Disappointing Albums, Music

51 Disappointing Albums: ‘Goats Head Soup’ by the Rolling Stones

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Okay, it’s hard to make a case for Goat’s Head Soup as a disappointing album. There’s is nothing wrong with this record other than that it follows one of the most remarkable runs in rock and roll which started with Beggars Banquet and just kept growing. Imagine trying to follow Exile on Main St., which in turn had to follow Sticky Fingers. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t rate those as two of the finest moments in western culture. In fact, I don’t even want to know anyone who doesn’t.

Anyhow, Goat’s Head Soup has suffered by comparison and a quick scan of its ratings in the Rolling Stone guide on All Music, and the other usual suspects, would stamp it pretty clearly as a three-star effort which, for the mid 70s Stones, constitutes a significant disappointment. This won’t be the last ‘disappointing’ Stones album I’ll look at, and in fact it’s one of many that could have been included.

Which is funny because they are the greatest band in rock and roll history.

So let’s talk about Bobby Keys because he turns in another blinder. Listen to him on Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) playing the fills at the end of each line in the chorus with the other horns. Monstrous. Heartbreaker is one of their great songs. It’s menacing and danceable. There is some idea that this album is overproduced. I couldn’t disagree more.

Imagine trying to follow Exile on Main St., which in turn had to follow Sticky Fingers. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t rate those as two of the finest moments in western culture.

To me, this is a classic Jimmy Miller production. It’s a little muddy, a little loose, and very live. To be sure, it doesn’t have the French heroin jam feel of Exile or the barbiturate boogie of Sticky Fingers but it’s not Graceland either. Listen to Angie on headphones and ignore the strings. The bass and piano are falling off the beat and Mick sounds like it’s three in the morning and he’s on the phone to this woman. Was it really Angie Bowie? I sort of doubt it.

I like Silver Train. If the Stones were The Band, this is what they would sound like. I’ve always liked the understated rockabilly thread that occasionally flickers in the Stones light. Silver Train sounds like the Stones doing what they love, simply rocking out and letting it all happen. Ian Stewart on piano, who could ask for more? Ditto for Hide Your Love, another great Stones soul workout. Mick himself adds the swinging honky tonk piano on this one.

Winter is their most underrated ballad. I always thought Van Morrison should have covered it. It’s a loose, possibly improvised set of lyrics about longing to be somewhere else. It sounds a bit like Moonlight Mile but it’s a more soulful, less insistent song. It also has some pretty mysterious lyrics. It’s Christmas and Mick notes that all the restoration plays have all gone ’round. In what sense? Are we to understand that Mick has had to sit through The Country Wife? No wonder he wishes he was in California. And what of Bell, Book, and Candle, the pre-Vatican 2 formula for excommunication? This song is like an Umberto Eco novel.

And then there is Star Star. It is a classic fuck off rock and roll song, complete with obscene and deeply misogynistic lyrics. It was great live and it blows the roof off this album. The Stones are always at their most convincing on a good Chuck Berry workout and this is a sort of diabolical Promised Land.

Why is it disappointing?

The whole topic of song order is a big one and part of the problem with this record is that it feels like a bunch of songs rather than one statement. Even though Exile was recorded all over the place, there remains some kind of narrative that holds your attention. I would be curious to see the list of outtakes and to see whether a better record could have been compiled with most of the same songs.

Why should you hear it?

100 Years Ago, to begin with. Mick Taylor’s wah wah solo and Mick’s insistent and utterly convincing soul vocals drive one of the Stones deepest tracks. I have no idea why it doesn’t appear on more compilations. But really, there are so many great songs on this album. Like many of the records on this list, it has gems that are still waiting to be drawn out of the mine. Think of it as a cleansing ale after a night on whatever fuels Sticky Fingers and Exile. Did I mention Keith’s heartbreaking Coming Down Again, a song that wouldn’t have been out of place on Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night. Go and listen to it, for god’s sake.

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8 responses to “51 Disappointing Albums: ‘Goats Head Soup’ by the Rolling Stones

  1. I saw the Stones ON the GHS tour and really liked the album but I can’t shake the feeling that some of the best cuts were songs that didn’t (couldn’t) make it onto Exile

  2. I loved it and still do! (Though I do recall an interview from years later where Mick Taylor said he didn’t particularly like the album as a whole.)

  3. Honey, you’re two toned kisses, legs wrapped around me tight – for beginners! And It’s only rock & roll for seconds. How about the tribute to Johnny Winters – Silver Train. Need I say more. This Critic is human. As humans we all have our off days – where nothing is good on our tv even though we have 256 channels. I forgive you – even if you don’t want to be forgiven. Remember “Heartbreaker” used in the movie “Blow”. And “Star Star – Fuck a Star (Steve McQueen). How about the #1 song as a tribute to my eldest daughter “Angie”. I actually could say more but the attention span of my friend is limited (not that mine exceeds the speed of light.

  4. One tends to forget that, for such a primal guitar band, keyboard players were an important part of their sound. Here Billy Preston and the great session man, Nicky Hopkins.

    1. It’s an important point. Nicky Hopkins, in particular, was responsible for so much memorable stuff on their records. His first solo album is brilliant and I think some of the Stones return the favour on it. The Tin Man Was A Dreamer – not disappointing at all!

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