It’s a cover version, boshed out a lifetime ago. One rock and roll band trying on another’s song for size. It is in many ways of no consequence at all. On paper a B-Side at best, or something to tag onto a decades old remaster and expanded edition of an already legendary album to convince fans to buy another copy of something they already know inside out. Stocking fillers for Dad on Christmas. That kind of thing. That’s all true. Until you listen to it. Then it takes on the shape and the weight of The Rolling Stones, In their prime. This time that smokin’ mojo is filtered through Wilko Johnson. It’s Wilko’s song. Gifted to the Stones from the Feelgood Dr himself in the before time.
Charlie Watts has left the building and Tattoo You is 40 years old. That means he laid down Start Me Up, Black Limousine and Waiting On A Friend at 40 years young. That album is considered latter day Stones by some. Halfway through his journey he was still the undisputed champion of the game. Right to the end in 2020. That remained true. Charlie Watts lead his band (and they were HIS band) with suave, stylish gentlemanly cool. There is no band that can, could or will ever hold a candle to Mick, Keef, Bill, Ronnie, Brian, Charlie and the other Mick. Take your pick. Little Red Rooster to Living In A Ghost Town. We need it all. Even Steel Wheels.
The band recorded their first pass at this back in the early 80’s as part of the Tattoo You album. It didn’t make the cut for the long player and became one of those half remembered or bootlegged things. Just like Scarlet gifted the Stones with Jimmy Page on guitar to us last year during lock down with the reheating of Goats Head Soup.
Wilko himself waited 7 years to release his own version of the song on his own album Barbed Wire Kisses in the very different landscape of 1988. Too good to let it go to waste it’s a decent little love song.
Tattoo You is a brilliant album, expanded or not. So is Goats Head, Between The Buttons, Aftermath, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Some Girls, Beggars Banquet. Exile On Main Street may be the pinnacle of this particular art form. Then there’s the curios. Undercover with it’s disco edge. The funk of Black & Blue, the hard rock of It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll, psychedelia on Satanic Majesty. All pinned down by a drummer who always played in service to the song. Never flash, always on point. Watts was not a Bonzo, Moon The Loon, Beware of Mr Baker type drummer. No Muppet Man Animal. He was cool, calm, on the beat.
He’s barely noticeable on Living In The Heart Of Love. As the press release has it, the new content for this special edition release is a mix of old half finished songs and modern touch ups. As such this might be the last thing Charlie recorded. Time will tell. Again. The simple rhythm, behind the riff, serves the song first, the band second and the ego of the drummer last. It’s a cool tune. Mick has fun with the simple rhyme and Keef and Bill are dropping notes for each other to pick up like it’s a parlour game. They keep it clean and lean. It’d fit in on the album. Again like last years Criss Cross. It’s only after all this time listening to copies of the originals, that to hear them just toss this out feels revolutionary. Never mind the width feel the quality. As another 60’s rhythm king John Densmore has said of Charlie Watts: “When you master great time, you achieve timelessness”.
I’m not saying Watts didn’t have chops. He laid down the grooves for more than the second half of an entire century. Listen to the percussion patterns on early stuff like the (almost entirely (& correctly) cancelled) Under My Thumb (the only thing stopping that dreadful lyric being erasable from history is Charlie’s groove) or the golden era of Gimme Shelter and Midnight Rambler on the same fruttin’ record. Listen to how he makes gambling sound like dancing on Tumbling Dice. How his beat dances and makes you tearful on Fool To Cry. Just bear in mind this guy is the guy who played that rhythm on Sympathy For The Devil. That song is all about the drummer really. Ably assisted by congas and maracas Charlie reinvents rhythm in a rock song. Even now when bands cover it they shy away from copying his groove and adapt it… Motorhead, Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction. They all swerve it.
There are a squillion Rolling Stones best of albums, Hot Rocks, 40 Licks, Honk, Jump Back, Grrr!, Etc Etc. Any and all of them are essential and elevate any record collection.
The live albums… From Get Yer Ya Yas Out to Stripped to Love You Live to Still Life to Havana Moon. They each tell a different story. Fascinating documents from the heart of the action. Altamont, Glastonbury, MSG, The Rock And Roll Circus, No Filter. This stuff is Rock and Roll’s very architecture.
This band was Charlie Watts and friends. And he kept exemplary company. We shall never see the like again. He’ll live on in the hearts of love for as long as people want to listen to rock and roll music.