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The Beatles: Anytime at All

At a first glance this lavishly illustrated and beautifully presented book -- with dozens of relevant, interesting and never before seen photos of the bands, and of period-piece memorabilia, movie posters and the like -- looks fairly lightweight.

But fun.

A quick read and you've got it: the two authors posit a rivalry between these two bands and in a series of themed conversations -- written as a dialogue between the two -- they bat around the relative merits and shortcomings of each group, their individual members' musical ablities and so on.

For example one chapter deals with the respective bands' double albums, the Beatles' "White Album" and the Stones' Exile on Main Street, other "cage fight" chapters square off the guitarists, bass players, drummers and so on.

So it's kinda fun, yes?

But a closer look reveals the astuteness not just of the observations but of the dialogue format.

Critics DeRogatis and Kot -- too young to have been swept up in Beatlemania at the tme -- know their stuff, co-host the nationally syndicated radio programme Sound Opinions ("the world's only rock'n'roll talk show") in Chicago and discuss these important matters (McCartney or Wyman as the better bassist?) in the manner some did at the time.

But they also note the important roles played by the groups' early managers Brian Epstein (Beatles) and Andrew Loog Oldham (Stones) in shaping their group's image for public consumption.

Among the many, many photos are the original poster which inspired Lennon's For the Benefit of Mr Kite, various Beatles and Stones movie posters and album covers from around the world (Sus Majestades Satanicas, Los Rolling Stones) and many dozens of evocative, informal photos of the main players. 

So, just who is the better drummer, jazz-influenced Charlie Watts or "goofball" Ringo?

"I think Charlie's jazz roots are sometimes overstated," says DeRogatis, who is a drummer himself. "I know his labour of love is to go out and drive a big jazz band . . . but make no mistake, he's a rock drummer."

Kot notes that Ringo's drumming on Rain "qualifies as heavy metal, years before Black Sabbath got credit for inventing it".

And so it goes. But the smart aspect here too is how the writer/conversationalists place this music and these people back in the context of their time, the rapidly changing Britain of the Sixties. And by contextualisng the music they offer a younger audience not familiar with these bands -- other than through the odd song on classic hits radio -- an insight into why they sounded as they did.

beatlesvsstones_255x300In a cover which has 3D lenticular images which alternates between the Beatles and the Stones, and attractive fold-out timelines which show cultural events, album release dates and important matters pertaining to the groups (March 4 1966 "Lennon tells the London Evening Standard Beatles 'are more popular than Jesus'."), this is an ideal gift for that teenager just discovering this music . . . or the old fan who already has a dozen Beatles/Stones books but would happily flick the pages of this one -- and doubtless relive some of those old arguments.

DeRogatis (who has edited a number of rock books including The Velvet Underground; An Illustrated History of A Walk on the Wild Side) and Kot (music critic at the Chicago Tribune since 1990 and also an author of rock books) bring humour, passion and insight to these handsome pages and even some conclusions.

Who was cooler? The Stones obviously.

Who were better singers? The Beatles obviously.

Who were the . . .

You get the picture. Thoroughly enjoyable -- and they make you want to drag out Beatles' singles and the Stones' Satanic Majesties Request for another hearing.

The Beatles Vs The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock'n'Roll Rivalry by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. Published by Voyageur Press, distributed in New Zealand by Bookreps. NZ$79.99 

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