10 x Charlie

Ten Charlie Watts performances that cut me to pieces. R.I.P.

1. “Honky Tonk Women” – In which the drummer adds an entirely new dimension to Stonesiness, injecting funk and swing into their hard rock stomp (there were hints of this in “Under My Thumb”), his spacious rhythm in effect sharing duties with Keith’s guitar as the lead instrument. The tension between the two poles (rock/swing) is announced on the first two hesitant notes (a snare followed by… a tom?) which sneak in under the cowbell, executed with such mastery you can hear Watts’s stick pulling away from the drum (thus, the “swing”) as much as you hear it coming down on it (the “rock”), a herky-jerk effect that immediately sucks you in. (For what it’s worth, I played “Honky Tonk Women” at more weddings than any other Stones song, not that it was requested nearly as often as “Start Me Up” or “Satisfaction,” though it worked better—retained more of an element of surprise, not to mention pure joy—than either.)

2. “Wild Horses” – What Watts brought to bear on so many pretty Stones ballads could trigger a list of its own, but for dramatic flourishes I doubt anything tops the massive seven-note fill that rams home the final chorus, and dare I say, might’ve laid the template for Phil Collins’s much-celebrated “In the Air Tonight” fill.

3. “She’s a Rainbow” – Three forty seven: Snare. Tom. CRASH! A splendid oh-fuck-it-are-we-not-done-yet interjection, and a precursor to “Honky Tonk Women”‘s boombastic opening salvo.

4. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – I wouldn’t call this Charlie’s song—there’s too much overwhelming swirl going on all over the place—but the way he dances the song up on the fade out, right at the 7-minute mark, by knuckling down on the rhythm (? riding the cymbals? Again, I’m struggling for description here) is a part I never don’t wait for, especially in the car where one can just dance the night away, all day.

5. “Paint it, Black” – All hoodoo-voodoo tom-tom propulsion throughout, but again, it’s a fill that gets me, this one coming out of the shattering psychedelic break (“I could not fore-see this thing happ-e-ning to you”), Charlie storming in on the word “to,” an exuberant play on the intro of “Get Off My Cloud,” but with a more colourful palette on hand (which is to say it sounds like he added an extra drum).

6. “Beast of Burden” – Sad soul beat, and a marvel of understatement, taking off from where “Tracks of My Tears” and “In My Life” (Ringo’s subtlest performance) begin. The key moment for me is when Watts, clearly so engrossed in the story, provides (2:09) an encouraging up-swing (“up-swing”?) behind Mick’s “pretty, pretty girls” bit, imploring the singer—don’t stop, tell me more, I’ve got your back.

7. “Tell Me” – More crushing get-outta-my-ways heading into each semi-chorus (“Bom-bom-bom BOM!/I know you fiiind it hard…”) but included here for a single shot, the atom bomb following Keith’s (or Brian’s?) opening 5-note jangle. When the hit comes down.

8. “Empty Heart” – No spotlight moment, but an exemplary display of steady-there-boys, an already wizened old soul nailing things in place on the most chaotic of Stones performances in which everyone else’s head blows apart. No doubt nonplussed by it all, I hope someone in the band had the good sense to buy him a beer after this.

9. “Monkey Man” – “I’m a mon-kaaayyy…!” You know the bit, the most thrilling but also the most difficult of Watts fills to bang along with on the steering wheel. Perhaps deceptively it plays the opposite tack of “Empty Heart,” with Watts driving the performance further and further into a miasma of noise and confusion, though somehow never losing balance.

10. “Shake Your Hips” – More steady-as-she-goes, a dark campfire blues, all lickety-stick action from the drummer who occasionally punctuates (punctures) the repetition with a hollow snare shot, most effectively heading into the final chorus (1:40), a crack in the atmosphere not heard from again, and a solid measure of Watts’s seemingly innate ability to never overplay his hand.


6 thoughts on “10 x Charlie

  1. Thanks, Frank, as I attempt writing like this I’m always entirely aware that I’m doing a pale version of stuff you do 100x better in your sleep. So by all means, feel free to take me to school on Charlie! (Or Stones in general.)

  2. Terrific piece so I hate to nit-pick, but Charlie doesn’t play the drums on YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT – it’s Jimmy Miller.

  3. Thanks, Stanley, and nitpick away! I was going to come in here at some point to note that John Sot also messaged me the same point (and also that it’s Miller playing cowbell on “Honky Tonk Women”). I won’t update the list, but duly noted.

    Interestingly, “You Can’t Always…” is probably the least Wattsian thing here. Then again, it’s one of the least Stonesian thing in the Stones catalog too, and the real star is probably keyboardist Al Kooper, or the London Bach Choir. The brilliant drumming bit I pointed to, as the song draws to a close, is not really a signature Watts move, just a wonderful ambush that ups the song’s ecstatic danceability. Good work, Jimmy…

  4. Well, for years I used to rhapsodize to anyone who would listen about my perennial favourite Stones’ song MOONLIGHT MILE and key in on the interplay between Keith’s guitar and Charlie’s drumming. Only to find out a couple of years ago Keith doesn’t actually play on it. Oh well! But Charlie’s drumming on the song – those cymbal crashes like distant thunder – gorgeous! And yeah – that swirling ending of YCAGWYW is all about Al Kooper’s keyboards.

  5. I played “Moonlight Mile” 4x in a row in the car while doing some errands last weekend. Absolutely brilliant. As a 50/50 fan of Satanic Majesties Request I like to think that YCAGWYW and “Moonlight Mile” are the fruits borne (?) from that labour. Or I could paraphrase Marcus in Stranded (re: “Moonlight Mile”)–“Like everyone else, they were stunned by the possibilities of ‘Albatross.'”
    Good time maybe to put in a word here for Rocky Dzidzornu too –his percussion work helped them enter different realms.

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