After the mid-1980s, The Rolling Stones didn’t get better. Nor iconic. Both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards put out solo records, with Richards’ project stocked with top notch funk-and-roll talent dubbed the X-Pensive Winos, consisting of Waddy Wachtel, Ivan Neville, Charley Drayton and Steve Jordan with cameos by Sarah Dash, Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker, the Memphis Horns and Patti Scialfa. The only musician from the Stones to appear is guitarist Mick Taylor. Talk Is Cheap might have been the last really good Rolling Stones album, if they stayed together to make it during that period of “experimentation”. But they didn’t.
In an interview SF Sonic, Bill Laswell—who did production session work on She’s The Boss for Mick Jagger, and was paid a sizable amount of money for just six tracks—told me that Mick had specific ideas. “You know when I was producing that first Jagger record, I thought it would be a good idea to involve Keith, but Mick really did not want to do it,” the Grammy- winning producer of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” said. “He did want to be bigger than the Rolling Stones. In fact, if that record would have really jumped off, it would have been the end of the Stones.”
But that was not the case. That Jagger record was a stinker while the Richards project got
positive reviews and Keith even toured it. In 1990 Steel Wheels demonstrated that enormous chomp of this fabled band, starts to become a modest nibble. Creatively, it’s the beginning of the end. They will stick around, play live shows for decades more, shock and amaze, and get paid far too much corporate money for being six feet above ground.
Not for being problematic, sexist, racist, homophobic or all the things the dominant generation-who-prefer Switch-and-Tik-tok-shall call them in 2021. It’s kind of funny cause the band has gone through phases where they toyed with being somewhat effeminate, feminists and working with Black blues musicians. Phases, Mang. Phases.
There are many things The Rolling Stones have done that are less than heroic, but people of a certain age chock it all up to “that’s some rock and roll shit” and keep it moving. Throughout all the episodes, chapters, versions and rebranding, Charlie Fucking Watts remained the nonchalant drummer, half the time casting a ‘I’d rather be folding handkerchiefs” facade. But if you’re the drummer for that long, 57 years to be exact, you must actually love your job. It was Watts who didn’t take shit from Mick and in his spare time was a jazz drummer. That provided the “roll” Keith Richards always said Mr Watts had. Anybody can rock, but can they roll?
Here are some highlights from Charlie Watts, the archetype rock drummer of the 20th century that soundtracked a generation and several movements for the definitive garage rock band to ever do the damn thing. He passed away on August 24 and his legacy could not have been duplicated even by Ringo, Bonham or Moon. Only Charlie Watts could put up with the enormity of shenanigans this band generated for more than a half-century and still look like the most sophisticated chap in the group, who could not wait to knock some good sense into Mick Jagger between sets. Cheers, Mr. Watts.
“Get Off My Cloud”
The drum pattern matched the whirlybird three-ring circus carnival vibe.
It’s a quasi session recorded in the mid ’70s, stuck in a vault until “Keith got right” and touched up for the album Emotional Rescue. “If I Was a Dancer (Dance Pt. 2)”, cut and named in James Brown tradition (pt. one, pt. two, etc.) was on the wonderful compilation Sucking In The Seventies, a successor to 1975’s Made in the Shade. I love this version of the Stones taking up the middle ground between dirty punk and live drum oriented disco. Watts is driving the concoction, a reeling, heady rock ‘n’ roll moment locked into a most fantastic hybrid.
“Start Me Up”
There was a time when this wasn’t a walking, talking Budweiser ad. It was the sound of a band saying “Oh, you thought we were dead. Nope, we’re just getting started.” There is a trinity between the drums, bass and Keith Richards that makes the anthem a prime example of garage rock genius, when everything is metrically aligned.
Kind of a throwaway, but there’s something golden the way they stumble upon with Mick’s high-pitched doo do do dos and Charlie Watts’ rapid fire tempo that just burns. Pure Stones hustle. Taking the simple things and making them hauntingly insular.
“Under My Thumb”
The quiet tranquility of the opening. Guitar chords, reserved Watts backbeat, and Brian Jones with the cosmic Marimba—-it’s a creeper masterwork that catches your ear and imagination from the top. Stones sorcery, all day.
Forecasting whether you’re a Mick or Keef guy, “Happy” is the rave up where Richards gets the lead vocals for a change and makes his voice this undersized force of sheer elation that brings the best out of everybody. Wingman finally gets to prance around, making with the duck lips for a change. Watts tempo gives foundation. Those anthemic horn lines wrap themselves around it. Elevating the entire arrangement to the rafters. It’s Richards’ tune and Watts makes sure this sucker flies high and strong.
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John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to Treble since 2018. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in The Wire, 48 Hills, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK and Drowned In Sound.