Everyone but me is getting older and those immortal rock 'n' rollers are staring down some pretty heady numbers. Charles Robert "Charlie" Watts turns 70 on June 2, 2011, just a day after his bandmate Ronald David Wood turned 64. Watts is best known as the drummer for the Rolling Stones. As one of rock 'n' roll's greatest drummers, he prefers jazz.
This list could be 100 tracks long and it wouldn't come close to mentioning all the great work Charlie Watts has done. I listed fifteen tracks that, when played, are clear evidence of Mr. Watts' taste and ability. You likely have your own favorites. By all means, list them below.
Considering that much rock music is built on the idea that more and louder are better, Watts is nearly an anomaly. He never overplays. He never pounds. He lays behind the beat. He would be the worst drummer imaginable for Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden, but he is the only drummer for the Rolling Stones. He has tenure.
Most importantly, he looks so out of place in a rock band that he belongs there!
14) "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction": Charlie had the good luck to be in a band that had great songs. But great songwriters still need great performances to make the songs work. "Satisfaction" is a tune that needs its beat more than most. Unless you're Cat Power, then you lull everyone to sleep.
13) "Sweet Virginia": Considering how many guests play on this album - Jimmy Miller is credited with drums on "Happy" and "Shine A Light" - Exile on Main St. shouldn't really be credited to any one person or even to the band. It belongs to a time now nostalgically waxed. This is recorded so haphazardly it doesn't even sound like Charlie playing the drums. Sounds too fat. Whoever it is, great job.
12) "Down In the Hole": I'm not a big fan of modern blues, but I can listen to this track over and over and I even have an extended take that is worth it just to hear Charlie keep time. I also watch videos of people driving.
11) "Beast of Burden": Some Girls and Emotional Rescue have a very nice drum sound. Unlike the earliest recordings when the drums were barely in the room, these later period- early Stones tracks (early is everything before the bass player left, explains my friend Jerry) put Charlie in greater focus. I've heard this period referred to as the 'Mall Rat' period and I don't disagree.
10) "Jumpin' Jack Flash": So, whose song is this? Is it Bill Wyman's, who claims he wrote the riff? Is it Keith's, who plays the acoustic guitars and the bass? Is it Mick's for singing it with the just right poise? Or is it Charlie's for driving it without overdoing it? Likely, it's the reason we called The Rolling Stones a band in the first place.
8) "Luxury": Charlie plays something resembling a reggae beat. Yet it sounds like the Rolling Stones. Much like how English boys play the blues. We're not going to bring up "Cherry Oh Baby" here, are we?
6) "You Got the Silver": Talking about drumming without getting technical (which is only of interest to drummers) is pretty nebulous. (I like the part where the drum goes "thump thump.") While Keith Richards finally got his first solo vocal (previously, Mick came by to interrupt), the version with Mick singing is pretty swell, too. Charlie plays it cool, to be technical.
5) "100 Years Ago": Goat's Head Soup gets a bad rap for not being Exile on Main St. However, I'd take it just for the way Charlie kicks it through "100 Years Ago" to make way for Billy Preston's clavinet solo. You say more cowbell? I say more clavinet. Please.
4) "Midnight Rambler": Take the live version from Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The song needs an audience.
3) "Moonlight Mile": I never notice the drums here. They fit so inconspicuously. You can hear them playing in the background but they flow with the tune. Mostly, you hear Paul Buckmaster's string arrangements. And imagine yourself on a beach very high. Even if you've done neither.
2) "Gimme Shelter": Awhile back internet surfers were given access to the isolated tracks to this tune. Keith's turned out to be the most revelatory, since he weaves two tracks together. But Charlie's is pretty fascinating as well. For a song where the tension is so critical, the drum track alone sounds pretty carefree Try playing guitar to it. It's harder than it looks.
1) "Honky Tonk Women": Jimmy Miller is credited with the cowbell, but Charlie worked the rest of the space and the beats. Remember that joke, how many drummers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: none, they have a machine for that. Yeah, well, that's not true, unless you like bad music.