As much as Jagger’s lyrics or Richards’ riffs, Watts’ timekeeping on key Stones songs made them key Stones songs. The loose, almost jazzy feel on “19th Nervous Breakdown,” his groove lock with Richards on “Beast of Burden,” his extraordinary control with a very odd rhythm on “Get Off of My Cloud,” the bounce of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” his ice-cold snare on “Gimme Shelter” — all of these are masterclasses in serving the song and shaping it at the same time.
Rolling Stone, August 24, 2021
“Got to roll me” sings Mick, and Charlie lays ’em flat in the aisles.
From the Rolling Stone record guide
You turn around twice, and the drummer for the Rolling Stones has died, aged 80, and there ain’t a lot scarier than that.
The above-quoted Rolling Stone Record Guide, in one or another of its editions, the red one I think, once declared Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman to be the “most existentially funky rhythm section in all of Rock & Roll”, and it was certainly true that the two of them seemed to stand calmly apart from the boys up front, like the guys in the engine room, making everything work without drawing much attention to themselves while Mick preened and posed and shook his money-maker for the crowd. It was like it was just a job, you know, his deadpan affect making it seem as if he’d rather be playing real music in a jazz combo that could make proper use of his extraordinary talents, but you can’t eat integrity, and if the yobbos wanted to make him a millionaire for supplying the backbone to Paint it Black, Under My Thumb, Satisfaction and all the rest, well, easy money was easy money. Not to say he was phoning it in – not at all – it’s just that he could do that shit standing on his head, and nothing that the Glimmer Twins over there demanded of him was about to make him break a sweat. Was he even enjoying himself, a little? It was hard to say. It didn’t seem like it. As he sat back there maintaining the most preternaturally locked-in backbeat in the business, you wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that he was thinking about the plumbing in his East Sussex cottage, or considering a change in his investment managers.
He was quiet, and he was cool.
Today’s retrospective on the Rolling Stone website, quoted above, mentions a number of standout performances, but for me Charlie was at his most sublime for Tumbling Dice, one the best songs on one of the six or eight greatest albums ever made, 1972’s Exile on Main Street; listen especially for the fills he supplies at the climax. The accelerated rhythm kind of slides in, takes over centre stage, and like the man wrote, Charlie lays ’em flat in the aisles.
I’m hoping they don’t try to tour without him. You can’t have the Stones without Charlie. You just can’t.