Mar 052007

Over the years, as I’ve compared live recordings by The Rolling Stones to their classic studio recordings, I’ve suspected that the claim that Charlie Watts drummed on those studio albums is a hoax. It’s a damn, dirty lie! The guy sucks so bad live that the Stones must have been using studio drummers from their earliest days.

Let’s start with a look at one of the most distinctive beats in the history of rock. Which among the dozen archetypal rock beats attributed to Charlie Watts, you ask? How about the opening beat to “Honky Tonk Woman”.

Sure, there’s no denying that Charlie Watts is the drummer on this “live” performance of a Stones’ classic:

Judging by the fact that Jagger actually sings with his great tight-throated tone rather than his characteristic live bellow, the fact that the drumming sounds decent, and the fact that Watts doesn’t come close to faking the song’s wrap up, this is obviously one of those studio recordings with newly recorded vocals. In other words, Charlie Watts is drum-synching to the song like the rest of his bandmates. The jury’s out as to who’s actually drumming. I suspect some union guy associated with the BBC.

Now take a look at this performance of the same song, paying particular attention, if you can block out all the other poor performances, to the drums:

OK, that may not be fair. How about this one?

“Now you’re really messing with us, Mr. Mod! Everyone knows that’s not Charlie Watts and the Stones. It’s the legendary New Barbarians! What the hell are you up to?”

OK, now that I’ve got men covering every exit, I’ll remind you to focus on the drums. Although the tempo of this New Barbarians version is 10 times slower than any song deserves, check out how well the New Barbarians drummer articulates the beat we grew up worshipping on the song’s immaculate studio version. Compare the drumming with the live atrocity from recent years, the one that clearly features the real Charlie Watts on drums.

Dig: I’m nowhere near a drummer, but whenever I grab a rare moment behind the drum kit, the first thing I try to do is play the opening of “Get Off My Cloud”. Then I try to play the opening of “Honky Tonk Woman”. I suck dick at either effort, just as I suck at attempting to play any drum beat, but truth be told, I’m not much worse than Charlie Watts live and in the flesh. This tells me something.

The Watts Hoax is not confined to Mick Taylor-era Stones recordings. Let’s check out a live performance of “Get Off My Cloud”, with a little detour into “Yesterday’s Papers”.

First of all, why is it so hard to find straightforward footage of an actual early Stones performance? Again, the footage in no way matches the recorded performance, but the grooves give ample evidence that Charlie Watts, although playing with more energy than he’s ever mustered live, doesn’t come close to playing this archetypal beat properly. Not once does he end the signature snare roll when he’s supposed to. WTF? It’s one thing if the guitarists and Jagger want to improvise on “Get Off My Cloud”, but this is one of the dozen drum beats that justifies Watts’ low-key role in this legendary band. Where does he get off screwing up the beat?

Here, I’ve got to conclude that it’s unfair to accuse Watts of “messing” with “his” beat. I sense he does what he can to keep peace in the middle of that inflated bunch of egos. Surely he’s the Derek Smalls of the band. He’s probably the one guy the road manager doesn’t have to worry about on the road. He shows up for gigs on time. He keeps the band as grounded as possible. Fine, but don’t tell me he’s the guy who’s been drumming on their albums.

I tracked down legendary soul drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, who you may recall made the outrageous claim in Max Weinberg‘s excellent The Big Beat book, a series of interviews with his favorite drummers and Weinberg’s greatest contribution to rock (even better than his work on Late Night with Conan O’Brien), that he drummed on 21 songs from the first 3 Beatles albums. That was the claim of one crazy old drummer! we all thought, but these days I wonder if there was a grain of truth, if a few grains short on memory, to his claims.

On his website, Purdie is credited with having “anchored sessions with the Rolling Stones.” I did not find any further explanations or indications of sessions on which Purdie might have drummed. Do any of our Townspeople know what sessions he anchored? When reached for comment, Purdie refused to talk about specifics of his work with the Stones. “I was called in to overdub drums on a lot of those record, just about everything but Their Satanic Majesties. They couldn’t have paid me to play on that shit!”

“So Charlie Watts didn’t play on songs like ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Get Off My Cloud’?” I asked.

“He may have shook a tambourine,” replied Purdie, “but have you ever seen him play live? He does that little hitch with the snare and hi-hat. Guy can’t keep himself from doing it if his life depened on it.” Purdie is referring to the way Watts pulls off the hi-hat when he hits the snare. “What’s he think he is, a fucking reggae drummer? That shit don’t swing, that shit don’t rock. Not even white folks can dance to that hitch!”

I tried to engage Purdie in discussing his claims of having played with The Beatles, but he cut the interview short. “Hey man, back then those skinny English cats all looked the same to me. I might have played with The Beatles, I might have played with the Stones, I might have played with The Small Faces – Kenny Jones, right? There’s another guy who was exposed as a fraud later in his career! I sure as hell didn’t drum for The Hollies!”


  37 Responses to “The Charlie Watts Hoax!”

  1. Oh man, great article. I have to get that Weinberg book! A friend always used to recount stories to me saying how Charlie just despised Mick and once even threatened to toss him out of a hotel window! I think this should have been a Is There a Drummer in the House article – awesomely written! My favourite quote: “I sure as hell didn’t drum for The Hollies!” Kinda makes me glad though too? I like The Hollies! Let the Hollies bashing begin. I’m not so sure about the hoax part. Am I living in a dream world?

  2. Mr. Moderator

    I too think The Hollies were pretty great, and they had a great drummer for their style. This was originally slated for an Is There a Drummer in the House piece, but the further I dug, the further it became clear there was a studio drummer in the house.

  3. Ha ha – good one:) Again, great article.

  4. saturnismine

    Isn’t it common knowledge that Hal Blaine played on their early sessions?

    i begin to hear the “real” charlie on “between the buttons”. the hi-hat’s open, the fills are super awkward, and the grooves are much looser.

    but as far as the rest is concerned, slade, i have a ’74 bootleg that shoots your theory all to shit. the stones COOK, and charlie handles all the beats from that Murderer’s Row period that began w/ “Beggars” with confidence.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    i have a ’74 bootleg that shoots your theory all to shit. the stones COOK, and charlie handles all the beats from that Murderer’s Row period that began w/ “Beggars” with confidence.

    Mmmm… I’m sure they had their good nights. I’d love to hear that some day. Until then, I’m sticking with my story. I’m astounded by how bad Charlie Watts is live.

  6. You can hear the real Charlie earlier than on “Between The Buttons”. Just listen to that botched fill on “I’m Free” – that ain’t no hired gun, son…

  7. Mr. Moderator

    So they let Charlie play on some B-sides and album fillers. Big whup! Let’s hear evidence of Watts executing one of his signature beats from a hit single as it was recorded. The guy is horrible, and I don’t mean to sound like some Neil Peart fan. I mean he seems unable to commit to his parts in a live setting. If he did play drums on the studio versions of “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Get Off My Cloud”, then why is there scant evidence that he can play those beats with authority live? Believe me, I know what it’s like not to be a great musician. I can get myself geared up for a rock-solid recorded performance and sometimes suck live, but the emphasis is on sometimes. I do have my good nights. I’ll await evidence, such as Art’s 1974 bootleg.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    PS – As far as I know, Charlie Watts, other members of the Stones, and even Bobby Keys and Willie Weeks are not logging onto Rock Town Hall. It’s safe, if you agree with me that Charlie Watts, Rock’s No-Fat Drum Hero, is a hoax, to come out and agree with me in this public forum.

  9. Mr. Moderator is smoking something…

    Charlie is a very “in-the-pocket” drummer. I suppose he may be a bit off live – but then then they all are live.

    I’m gonna have to ask Sethro to open up a can of whup-ass next time he sees you…

  10. meanstom

    I tend to agree with Mr. Mod here. Drummers aren’t allowed to be that ‘off’. They’re too important, too integral to the rock experience. Take this as a compliment, drummers. Pilots can’t be ‘off’ either.

  11. Mr. Moderator

    Drummers aren’t allowed to be that ‘off’. They’re too important, too integral to the rock experience. Take this as a compliment, drummers. Pilots can’t be ‘off’ either.

    I like the way you put this, Tom. If it ain’t got that swing it don’t mean a thing, right? If the drummer’s dragging or falling apart at the seams in a non-artistic way, the whole band suffers. Drummers, I care about you more than you will ever know!

  12. I watched some of all of those videos (all the first, some of the second and just a little of Keith’s wanking at the top of the third…)

    On the first – so it’s lip synced? Then it doesn’t count. The second – Charlie sounded right on. He’s “right there” in the pocket.

    Third video seems of such poor quality and Keith starts the song so slowly and badly that I’m not gonna bother.

  13. Mr. Moderator

    Mrclean wrote:

    On the first – so it’s lip synced? Then it doesn’t count. The second – Charlie sounded right on. He’s “right there” in the pocket.

    Because it’s lip-synched, no, it can’t count as evidence that Watts plays on the track to which they’re synching. As for the second one, he’s not playing the beat right, whether it’s in the pocket or not. Some of you loosey-goosey types may sniff and say, “Big deal if he’s having fun and allowing the snare roll to go on longer than on the record! You’re such a tight ass, Mr. Mod!” But come on, this is one of my all-time favorite drum beats. Who’s Charlie Watts to tamper with it?

  14. Mr. Moderator

    I wrote:

    As for the second one, he’s not playing the beat right, whether it’s in the pocket or not. Some of you loosey-goosey types may sniff and say, “Big deal if he’s having fun and allowing the snare roll to go on longer than on the record! You’re such a tight ass, Mr. Mod!” But come on, this is one of my all-time favorite drum beats. Who’s Charlie Watts to tamper with it?

    Sorry, I mixed up performances. It’s the 4th clip, with the hyperspeed “Get Off My Cloud” that I had these beefs. His playing on the second clip of “Honky Tonk Woman” is OK, but I don’t think he’s articulating the beat as well as the drummer on the record does.

    I must say, I’m troubled by the lack of support I’m getting on this issue but not surprised.

  15. BigSteve

    I think the most telling part of your original post is the instruction to “block out all the other poor performances.” The fact is that none of the Stones are playing live like they did in THE studio versions of the songs. In general we forget how many of the tracks we know and love are one time only, irreproduceable events. They are the products of planetary alignments that won’t happen again for thousands of years. So the Stones don’t even try to recreate the rhythms of their most famous songs.

    The live version of Jumpin Jack Flash is always at least 30% faster than the original version. Why? Because playing it that way makes sure no one takes them to task for not nailing it like they did on the record.

    Listen the Keith’s solo on Honky Tonk Women in that video. Is is it even half as good as the recorded version? The vocal? Please. I don’t know why Charlie should be held to a higher standard than the others.

  16. Mr. Moderator

    I don’t know why Charlie should be held to a higher standard than the others.

    Because the drums are the root of so much that’s great about rock ‘n roll! Am I the only person among the hundreds of folks viewing this list each day who thinks that a drummer should be held to a higher standard? How many great bands can you name with crappy drummers? Does anyone take X to task for having a mediocre bassist and 2 singers who stray off key? NO! Why? Well, Doe and Exene are effective and deliever the artistic goods. D.J. Bonebrake, meanwhile, is hammering away behind them, getting listeners juiced up with his TREMENDOUS drumming. I’m too excited by his drumming to even notice that John Doe’s not lighting up the fretboard with octave leaps and wicked hesitations on the bass. There’s no dependence on a constellation of the stars with D.J. Bonebrake. The guy’s got the goods and he delivers night in and night out. Why? Sure he’s got chops, but he also cares. He uses his mental and muscle memory. Charlie Watts plays like he doesn’t give a damn. Who around here is willing to give a damn and call a lazy drummer a lazy drummer?

  17. hrrundivbakshi

    Mr. Mod — not to cast aspersions on your fine musical ear or anything, but… well, extract the cowbell, and the Honky Tonk Women beat is a pretty straightforward thing. I mean, what’s to get “wrong”? The performance clip from the oughts pretty much gets it, other than the fact that the whole band is out of sync.

    Without the cowbell, it’s just, uh, eighth notes on the hi-hat, and the bass/snare going boom-BOOM, snap, boom-snap, boom-BOOM, snap. I really think you’ve got your drums and percussion mixed up here. I mean, yes, they’re inseparable, but they’re not both played by Charlie, simultaneously.

    The most interesting Charlie rumor I know is that he’s an old-school, Victorian-era, rich man heroin addict. Lives quite normally as long as he gets his little dose of “medicine” every day. I can believe it.

  18. hrrundivbakshi

    Oh, and by the way: BigSteve, you are *right on* in that post of yours. Every single member of the Rolling Stones plays immensely worse than they do on their iconic records. And why should this be a surprise? Don’t we all know what perfectionist dickheads the Glimmer Twins are in the studio?

  19. saturnismine

    please allow me to restate what I was trying to communicate above by pointing out the stones’ early use of hal blaine (and scott, you’re right to note that charlie DID play on some early sides):

    ooohhh slade, you’re soooo iconoclastic, picking on charlie watts.

    sheesh, dude, you sound like my jr. high dope blower friends who liked zeppelin and the who better than the stones and the beatles because they had “better drummers”.

    there’s no question charlie was challeneged. who doesn’t know THAT? do you think you’re revealing something we haven’t all known for, like, EVER?

    did you JUST START listening to the stones or something? or did you finally get around to reading the Pretty Purdie section of Max Weinberg’s book YESTERDAY?

    so charlie’s not that good, huh? maybe he…gasp…didn’t PLAY on those records we love?

    wait a minute…you’re BLOWING MY MIND. I don’t think i can handle this.

    seriously, though…

    i much prefer BigSteve’s interpretation; those recordings are deceptively hard to reproduce live especially since it’s not something as mechanical as “virtuosity” that they require, but a certain pulse, a feeling. sometimes it’s there, sometimes it aint. it’s not even about “the right tempo”.

    besides, Jim, you’re supposed to be “mr. swing” and all, so how come you can’t understand how elusive the right groove can be?

    (However, steve, i have no idea how playing a song 30% faster would get them off the hook for NOT nailing the groove, since if you play it 30% faster you’re…uhh..NOT nailing the groove…my jr. high school friends used to whine and complain about the stones NOT nailing the groove of “Jumpin Jack Flash” because…every live performance they ever heard of it was at least 30% faster; i see what you’re trying to say: the stones are playing it a different way to avoid comparisons with the studio version. but i came from a circle of friends who criticized them for this very thing).

    ultimately, dean’s even handed approach to all this is where i will lay me down: lay off chollie. he makes a much better drummer than a pot stirring device.

    as mick’s stage shtick goes: “chollie’s good tonight, idnee?” then a pause, and the answer to his own rhetorical question: “come on…chollie’s always good.”

    there’s more than a dollop of sincerity AND sarcasm in that remark. and he can use it whether charlie’s on or not.

    mick (ONE of those perfectionist dickheaded glimmer twins) gets it.

    why can’t you, slade? why oh WHY can’t you?

    offa my cloud…i’m gonna go enjoy me some stones.


  20. saturnismine

    PS: the ’74 bootleg is on a cassette. but go to that website that has all the fillmore stuff that you wrote about a few days ago, and check out the stones in ’78.

    “…down the line”, “miss you”, even “shattered”…

    by your logic, these songs should make us wonder if mick and keith even played on the stones records.

    meanwhile, charlie sounds pretty solid.

  21. BigSteve

    Charlie Watts plays like he doesn’t give a damn. Who around here is willing to give a damn and call a lazy drummer a lazy drummer?

    I think what you’re really getting at at this: why do the Stones have a reputation as a great live band? Just because they continue to drag their asses across the globe’s stages?

  22. BigSteve

    please allow me to restate what I was trying to communicate above by pointing out the stones’ early use of hal blaine (and scott, you’re right to note that charlie DID play on some early sides)

    I’ve never heard this. Which records did he play on? They flew him to London, or they recorded in LA?

    However, steve, i have no idea how playing a song 30% faster would get them off the hook for NOT nailing the groove, since if you play it 30% faster you’re…uhh..NOT nailing the groove

    I just think it becomes a completely different song, though still vaguely recognizable. Same with the live versions of Sympathy for the Devil. Totally different rhythm.

  23. Mr. Moderator

    I think what you’re really getting at at this: why do the Stones have a reputation as a great live band?

    Not really, Steve. Believe it or not, I was hoping to engage in a sincere discussion of Charlie Watts’ serious shortcomings as a drummer, as judged by live recordings I’ve heard/seen of the band. I also wanted to get at the difference between the studio and live versions. We all understand why Mick Jagger rarely sounds the same live – he’s got a thin voice/sings high in his throat, and he can’t do that when trying to project in a loud setting to a huge audience. Drummers, however, despite their mic’ing situation, can still play their beats relatively unencumbered. Watts rarely pulls it off. It’s different than the limitations Jagger faces.

    I honestly have come to the conclusion that Watts is pretty bad, and I honestly believe that drummers can’t get away with being bad because rock ‘n roll, as the form of dance music in which the Stones specialize, requires a steady, at least somewhat charged beat. I don’t know what’s so hard to understand about these opinions I hold. To disagree is fine, but I’ve been real clear about what I believe, and I’ve given clear examples/rationales.

    And I’m not trying to be an “iconoclast,” as Art charges. (Then he has to throw in the snobbish musico charge – jeez, Art, I’ve sincerely sucked at playing guitar long before you learned how to set aside your well-honed, ’70s hard rock chops and let it fly. Don’t even try to pin a “chops snob” label on me.)

    I AM having some fun with examining a commonly held belief that Charlie Watts is some master of restraint. Shoot, I grew up buying into all that too. If you’re now telling me that it is indeed cats like Hal Blaine and Pretty Purdie playing on all those great tracks (and Jimmy Miller on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) then stop feeding me this crap about Watts’ restraint and taste. And now, as I’ve heard repeated over the years, if I’m to believe Watts is a functional junkie, then is he really any “classier” than his bandmates. Just because he sometimes wears a pencil moustache, a suit, and a bemused expression I’m supposed to think he’s somehow less tainted by the sucking of the ’70s? Sorry.

    If I want to play my boys my beloved Stones records and point out to them all the tremendous examples of simple, direct, restrained-yet-emotionaly charged drum parts, I would like to credit the proper drummer. If Hal Blaine and other studio cats really do play on a lot of the hits, then I want to know who plays on what hits. Don’t give me this, “Who didn’t know Hal Blaine played on the hits”-holier-than-thou routine, Art. I didn’t know. BigSteve, who’s as knowledgeable as anyone here and who’s been around longer than us didn’t know. I want to credit the right cats, not a guy who can’t even play an authoritative version of the beat to “Honky Tonk Woman”.

    Enough of my yapping. Come on, Rock Town Hall, show me a little understanding.

  24. general slocum

    Holy crap, Mr. Mod! It’s like strolling about the deck of the Titanic asking who knocked over this teacup. Well, no, not the Titanic. But none of the live clips shows anybody keeping any better rhythm or feel than Watts. Is a functional junkie classier than a non-functional one? Are people who hang quietly back trying to keep the other junkies from imploding, while appearing to have some sense of their own mediocrity classier than the guys who wear their junk on their sleeves, homoerotically go-go dancing their way to drug-legend-fuelled pompous quasi-grandeur? Sure. I have no idea who ever plays on what. For some reason, while possessing a decent ear, I never notice these things. The solo on Baby’s On Fire isn’t Fripp? Well, gee, as soon as you say it, it’s obvious. It’s a very sloppy solo, and Fripp is way too OCD for that. Anyhow, whether he did the studio version of things or not (and if you listen to Mick ripping him a new one while they were working on Sympathy, you could guess he wasn’t about to come up with that final groove,) he doesn’t embarass himself outstandingly in these clips, to me. Indeed he is often sloppily Wattsian on some of the Goat’s Head fills and beats, in a way that I’ve always been partial to. He probably spent many an evening overhearing drum techs outplaying the crap out of him during pre-sound check noodling. He’s the Willie Loman of the Stones, I say. He is also the only Stone besides Mick Taylor who never made me want to smack him down on stage.

  25. saturnismine

    The Hal Blaine info comes from more than one of the early to mid 70s books on the Stones…there’s that great story about Hal having an automatic garage door opener and charlie being utterly amazed by / obsessed with it (yes, they recorded in L.A.). There’s never info about what songs he played on. But since this info was “out there” via the Stones literature, I just considered it common knowledge.

    And Slade, while you may not BE a chops snob, you DO come off like one, regardless of your protestations. We’ve had this discussion before, so you know where I stand, but i think you (and lots of other RTH’ers) have a pretty big blind spot for how much you sound like chops snobs as soon as the talk turns to technique, musicianship, and other related topics. This thread is no exception. That’s part of the reason why the Stones in particular take a pretty good beating around here (and sucking at your own instrument (which you don’t!), has no bearing on this).

    And Slade, don’t YOU give me this “I’m not trying to be an iconoclast, I wanted to have a serious discussion about the qualities of his drumming” routine after splashing a “charlie watts hoax” headline all over a website that is normally dedicated to the “pro wrestling” aspects of rock argumentation.

    Besides, it’s not even clear what the “hoax” is: are you saying that you think Charlie didn’t play on any of their songs, or are you saying that the idea that charlie is a good drummer is a hoax? I’m not even sure what I (or others here) are arguing against.

    Regarding the huge discrepancy between the studio recordings and the live stuff:

    it’s just a bit ham handed to jump to the conclusion that this discrepancy means that charlie wasn’t the drummer in the studio for the later stuff (if that’s what you’re saying), or that charlie wasn’t that good (if that’s what you’re saying).

    The drumming on those live records shares alot of QUALITIES with the drumming on the studio recordings: the often loose, washy high hat; the frequent use of the fill that consists of one rack tom shot; the tendency to signal transitions from one part of a song to another by doing double time on the snare rather than a fill.

    Steve, I think the reason why he plays “sympathy” so differently isnt’ in an attempt to avoid comparison with the original, as you suggest; it’s because the rhythm track of the studio “sympathy” doesn’t have a traditional snare-kick-hihat beat. it’s got lots of percussives. on the “get yer yayas” album, the lineup doesn’t include any accessory players, so they can’t eproduce the recording’s groove doesn’t even exist.

    and this gets to an important point that you and fritz have come close to making.

    like ringo, charlie is limited. he also received LOTS of direction in the studio for the sake of “serving the song” (like what he winds up doing on ‘sympathy’, which is playing the snare and the ride in a very unconventional fashion that wouldn’t work live).

    left to his own devices, he probably would’ve played most of the songs differently than what we hear on the recordings. when they play live, the paramters are totally different.

    and jim, i disagree with your commment that since drums are mic’d, charlie doesn’t have to alter the way he plays as much as mick does. if you’ve ever played drums with a loud band, you’d know that it’s easy to lose the sense of subtlety because you feel like you need to hit harder. alot harder.

    so in the live environment, charlie is probably left to his own devices alot more, because as Steve has suggested, they’re not in the business of reproducing their recordings.

    given how dysfunctional they were as a band, mick’s quip that i quoted above could be a passive / aggressive swipe at charlie on nights when he’s playing too fast. and who knows? charlie may have also played things wrong so that mick couldn’t get his groove on. he DID hate mick.

    in one of those old books i had, keith is quoted as complaining after one gig that “charlie, the prick, was kicking my arse out there…” playing too fast.

    so you see, there are lots of factors that play into this.

    and i hope you’ll forgive me for my “holier than you” reaction. but clearly, i think this issue is WAY TOO complex to simply explain away with “holier than him” words like “hoax” and “suck” (no wonder i didn’t think you wanted a serious discussion).

    as it is, this post is way too long, and i haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.

    one of these days, i’ll transfer that ’74 stuff to a cd. it’s really good!

    and again, i urge you to check out the ’78 era stuff on that fillmore site. charlie holds it together for the rest of the band.

    also, listen to “live with me” on “ya yas”. that’s a real hot damn.

    thoughts turn to baseball…


  26. Mr. Moderator

    I appreciate the attention and interesting discussion you are now bringing to the table on this issue. I’m sorry I couldn’t have been more clear up front, but I see now that you’re grasping the various threads I had hoped to bring into play. You make good points, Art, and you do too, General Slocum. As always, one of my underlying missions is to scrape away some of the BS that’s piled on us true-believing rock fans. I want my sons to grow up knowing who played drums on the studio versions of “Get Off My Cloud” and “Honky Tonk Woman”. If it’s really Charlie, more power to him. I’ll continue to give the man props. If it’s a studio drummer and all that’s left to the record is Charlie live and Charlie playing B-sides, then I’ll have the boys focus on more committed drummers.

    In the middle of all I’m trying to get across, please don’t think I have it in for the Stones. I love The Rolling Stones. I think they’re the best singles band in history. I like tons of albums tracks by them too, despite my fierce protestations regarding a particular album now and then.

    Here’s the underlying stance I hope to maintain: I care about the music. I’m not giving a band a free pass because they’re cool, because they once were great, because they once stood up to The Man… Last night on WH1 there was a marathon of those Classic Albums episodes. I watched the making of Rumours one, which I’d seen before and enjoyed again (Lindsey Buckingham is up there with Ray Manzarek in terms of LA-styled self-mythologizing), the making of The Joshua Tree (pretty much what I’d expect – a lot of bits and pieces naively thrown together, few musical bits that really interested me when broken down), and the making of Who’s Next. The Who one was too loaded with backstory for its own good, but watching Pete, Roger, and John discuss their musical achievements, their pride in their own work, and their disagreements over what songs meant was right up my alley. These guys weren’t dicking around with mythology; they were working together, fighting with each other, and making something new to the best of their abilities. Last week I saw a making of Dark Side of the Moon, and it had the same vibe. These guys weren’t counting on the magic to come together at 4:00 am. It’s cool when that does happen – more power to the magic – but they worked their asses of to make something of whatever it is they had in them. For me, that’s an interesting and too-often uncovered aspect of creativity. For the most part, leave me out of the painful recovery from drug dependence with the love of a strong woman and all that hoodoo-voodoo that goes into the making of Ray or I Walk the Line.

  27. hrrundivbakshi

    Mr. Mod — the “Classic Albums” episode you really want to check out is the one for the Band’s eponymous LP. That one is great — though I gotta give it up for the “Who’s Next” episode, too, just ’cause they tack on the AMAZING “Join Together” studio performance at the end.

  28. Mr. Moderator

    Yes, the one on the making of The Band’s s/t album must be in my top 3 rock docs! I keep waiting for a broadcast of that one.

    How ’bout that “Join Together” clip?! I thought of you.

  29. saturnismine

    jim, i know you don’t have it in for the stones, but like the wife who thought she was marrying superman, only to find later that she married (*gulp*) a human bean, you sometimes hold them to sets of standards that don’t seem appropriate. i trust that you brought me on board to rth lo those many years ago because you sensed in me a watchdog of sorts for all that is sloppy, messay, and loose about rock and roll (remember, it was that rancorous thread among the rth founding members over the worth of ‘satanic majesties’ that started all this; on the one hand, my how we’ve grown; on the other, the more things change, the more they stay the same…).

    nice vh1 digression, but how does it play into your points about chollie? and is cultivating the 4am magic (VERY hard won) any less valid than an earnest fight with your bandmates for the good of the album? they’re not all that different in my book…

    there are these great stories about how neil young used to find the right groove at about that time, simply because it wasthe only way to get his rhythm sections to play the songs slowly enough. but we all know that on a song like “helpless” it’s not simply the tempo that they got right; that song was WRITTEN to be played properly at 4am. every damn note.


  30. Mr. Moderator

    First of all, Brother Art, peace. Yes, you do a great job at watching over your rock responsibilities here, including watching over some of my excesses. Keep it up!

    I thought the VH1 digression was a powerful, healing move. Didn’t you feel the tent expend at that point? Why ask me why and how? But now that you have, I’ll tell:

    I know the Stones weren’t that anal about their craft. There won’t be a Mark Lewisohn book detailing every minute they spent in the studio. There won’t be officially released anthologies containing versions of “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadows” before the horn parts were put down. There won’t even be officially released versions of the 73 songs that didn’t make it onto the latest album recorded ast Compass Point Studios, that is, unless you’re patient enough for a song’s eventual release on a “new” album 12 years later. I can live with these facts.

    What I will continue to ask for is at least a basic accounting for the band’s numerous hits and high points. I’m tired of the jive about blood transfusions and bastard Brazillian offspring, tax evasion, the bottle of Jack and everyone gathered around the single mic.

    Neil Young is an equally intuitive artist, but he’ll sit down with an interviewer and give some concise, detailed insights into his creative process. Bob Dylan doesn’t say squat, but you can tell what went on in the grooves. His mind is spinning around on the surface of the platter, right in time with the record. Most of the Stones just mumble and nod off. Jagger chuckles flirtatiously – AT HIMSELF. Anyone who’s ever been around them just wants to talk about Mandraax and the Mars bar up Marianne Faithfull’s snatch and Bill Wyman’s 14-year-old groupies. I’m into all that stuff as much as the next guy, but let’s talk a little music while we’re at it. It’s too bad Brian Jones had to get fucked up and die. I bet he’d have eventually gotten his shit together and been the introspective, articulate one in the group.

  31. saturnismine

    peace indeed.

    now i understand. but i think you sell keith a little bit short. sure, the prime directive has always been maintaining the legend, but he seems to fetishize the process. there’s more than a little fluff and fantasy (and name dropping) in his descriptions, but he’ll give you some info: e.g., waking up in the middle of the night to get the “satisfaction” riff down, or being very candid about how achieving exile’s sound was a fight with less than optimal equipment and circumstances…

    and besides, hasn’t the presence of a 14 yr. old groupie in a studio environment changed your band’s groove? i mean, how is that NOT about the studio process? you can practically hear it in the grooves of “it’s only rock and roll”….

    il est un rock star…art

  32. Have you ever read that Stanley Booth Stones book, Dance with the Devil? It covers period right around the Brian Jones. He has an interesting take on the Jones era band. He goes on at length about the interplay between the guitar parts, both playing variations on lead with little real lead guitar. I think the great Stones records of 65/66 take this idea of putting simple but distinctive little parts together in a slightly rough, handmade fashion and created brilliant records. You’re so right about Get Offa My Cloud; it’s not that the drum part required brilliant chops but rather that it was at least as recognizable as the singing part. But if you think about these groups cranking out these records, maybe that day in the studio, Mick nagged Charlie into doing it just so. But it was all about getting the record right. Charle probably learned it, recorded it and forgot it all in that one day. Frankly, nothing I’ve heard of the live Stones makes me think they gave a fig live about these very specific little touches. I agree they might have been better if they had, but I don’t think it points to Charlie not having done that roll in the first place.

  33. I should have said that the period covered was right around the time of the swich from Jones to Taylor. Booth also doesn’t paint Brian as someone that was gonna get better. He describes Jones as totally fragile and unable to cope with Mick and Keith taking over his band. He also claims that Charlie is the most polite man in the world.

  34. Hey Mr Mod – I’ve got your back on this one. You know how I feel about Mr Watts – and I certainly agree that drummers have to be held to a higer standard. They drive the song – like a QB drives the offense

  35. saturnismine

    geo, that stanley booth book is a fun read, isn’t it?

    most amusing is booth’s self-conscious bravado: way too many comments in about himself (comments designed to make you think he’s as cool as the stones, as attractive to women, as able to score drugs). he’s probably more guilty of thinking he actually IS a stone than any other writer who hung out with them and wrote about it.

    he’s at his best when he forgets himself.

  36. Did any of you catch Rock and Roll Circus on Channel 13 earlier tonight? It was kind of annoying that they broke it up into different parts (first The Who then Taj Mahal and the Lennon-led supergroup and then The Stones), but man oh man what great performances.

  37. That “Yer Blues” with Lennon, Keith, Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell is spellbinding stuff (at least to me).

    And of course, The Who steal the show.

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