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Goats Head Soup
The Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones Records 59101
Released: September 1973
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Gold: 9/25/73

Mick TaylorCharlie WattsBill WymanKeith RichardsMick JaggerI heard Goat's Head Soup at a party the other night and it soon became close to impossible to listen to anything else, which, as Greil Marcus has pointed out, is the purpose of any Rolling Stones album -- interruption of routine. So the thing really does work.

Then again, it just may be too early to tell. I couldn't make much of Exile on Main Street initially, but now of course I realize that it was not only their first blues album since 1965 (only this time it was their blues) but the most uncompromisingly rocking record they'd ever made, an intensely moving document of a kind of malaise that gripped both them and their audience. It was a stunning work on every level; the problem was that no one was used to having to work at grasping a Stones album. All their records (and most great rock-and-roll, really) have had such immediacy -- you didn't think about "Ruby Tuesday" or "Gimme Shelter" or "Brown Sugar" the first time you heard them, you simply knew.

Goats Head Soup is like Exile in that there's that decided lack of visceral impact, but (and I may be wrong about this) I rather doubt that there are any secondary levels here that will come through with later hearings, and I confess to being rather puzzled about just what the band is up to with this package. Still, there's a lot of good music here, and enough flashes of greatness to dispel any real fears about the Stones floundering -- when they're good, as they are often enough, they remain unbeatable.

As for the songs themselves, they vary, as you may have guessed already. The opener, "Dancing with Mr. D," is another instant classic -- it has a hypnotic riff from Keith, and features Jagger at his most demonic; the music is reminiscent of some of Creedence's swampier Bayou numbers (like "Run Through the Jungle") but about one thousand percent more mysterious. It's quite overwhelming. The rest of the first side is less impressive, serving some sort of warm-up for "Angie", but there are moments: "100 Years Ago" goes through some imaginative changes; "Coming Down Again" has an exquisite vocal by Keith and some neat bits of sexual imagery, though does go on a bit too long; "Heartbreaker" has an interesting if ultimately unconvincing lyric, but the horns are so full of anger that they almost sound like the ghost of Brian Jones on mellotron, and Billy Preston's clavinet is on hand to show that the Stones are listening to contemporary r-&-b as well as their old Jimmy Reed records, which is nice to know. But "Angie" steals the show; this is easily the most gorgeous ballad they've ever done. It's corny, old-fashioned, and downright irresistible, the "As Tears Go By" of the early Seventies.

Side two drags by comparison, but there's much to admire there too: the effortless, if a bit too typical, funk of "Silver Train"; the late-night-jam-session feel of "Hide Your Love"; the studio tricks on "Can You Hear the Music"; and the almost-but-not-quite vocal orgasm Jagger attempts on "Winter." The best, not surprisingly, is the closing cut: "Star Star" (which as every schoolboy knows by now is not the real title at all) is a great Chuck Berry Aftermath-style rocker, with unbelievably crass and funny lyrics about a young lady of Mick's acquaintance who would probably not be averse to making it with John Wayne if the opportunity presented itself. It makes a terrific finale.

If most of the above has given the impression that I'm hedging, that's because I am. Certainly I'm heartened that the Stones are not content to stand still, are willing to take some chances musically: the fact that some of their experiments don't quite succeed doesn't lessen my respect for the effort. Still, I can't help but be disappointed that Goats Head Soup isn't as assured and creative (or exciting) as, say, Sticky Fingers. Perhaps a live album from their just completed European tour is the answer -- if last year's American performances are any indication of what they're up to now, in concert they can wipe the floor with just about any rock-and-roll musicians before the public, and in terms of energy level (the most notable deficiency of Goats Head Soup) that would be reassuring. Perhaps what I'm bemoaning is really that for a change the boys have had some competition -- I've been compiling an early Ten Best albums list lately, and for the first time in years I'm having no trouble coming up with ten candidates. Maybe I'm just in no position to be objective about the Stones under any circumstances.

In the meantime, everyone I know has been playing the album to death, without worrying about such questions. Truth to tell, so have I. What that says about the function of rock critics is a question to be dealt with at another time, but right now I'm going home and listen to "Mr. D" again. As loud as possible.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 12/73.

Bonus Reviews!

The Stones are having image problems these days, or so some critics think; actually given that 95 per cent of the new wave of rockers are so obsessed with them, it's more like a case of reverse cannibalism -- with everyone imitating them, how could they help but sound like imitators? Anyway, this is, for the Stones, a second-rate album, but I don't hear anybody else doing anything significantly better, and it will have to suffice.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 2/74.

The group many people feel is the greatest band in rock history has put together another fine album, characterized as always by a series of fine, hard rock cuts from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and superb guitar work from Mick Taylor. The surprise of this set, however, are the three ballads, "Angie," "Winter" and "Coming Down Again," which work so well from a band associated with the raunchiest brand of rock. Jagger's vocals are refreshingly simple, and the harmonies of Richards are excellent as always. The set on the whole is more basic than their last effort, with fewer horns and a far superior mixing job. The horns that are heard are beautifully woven in, with solos from Bobby Keys and Jim Horn standing out. As usual, credit to producer Jimmy Miller. The group gets in their usual debauchery, of course, especially on "Star-Star" and "Hide Your Love." Best cuts: "Coming Down Again," "Angie," "Winter," "Hide Your Love," "Star Star."

- Billboard, 1973.

Except for the spavined "Dancing with Mr. D." and the oxymoronic "Can't You Hear the Music," these are good songs. But the execution is slovenly. I don't mean sloppy, which can be exciting -- I mean arrogant and enervated all at once. Mick's phrasing is always indolent, but usually it's calculated down to the last minibeat as well; here the words sometimes catch him yawning. Without trying to be "tight" the band usually grooves into a reckless, sweaty coherence; here they hope the licks will stand on their own. Only on "Starfucker," the most outrageous Chuck Berry throwaway of the band's career, does this record really take off. B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Compared to the monumental Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup is bound to sound inferior, and it does. Nevertheless, the album doesn't deserve its bad reputation. It might be careless and decadent, but that excess is quite intoxicating, as the nasty rocker "Star Star" and the finely crafted ballad "Angie" prove. * * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

On Exile on Main St., the Rolling Stones were able to make one of their finest albums, in spite of heavy drug use. On the follow-up, Goats Head Soup, the drugs began to take their toll on the band, which continued to experience commercial success, even after losing favor with critics.

"It was getting a little more bizarre by then," says Andy Johns, who served as chief engineer and mixed the record. "That album suffered from drugs and alcohol. You can hear it in the music. Just about everyone was getting high, except for Bill [Wyman, the bassist] and Charlie [Watts, the drummer]."

"Heroin was now playing a bigger factor in what was going on," he adds. "It definitely was not helping. It was very negative." The primary user was guitarist Keith Richards, but Mick [Jagger] wasn't exactly straight and I definitely wasn't," Johns says.

To make matters worse, Richard was to face charges for use, supply, and trafficking of cannabis and heroin in Nice, France, while Wyman's wife, Astrid, was raped in her Jamaican hotel room. "That stuff was definitely on their minds," says Johns.

With the exception of "Silver Train," which was recorded in Ireland, Goats Head Soup was recorded at Dynamic Sound Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. "There was an attitude of 'Let's get it done,'" says Johns. "It was just pure momentum. I don't know that there was much of a direction at all. It was like, 'Let's do an album,' and those were the songs that came out during the four or five months."

And, as was the case on the previous albums, the Stones spent days attempting to perfect the recordings. Johns recalls that Richards had a particularly rough time with "Doo Doo Doo Doo [Heartbreaker]," which went on to become a number 15 hit. "The track was really out of tune," says Johns. "Everyone was so out of it that instead of recutting the track, Keith spent four days trying to get the bass in tune, and there was no way to make it work, because the electric piano and the guitar were out of tune with each other. Things were getting a little fuzzy there."

In all, Goats Head Soup simply wasn't up to par with the Stones' previous few efforts. "There weren't as many good songs and the recording was pretty shabby," Johns admits. "It's not their greatest effort, although there are some gems on it." John's personal favorites are "Winter," which he calls "one of the best things that they ever did," and the coyly titled "Star Star," (better known as "Starfucker") which he says "is a classic rock 'n' roll song."

The big hit from Goats Head Soup was "Angie," an acoustic ballad that became the Stones' seventh Number One single on October 20, 1973. It's rumored that David Bowie's wife, Angela, inspired the song.

The week before "Angie" went to Number One, Goats Head Soup hit the top in its third week on the chart. It wasn't the Stones' finest hour, but it was good enough to give the band its third straight Number One album of new material and fourth chart-topping LP overall.

- Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, 1996.

There are those who suggest that on Goats Head Soup the Rolling Stones are going through the motions more than they had ever done previously. Whatever the album's weaknesses, perceived or otherwise, it is still a "typical" Stones album, albeit less frenetic, less angry, than earlier work. Recorded at Dynamic Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, it is more measured and thoughtful than previous albums.

Critics said at the time that Goats Head Soup didn't stand out from the rest of the releases of the day in the way a Stones' album normally did. True enough, there are few standout tracks aside from the lilting "Angie," popularly believed to be about David Bowie's new wife but in reality another of Keith Richards' odes to his then-muse, the Italian actress Anita Pallenberg. The making of the record was not helped by another legal battle over drugs, this one dating back to their stay in France.

The band's fanbase appears not to have heeded the downbeat assessment of the record, and it topped the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic soon after its release in the autumn of 1973 and the single, "Angie" reached Number One in the US and Number Five in the UK.

Occasional funk breaks are provided once again by keyboardist Billy Preston.

As of 2004, Goats Head Soup was the #71 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

(2020 Deluxe Edition) The Stones' often-derided 1973 album now feels like a beautifully murky step toward adulthood, with interesting bonus tracks and a gloriously alive 1973 concert in Brussels. * * * * 1/2

- Rolling Stone, 9/20.

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