Please Go Home" - The Paul tune has been unfairly trashed in some quarters, notably out of John's mouth, but c'mon - so the lyrics are silly.  Aren't a great deal of Beatles lyrics kind of silly?  The chorus is ridiculously catchy and it's simply great, fun, featherweight pop fluff - why object so strenuously to that?  I like the Stones track, too - it's their attempt to branch out and ape the Yardbirds with a hard-rock psychedelic freak-out.  Of course it's not as good as prime Yardbirds, but it's a highly enjoyable change of pace from the usual Stones sound.  But there's not a whole lot of actual tune going on there, hmm?  Just some fun riffs.  Gotta go with Paul.  4-3

8. "Strawberry Fields Forever" vs. "Mother's Little Helper" - If the Stones track had been placed in almost any other slot, Jagger's biting satire of middle-class hypocrisy regarding drugs would have a fighting chance.  The Stones are pulling a Kinks and Jagger almost outdoes Ray Davies in the social criticism sweepstakes.  But, but, but - it's up against what is many, many people's favorite Beatles song, a song that conjures visions of childhood bliss and innocence and hanging out in trees and living with eyes closed.  4-4

9. "Penny Lane" vs. "Take It Or Leave It" - Perhaps the only Stones song where I honestly prefer the Strokes song sharing the same name.  This is Goliath stomping all over a pygmy David.  It's not a bad song, considering.  It's not an exceptional or excellent or even better than pretty good song, either, and certainly not a great song.

Do I have to tell you about how or why the McCartney song is his masterpiece?  Do I remotely have anything interesting or original to add to the volumes of rock criticism concerning this song?


Beatles 5, Stones 4

10. "Baby, You're A Rich Man" vs. "Ride On, Baby" - Well, both have baby in their titles, and one is
friendly, the other is a put-down.  And no, I'm not referring to John's taunting Brian Epstein with the barely audible, "baby, you're a rich fag Jew".  I'm not really a fan of the Beatles tune, honestly, but not because of that - the chorus just seems charmless and forced, more of a shout than anything.  The Stones song is an obscure little gem, with a pleasingly cheesy'n'chintzy keyboard sound and terrific lyrics that once again put down some stupid girl.  If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that Mick has some sort of issues with women.  5-5

11. "All You Need Is Love" vs. "Sittin' On A Fence" - OK, so the accusations of misogyny are really making sense.  One song after another bitching about some of the sick things a girl does to a man - it's starting to get on my nerves.  I'm not easily offended, but the final track on this comp is the meanest and nastiest set of lyrical barbs yet.  Still, Mick swearing off marriage because women are all bitches is at least interesting.  The Beatles deliver their most overrated tune, a trite, overly simple and repetitive piece of naive fluff that clumsily attempts to serve as a universal anthem.  Yeah, I know that they weren't naive enough to actually believe the sentiments very deeply, but in its way, the shallow naivety is even more offensive.

So the final score tallies up to a close victory for the Stones, 6-5.  This was quite a tight and interesting race, and for once, I really didn't have the faintest idea which band would pull out ahead.  Perhaps if I pitted the very best Beatles tracks against the very best Stones tracks, the Beatles would pull ahead - because, after all, "Penny Lane", "Strawberry Fields", "I Am The Walrus", trounce "Ruby Tuesday", "Let's Spend The Night Together", "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby..." in any conceivable arrangement of match ups.  But the whims of track order hand this over to the Stones, by a petal.


  1. This was a good one, Brian. Well done, and even though I'm an obvious Stones fan and always have been, I'll admit that "I Am the Walrus" is the best song on either of these albums.

  2. Lots of fun as always. I even picked up some insight - it never occurred to me that "Please Go Home" is trying to do the Yardbirds. I disagree here and there - "All You Need Is Love" works as an anthem; "Out Of Time" may be the Stones' best pop song - but overall it makes a lot of sense.

    I'm pretty sure, though, that Mick was trying to be an asshole on "Backstreet Girl". He's condescending and sleazy and owning it 100% because he knows the girl isn't going anywhere. The lyrics and delivery brilliantly take the mick (as it were) out of the delicate arrangement.

  3. Well, your analysis is totally unfair. I know it is your site and you can do what you want, but common man, it is ridiculous. First of all if you match or combine the songs in another way the result would be different. But more important than that, strawberry fields, penny lane and I am the walrus are so superior than any Stones song from this album that the Beatles should win no matter any rating methology you want to implement. Garcias, Enrique

  4. Well, your analysis is totally unfair. I know it is your site and you can do what you want, but common man, it is ridiculous. First of all if you match or combine the songs in another way the result would be different. But more important than that, strawberry fields, penny lane and I am the walrus are so superior than any Stones song from this album that the Beatles should win no matter any rating methology you want to implement. Garcias, Enrique