The Rolling Stones recorded legacy spans nearly 60 years, and drummer Charlie Watts was there for it all. He anchored the band’s rhythm section with a gift for pocket and groove, always wearing one of the brightest smiles in the business.
Watts also held an uncanny gift for balancing simplicity and showmanship, never getting in the way of the song unless it called for a spotlight on the drummer.
Sadly, the legendary stickman passed away at the age of 80 on August 24th, but his legacy lives on through the iconic songs he left behind. Among the tributes that have poured in since news of his death, The Roots drummer Questlove called Watts “the heartbeat of rock & roll.”
Listening back to The Stones’ hits after the news of Watts’ passing makes you realize how vital he was to the band’s discography and the sound of rock music in general. Read on for 10 of Watts’ finest Rolling Stones drum moments.
“Start Me Up”
Watts’ jazzy timing and hither-tither syncopations create the undeniable swing of the radio staple “Start Me Up.” He fills in all the gaps around Keith Richards’ strutting riff, building up a steady groove. The song’s turnarounds are deceptively intricate, again relying on fluid playing from Watts to snap everything into place.
“Sympathy for the Devil”
Watts is at the crux of the cacophony of percussion that guides the haunting “Sympathy for the Devil.” Another Stones song colored by inventive drumming, the swirl of congas, maracas, and acoustic drums creates a mystical, occult atmosphere, highlighting one of the band’s finest pieces.
“19th Nervous Breakdown”
Here Watts dances his drum stick over the ride cymbal in vintage ’60s fashion, incorporating blink-and-you-miss-it fills that conjure the frenzy of the “nervous breakdown” depicted in the song.
“Beast of Burden”
Watts kick and snare pop and crack with the sound of perfection of the sensual “Beast of Burden.” The drums are central to the track’s R&B groove and provide an airtight pocketed backbeat.
“Undercover of the Night”
Even in 1983, Watts was able to keep up with the changing sounds of the time. His propulsive drumming hits at a rapid pace on the funky “Undercover of the Night,” with a machine-gun intro leading into tasteful hi-hat and snare work.