Living in the Heart of Love - RIP Charlie
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
How many times did Charlie go over and above in providing highlights to a Stones track
"Charlie's good tonight innee?" is a phrase used by many as a tribute quote following the sad news last week of the death of Charlie Watts, aged 80. Stones fanatics will know that this is repeating the line uttered by Mick Jagger during a break between songs on the 1969 "Get Your Ya Ya's Out” live album (for many decades the greatest Stones live album, beaten out by the belated official release of the incendiary "Brussels Affair (Live 1973)" in 2011). Yes, Charlie was always good both as the rock of the band personality & lifestyle wise as well as the roll of the band groove wise in conjunction with Bill Wyman & of course Keith Richards. Much has been written about what made the classic Stones engine room tick - was it because Charlie followed Keith? did Charlie's unorthodox south paw type drumming technique (no I'm not a drummer!) create some kind of timing lag?, And what about Bill Wyman who seemed to bring a deft touch using his fingers on the bass, no pick? I suspect the answer lies in whatever each member brought to the band in terms of influences. Keith was the greatest exponent of frenetic Chuck Berry guitar without actually being Chuck Berry; Bill was obsessed with the swing of Jimmy Reed while Charlie was a be-bop jazz fanatic even writing a book about Charlie Parker in the 60's. Perhaps it’s best not to overthink or analyze the Rolling Stones groove and magic, just sit back, listen ,and let it draw you in. My vivid concert experience of the Stones, in April 2006 as part of "A Bigger Bang" tour, was when the band kicked into "Midnight Rambler" . With all of its tempo shifts and tension you appreciated what Charlie brought to the proceedings but was impossible to determine who was leading - Charlie or Keith.
It's no coincidence that the dark years of the Stones circa 83-87 coincided with Charlie falling off the rails and succumbing to heroin addiction at the same time that the other (unseen) rock of the band Ian Stewart passed away. Once the band reconvened in 1988-89 it was the start of Rolling Stones Inc as a tribute act to the earlier glories .From 1993 Charlie settled in with Daryl Jones in the rhythm section and seemed content to become part of a franchise that still delivered to the masses. That he will be missed is an understatement yet the form of the Rolling Stones Inc for the last few generations means that the brand can sustain anything unless one suspects the death of Mick Jagger .
Yes, it was indeed a rollercoaster week for die-hard Stones fans as days before Rolling Stones Inc had kicked off the Tattoo You 40th Anniversary release season with an offering from the vaults that will comprise part of a second disc of outtakes. “Living in the Heart of Love” was a cut taken from the It's Only Rock n Roll sessions in 1974. Given the cobbled together nature of Tattoo You from various session throughout the 1970's its no surprise to see that it is Rolling Stones Mach II complete with both Mick Taylor and Nicky Hopkins. Given his passing it's a timely opportunity to focus on Charlie's contribution to a typical Stones song and realise how we all took for granted that he was at once the least obtrusive yet at the same time the glue that held it all together and kept things interesting.
Opening with a standard Keith open tuned stabbing riff, Charlie quickly slots in with a trademark snare, tom and high-hat intro and settles into a comfortable Stones groove that we are all familiar with. In this instance too familiar as we seem to be riffing off “Brown Sugar” meets the soon the be released “Luxury” from It's Only Rock n Roll . The band probably decided early on that this is where this track was heading hence left it in the vaults and moved on. “Living in the Heart of Love” seems to be struggling with too many ideas that aren’t fully formed . However listening to Charlie's inventiveness and busyness behind the kit you realise how much part of a Stones song he was and how much of an asset to the writing team of Jagger/Richards as they looked for light, shade, and variation to a songs structure. How many times did Charlie go over and above in providing highlights to a Stones track ? The question should be turned around and asked “how often did he not ?" especially over the golden years 1963-1981.
Meanwhile “Living in the Heart of Love” of continues with a nice Nicky Hopkins piano flourish followed by what sounds like an uneasy edit of a new Ronnie Wood guitar solo (as he wasn't in the band yet and isn't on any bootleg) into a trademark Mick Taylor melodic line.
The lyrics to "Living in the Heart of Love" are superfluous as Mick is in several minds as to where to take the vocal line and overall the track is not up there with the nuggets they unearthed as part of the Goats Head Soup reissue last year . However, as part of taking a moment to acknowledge Charlie’s passing it is worth 4 mins of your listening pleasure. There was a bootleg doing the rounds many years back with the title “Charlie Watts and his Rolling Stones” , whoever came up with this title was spot on. RIP Charlie Watts.
The news following the announcement of Charlie’s death has seen many many outstanding pieces on the man and his part in the most iconic band of the last 60 years. Here are some worth checking out: