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Beatles Or Stones?

Two lavish new coffee-table books will help baby boomers and the people who love them ponder anew the age-old question: Beatles or Stones?
"Lennon Legend: An Illustrated Life of John Lennon" embellishes an appreciative biography of the late Beatle leader with 40 removable, fingerable reproductions of Lennon artifacts -- a school report card, playbills, handwritten song lyrics.
"According to the Rolling Stones" interweaves extensive, blunt new interviews with singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, drummer Charlie Watts and "new boy" guitarist Ronnie Wood, and like the Lennon book includes many rare photographs.
Both books, for all their candor, are very much official and authorized products. Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, opened her archives for one, and the normally laconic Watts is listed as consulting editor on the other.
The two books tell much the same story: More than 40 years ago, in Liverpool and London, a few boys mad for American music banded together, learned to write songs and changed the world -- with some drugs, discord and a few deaths along the way.
The difference between their stories now, of course, is that the Beatles fell apart in 1969, and two of the Fab Four have since died while the Stones roll on, still a mighty force in touring and merchandising if not in record sales.
The difference back then was between two brands of rebellion, with the Stones seen as darker, more threatening. It was also the difference between a fresh take on pop and a newly minted genre, rock. And for a certain postwar generation, identifying with one or the other said a lot about oneself.
Both books are published by Chronicle Books, whose "The Beatles Anthology" published in 2000 -- the model for "According to the Rolling Stones" -- sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, according to Associate Publisher Christine Carswell. The first printing of the Rolling Stones book is about 250,000 copies, she said, while declining to estimate future sales.
But she said sales were not restricted to baby boomers.
"'The Beatles Anthology' continues to be bought by not just original fans but by the original fans for their kids or the kids for their parents," said Carswell.
Someone must still be interested: A search of online booksellers yielded thousands of entries for both bands.
Original bassist Bill Wyman was too far along with his own book which came out last year to be lured into "According to the Rolling Stones," said co-editor Dora Loewenstein. The daughter of the band's business manager and a longtime Stones insider, she said even she learned some new things about her friends.
"I was delighted they were as frank as they were. I was also incredibly interested myself about some of their takes," she said, citing Jagger's low opinion of "Exile on Main Street," which some critics regard as the Stones' best album.
There is much discussion of the losses of several band members including the late Brian Jones -- not all of it kind.
The Stones' most passionate comments are about the music they loved, and the considerably different music they made. They were more or less forced into songwriting but, according to Richards, "We didn't find it difficult to write pop songs, but it was very difficult -- and I think Mick will agree -- to write one for the Stones."
The Stones, and especially Jagger, have much to say about the techniques of showmanship they turned into the extravagant arena spectacles of today.
That was a direction Lennon refused to take. "I reckon we could send out four waxwork dummies of ourselves and that would satisfy the crowds. Beatles concerts are nothing to do with music anymore. They're just bloody tribal rites," he said.
For those still keeping score on the ancient rivalry, only a passing mention of the Stones is made in the Lennon book, but almost all the guest essayists in the Stones book -- who include musicians Peter Wolf and Sheryl Crow, record executive Ahmet Ertegun and fashion photographer David Bailey -- refer to the Beatles.
And Richards says that far from competing, the two bands conferred in "surreptitious phone calls" to coordinate their record releases. "Everybody was talking about the Beatles versus the Stones and all that crap, and yet between us, it would be, 'You come out first and we'll wait two weeks.'
"We would try never to clash; there was plenty of room for both of us," Richards said.
"People say you're either a Beatles fan or a Stones fan," Chronicle Books' Carswell said. "Obviously I don't agree with that -- I don't see any harm in being both." By Gary Hill, NEW YORK (Reuters)


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