We can’t start a blog on the Rolling Stones without acknowledging the recent passing of drummer Charlie Watts. Charlie’s steady hand and low-key approach was in stark contrast to his bombastic peers Keith Moon and John Bonham, and was even notably lower key than the colorful Ringo Starr. That being said, his consistent approach and rock-solid presence on the stage was always a constant for this amazingly enduring and capable rock and roll band, and he will be sorely missed. Just like on all of their albums, Charlie delivered the goods on “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll”, with one notable exception… the title track!
I will say, I learned something very interesting today. I have noted on previous albums that the Stones were always a bit more fluid with their lineup in the studio, with a much more frequent use of studio musicians and whoever else happened to be around at the time. I certainly never realized this carried over in a big way to the highly successful title track, “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)”. It just so happens, that neither Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman or even Mick Taylor had anything to do with this song. The rhythm track was actually recorded by Ronnie Wood, who would join the Stones after this album, Kenney Jones (later of The Who) on drums, and Willie Weeks on bass, all from the band The Faces. Oh, and some guy named David Bowie on backing vocals. Mick Jagger liked the track so much, he recorded the song as is with these gentlemen, and then turned it over to Keith Richards for some final guitar overdubs. Have you ever seen the video of the Stones playing this song in sailor suits dancing around in suds? I wonder how Charlie and the others felt about making this video and naming an album after a song they didn’t even play on? Definitely a unique approach for Mick and Keith in making records.
As it turns out, I still love that song, and it is the best song on an otherwise uneventful album. They do a cover of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Temptations, and “Time Waits For No One” and “Dance Little Sister” also stand out as memorable tracks. The rest of the record is unremarkable, although laden with the same guitar-strong tracks we saw on “Exile on Main Street” and “Goats Head Soup”. As noted above, this is the last album recorded with Mick Taylor, who was a part of a very strong run for the band, as he would be replaced soon by Ronnie Wood.
No matter how it happened, it is only rock and roll, and I do like it…very much. Rest in Peace Mr. Watts, you were a classy gentleman in the midst of the debauchery of rock music.