Charlie Watts’ Deepest Grooves: A Fan’s Picks
The Grooves Will Live Forever, So Charlie Will Always Be With Us
The death of Charlie Watts hit me harder than I expected. I love the Rolling Stones. They became my favorite band more than 40 years ago, and I loved a lot of their songs well before that, so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that adjusting to a world without Charlie has required some effort. With Charlie on my mind I thought it might be cathartic to listen to LOTS of Rolling Stones music over the weekend, and to pay special attention to Charlie's drumming.
Whether it was rock & roll, rock, blues, pop, country, R&B, even punk, or disco, Charlie's masterpiece grooves allowed the Stones to do anything and everything. His subtle push-pull of a beat left room for the band to vamp away. Charlie could always lay down a slinky beat, creating a pocket for the band to funk up. He didn't simply play beats or patterns, Charlie Watts played songs. The Rolling Stones' best work results from the human element he injected; variation and feel to give a song swagger and swing, the punch to set up a chorus, or the underscore to let a lyric shine.
I claim no expertise or authority, I'm simply a fan -- just a Stones lover who misses Charlie offering up these songs with focus on the grooves, irrespective of each song's success or importance. It's a look at Charlie doing what he did as well as anyone in rock, laying down a deep groove that served a song. Examples of a guy who was there to determine the direction of rock drumming from its beginning creating a backbone rigid enough for the band to attach sounds to, and flexible enough to convey feeling to an audience. A master turning what began as simply songs into brilliant records, time and time again. With love, here are the deepest grooves of the immortal Charlie Watts.
All Down the Line - This seems like a great place to start. It's the Stones at their very "stones-iest." Giddyup! Quintessential Keith Richards guitar sounds, a 12-piece band, and great backing vocals all built on Charlie's killer groove. He's got this.
She's So Cold - It's a rhythmy song with some pretty disposable lyrics and it works. You don't need a lot of melody with the kind of groove Charlie and Bill Wyman lock into here.
Tumbling Dice - The melody and tumbling guitar riff are showcased here, and Charlie sets the table with as sexy and slippery a groove as rock has ever known. He makes it swing, and leaves plenty of room for the song to shine.
Neighbors - This is about as out-front as you'll find Charlie in the very deep catalog of Rolling Stones material. Not everything Charlie did was subtle. That hollow sounding snare is not gonna be ignored, and he's relentless with it. Here we get power and even some flexing from a rock master.
Slave - It's a slinky, rhythm-centered number. Keith may lead this band, and Mick may sing out front, but Charlie's in the driver's seat here, and we're riding to wherever he and Bill navigate.
Brown Sugar - Huge bass drum beats from a drummer in the pocket make this masterpiece work. There's more here than the song and more here than the players. There's the synergy of a band feeling it, and Charlie's groove is right at the center of what they're feeling, right down to the signature "last word" cold ending.
When the Whip Comes Down - By the outro on this one, the whole band just seems to fall out of Charlie's way.
Rip This Joint - Charlie and Bill almost dare the band to keep up. Hold on. Rock & Roll is coming straight at you.
Gimme Shelter - The mood is ominous. Doom lurks. Charlie masterfully fills the spaces and masterfully leaves the spaces, then sets up the changes. The tribal pattern he employs creates an eerie pattern that pulls you along and makes the atmosphere work.
19th Nervous Breakdown - Rock & Roll drumming was still pretty new, and Charlie's larger-than-life groove here leads the way toward what was to become rock drumming. Here it comes in glorious mono.
Beast of Burden - It's soulful, it's sexy, Charlie lays down a seductive pad for the band to fill with funk. The song keeps its not-quite-finished vibe. Is it a demo? There's no need to do more with a groove this sweet.
Going to a Go-Go - Nothing to hide behind here. The band needed something they hadn't already released to serve as a single for Still Life, and chose this Motown gem to cover. Charlie doesn't wait for Mick to finish his intro, he charges into this one with Bill soon in lockstep. With a jazzy sax riffing away and the guitars backed off, you get a sweet dose of Charlie live. I'd like to shake the hand of the person responsible for recording that drum sound.
Can't You Hear Me Knocking - A full-on assault in this Stones masterpiece. I like to picture Charlie smiling while playing the long jazz outro.
Those are my picks. How do they compare with yours?
Thank you for all of the joy you brought us, Charlie! R.I.P.