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STEWING OVER
GOATS HEAD SOUP

Goats Head Soup’s greatest distinction, according to fans and pundits alike, is that it’s the record that ended The Rolling Stones’ four-studio-album run of masterworks, from 1968’s Beggars Banquet through 1972’s Exile on Main St. Some even claim GHS is the worst album the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band made during the 1970s, while others insist that dubious distinction belongs to 1974’s scattered Mick Taylor swan song It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll or the underrated guitarist-auditioning groove fest Black and Blue from ’76. To put it another way, Goats Head Soup marks the beginning of a half-decade, three-album trough between Exile and The Stones’ 1978 “comeback,” Some Girls—but bear in mind that this trough contains more high-end music than most bands’ peaks.

The Stones covered familiar modes on the 10 tracks of the 1973 release: the playfully Satanic symbolism of “Dancin’ With Mr. D,” the Chuck Berry-style chugger “Star Star,” the demimonde-dwelling rocker “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” the low-down roots funk of “Hide Your Love,” the shambolic rave-up “Silver Train” and a pair of Gram Parsons-inspired redneck ballads in Mick’s “100 Years Ago” and Keith’s “Coming Down Again.” They’re all rock-solid tracks—crisply recaptured on the newly remastered album—just not as brilliant as their antecedents, while also failing as a totality to sustain the lofty levels of the delectably dirty Sticky Fingers or the immersive, ecstatic Exile.

What’s fascinating about GHS is that its two best songs—the deliriously baroque chart-topper “Angie” and the epic, cinematic “Winter”—are ballads, great ones both. What other Stones LP can you say that about?

As with UMe’s expanded reissues of Sticky Fingers and Exile, The Stones and their tech team have retrieved and polished up a CD’s worth of outtakes and alternate versions. What’s different about Goats Head Soup’s bonus material is that it’s easy to imagine it as a different album had two or three of these tracks been added to the 10 on the LP as released. In this “what if?” hypothetical, the riffy rocker “Criss Cross” and the strutting, cowbell-enhanced “All the Rage” would’ve brightened the overall vibe and the fun factor of GHS, which would’ve been at least a slight upgrade. There’s also an alternate version of “Hide Your Love” that continues after the album version fades out, adding a minute and a half of scintillating Keith-Mick Taylor guitar dialogue; it’s hard to understand why The Stones and producer Jimmy Miller chopped it.

This reimagining of the album doesn’t apply to the Jimmy Page-enhanced “Scarlet,” because it wasn’t recorded until 1974, the year after GHS was released. The intrigue on this track is enlivened by remixed versions by The War on DrugsAdam Granduciel, who dials up the crunch quotient, and The Killers and Stuart Price, who embed the song in a time machine of electronic haze rocketing into the present.

The box-set editions also boast a 15-track live album recorded in Brussels from the fall of 1973, at which point the band was in peak form, having toured behind Exile for more than a year. The sound-quality is excellent, and Bob Clearmountain’s mix puts Taylor’s guitar on the left and Richards’ on the right, playing up the fireworks they set off.

Glyn Johns employed similar stereo separation in his alternate mixes of “Dancing With Mr D,”  “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” and “Silver Train”; it’s fun to compare his approach to that of his brother Andy Johns, who engineered and mixed GHS. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole to crawl down.

I reviewed Goats Head Soup—at length—for Rolling Stone when the album came out, and you can read it (if you have a half hour to kill) in the Critics’ Choice section of the site.

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