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Goats Head Soup Revisited

January 3, 2013

Track By Track: Goats Head Soup by the Rolling Stones

Side One

1. Dancing With Mr D

Like most of the songs here the recording of Dancing With Mr D started in the sunny climes of Jamaica at Dynamic Sound Studios in Kingston during November and December 1972. This location suited the Stones as they were persona non grata in both the US and Europe at the time, mainly because of various drug offences.

The song’s menacing slow and deliberate guitar riff acted as an effective soundtrack to Jaggers demonic dalliance, although the revelation that Mrs D is worse than her spouse comes across as more Carry On than Crowley. This was compounded in a promo video made for the track by Michael Lindsay Hogg in July 1973 where Jagger’s low-cut gold leather jumpsuit and Mick Taylor’s floppy summer straw hat did little to convey the darker implications of the lyrics.

In America Dancing With Mr D was released on the B-side of the single Heartbreaker. On the tour of Europe that followed the release of Goats Head Soup it was one of the most regularly played songs from the LP and was part of the now-legal live recording Brussells Affair, recorded at the Foret Nationale, Brussells on October 17th 1973.

2. 100 Years Ago

100 Years Ago was written by Mick Jagger in the late 1960s/early 1970s and something of late 60s optimism permeates the finished version. The different sections in the song fit together clumsily but it is partially redeemed by the considerable guitar skills of Mick Taylor over two separate solos. Strangely the song featured on a 4 track promotional EP issued by Atlantic in the US to promote Goats Head Soup. 100 Years ago was played on the first two dates of the European tour in September 1973 and then never again, which might suggest what the rest of the band thought of the song.

Many years later Jagger would say “I sort of remember Exile on Main Street being done in France and in the United States, and after that going on tour and becoming complacent and thinking ‘It’s ’72. Fuck it. We’ve done it.’ We still tried after that but I don’t think the results were ever that wonderful.” This sense of ennui can be heard in the weaker songs on Goats Head Soup. It is hard to imagine 100 Years Ago being considered for inclusion on any of the preceding Stones LPs.

Producer Jimmy Miller augmented the touring Stones with Rebop Kwaku Baah (Traffic)  and Nicholas Pascal Raicevic on additional percussion whilst encouraging keyboard player Billy Preston to make greater use of his organ and clavinette  to replace the piano favoured by veteran Stones keyboard players Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart.  The result is a dense, murky sound closely aligned to the funk being produced by Sly and the Family Stones, The Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder, who had opened for the Stones on their most recent US tour.

3. Coming Down Again

Every Stones LP contains at least one under-rated gem: Coming Down Again is the highlight of Goats Head Soup and one of Keith Richards’ very best songs. The influence of Gram Parsons can be detected in this mournful ballad. The lyrics allude to adultery (“slipped my tongue in someone else’s pie”) although Keith claims the song is not about stealing Anita Pallenberg away from Brian Jones.

A crucial element here is Nicky Hopkins eloquent piano which introduces the song and then runs through it with never a note wasted. The feeling of regret Keith has attributed to his increasing heroin use. The song also features a short saxophone interlude from Bobby Keyes, also at the time wrestling with a monkey on his back. The song has never been performed live either by the Stones or by Keith solo and is overdue for rediscovery.

4. Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)

Back into riff mode with Heartbreaker, this time using Mick Taylor’s wah-wah guitar to great effect whilst Keith Richards plays bass. Jagger angrily describes real or imagined US street scenes of trigger-happy cops and teenage junkies. The song benefits from the entry of a sweeping Jim Price horn arrangement also featuring Chuck Finley on trumpet.  The number worked well onstage in Europe during 1973 (see Brussells Affair for evidence) and on the 1975 Tour Of The Americas. It has been played occasionally since then – there is a good version on the Four Flicks DVD, recorded at the Paris Olympia in 2003. In America Heartbreaker was the A side of the second single taken from Goats Head Soup, but it was not released as a single in the UK.

5. Angie

Angie was the first single from Goats Head Soup, released in August 1973 ahead of the release of the LP. It was a huge international hit, reaching number one in the US single charts and number 5 in the UK. The Stones had never released a ballad as a lead single before, and its success rather overshadowed the parent LP, bringing in a new audience who in Keith’s words “wouldn’t normally touch us with a barge pole’”. Long-term supporter Nick Kent of the NME was less than impressed : “This single is a dire mistake on as many levels as you care to mention.”

The subject of the song was rumoured to be Angela Bowie, with whom Jagger had been photographed. However it subsequently emerged that Keith Richards had written the song for Anita. The key musical elements are the gently strummed acoustic guitars of Richards and Taylor, Nicky Hopkins’ “diamond tiaras” piano and a string arrangement from Nicky Harrison. A Lindsay Hogg video showing the Stones sitting on a rose petal-strewn stage was more effective than his Dancing With Mr D attempt. Despite its acoustic nature Angie received a number of effective performances on the 1973 European tour and the 1975 Tour Of The Americas. A live ‘unplugged” version can be found on the Stripped CD from 1995.

Side Two

Silver Train

Side Two of Goats Head Soup got off to a propulsive start with the slide-drenched Silver Train. An earlier version had been recorded in October 1970 and offered to Johnny Winter, whose recording predates Goats Head Soup. Silver Train is a return to the bands r’n’b roots as Ian Stewart honky-tonks on piano and the slide quitars of Richards and Jagger intertwine and Jagger gets in some telling harmonica fills. Featured as the B-side of Angie, it made an effective live number but only featured on a couple of setlists early in the 1973 European tour. It was the third track from Goats Head Soup to feature as a promo video shot by Lindsay Hogg and is well worth a look online, if only to marvel at the shoulder-pads in Jagger’s sequinned blue jumpsuit. It is one of many Stones tracks that has been covered live by the Black Crowes.

Hide Your Love

Another track that pre-dates Exile, Hide Your Love is very much a Jagger solo track that showcases his jaunty piano. Mick Taylor’s solo attempts to redeem the song without success. whilst some further recording at London’s Olympia studios during May 1973 still left the track sounding like a demo that doesn’t so much end as collapse. Another odd choice for the 4 track promotional EP released in the US. Why was Hide Your Love included on Goats Head Soup at the expense of clearly superior out-takes such as Through The Lonely Nights (later the B-side of It’s Only Rock’n’Roll) and Criss Cross Man  (still officially unreleased) ? One likely explanation was lack of focus from the producer. Keith Richards: “Jimmy was great, but the more successful he became the more he got like Brian (Jones). Jimmy ended up carving swastikas into the wooden console in the studio. It took him three months to carve a swastika. Meanwhile Mick and I had to finish up Goats Head Soup.”.

Winter

Another delicate ballad, this time built around the guitar of Mick Taylor and the piano of Nicky Hopkins (Keith Richards was MIA on this track). Jimmy Miller was reported to be unhappy with Jagger’s vocal. Having recorded three or four takes Jagger was called away from the studio by his wife Bianca and the magic was lost. Listening to the released version you can hear Jagger’s vocal punctuated by comments in a few places, such as the way his voice breaks on ‘hope it’s gonna be’ and you can hear someone else say ‘yeah’ (possibly Keith in the same room doing harmonies). A lovely and very human touch, and all credit to Miller for not cleaning up the take. There are echoes of Moonlight Mile (Sticky Fingers), especially in the string arrangement by Nicky Harrison. Engineer Andy Johns thought it one of the best songs recorded at these sessions. Never played live, and so another overlooked gem.

Can You Hear The Music?

A positively psychedelic production featuring all manner of instruments including bells, horns and the distinctive flute playing of Jim Horn. Jagger repeatedly sings “Can You Hear The Music?” to which the answer is no, not really. The song was rehearsed in Rotterdam during preparations for the 1973 European tour but thankfully never made it onto stage. The lowspot of Goats Head Soup, and one of the least convincing songs ever recorded by the Stones.

Star Star

By relying on Keith Richards’ unerring ability to rewrite Chick Berry, Goats Head Soup goes out on a high. The song was originally called Starfucker, until Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun had an attack of the vapours and insisted the song be retitled. Atlantic were also unhappy with the lines “bet you keep your pussy queen” and “giving head to Steve McQueen”. The actor was asked to give written confirmation that he would not sue over the lyric, which he did. On US copies a sloppy overdub failed to obscure a reference to John Wayne.

Jagger said at the time ‘I suppose we ask for it if we record things like that. Christ, I don’t do these things intentionally. I just wrote it. If I’d written it with other words that were just as good, I’m sure it could be a hit.’ Traditional Stones Outrage, which generated some very helpful column inches and a BBC ban. Bizarrely Atlantic made the song the lead track on the 4 track US promo EP, recognising that the unstoppable rhythmic drive of the track more than compensated for any lyrical irregularities. The French went further and released Star Star as a single. Richards plays lead, Taylor plays rhythm, Watts and Wyman demonstrate why they made the best drum and bass team in the world. Jagger sings “Do It Again” at the fade, making it sound like a good idea (whatever it is)

Star Star was one of the Goats Head Soups tracks played consistently throughout the 1973 and 1975 tours and was featured in live shows regularly thereafter. In addition to an excellent version on Brussells Affair it was played on the B-stage at Twickenham Stadium in August 2003, as seen on the Four Flicks DVD.

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