Wednesday 6 September 2023


Keith Richards once compared The Beatles to a 'bag of fleas.' Here's why he said it, and why it wasn't necessarily meant as an insult.
Keith Richards rose to fame with The Rolling Stones just as The Beatles began to dominate the world. In trying to establish The Rolling Stones as a successful rock band, Richards and his bandmates knew they had to reject the Beatle image. Richards shared how trying to avoid similarities to The Beatles was good for the band.

The Rolling Stones began working with Andrew Loog Oldham as their manager. Oldham had previously worked with The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, and had helped the band establish their image. When he began working with the Stones, he wanted them to adopt a similar image. They were not interested.
“We were the dynamite, Andy Oldham the detonator,” Richards wrote in his book Life. “The irony is that Oldham, at the start, the great architect of the Stones’ public persona, thought it was a disadvantage for us to be considered long-haired and dirty and rude. He was a very pristine boy himself at the time. The whole idea of the Beatles and the uniforms, keeping everything uniform, still made sense to Andrew. To us it didn’t.”

They quickly ditched the clean-cut image. The uniforms worked for The Beatles, but perhaps too well. The band was everywhere; there was no room for another group that was just like them.

“The Beatles are all over the place like a f***ing bag of fleas, right?” Richards wrote. “And you’ve got another good band. The thing is not to try and regurgitate the Beatles. So we’re going to have to be the anti-Beatles. We’re not going to be the Fab Four, all wearing the same s***.”

Richards’ words clicked with Graham Nash, who found himself in a feud with The Beatles after he covered “If I Needed Someone” with The Hollies. George Harrison insulted the cover, and Nash had no problem about publicly responding.

“In those days, tweaking a Beatle was like blaspheming the pope,” he wrote in his book Wild Tales. “But who the f*** cared. I was getting sick and tired of their holy status, the way they said whatever was on their minds, no matter whom it affected, right or wrong. All of London was in their thrall. And if you didn’t know Popes John or Paul, or at least drop their names in conversation, you might as well take the next train back to the provinces, over and out. Keith Richards said it best in Life: “The Beatles are all over the place like a f***ing bag of fleas.”

While Nash found the band’s all-consuming popularity grating, he still liked and respected the band. He even fixed the feud with Harrison.

“They were a great band and I loved their records,” he wrote. “Every English group owed them a huge debt. (George and I became great friends later in life.)”.

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