Charlie Watts’ best Rolling Stones songs and performances


His most memorable moments with the Stones aren’t five-minute drum solos, but rather precise little pieces that could only have been created by Charlie Watts.
Photo: Michael Putland / Getty Images

Charlie Watts was the rock in the Rolling Stones’ roll, the low-key but impeccably dressed and perpetually embarrassed drummer who had a bleacher seat at one of the greatest rock and roll shows on Earth. Watts died on Tuesday August 24 at the age of 80; the cause of death has yet to be announced, but he was struggling with health issues recently, leading him to retire from upcoming Stones tour dates in 2021. He had never missed a show .

Watts was born in London in 1941. He was passionate about jazz from an early age and had a special adoration for Charlie Parker. After a short stint in various blues groups (notably Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated), he joined the Rolling Stones in 1963, and they haven’t played without him since. Watts was conspicuously absent from the headlines his bandmates made in the early and often in the 1960s, especially when it came to recreational drug use and also when it came to rebellion against the establishment; Charlie was not arrested for peeing on a gas station wall, nor in Keith Richards’ estate in Redlands when police raided him on suspicion of drugs, sending Keith and Mick to the slammer. While the other Stones dated movie stars, models, “It” girls and other society darlings, Charlie quietly married his longtime love, the former Shirley Ann Shepherd, in 1964, and they’ve stayed together over the decades. While Mick, Keith and Brian dressed in cashmere, Charlie preferred Savile Row, and in 2006, Vanity Show named him to their international best dressed list.

Watts continued to pursue his devotion to jazz through a series of non-Stones projects, such as his illustrated children’s book High-flying bird, on the life of Charlie Parker. He teamed up with longtime Stones keyboardist and still fifth Stone, Ian Stewart, in a jazz band called Rocket 88. In the 1980s, when the Stones were on hiatus, he formed a big band, the Charlie Watts Orchestra, and in the 1990s formed the Charlie Watts Quintet, which focuses on jazz music that he has never ceased to love. None of these projects ever performed in big venues, but they were all projects that he was seriously pursuing. The 1980s were also the time when Watts finally fell into addiction, addiction to heroin and alcohol. “‘You should do this when you’re older,'” he reminded Keith Richards once when advising him. “Keith told me that! But it stuck and I just stopped with everything else.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham or The Who’s Keith Moon, Charlie’s style of drumming and drum kit has remained close to his jazz roots. His kit was spartan, consisting of around seven items in total, including cymbals, and that never changed – even Ringo Starr, who also started with a small kit, grew over time. the Beatles were progressing. “I’ve always been raised with the theory that the drummer is an accompanist,” he said in 2008. His most memorable moments with the Stones aren’t five-minute drum solos, but rather small precise elements that could only have been created by Charlie Watts. Here are six examples that show the best of Watts’ constant focus on substance rather than flash, and his belief that less was more.

Yes, of course, it’s the guitar riff that makes this song memorable – but that riff would float aimlessly without the constant, tireless rhythm of Charlie Watts holding the thing in place. This gives Mick Jagger the scaffolding to hang the lyrics on, and there’s no greater moment in a Rolling Stones concert than this three-second pause in the song, about a minute into: no no no [break] that’s what I said. There are three of these moments in the song, each consisting of just 10 beats, but that’s an integral part of the song’s greatness: the combined anticipation that it approaches, like pulling the spring of a flying toy, then it flies in the air. Charlie’s beats are that moment between take-off and forced landing. Your fists punctuate the air, your fingers drumming on the steering wheel, your hips rocking back and forth, for each of these 10 beats. HEY HEY HEY / THIS IS WHAT I AM SAYING.

In a song that was purposely and intentionally exaggerated, Charlie sifted through everything that was going on: Merry Clayton’s primal scream, the exquisite guitar lines, the snnnnnkkk du güiro – and found the sonic gaps that needed to be filled. A of them Three four five cymbal crash. That precision and timing, the way he withholds a fraction of a second between each of those beats, creates a specific darkness and mischief. The simplicity of his contribution here is his genius.

The opening track of Consequences, “Paint It, Black” is a feverish mix of frenzied Khachaturian Sturm und drang tucked into leather pants with a sitar line for good measure. The reason this chaos worked is because Charlie Watts counted them with an almost orchestral bloom, then faded into the background. There is a time change which it effortlessly passes, garnished with a tasteful touch on the cymbals, before dropping back into the original time signature. It goes from formality to sleaze as the song demands, and it’s not as easy as it looks. Paint it black, hell.

Charlie’s work in CYHMK is an incredible showcase of at least half a dozen different techniques, approaches, rhythms and rhythms. Her rhythmic sensitivity is at an all-time high here, and as noted in other songs on this list, her syncopated fluidity throughout is the glue that keeps this ecstatic ride of over seven minutes of a song from falling apart. He’s probably not the instrument you focus on the most during this song, but put on headphones and experience the jazz shuffle he mixes into the bridge during Bobby Keys’ saxophone and Mick Taylor guitar solos. . Charlie even figured out how to rock it all towards the end, hitting the cymbals with a bit of Latin flair.

There are so many things in this song that are perfect, starting with the way they composed the music for this anti-war protest song while still keeping a rock and roll song. The intro on the guitar serves as a wake-up call, then there’s Charlie Watts, banging the drum to get our attention before providing the perfect soundtrack to match that opening line: “Everywhere I hear the his / To walk, to load the feet. ” This is precisely what you mean.

The first thing I think of when I listen to Charlie’s work on “Rambler” is endurance. It’s a heavy, sweaty seven minutes of driving this particular vehicle down the road and through the swamp, putting up the guardrails, and having to keep an eye out for the four other characters traveling alongside him who are inclined to follow. theirs. whims. I love that moment of about two minutes when the tempo picks up, and he announces it with those easy, sweatless hi-hat rolls; About 20 seconds later, he pulls out the beat and puts it in his pocket before you know what’s going on, clinging to it as the group crosses the bridge and heads to the song’s extremely tense conclusion. Damn it.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Shake Your Hips” (1972), “Stupid Girl” (1966), “Start Me Up” (1981), “Sway” (1971), “Dance (Pt. 1)” (1981)

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