Tomorrow night, at the rockin' Rialto Theater, that age-old question—Beatles or Stones—will be emphatically asked again and then answered to no one's satisfaction. (You see what I did there?) The show, which the Los Angeles Times calls "the most unique tribute show in decades," features the Beatles tribute band, Abbey Road, in an on-stage throwdown with Stones tribute band, Satisfaction.
That discussion has been raging since my formative years. Radio was king back then. It was on at home; it was on in the car. People walked around with big ol' biceps from holding brick-sized transistor radios up to their ears. There was some TV back then. American Bandstand was on the in the afternoons. For a while, there was Shindig on primetime. And there was Soul Train, which was Bandstand for people who could actually dance.
Still, radio ruled. Looking back, one of the great things about it was that all of the stations pretty much played the same stuff. There was no day-parting (segregating songs by the time of day that they could be played) or programming based on ethnicity or gender. You could listen to any station for an hour and you would hear The Beatles, followed by The Temptations, then Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, the Stones, Dusty Springfield, the Beach Boys, the Four Tops, Van Morrison, and on and on.
What differentiated people back then was to which deejay we were most loyal. I preferred Humble Harve, who had a deep, pimp-daddy voice and a slow, casual delivery. I listened to him all the time, then he killed his adulterous wife. He went to prison for a couple years and then he was back on the radio again, all Humble and sh-tuff.
Other people preferred The Real Don Steele, the coked-out freak who was the basis for the Dr. Johnny Fever character on WKRP in Cincinnati. There was also a choice of among Robert W. Morgan, Sam Riddle, Dave Diamond and Charlie Tuna. (I've always said that one of the great disappointments in life—the one just below the time when, despite your best efforts, you find out your kids think you're lame—is the time that you first see your favorite deejay. Tom Hanks nailed the physical depiction of deejays in his film That Thing You Do.)
One of the standouts was Dave Hull, the Hullaballooer. Hull had begun his career with Armed Forces Radio, then worked in Roswell, New Mexico before landing in L.A. at the perfect time. He somehow got himself named as the President of the Southern California Chapter of the Beatles Fan Club, so he was on stage when The Beatles did their legendary Hollywood Bowl concert.
I was watching a documentary on PBS a while back and Ron Howard's company had managed to find footage of a 14-year-old Sigourney Weaver in the crowd at that concert. It's cool.
It's strange: While people generally preferred one band over the other, it was never an either/or situation. We'd listen to everything, but the difference was clear. When I try to explain it to young people these days, I point out that The Beatles sang "I Want To Hold Your Hand," while the Rolling Stones complained "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Big difference.
You can probably guess which group is favored by certain celebrities. Doug Ducey is obviously a Beatles guy. At the same time, it's possible that Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, might also prefer the Beatles. Bernie Sanders is obviously a Stones fan, as is Rachel Maddow. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan prefers Up With People.
From the jump, I was a Soul Kid. My friends and I would hang out outside of a blues joint in a ramshackle storefront on Van Nuys Boulevard at the edge of The Projects. The grittiness of the music just appealed to our circumstances. It's like what the character Jimmy Rabbitte says in The Commitments when explaining why his Irish band will play soul music. "Soul is the music people understand 'cause it's honest. It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite." I can honestly say that no Beatles music has ever been near my scrotum.
But it wasn't just those two bands. For a ghetto kid, it wasn't all that hard to choose the Animals singing "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" over Herman's Hermits' "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter." However, I always listened to the Beatles, although they almost lost me with Sgt. Pepper's, which I considered the greatest anti-drug PSA of all time. Every time I hear anything from that album, I think of the old Richard Pryor line, "You need to stay off that narcotic. That stuff done made you null and void."
Then, while the Beatles were stumbling through Strawberry Fields, the Stones released the funk classic "Honky Tonk Women." To be fair, the Beatles brought me back with the White Album and I loved Abbey Road. But what seals the deal for me is that the Stones managed to be mostly true to each other and totally true to their music for more than a half-century.
Tickets for the show are $46 and $26. I'll be there tomorrow night, sitting in the $26 section with all of my fellow Stones fans.