When we first took to social media to ask which performances you’d recommend from the seminal Rolling Stones drummer, a bevy of diverse responses flooded in. It’s easy to understand the range in choices; Charlie’s signature drum sound, unique grooves, and loping feel have graced more than thirty studio albums and nearly as many live records in the fifty-plus years he’s been in the Stones. Here are some of your responses.
Watts’ performance on “Rock and a Hard Place” from Steel Wheels is an overlooked gem. It’s about as close to a perfect, propulsive drum track as you’ll find. The disco/funk breakdown Watts plays with bassist Bill Wyman near the end is the icing on the cake.
“Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” from Goats Head Soup. The groove is so funky, and I love the way he opens the hi-hat on the “&” of beat 3, followed by two snare notes on the “e” and “&” of beat 4 as a fill to bring the verse in. The dotted-16th tom fill between the chorus into the second verse is also a classic. It’s a great song of social protest and is still relevant today. Another great one is the opening fat backbeat on “Slave” from Tattoo You. It’s so greasy and funky, and it has one of the best snare drum sounds ever recorded!
“Slave” is an incredibly funky track by Charlie and a bit more muscular playing than usual on his part. Tattoo You is one of my favorite Stones albums—it reeks of New York City all the way through.
I love the fill that he plays right at the beginning of the chorus of “Loving Cup” from Exile on Main St. It just has so much raw power.
There’s a moment in “No Use in Crying” from Tattoo You, when Watts hits the snare on beat 3 in a 6/8 feel (instead of on beat 4), around the 1:13 mark. It just knocks me out every time. And “Start Me Up” from the same album has such a cool, interesting intro. Watts comes in with the hi-hat on beat 3, bass drum on 4, the snare on beat 1, and then holds out until the next backbeat on beat 4. It’s classic Charlie!
“Love Is Strong” off Voodoo Lounge has a great overall drum sound. Watts’ restraint with his China cymbal gives it extra emphasis, and there’s subtle, unpredictable playing and fills throughout, especially during the first chorus. He always finds unorthodox, “sloppy” ways to fill time, and it’s just so cool.
The first time I heard the fill leading into the chorus of “Loving Cup,” I just kept repeating it over and over. It blew my mind. It’s so punchy and funky, and still manages to stay straight and to the point. Back to the groove, back to the fill again, and then back into the verse. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, but it’s the best example of a great rock ’n’ roll band exploring its roots and expanding on its bag of tricks.
“Memory Motel” from Black and Blue has great fills that perfectly fit the song. And that’s not to mention Watts’ great snare, tom, and cymbal sounds.
I’d say “Under My Thumb” from the fortieth-anniversary edition of Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert. That show was epic! Everyone was perfect. And during the beginning of “Honky Tonk Women,” even Mick Jagger remarked, “Charlie’s good tonight, isn’t he?”
“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” because of the incredibly groovy middle Latin section, when the whole band suddenly adopts this great feel. The rock ’n’ roll attitude takes a pause, and they just groove.
“Rocks Off” from Exile on Main Street has a great sound, and I love the way that he keeps changing the “lope” and feel of the song’s fadeout.
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