[Originally posted to Northcoast Exile on April 13, 2005. This was the most popular post on the old blog that didn’t feature a naked soccer mom. – Jim]
John Scalzi, in his Reader Request Week post for today, tackles his weightiest subject to date:
“Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Superman or Batman?
‘He or she’ or singular ‘they’?”
Let’s get the first two out of the way. Batman, because when Superman has to be Clark Kent, he’s a wimp. When Batman has to be Bruce Wayne, he’s still a bad ass and not to be screwed with.
They. Linguists and grammarians need to just get over it. English lacks a proper gender nonspecific pronoun. Sorry, but “it” doesn’t cut it. So if we can have a royal “we” and an all-purpose “you,” English can survive a generic “they” for gender non-specific third person.
Now to the heart of the matter: Beatles vs. Stones. Beatles. Hands down. They were all working class stiffs. Quite frankly, they reinvented rock. Poppy? Hell, yes, and so what? Without The White Album, Sgt. Pepper’s, and the criminally underrated Abbey Road, rock simply would not be rock. That’s not to say the Stones didn’t do their part. “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Satisfaction,” and “Gimme Shelter” anyone? But… Well, let Scalzi tell you:
“The Beatles had the stones (so to speak) to break up and stay broken up, meaning that their canon is undiluted from years of post-creative suckage.”
Scalzi cuts off the Stones productive years at Tattoo You. I say Steel Wheels had merit, but, like Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason, it was designed to be an album you’d expect from the band. The only difference is that David Gilmour used that phrase as a title. Mick and Keith really did have a momentary lapse of reason. It’s the double whammy of musical crap called Dirty Work and Undercover, both the worst Stones albums I’ve ever heard. (And yes, I include the two post-Wyman yawn fests. “Anybody See My Baby” my ass!)
A lot of bands should have packed it in or at least shed deadweight. Much sooner. Led Zep probably needed to call it a career anyway when John Bonham died. Page just wanted to play guitar, and Plant had already developed his own sound. Pink Floyd did a Wall too far with the bloated Final Cut in 1983. One wonders if the follow up would have been stronger if Roger Waters had either quit sooner or let David Gilmour and Richard Wright have their way. Genesis… Invisible Touch? I’m still pissed off about the title track off that song. What was that? Phil Collins and Mike & the Mechanics rejects? (To be fair, We Can’t Dance was decent, but the post-Phil Calling All Stations was a huge mistake.)
Prog bands generally outlive their usefulness. Somebody tell me why Emerson, Lake, & Percussionist and Yes are still around? Have you heard their post-eighties work? Tragic. Have you heard their eighties work? The Asia albums that never were.
I’d call for Metallica’s demise, but I want to see them live. I’d also call for Guns & Roses demise, but then I like them again since they became Velvet Revolver.
The band that should be around, but can never be again, is Alice in Chains. Remember Alice? This is a rant about Alice. I miss the hell out of those guys.
UPDATE: I wrote this before A Bigger Bang came out. While not earth-shattering or by any means a classic, it is a decent album. If the Stones had gone from Tattoo You to Steel Wheels to A Bigger Bang, skipping everything in between, this post would have been very, very different.