Sigh. I can tell it’s gonna take a while to get over this.
Honestly, I thought briefly of posting the entire Stones catalog as today’s MPC. Hell, there isn’t a song of theirs that you can’t point to Charlie’s skill on — this morning’s NPR obit played a short instrumental clip from “Gimme Shelter” as if to prove that exact point — but, yeah, that might be a tad excessive. So, I’ll rein it in a bit.
If there’s ever a Stones song that makes me play air drums, it’s “Rocks Off”, from Exile. Listen to the way Watts announces his presence three seconds in and then proceeds to lay it down and drive the song along.
I love that fill after “I was making love last night…”, but what really kills is how he steps back in after the druggy “It’s all mesmerized, all that inside me” to propel Mick’s “The sunshine bores the daylights out of me”. It’s as if he gave the band a chance to catch their collective breaths, and then bam!, off to the races again. But it’s never out of control because Charlie never did out of control.
I suppose all roads lead back to the quintessential “Honky Tonk Women” and there, for me, after the combination of Mick’s sleazy strutting, the guitars, the absolutely wonderful horn play, it all comes together at the end with a perfect conclusion from Charlie.
That whap! whap! whap! at the end is the exclamation point to Mick’s “Whooo!” There’s no other way it could have finished.
I’ll leave you with a live version of “All Down The Line”, from Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light. It’s a jaw dropping exercise from a man in his sixties.
You can use this video to nerd out on Charlie’s legendarily spartan Gretsch drum kit or his mythological technique: the grip changes, the snare hits closer to the logo than the center, or Steve Albini’s observation that Charlie never hits the snare and the high hat at the same time, which “moves the focus away from the pulse and onto the gait of his playing.” (Steve is unverified, but he starts out by describing Charlie as “the only good thing about the Rolling Stones,” so it’s him.) Or you can thrill to the fleeting and blurry antics of Mick and Keith, who peacock in and out of the frame, first-name-basis pantheon rock stars who nonetheless clearly defer to their far more stoic pantheon rock star drummer. “Charlie Watts has always been the bed that I lie on musically,” Keith notes in his 2010 memoir Life, reviewing 1963 diary entries in which he marvels as his outlandishly stylish new drummer morphs from a Jazz Guy to a Rock ’n’ Roll Guy who still swings with the magnificent swagger of a Jazz Guy.
Or you could just watch the boys blaze through all five minutes of “All Down the Line” and marvel that Charlie himself, comically regal and already long past retirement age in the late 2000s, is never out of breath, even if he allows himself one puffed-cheek sigh when the song’s over, which might be the only time I’ve ever seen him acknowledge the Herculean effort of anything he’s ever done.