Music: How Charlie Watts Helped Create The Rolling Stones Iconic Songs

It was announced on August 24th 2021 that legendary drummer of The Rolling Stones Charlie Watts had died aged 80. Behind the louder personalities of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Watts stood as a solid, reliable drummer who let his true abilities show on some of the band’s greatest singles. Ranked the 12th greatest drummer ever by Rolling Stone Magazine, let’s see how his skills impacted the group’s success.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

The Rolling Stones first truly international smash hit, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ was a number 1 hit in a plethora of countries across many charts.

Ranked the 2nd Greatest Song Of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine, it features loud, vicious snares backed by hard bass drum playing. This rebellious and harsh drum playing fit perfectly with the defiant nature of the track. You can particularly hear his drumming after the “no, no, no” refrain where the instrument can be heard alongside a tambourine.

Prior, Watts was quite a rudimentary drummer trying to emulate the style of Ringo Starr but this proved he could play the drums his own way and with his own flair.

Paint It Black

A song that attempted to copy the Indian-inspired music of The Beatles, the drums are likely not the first instrument to stand out but it is an essential part of the tune.

Behind the sitar, you can hear Watts’s low-pitch drumming. Keeping a steady beat, it soon turns more active and explosive than other Watts drum sequences as we reach the more climatic passages with heavy cymbal use.

The bridge’s absence of drums only highlights the emptiness without percussion before they kick back in again. Watt’s playing on this track is more colorful than a lot of his previous works in that the pattern changes with more regularity.

Sympathy For The Devil

A samba track from the Beggar’s Banquet album, this 1969 track features Charlie playing cowbell on top of drumming.

A brilliant album opener, Watts later stated: “The first time I ever heard the song was when Mick was playing it at the front door of a house I lived in Sussex. It was at dinner; he played it entirely on his own, the sun was going down and it was fantastic.”

Given a new perspective when you just listen to Charlie, he plays something vastly different to his normal but a beat that is up there with his most memorable.

Honky Tonk Women

Keeping a steady and suitable rhythm, Watts plays a cool grove on ‘Honky Tonk Women’.

Written as a Hank Williams-esque number, this starts out with a basic but swing and powerful beat with a heavy hand on the snare drum. It speeds up amidst the chorus and is generally more prevalent towards the ending as it crescendos.

A song that displays Watts’s abilities to make even a relatively simple beat interesting, he truly makes his mark within the last minute – adding more intrigue to the closing passage.

Gimme Shelter

As mentioned in the most iconic Vietnam War songs list, Gimme Shelter is a song that goes about depicting the rugged, dangerous nature of war.

It starts off calm and serene before the drums kick in at about 40 seconds, reflecting war’s violent and disruptive ways. Watts puts the full drum kit to use in this track, floating across it with heavy snare and cymbal use as a form of highlighting the catastrophic tendencies of the events in Vietnam.

Although with complex features such as the sections after the first half of the chorus, it is mostly not too difficult yet it adds so much to the piece.

Brown Sugar

‘Brown Sugar’ was a US number 1 and UK number 2 from the ‘Sticky Fingers’ album. One of the band’s more famous albums, this is one of the best-known tracks from that LP.

In this, Charlie shows off some impressive, fast-as-lightning snare drum rolls. With many rolls, it is quite unique from a lot of other singles The Rolling Stones would create in terms of its drumming. It has prolific cymbal use as well to add to the rocking sensation. Raucous and fast-paced, it fits the song’s essence with its hectic performance by Charlie.

Start Me Up

By the 1980s, The Rolling Stones were back up and roaring even though they were 2 decades on from their debut and a decade after highly-acclaimed albums like ‘Sticky Finger’, ‘Exile On Main Street’ and ‘Let It Bleed’.

Although more subtle, the rolls on this song from Watts are still there and rapid. The chorus brings a much more complex beat that might not seem such a hard beat due to being carried with such grace by Watts. Watts adds more panache to the next chorus – adding extra drum rolls to keep things new. This continues well through the song as he modifies his playing each time giving a new sound to each song part. Freestyling but still keeping the pace, it is an underrated bit of drum work from Charlie Watts.

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