The worst thing that ever happened to the Alien franchise was the Predator franchise. Two entirely different universes, with distinct tones, rules and atmospheres, lumped together for Alien Vs Predator in the name of cynical audience conglomeration. Likewise Batman and Superman. Freddy and Jason. James Corden and any other celebrity in the car.
Music, of course, has been merging major franchises ever since Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington and Nat King Cole shared a chemical toilet on the jazz tours of the early ‘50s. Between the countless collaborations, festival bills, encore guest spots, joint tours, supergroups and Gorillaz, experts now estimate that every musician on the planet will have played with every other one by February 2026*. So ubiquitous are pop crossovers and high-profile featurings that we’ve become blasé about them, having grown bloated and overfed with superfluous chunks of Mary J Blige. Dave Grohl’s onstage at Glastonbury with you? That all you got?
Time, then, to up the stakes. Last week saw the announcement of the biggest crossover of musical franchises imaginable. The Avengers Assemble of ‘60s legends. The Cats Does Countdown of rock. Paul McCartney has joined sonic forces with The Rolling Stones, playing bass on a track on the new Stones album. The Beatles and The Stones! Together at last! The vibe at NME’s sister publication Uncut could, possibly for the first time in its existence, currently be described as ‘horny’.
This bolt from roughly sixty years of blue is all the more surprising since it arrives just two years after Paul McCartney dismissed the Stones in an interview with The New Yorker as “a blues covers band”. Macca’s note to Keith Richards the day after publication, claiming that he’d been talking about what he thought of The Stones when he first heard them, must have been gracious in the extreme. For here we are, with a historic chance to finally unite the two mightiest rock acts, playing together in public for the very first time. Assuming we’ve all had enough therapy to erase the memory of Yoko emerging from a bag to wail along to John and Keef’s blues jam as The Dirty Mac for the Stones’ Rock And Roll Circus show in ’68. Brrrr.
From my position of security some way down the queue for the joint interview, though, I have to admit to a bit of a balk at the whole idea. I’m all for musical mash-ups and collaborations – great things can sometimes happen when you stir the pot. But surely there’s little point, at this late stage, in constructing a wobbly scaffold bridge between the two foundational pillars of modern music?
The reason that the iconic stand-off between The Beatles and The Stones defined the 1960s was entirely down to their easily defined differences. The Beatles were the clean-cut, wholesome pop phenoms that gradually unveiled the cosmic torments writhing supressed beneath the surface. The Stones, meanwhile, were scruffy, provocative, Bohemian sex peacocks, Jagger strutting about – clearly on drugs, Brenda – like Lucifer Himself got a trout pout.
That they split the ‘60s youth into two firm camps – adoring pop screamers and dark-eyed rock rebels – essentially invented the dichotomous teenage experience which endures to this day. Like mods and rockers or Swifties and Kanyeezers, they’re two diametrically opposed cultural behemoths which simply aren’t supposed to luvvie up in their dotage.
After all, what can really come of it beyond a vaguely heart-warming sense of cultural closure? Any chance we might have had of getting an ‘(I Can’t Get No) Revolution’ or a ‘Hey! You! Get Off Of My Walrus!’ evaporated around 1969. A collaboration these days wouldn’t be the clash of two parallel youth revolutions potentially firing off the spark of a third or collapsing into a drug-blinded brawl in the attempt. It’s far more likely to produce a cosy, respectful compromise between matey legends that couldn’t possibly live up to expectation.
I mean, Jagger doesn’t have the greatest track record in getting the most out of legendary rock collaborations. Team him up with David Bowie and they’ll just end up twatting about in a car park shouting the names of counties over an old Martha & The Vandellas number. Give him Grohl’s number and the result might well be a cheesy lockdown tune called ‘Easy Sleazy’ about conspiracy theories and online samba classes. And heaven forbid The Stones take this opportunity to try to emulate The Beatles again. The last thing anyone needs is another ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’.
Yes, there’s a pleasing narrative arc to a late-career hook-up between perceived rivals. Only Liam bristled at the sight of Noel and Damon playing together on 2017’s Gorillaz track ‘We Got The Power’, laying to rest a historic pop culture clash that was always far more vitriolic than the generally chummy Beatles and Stones relationship – the two ‘60s greats would arrange their single releases so as to avoid exactly the sort of chart war that Blur reportedly engineered against Oasis in ’95, amid genuine animosity. And agreed, tribal musical rivalries themselves no longer chime with the blanket Gen Z attitude of universal positivity and support. As long as nobody dares to break ranks and actually dislike something, that is, in which case death threats and doxxing are considered justified methods of tough love.
But before we go giving 1960s rock music a revisionary, Roald Dahl-style ‘sensitivity reading’ let’s, for once, try to appreciate the historical context of the thing. The Beatles vs The Stones was the formative mainstream example of frenzied musical factionalism, giving millions of ‘60s teenagers the hit of primal excitement you get from realising that music is something worth dedicating yourself to, defining yourself by and creating familial rifts which will see you cut out of numerous wills over. We may have evolved past such a primitive mentality, but it’s etched deep enough into our culture that the distance between the two bands, even now, is hallowed ground and anything built there an eyesore.
Explain in football? Imagine an England v Germany World Cup final where the teams randomly swap players on arrival, pass politely between wingers for ninety minutes to guarantee a nil-nil draw and cut the trophy in half rather than go to penalties. Let’s hope, for history’s sake, they haven’t painted it eggshell.
*Data excludes Morrissey.
This article has been updated (Feb 27) to amend an earlier inaccuracy