Over a 58-year career with the Rolling Stones, drummer Charlie Watts helped in pioneering the band’s heavier sound that set them apart early on, and eventually, came to define them. He was a crucial part of driving the music and anchoring the rhythms, serving each song like no other.
As British Invaders go, the prolific drummer was never renowned for being over-eccentric or too often self-destructive like Keith Moon of The Who, or for being the gregarious one of a rather boyishly shy quartet like The Beatles’ Ringo Starr. Instead, Watts’ acclaim came from being steady, composed, and unshakable behind the kit.
To honor him on the one-year anniversary of his death (Aug. 24), here are the Rolling Stones’ top ten most iconic drum licks, courtesy of the drummer’s drummer, the late great, Charlie Watts.
1. “If You Can’t Rock Me” (1974)
The drums immediately kick off this intense track. Assertive and snappy, Watts commands this lesser-known Stones tune.
2. “Monkey Man” (1969)
Thundering amid a twinkling of keys and steady bass thumps, Watts gives this song so much texture.
3. “Undercover Of The Night” (1983)
The ’80s took no prisoners, the Rolling Stones being no exception. However, Watts seemed to be immune to the decade’s penchant for synthetic drums and gated snares that went off like gunshots. This track had four backing percussionists, but Watts remained central to the overall sound.
4. “Moon Is Up” (1994)
Every drum hit is warm, bright, and full. With a softer production and stripped-back instrumentation, “Moon Is Up” is the perfect vehicle for Watt’s expert drumming.
5. “Get Off of My Cloud” (1965)
From the moment the song opens, the drums dominate. It’s the steady 4/4 pattern never faltering throughout the song that makes it so effective.
6. “Sympathy for the Devil” (1968)
A flurry of acoustic beats from congas and maracas make for the incredibly inventive drumming on “Sympathy for the Devil.” Watts said of the song, “We had a go at loads of different ways of playing it. In the end, I just played a jazz Latin feel.”
7. “Miss You” (1978)
The drums and bass seem to strut hand-in-hand in this beat-driven tune. A song Watts said was heavily influenced by going to discos, “Miss You” has that signature four-to-the-floor rhythm.
8. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
Never faltering, not for one second, Watt’s driving beats pound away in this Stones classic. Tireless accuracy makes his drumming so impressive.
9. “Gimme Shelter” (1969)
Watts makes a booming entrance on “Gimme Shelter.” A haunting tune, Watts injects light and life into it with each beat.
10. “Honky Tonk Women” (1978)
A song immediately recognizable from the opening cowbell lick, Watt’s drumming doesn’t get much better than “Honky Tonk Women.” He carries the twanging anthem from start to finish.
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