‘I Wanna Be Your Man’: The Hit Song John Lennon And Paul McCartney Gave To The Rolling Stones
Tom Wolfe once said that “The Beatles want to hold your hand but the Stones want to burn down your town”, and it’s a rather telling indictment of a bustling scene that was swirling throughout the kaleidoscopic 1960s. After comparisons were made between the two iconic British bands during the formative years of their existence, it became clear they were born within two different tribes of artist expression. The truth is, however, as much as fans and newspaper headlines attempted to pit The Rolling Stones and The Beatles against one another, the two bands drew a striking resemblance – something which becomes even clearer after realising that the Stones were given a little helping hand from their Liverpudlian friends.
Remarkably, one of the first major hits for The Rolling Stones came after a chance meeting with The Beatles’ principal songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and that would lead to the release of ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. The song, originally written by The Beatles duo, was released as the Stones’ single on November 1st, 1963, and went on to peak at number 12 on the British chart. The song is largely considered their breakthrough moment.
McCartney had originally penned the song before Lennon took over and finished the track while Macca was supposedly in the corner of a room talking to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Stones historian, Bill Janowitz, claimed that band manager Andrew Loog Oldham “had almost literally bumped into Lennon and McCartney as they stepped out of a cab” and ushered them into the studio with Jagger and Richards. Allegedly, after sitting down to lunch together and enjoying the idea of speculating on the future, the topic of the Stones’ lack of original material had arisen and, by sheer coincidence, Lennon and McCartney had been working on ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ earlier that day at De Lane Lea Studio.
Recalling the incident, Jagger once said: “We knew [the Beatles] by then, and we were rehearsing and Andrew 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’,” continued the singer. “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”.
Years later, however, Lennon would refute Jagger’s memory of how the Stones’ came to release the track, detailing as part of the The Beatles Anthology that the band had already recorded the track for themselves but decided they would never release the song as a single and, in turn, offered it up to Jagger and the Stones as nothing more that a cast off that was deemed too low in quality for the Fab Four. Of course, that notion becomes questionable when you consider that The Beatles themselves would eventually go on to release that same song a year later anyway, appearing on the group’s second UK album, With the Beatles, with the vocals provided by drummer Ringo Starr. Discussing the track, Lennon was dismissive of its credibility and naturally scathing about the song: “It was a throwaway,” he said. “The only two versions of the song were Ringo and the Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it: We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?”
McCartney, though, was a little less blunt in discussing the song. During an interview dated in 2016, he said: “We were friends with them, and I just thought ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ would be good for them. I knew they did Bo Diddley stuff. And they made a good job of it.”
As the Stones’ version of track earned the band a taste of commercial and mainstream success, a growing sense of animosity began to emerge around its development. Off the back of Lennon’s comments, Stones bass player Bill Wyman said: “We kind of learned it pretty quickly ’cause there wasn’t that much to learn. Then Brian got his slide out, his steel (guitar) out and dadaw … dadaw … and we said, ‘Yeah, that’s better, dirty it up a bit and bash it out’, and we kind of completely turned the song around and made it much more tough, Stones- and Elmore James-like.”