Six songs that feature Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts
From humble beginnings on the London club scene in the early 1960s to record-breaking world tours, Charlie Watts has never strayed from the simple four-piece drum kit on which the Rolling Stones built their legendary sound and style.
Renowned drummer in his twenties with a flair for jazz, Watts joined Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated before the Stones debauched him in 1963. Guitarist Keith Richards knew from the moment he and former band member Brian Jones began jamming with Watts that he had brought an ingredient – the swing that gave the Stones rock ‘n’ roll blues its uniqueness. “He’s got the moves,” Richards said of Watts many years ago.
Watts personified the steady beat needed to keep a raging storm of guitars and rock star egos on track. On record and on stage, for six decades, it was the imperturbable Charlie Watts, the guy with all the movements, who gave the Stones their groove.
Here are six Rolling Stones songs that just wouldn’t have the same swing without Charlie Watts.
Paint it black (1966)
Opening with Brian Jones on the sitar, Watts releases the song from his soft and instantly recognizable stringed intro with a flurry of thumping beats before settling into a rock solid beat. The song has an uptempo edginess, its Middle Eastern influence, and Jagger’s melancholy lyrics underscored by Watts’ precision and the occasional cymbal accents. Written by Jagger and Richards during a tour of Australia, Watts allows the rhythm section to stand out without ever pushing too hard.
Stray Cat Blues (1968)
If you’ve ever wondered why the Stones were seen as dangerous by mainstream society in the late ’60s and early’ 70s, listen to Jagger on this track while Richards and Brian Jones roam the guitar. In the middle of it all, there is Watts. He makes everything seem so simple – the special magical ingredient that made Richards ears prick up when they first met. It’s only rock and roll, but you have to be damn good to make it sound that cool.
Give Me Shelter (1969)
Covered by other bands hoping to climb similar heights; no one really comes close to the dark, ominous vibe Watts brings to the song. Swedish rockers Hellacopters did a really good job bringing in the power but, for sheer impact, Watts made restraint a hallmark of the song. It feels like the social upheaval of the late ’60s is spreading and, once again, Watts charts a steady course as Jagger sings “fire sweeps our streets today”. These are the Stones at the height of their power.
Tumbling Dice (1972)
Probably the smoothest groove – of many notable tracks – from the band’s legendary sessions in 1971. Primarily recorded while Richards lived in the rented villa Nellcote in the south of France, Watts was traveling to and from the Exile on Main St. sessions miles away, preferring to avoid much of the nightly festivities. The wonderfully loose groove on Tumble dice is typical of the overall feel of the album and without Watts’ steady hand and subtle fillings, it wouldn’t be the classic that makes you dance from your chair or settle you down after a long night on the tiles.