One of the greatest underrated assets of a drummer is the art of making a beat simple. As Paul McCartney said of his own simplistic sticksmith: “Look, I love Led Zeppelin, but you watch them playing and you can see them looking back at John Bonham, like, ‘What the hell are you doing? This is the beat. You could turn your back on Ringo and never have to worry. He both gave you security and you knew he was going to nail it.” Charlie Watts provided that exact same sense of rhythmic security for The Rolling Stones.
As Ringo said himself: “You look at Charlie Watts in the Stones and there is nothing really said and he’s an amazing drummer but the drummers tended not to get the writing. The drummer is the driving force but when you have songwriters of that calibre and singers they much prefer to talk about the songs and the writers.” However, Watts was largely fine with escaping column inches, he understood his place in the Stones, and that is a feat in itself. While it might have meant that his shear talent went unnoticed, the songs were the ultimate benefactor of his modest sacrifice.
And yet, despite all his ability and remarked brilliance as a jazz drummer away from the band, there was one very unusual groove in the band’s back catalogue that he simply couldn’t get his around. This is why their producer, Jimmy Miller, is credited with play drums for their Let It Bleed hit, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. With the choral arrangement and Al Kooper’s horn clouding the rhythm, Watts struggled to gauge the offbeats within it. “It proved to be quite difficult to record,” Jagger recalls in According to the Rolling Stones, “because Charlie couldn’t play the groove and so Jimmy Miller had to play the drums.”
In an interview with NPR, Al Kooper even recalled the comical interaction that saw Watts vacate the stool. With the studio growing agitated as pressures to get finished mounted, Watts wasn’t getting the beat quick enough for Miller. So, the meticulous producer apparently said, “Here, let me show you.” Watts didn’t like this much, so he calmly handed him his sticks and said “Why don’t you play it then.” He walked out of the studio and only returned once the song was cut.
Despite the difficulty of recording the effort, the final product was one that the band were proud of and Watts was able to work out his own way of playing it live eventually. As Jagger humbly proclaims: “It’s a good song, even if I say so myself. It’s got a very sing-along chorus, and people can identify with it: No one gets what they always want. It’s got a very good melody. It’s got very good orchestral touches that Jack Nitzsche helped with. So it’s got all the ingredients.” Thank you, Mr Jimmy for making it happen, I suppose.