And thus begins The Rolling Stones’ long, long, long, long, long, long post-1972 career in which they were widely perceived by critics and fans alike as being reduced to mere shadows of their former, godlike selves. In a way, I suppose that was true; The Rolling Stones would never again release a string of albums quite like Beggars Banquet to Exile to Main St. ever again. But, contrary to popular opinion, these post-1973 Rolling Stones albums are still quite good. At least until the ’80s. So, let’s start talking about The Rolling Stones’ excellent and often-overlooked 1973 album called Goats Head Soup.
The way this album begins, with a mild and simple dance song called “Dancing With Mr. D,” has been a source of much-woeful howls of pain from many Rolling Stones fans. It’s the first Rolling Stones album in a long while to begin with something that doesn’t deserve to be played once per hour on the radio station. It doesn’t create much of an interesting atmosphere, and Mick Jagger’s singing with these funny, raspy vocal intonations that comes off as really weird. But, on the other hand, I actually find listening to that song incredibly enjoyable. For a start, the riff is remarkably catchy, and so is the chorus… And I honestly find Jagger’s vocal performance weirdly engaging. So, whatever. I guess I’m of the opinion that anything’s a good song if it makes me want to get up and wiggle my behind a little bit.
“100 Years Ago,” on the other hand, sounds a lot like a Rolling Stones classic, and I’ve got to wonder why it isn’t. It’s full of multiple excellent hooky lines, and the instrumentation sounds fabulous. It starts out like a nice, old nostalgic mid-tempo rocker with a thoughtful guitar casually playing some grooves and a pretty piano twinkling in the background. After suddenly turning into a country ballad, it slowly develops into a rip-roaring funk tune. That’s quite an eye-popping amount of genre-hopping, something that I don’t really recall The Stones ever trying before. So, I guess this shows that The Stones still had some tricks up their sleeve despite their supposed descent into Dinosaurism.
There are three ballads here, and two of them are great. This is the album with “Angie” in it, of course, which constituted the album’s biggest hit. That’s a gorgeous song with one of the loveliest melodies that they’ve ever come up with. Jagger manages to turn in one of his more heartfelt vocal performances, and it’s nice to note that the drugs haven’t screwed him up so much at this point that he wasn’t capable of being a good singer anymore! The second good ballad is “Winter,” and it also features a very compelling melody. Really, if you don’t think that these guys were masters of melody, then you’re a freak. They were also masters of the guitar, of course, and that’s evident all throughout this album. The solo on “Winter” is as sweet and melodic as the vocal melody, and the guitar at the end of “100 Years Ago” is about as funky as it could possibly be.
Despite this being a very good album altogether, it did have more than its fair share of missteps. “Coming Down Again” is the album’s lesser ballad. While the central hook is OK, they keep on REPEATING IT AND REPEATING it with woefully little development. It doesn’t start to grow tiring until around the four-minute mark, though, but it makes me wonder why they couldn’t have garnered enough sense to chop off the last two minutes (apart from that very brief, but truly awesome sax duet). The voodoo-inspired “Can You Hear the Music” is pretty good although that also seems like it was a missed opportunity for something a little bolder and more bracing. I like that trippy atmosphere they create, but it takes some work on my part to become fully immersed in it. “Hide Your Love” is undoubtedly the album’s biggest disappointment for me; it’s a poorly mixed and R&B ditty that rocks about as convincingly as a dead rat. If that is the only reason music fans the world-round have a major distaste for Goats Head Soup, then I guess it’s understandable.
But they do end the album on a very high-note, with the Chuck-Berry-inspired rocker “Star Star” that manages to kick up quite a storm (despite the almost off-putting obscenity in the lyrics). So, I’m going to reiterate my opinion that Goats Head Soup is a good album by all accounts. It’s not a perfect album, but not everything has to be *perfect* in the world, you know. Unless you’re some sort of mental-case perfectionist. In which case, I think you’re better off listening to some Bach. Or Telemann, if you thought Bach was too much of a renegade.
Goats Head Soup was released in the peak years of classic rock, but its predecessors (Beggar’s Banquet/Let it Bleed/Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main Street) are better known as rock’s essential albums. The Stones were well into their career without original guitarist Brian Jones, and were established rockers. This album was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, a few other songs that were recorded at the same sessions re-surfaced in later Rolling Stones albums. Goats Head Soup would basically be their last success, critically and commercially for a while. They regained popularity with 1981’s Tattoo You. The Stones continued experimenting sounds on this record, combining jazzed based influences with their classic rock signature.
Dancing with Mr. D: This intro song gives off a sleazy vibe that the Stones are famous for, with a funky bassline, honky-tonk piano and Jagger’s snarling vocals. The chorus is pretty straightforward, but the layering of quirky instruments keeps the song interesting throughout. Overall a great intro 4/5
100 years ago: This song starts as a melancholic ballad, with jagger singing about old times. The clavinet and piano add an old fashion feel, with an electric guitar jamming along with wah effect. About halfway the song slows down to a lonelier tone, then quickly speeds up a again for a great wah wah guitar solo and funky outro 4/5
Coming down again: this song is very laidback, like a tame version of 100 years ago. Here the piano takes a calmer tone, same with the wah laden guitars. The song is based on Jagger and some soothing backing vocals singing ‘coming down again’. There’s a nice sax solo but I never really got into this song 2.5/5
Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker): The Stones keep up the R&B/Soul/Funk feel here, but it’s also a great rocker. The chorus reminds me of ‘Acid Queen’ from the Who’s Tommy, and the horn arrangements remind me of some funky musical. One of my favorite songs on here 5/5
Angie: I don’t know if this is true but I heard that Mick wrote this song as an apology to his girlfriend/wife at the time for sleeping with David Bowie :S… whether it’s about Mick fooling around with Bowie or not, it’s a great ballad type song. The funkiness departs on this track, the track driven by an acoustic guitar, a piano, and some string arrangements adding to the emotion. Mick’s vocals are very fitting for this song, sounding like some sort of abused furry animal whimpering for sympathy… maybe that’s a bad example, but oh well, this is a great song 5/5
Silver Train: Silver Train seems to be based on a cowboy movie theme song. It’s more country sounding than previous funky songs. It’s a pretty straightforward song, not as much variation as the last tracks, with a harmonica and a whimsy guitar solo. I usually skip this song, probably one of the weakest on here 2/5
Hide Your Love: A bluesy song, one of the more ‘classic rock’ songs on Goats Head Soup. It’s based on a catchy piano riff (are they called riffs for pianos?). Like Silver Train and Angie, this song cuts down on the groovyiness. Although it’s better than Silver Train, it’s a bit too straightforward compared to the other songs 3/5
Winter: This is also a sad, ballad type song like Angie, but more rocking and continues the newly established blues sound of the second-half of the record. There are some really beautiful string arrangements here too. Although Angie is generally more popular, I find this song to be more sentimental. Winter has a nice, warm sounding guitar solo, which fits the overall feel of the song perfectly. This is another highlight of the album 5/5
Can You Hear the Music: Here’s a surprise, a return to funkiness. But this track is downright psychedelic, not just funky. It sounds like Angie or Winter on acid. Jagger’s vocals are over layered with strange effects; the organ and guitar are stuffed with wah, reverb, and flangers. The weirdest song on Goats Head Soup, and placed at an unexpected place in the album. A good refreshing song after Winter 4/5
Star Star: Originally titled Starf**ker, and had controversial lyrics (I’m not sure if the CD release of GHS has those lyrics), both the US and UK censored Star Star. This is probably the closest to ‘classic rock’ you’ll get on Goats Head Soup. It starts out slow, but builds up to an energetic chorus (‘Star***er star***er star***er star’) and great guitar solo. Star Star ends in an upbeat jam, a great closer to Goats Head Soup 4/5
Goats Head Soup is a great rock record, with various musical influences that keeps it interesting and standing out more than typical rock albums. While it may not have been as great as its predecessors to many, Goats Head Soup is an essential Rolling Stones album.