mid 1968. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are the two greatest musical forces on Earth, but they no longer show their teeth on an aesthetic or commercial level. There is no elbowing to decide who has the best hairstyles or wears the best suit. In part, to a certain extent, that is race over.
Now the battle is different: who surpasses the rival in creative terms and who achieves a greater trail of influence on his contemporaries. The combo y combo had been in development since 1966, when The Beatles hit the board with Stirthat synthesis of psychedelia, baroque music and exploration at the service of pop, while the Stones attacked with Aftermathhis first complete installment of original songs, a journey of guitars carved with details and sophistication.
The following year the face to face they raise it Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Their Satanic Majesties Requestboth colorful period manifestos that presented the musicians as creators of universes as lysergic as they were inventive.
Until 1968 arrived. What to do when rock seemed to have reached its artistic and commercial peak? When the future once longed for was already present? Easy: turn in reverse. Looking back and incurring in an exercise that up to that moment the genre seemed not to have gone through: nostalgia. Today so widespread adoration for the past.
Rock had a brief existence, but long enough to have idols distant in time. It had conquered such a level of complexity that precisely the figures that started it -more rustic, more austere in their melodies, more skeletal in their sound- rose like echoes of a candid and remote time: Elvis, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly. , Little Richard, Eddie Cochran.
But the men and women of the 60s who embodied tomorrow decided to return to all of them. That season saw the emergence of Creedence Clearwater Revival, a band of Californians who looked like lumberjacks thrown into the woods – at the antipodes of the colorful glamor of London and New York – and with a leader, John Fogerty, who always seemed to sing on the brink of a canteen, as if from time to time he emboldens his rough throat with a shot of whiskey.
The Canadians The Band surprised with the bucolic and country profile of Music from big pink, where they also pushed Bob Dylan to resume his stamp as a minstrel and troubadour; meanwhile, Frank Zappa showed that the avant-garde also drank from the past, with an album (Cruising with Ruben & the Jets) that satirically paid tribute to all the vocal music and doo wop typical of the 50s.
1968 also felt like a resurrection of the Sun Records heroes who had spearheaded the rock and roll rebellion a decade earlier. Bill Halley packed a tour of England, Elvis returned after years of irregularity with his fundamental show Comeback Special and Johnny Cash launched the essential At Folsom Prison, registered in a jail. It was also the year that Led Zeppelin germinated, the group that made stylistic archeology its greatest compass.
The Beatles and the Stones were also ready to converse in the past perfect. And they were going to go head-to-head one night to show who did better in the present. Although they probably didn’t know it yet.
On August 8, 1968, Mick Jagger headlined his birthday party at the Vesuvius club in London.a recently inaugurated venue and one of the best nightlife venues that has ever existed in the English capital, according to the words of its owner, Tony Sánchez, thanks to its Moroccan style and its latest fashion design.
For this reason, the singer felt happy and entertained among black lights, multicolored tapestries, models, actresses, singers who marked the vanguard of the city and, of course, a menu that included the transfer from hand to hand of silver bowls with mescaline, plates crammed with hashish cake and Turkish hookahs for an occasional puff. A dream postcard, as described in the book The Beatles: Off the Record, by Keith Badman.
In this environment for showing off without counterweights, Jagger wanted to surprise all his guests and brought an exclusive preview: a copy of Beggar’s BanquetThe Rolling Stones album that would come out four months later and that was already climbing as one of the most anticipated of the season, precisely because it was the group’s return journey towards its blues and rock and roll origins after their psychedelic flirtations.
“Mick flew in in a hurry from Los Angeles at the last minute, with the first advance pressing of Beggars Banquet, the album that everyone was waiting to hear, because it was the work on which the future of the group depended. The club was beautiful, waiting for the moment. Everyone’s only fear was the proximity to the Tottenham Court Road police station. It was only three hundred meters away. If a couple of inquisitive policemen had wanted to arrest all the stars in Great Britain, they could have done it perfectly, ”continues the story in the text. The Beatles: Off the record.
But it didn’t happen. In exchange, Jagger was able to play the vinyl in the middle of the party and triggered the immediate ecstasy of those present.thanks to impressive songs that no one had ever heard, such as Sympathy for the devil, Street fighting man either stray cat blues.
The book The Beatles vs. The Stones: The Greatest Rivalry in Rock History, by John McMillian, records the reaction of the attendees: “When the album started playing through the speakers, people flooded the dance floor. The entire crew was jumping around like crazy and enjoying the record (soon to be dubbed the best Stones album to date).”
But the good cheer would be short-lived. At least that of its main protagonist.
Just when everyone was buzzing, Paul McCartney himself arrived at the party. He went relatively unnoticed, but he had a weapon up his sleeve: The owner of the place, Tony Sánchez, discreetly handed over a copy of The Beatles’ next single, the one containing the future anthems. Hey Jude/Revolution, and that no one outside the inner circle of the quartet had heard. It would come out at the end of that month of August and would serve as a prelude to the white albumalso the piece that would rediscover the group with the crudest guitars and devoid of major ornamentation.
The DJ, a few minutes later, spun it under the needle. The blow was immediate. No one even remembered Beggar’s Banquet nor of the Stones. “The slow, thunderous crescendo of Hey Jude it shook the foundations of the club and the attendees demanded that the disc jockey play the seven-minute song over and over again”, reconstructs the text The Beatles vs. The Stones.
But the unexpected victory did not stop there. “The disc jockey played the next song and everyone heard the nasal voice of John Lennon spewing out the lyrics of Revolution”.
Tony Sánchez remembers that when both Fab Four songs ended, Jagger was in a daze. “I saw that Mick seemed upset. The Beatles had stolen the spotlight.”
Tony Barrow, the press agent for the men of yesterdayalso remembered it like this: “It was an incredible promotional hit.”
McCartney himself, in The Beatles: Off the record, takes charge of his colleague’s reaction: “We played the songs and I remember that Mick Jagger approached me and said: ‘Fuck! Damn! That’s something else, isn’t it? It’s like two songs.’”
In that nocturnal and casual cock between the two biggest bands in history, it was clear who had been the winner. Mick Jagger had come out sad and battered from his own birthday.
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The night that Paul McCartney beat Mick Jagger – La Tercera