An album a week (ha ha) #16: Goats Head Stew: A few nuggets amidst the gunge.

Goats Head Soup is a strange album. After what must have felt like eternity putting Exile together in Keith’s basement, who could blame the Stones for retreating to Jamaica and knocking out ten tracks pretty quickly? They were coming off one of the great runs in popular music history, four studio albums and their best live album, a dozen sides  that have a permanent pace in rock history.  And then it was job done, I reckon, ‘cos this album sure sounds like they weren’t too fussed. It’s all over the place. So much so that the only way to look at it is track by track. So here they are:

1. Dancing With Mr D
2. 100 Years Ago
3. Coming Down Again
4. Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)
5. Angie
6. Silver Train
7. Hide Your Love
8. Winter
9. Can You Hear the Music
10. Star Star

1. Dancing With Mr D

Starts with a certain slow menace, and then goes on and on and wears out its welcome. When you listen to the opener on Exile, ‘Rocks Off’, there’s just so much music and musicality in the first minute. Here there’s one or two ideas and they’re stretched out to five minutes. Hit the skip button? At least half the time.

2. 100 Years Ago

This one is like they had bits of three or four songs and just concatenated them to make one. It’s not boring. It starts off kind of jaunty and tuneful, then loses me when Mick tells me to call him ‘lazy bones’ before heading into some pretty much unconnected jam. Kind of entertaining, but not really a song as such. I like the bit about ‘bad red wine’. Hit the skip button? When I’m impatient.

3. Coming Down Again

‘Being hungry, it ain’t no crime’, Keith sings. Unless maybe you’re hungry for a hit of smack and your prioritizing of drugs over music is causing you to let your band-mates down… Having said that, he’s not singing about that kind of hunger in that song, and this is one of three pretty good slower tracks on the album. It feels like it was composed rather than flanged together. First track on the album that suggests maybe it’s not going to be a complete waste of time. Hit the skip button? Not usually.

4. Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)

Groovy funky doo doo doo doo doo etc. First track with a bit of energy, and one of only three on the whole album. A pretty solid second single, and really the only candidate. The menace here is kind of theoretical where on ‘Gimme Shelter’ or ‘Midnight Rambler’ it was actually felt, but the song comes along just in time to raise the pulse just enough to get you through the next track. Hit the skip button? Rarely if ever.

5. Angie

The big single. I read somewhere this album has sold more than 6 million copies. More than Exile, more than Beggar’s Banquet. And a big #1 hit is exactly (and solely) why. Radio play gets the sales to go beyond the fanbase. ‘Angie’ is a great tune. Not exactly fun. Nothing so far has been lyrically uplifting. Even ‘100 Years Ago’ suggests it’s sometimes wise to not grow up. But the tune is lovely and the vocals a good example of Jagger’s mannered delivery at its best. Hit skip? Rarely.

6. Silver Train

This is like lite imitation of a typical Exile track. ‘All Down the Line’ being the obvious one. The guitars honk away nicely and Jagger slurs his way through lyrics about anonymous sex, good solid Stones subject matter. Vocal hooks, a chunky tune, non-negative subject matter. One of the better ones. Hit skip? Nope.

7. Hide Your Love

I listened to this two days ago and I can hardly remember anything about it except that I was keen for it to end. This is one of (at least) three tracks that seem to have been stuck on to get the track listing up to 10 and the play time up over 40 minutes, the other two being ‘100 Years Ago’ and ‘Can You Hear the Music’. Skip? Yes.

8. Winter

This is the third tuneful, carefully-composed ballad n the album. Nice guitar work from Mick Taylor, well aimed vocal from Jagger. Cheerful? Well, it’s gonna be a long hot summer and the light of love will be burning bright, so it’s not all bad. Skip? Only if you’re after the danceable ones.

9. Can You Hear the Music

Man, what is this crap? Some kind of rehabilitated reject from Satanic Majesties? I can’t hear much music worth hearing on this track. Skip? How fast can I hit the button?

10. Star Star

The famously rude song that is called ‘Starfucker’ on bootlegs. Energy! Riffs! Humour! Good god, are we on the same album? Yes, it’s rude and kind of cheesy, but it’s also a rollicking rock ‘n’ roll song in the Chuck Berry tradition. Skip? Not usually.

So where does that leave us? Three rejects, plus ‘Mr D’ which is on the cusp, and half a dozen solid tracks, half ballads. Of these, ‘Angie’ is the only one in the Stones canon. Stacked up against the previous four albums of course it comes up short. But most albums by most acts would. Tackled 40+ years later, free of context, it’s really not bad. There are flashes of the brilliance of years before, as indeed there have been ever since. It is better than the album after it, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, which probably has fewer dogs on it but is more consistently mediocre. Does anyone but a Stones fan ‘need’ it? (I say ‘need’ in quotes because nobody needs pop songs to live.) No, but it’s worth a listen. I’m rather a fan of Keith’s vocal efforts, and ‘Coming Down Again’ is a good one. I listen to it more than I thought I would. Well, I listen to around 65% of it, anyway.

 

Think I’m gonna get on down, oh yeah.

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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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