Joel Goldenberg: The Rolling Stones' Goat's Head Soup

The Rolling Stones' promo video for Angie.

As is well known amongst fans of the Rolling Stones, their 1968-72 series of albums and stand-alone singles (Jumping Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Woman in the latter category), is considered to be the band's musical peak, and a high water mark for rock music in general.

This was when the band got off the trendy folk-rock (Between the Buttons, Flowers) and psychedelic (Their Satanic Majesties Request and the We Love You/Dandelion single) train, and dove deep into authentic country-blues and very edgy rock.

The last song on the last album of this series, Soul Survivor from Exile on Main Street, in fact, is one of my very favourite Stones songs. It's all there — sleazy, grimy decadence; edginess galore; and a machine-gun like guitar riff. If the career of the Stones ended at this point, it would have been a send-off of the highest order.

Of course, it didn't end there, and the quality of the subsequent releases over the past nearly 50 years has varied wildly, but the band never again hit the 1968-72 heights.

That was never more the case than with the follow-up to the triumph of Exile On Main Street, namely Goat's Head Soup.

Imagine this, the last the public has heard from you studio-wise is the above-mentioned glorious Soul Survivor, and the next time the public hears from you, it's with the ultra-lame Dancing With Mr. D, the opening song from Goat's Head Soup.

One of the prime rules of LPs, especially in the rock era, is to start off your album with a bang. Something like I Saw Her Standing There from the Beatles' Please Please Me, Black Dog from the fourth Led Zeppelin album. Whole Lotta Love from Led Zeppelin II, Strutter from the first Kiss album, etc.

One thing not to do is to perpetrate a limp variation on a classic like Sympathy for the Devil. Dancing With Mr. D is everything a song shouldn't be — sluggish, lazy, uninspired, muddy sounding, amateurish... I could go on.

First impressions are everything, and could colour one's view of an entire album. Unfortunately, with a couple of exceptions, the LP does has quite a lazy feel throughout.

One reason was that Mick Jagger, surprisingly not a big fan of Exile, wanted to get back to ballads. But the more important reason was that guitarist Keith Richards was in the throes of a major heroin addiction, and hints of it are scattered throughout the album, from the glazed look Keith has on the album's back cover, to a song like Coming Down Again. The title itself is an obvious reference, and Keith sings like he's in a heroin slumber.

Here's my song-by-song evaluation:

Dancing With Mr. D: Perhaps the worst Stones song of all time, for all the reasons mentioned above. Who had the idea to start the album with this song?

100 Years Ago: A song that sounds like it's trying to be energetic, but is nothing special. And Mick sings like he lost half of his teeth.

Coming Down Again: See above.

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker): An attempt to be edgy by being topical. Eh.

Angie: One shining light on the album and a #1 hit to boot. The song is not only a great ballad, Mick sings like he regained all his teeth, and the clarity of the recording makes it sound like it belongs on another album.

Silver Train: A not bad blues, but it pales in comparison with the blues the Stones recorded in their classic period.

Hide Your Love: In some ways, this song is even lazier than Dancing With Mr. D, but at least it's not trying to emulate something done better in the past. Sounds like a casual singalong, but Mick sounds like he lost even more of his teeth.

Winter: Atmospheric, at the very least.

Can You Hear the Music: A sort-of return to psychedelia, but in a weak '70s variation.

Star Star: Edgy lyricwise, I'll grant you, but the recording is very weak Chuck Berry-esque rock and roll.

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