The originality of the rock created by the Rolling Stones has an essential participation of Charlie Watts, who died this Tuesday (24) at the age of 80, for an undisclosed health problem.
Keith Richards invented the great guitar phrases, the so-called riffs, that catch the ear. Those celebrated chords of “Satisfaction” or “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. But Watts was the key to accelerating the blues.
If the American black rhythm was influenced by generations of English rock, the Stones made the best possible appropriation. They didn’t misrepresent the blues, they just made it faster, more merciless, and Watts’ stints on drums did it brilliantly.
Here are ten Stones tracks that showcase the best of Charlie Watts.
‘Time Is on My Side’
Released as a single in September 1964, this song shows exactly what Charlie Watts liked to do before going into rock with the Stones. It’s a slurred soul, with dramatic lyrics. Jagger raises the pitch as he sings, and it’s Watts’ firm, dry drumming that keeps the song in an elegant package.
‘The Last Time’
Another single, from February 1965, is perhaps the clearest example of the traditional blues acceleration credited to the Stones. One of the first songs signed by the duo Jagger and Richards, it was considered by the drummer to be the most difficult song to play in concerts of the period.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
Even in 1965, the music that consecrated Jagger and Richards as serious composers in rock had an undeniable help from Charlie Watts. Between the powerful guitar riff and the scathing lyrics against consumer society, the drummer managed an imposing martial beat, without slurring the sound.
‘Under My Thumb’
In 1966, ten years before the Sex Pistols exploded, the Stones practically spoiled punk rock. In this sexist song, with sleazy lyrics, Watts left subtlety aside and thumped the drums as if his drumsticks were hammers. Perhaps the band’s heaviest moment.
’Sympathy for the Devil’
The Stones classic “sambão” was influenced by the political and behavioral turmoil of 1968. The percussion would be fundamental to set the mood in the song that mixes demonic possession, voodoo and the Russian Revolution. Watts achieves unique percussive pandemonium. A masterpiece.
‘Street Fighting Man’
Another from the album “Beggars Banquet”, the best soundtrack for the student riots of 1968. In this song, which explicitly talks about the taking of the streets by young people, Watts prints a raw, repetitive, almost tribal beat to lull the marching protesters .
Released on the 1969 album “Let It Bleed”, it has a traveling twist, soul support vocals with some psychedelia and, tying it all together, the drums almost like a pulse. The weight of the beats sounds hypnotic. One of the great percussive moments in rock history.
It’s almost impossible to separate this flawless rock from another hit, “Brown Sugar”. Each of these songs opens one side of the vinyl for 1971’s “Sticky Fingers,” which is the best album of the Stones’ career. If “Brown Sugar” became more famous, “Bitch” is more powerful and accelerated. It’s a manual on how to rock and roll.
After years without releasing impactful albums and called surpassed by the punks, the Stones were reborn with “Some Girls” in 1978. Ironically, an album pulled by a disco music. The band, especially Watts, subverts the disco beat on “Miss You”, braiding guitar and percussion into an irresistible sound.
‘Start Me Up’
The opening song for the Stones’ latest relevant album, 1981’s “Tattoo You,” is a flawless combination of their rock chemistry, that conversation between guitar riffs and drum beats. It’s a “broken” song, where the sound comes in strong bursts. The band’s swan song. And from Watts.
In time: it’s worth noting that Charlie Watts doesn’t play on the original recordings of two of the band’s anthems. In “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the drum bit there was played by producer Jimmy Miller. In “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)”, the drummer is Kenney Jones, who at the time played in Faces with Ronnie Wood. He participated in an uncompromising studio session with friend Mick Jagger, who was already working on the song, and recorded the drums included in the final edition.