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The Stones-Beatles race is back

New York, Nov. 5 (Reuters): 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 with 40 removable reproductions of Lennon artefacts — 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 candour, are very much official and authorised products. Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, opened her archives for one, and the normally laconic Watts is listed as consulting editor on the other.

They 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 post-war 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 two 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.

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.

“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.”

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