The Rolling Stones – ‘Goats Head Soup’

Between 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet and 1972’s Exile on Main St., The Rolling Stones struck impressive form unprecedented in rock’s then-brief history. These two albums bookend the band’s four finest albums and include many of their enduring hits in a perfect storm of accessible energy, pertinent lyrical direction and creative originality. Each album in this sequence brought something new to the table, improving at each turn. A masterpiece like Exile on Main St. would always be difficult to follow.

Goats Head Soup arrived in August 1973 as this highly-anticipated follow-up. Notably, the album was the Stones’ last to be produced by Jimmy Miller, who had worked on each release since Beggars Banquet. Again, the album is well composed, benefiting from the band’s advanced chemistry and accompaniment from saxophonist Bobby Keys, pianists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart, and Billy Preston on the organ.

Most memorably, Goats Head Soup is home to ‘Angie’, its lead single, which shared an A-side with ‘Silver Train’. The tender ballad benefits from Mick Taylor and Keith Richards’ mesmeric acoustic compositions and Mick Jagger’s passionate delivery, but at four and a half minutes, one can find the titular refrain rather grating upon repeated listens. Offering an antidote, however, are Hopkins’ piano and Nicky Harrison’s string arrangements that build tension and emotion towards the song’s conclusion.

‘Angie’ was certainly no ‘Sister Morphine’, and as we venture through the album’s three other, more energetic, single releases, it becomes apparent that the Stones may have lacked some creative impetus in 1973. While there’s nothing inherently unsavoury about Angie’s neighbour, ‘Silver Train’, the song lacks musical and conceptual originality worthy of memory – a sign of things to come.

The second double A-side single contained ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ and ‘Dancing with Mr. D’. The band by no means pushed the vanguard with these tracks but returned to the Sones’ comfortable territory of hitmaking. In the former, Jagger tells two stories: firstly, of a boy shot “right through the heart” by the NYPD and then of a ten-year-old girl who died from a drug overdose. Unlike previous topical hits like ‘Street Fighting Man’ and ‘Midnight Rambler’, ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ was never linked to any true events.

‘Dancing with Mr. D’ kicks the album off with that classic Stones energy, courtesy of a classic Richards riff. In line with its title, the song is apt for a Jagger-style chicken dance, but beyond a rather trite return to the dark affinities of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, one can’t help but feel short-changed by the chorus.

Goats Head Soup doesn’t live up to the impossibly high standards set by its preceding records, but it is partially redeemed by some of its peripheral songs. ‘Coming Down Again’ hears Hopkins’ finest moment on the keys as Richards offers rare lead vocals to his own lyrical composition for optimal authenticity.

‘100 Years Ago’ and ‘Winter’ pose similarly sentimental highlights. In the former, Jagger feels his age for the first time at 30, while the latter hears the frontman convincingly lament a long, cold winter despite writing and recording the song in sunny Jamaica. Towards the end of the record, ‘Hide Your Love’ hears the group bask in a pretty blues structure reminiscent of their early albums.

In August 1973, The Rolling Stones once again graced fans with a record of masterful musicality. A funky groove characteristic of the band’s peak career hits prevailed with the satisfying ballast of balladry. However, for the first time in several years, the band looked to be faltering in the lyrical department, claiming very little unchartered territory.

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