Graphics by Ainsley Basic
We were extremely saddened to hear the news of Charlie Watts’ passing yesterday morning. Watts was a longtime member of the Rolling Stones, serving as the band’s drummer for nearly 60 years. As a tribute to his life and the incredible music legacy he leaves behind, we put together a list of Rolling Stones songs that highlight his drumming. Plus, read to the end to find a heartfelt reflection on Watts’ career from morning host George Knight.
“CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKING”
This song is an absolute rollercoaster in two parts. Both showing Charlie Watts in absolute control of the song, but following the lead of his guitar players with perfect agility. The top of the tune is standard Stones – Keith Richards dives into a riff, and in seconds he and Watts are locked in. You’ve got an incredibly loud snare crack, and a chorus beat that’s busy, but only serves to lift up Mick Jagger’s vocals, instead of distracting from them.
Part two happened almost by accident. At the tail end of the song, Mick Taylor jumped in and took a solo, without anyone knowing that the engineer was still rolling tape. Watts immediately catches on and jumps back in, before the rest of the band quite knows what’s happening. You can hear a little bit of hesitation from everyone, except Watts. It could’ve been a train-wreck without quick and confident thinking. Watts then steers the group, along with studio guest Billy Preston, through one of their best instrumentals. And he matches Taylor’s escalation without missing a beat. That’s Charlie Watts’ style in a single song: confident, but always listening, and ready to move for whatever the song requires.
– Phil Jones, Afternoon Host
“(I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION”
What first might stand out to you when you listen to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones may be the guitar, solid and repetitive. But underneath the cry of dissatisfaction and riffs, you’ll hear a steady, rhythmic drumming that guides the song, the heartbeat of the track. And that is drumming in true Charlie Watts fashion. Quiet, important, and knowledgeable – Watts demonstrated these traits in both his instrument and himself. And this is why “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is a great example of his brilliance as a bandmate in The Rolling Stones. He knew his role exactly and did it with grace and expertise.
– Tatum Jenkins, Music Coordinator
Watts’ drumming gets a chance to shine on the extremely danceable Stones song “Miss You.” Talking about the groovy song, Charlie Watts said it was “heavily influenced by going to the discos,” and reflected back on spending time on the dance floor with Mick Jagger. He goes on, “you can hear it in a lot of those four-to-the-floor and the Philadelphia-style drumming.” The presence of Watts’ drumming is felt deeply throughout “Miss You.” In the intro, it is strong and pulsing. Watts brings the beat and energy to kick off the funky instrumental additions – harmonica, saxophone, and electric piano. And later, the drums soften up, giving way to the whispery third verse. “Miss You” is a standout example of Charlie Watts’ talent. And its timeless sound will help make sure future generations get to listen to and appreciate the Rolling Stones’ legendary drummer.
– Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
“LIVING IN THE HEART OF LOVE”
Released just this past week, “Living In the Heart of Love” is the first of nine unheard Rolling Stones singles arriving this year. It’s part of the 40th-anniversary edition of Tattoo You, set to come out in full on October 22nd. Watts’ drumming in this song and the rest of the album to come are now all the more special to listen to. “Living in the Heart of Love” gives the opportunity for listeners to connect with, reconnect with, or discover Charlie Watts and the Rolling Stones’ music. It’s a perfect reminder that we will always have songs to hold on to and treasure, carrying on his legacy.
– Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
“Brown Sugar” is a good showcase for what made Charlie Watts a legendary drummer. He was SOLID with a capital S. No flash here, no crazy time signatures, just straight-ahead rock drumming with a hint of shuffle every now and then. Charlie Watts was content to just lay down the foundation and keep it steady. Maybe that’s what made him play with that legendary Charlie Watts grin on his face.
– George Knight, Morning Host
Some additional thoughts from George Knight on Watts’ passing:
Since getting the news of Charlie Watts’ passing, I’ve been walking around thinking about what kind of a rockstar he was. The term “class act” keeps popping into my head.
Was he a class act because he was a calming presence in a band made up of hard-living musicians? Perhaps. Was it because his drumming style was understated, and because he knew his place in the rhythm section and didn’t need the spotlight? Maybe. Was it because he was a founding member of one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in history, and yet never lost his passion for jazz? Could be. Or was it because he had (to this American) a very British sense of style? He let Keith Richards dress like a drunken pirate. Charlie preferred the Savile Row look. Charlie Watts was a member of the Rolling Stones for FIFTY-EIGHT years! That’s an eternity in Rock and Roll years. A music career as solid as the beats he gave the world.