RE/MX: High Fidelity

The Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles - “I Wanna Be Your Man”

By David Jenison

In April 1963, the Beatles saw the Rolling Stones perform at the Crawdaddy Club in Southwest London, and afterwards, the Fab Four joined them at their ratty Edith Grove apartment and talked about music all night long. What is the significance of this encounter? Later that year, Paul McCartney and John Lennon penned “I Wanna Be Your Man” for the Stones, which became their first-ever Top 20 single peaking at No. 12 on the British charts. 

The McCartney-Lennon collaboration inspired the Stones to write their own material, and their first self-penned composition—the blues-driven “Stoned”—was the B-side to “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Adding to the song’s historical significance, a promo video for the single made history as the first song ever performed on the seminal U.K. show Top of the Pops, leading off the inaugural episode on New Year’s Day 1964. The U.S. single—which excluded “Stoned” due to prohibitionist-driven moral objections—failed to chart on this side of the pond.

Recalling how the Beatles-Stones collaboration took place, Jagger once said, “We knew [the Beatles] by then, and we were rehearsing, and [producer/manager] Andrew [Loog Oldman] brought Paul and John down to the rehearsal. They said they had this tune, they were really hustlers then. I mean, the way they used to hustle tunes was great: 'Hey Mick, we've got this great song.' So they played it, and we thought it sounded pretty commercial, which is what we were looking for, so we did it like Elmore James or something. I haven't heard it for ages, but it must be pretty freaky 'cause nobody really produced it. It was completely crackers, but it was a hit and sounded great onstage.”

The Beatles also recorded a version with Ringo Starr on vocals, but Lennon dissed the song in 1980 calling it “a throwaway.” Still, numerous other artists covered the song—including Count Basie, Adam Faith, Terry Manning, Suzi Quatro, the Flamin’ Groovies, Sam Phillips, the Smithereens, the Stooges and many others—and Dylan recorded “I Wanna Be Your Lover” in 1966 as a nod to the track.

As far as the Stones, their next single—a cover of Buddy Holly and The Crickets’ “Not Fade Away”—marked the band’s first entry on the U.S. Hot 100 charts. Released in early 1964, “Not Fade Away” peaked at No. 3 in the U.K. and No. 48 on the Hot 100. Ironically, the U.S. single included “I Wanna Be Your Man” as its B-side. A few months later, the first Jagger- and Richards-penned single, “Tell Me,” was only released in the U.S., where it reached No. 24 on the Hot 100. This marked the first Stones-penned song to crack the charts, which ironically happened in the States.

Image by Ron English.

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