Back in the 60s – the middle part of the decade in particular – you could only be on one of two sides: the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones. There was no crossover, and fans of one passionately hated the other. Both were British, both were composed of young, white heartthrobs, and both played rock and roll, a form of music that had only been birthed in the public consciousness about 10 years ago. To a casual observer not deeply invested in the struggle, it was hard to tell the two apart.

Of course, that was only true for a relative sliver of the population. To hear my parents tell it, those people were crazy. Which side did my mom or my dad land on? Neither; they both liked the Beach Boys.

Fast-forward approximately 30 years. Now in the latter half of the 90s, you could only be on one of two sides: The Backstreet Boys, or NSYNC. There was no crossover, and fans of one passionately hated the other. Both were American, both were composed of young, white heartthrobs (though “young” is a relative term), and both played teen pop, a form of music that was totally corporate-minded and money-hungry, and created by record company executives and image marketers rather than musicians. To a casual observer not deeply invested in the struggle, it was hard to tell the two apart. Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing: with the Beatles/Stones struggle, one could hear differences in their sound and character. The Stones from day one were more blues-based than the Beatles, who were more pop. Also, the Stones appealed to a rougher breed of teenager, one who drank, swore and disobeyed their parents. But with the BSB/NSYNC war, there was absolutely no difference. Not in their music, their lyrics, their look, their composition (five guys, none of whom plays instruments), their marketing tactics, or the character of their fans. It’s like telling the difference between Hutu and Tutsi, or between Amish and Mennonite. They don’t exactly wear a sign.

And which side did I land on in the epic Battle of the Boy Bands? Neither; to start with, their music didn’t appeal to me at all. To finish with, I found the way the boy band machine duped teenage girls around the world into spilling out all their disposable income to be morally repugnant.

But after the smoke cleared, there still stood the actual members of those boy bands, one of whom went on to become a very successful actor (and a darn good one at that). While there’s a jumbo jet’s worth of blame to be handed out here, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC themselves probably deserve the least of it. The same is true for the Rolling Stones. Not only did they break away rather quickly from their teen heartthrob beginnings, but they evolved into a real band that made real music. In short order, their music didn’t even resemble its recent past.

1967, a year of incredible upheaval in American culture, saw the release of Sgt. Pepper from the Beatles, and Their Satanic Majesties Request from the Stones (ironic, I know, that both of them are British, not American). While one is a landmark album that tops nearly every magazine’s list, the other is really for Stones completists only. Both bear a psychedelic and boundary-pushing aesthetic, but Satanic Majesties is considered by many to be a lame answer to the success of Sgt. Pepper, despite that the Stones were already recording Satanic Majesties when Sgt. Pepper came out, and that it’s an intriguing record in its own right and undeserving of so much scorn.

By the end of 1968, after many court cases for Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, the Stones had left the extreme direction-shift of Satanic Majesties behind them and returned to their roots. While the Beatles were breaking down, the Rolling Stones were finally getting rolling.

Bad pun, I know. Forty lashes.

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