Listen now on:
It would have been tough to make me question The Rolling Stones in 1973.
I’d been a fan since I first heard “Satisfaction” on New York’s WMCA, but had been positively obsessed since 1969, when I was invited to my friend Barbara’s Bat Mitzvah. Her father offered her the choice of the typical catered affair—pigs in blankets and surreptitious whisky sours at Leonard’s of Great Neck—or to take a dozen of her friends to see the Stones’ matinee show at Madison Square Garden, followed by Chinese food at Sun Luck. Smart girl that she was, she took the Stones. I was too young to understand exactly what was going on when Jagger beat the stage with his belt for “Midnight Rambler” (or what Tina Turner was doing with the microphone during their opening set), but I knew I wanted more. It didn’t hurt that my parents—like so many others—became especially exercised whenever the Stones showed up on TV.
I bought Sticky Fingers right out of the box in 1971, when the doodles in the margins of my school books changed from Mr. Met to the Stones’ tongue. I even purchased a pair of pants that looked like the pair Keith wore on the inner sleeve. I drove my friends crazy playing Exile on Main Street, and got into a fight at an end-of-the-school year party when Randy Zaller told me he thought School’s Out was a better album (and I liked School’s Out).
So when Goats Head Soup hit the shelves at Korvette’s in August, I was more than willing to overlook the glamour-puss photo of Mick on the front cover (the dark, smoky photo of Keith on the back, looking like something floating from a magic lamp, was more my speed). But when I put it on, and the opening riff of “Dancing With Mr. D” slithered out of the speakers, my father stuck his head into my room and asked, “Who is that? I like it.” The album didn’t stand a chance.
To this teenaged listener, the album was a letdown. It felt . . . soft. The kind of Stones album a parent could like, and what good is that? Even to my unsophisticated self, “Mr. D” seemed silly, a play-acting retread of “Sympathy.” And to make matters worse, the single was “Angie,” a ballad!
Apparently, I wasn’t alone in this opinion. Soup was never the album a lot of us pulled out and listened to when it was time to hear the Stones. But over the years, I’ve grown quite fond of it; if anything, it’s even more drug-soaked than Exile. It’s the hangover after the bacchanal, an autumnal collection, a woozy, thick-knit album that, at its best, goes down with the raspy warmth of a single malt.
It’s surprisingly adult, covering adultery (Keith’s “Coming Down Again,” where the slinky, dope-suffused regret manages to overcome lyrics such as “slipped my tongue in someone else’s pie,” and the intimate piano blues of “Hide Your Love”), aging (“100 Years Ago,” a slinky, fuzzed-toned contemplation with a push-pull shifting tempo that explodes into a great funk wah-wah coda), and a subject that still feels raw, “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’s” condemnation of police violence. The last sounds better today than when first released, with its gritty funk and Billy Preston’s clavinet out-dueling the silly backing vocals. “Winter” is a tender ballad, highlighted by Mick Taylor’s warm, distorted guitar and Jagger’s great Van Morrison-styled vocal, right down to lyrics referencing “restoration plays,” “Stone Canyon,” and a repeated refrain of “wanna wrap my coat around ya.”
Unsurprisingly, the two straight-out rockers concern groupies and sex. “Silver Train,” an outtake from Sticky Fingers that Johnny Winter had released earlier that year, sounds like a less-distinct version of “All Down The Line” (which is still pretty damn good), and “Star Fucker” (aka “Star Star”) is a gleefully lascivious Chuck Berry riff. It’s the album’s finale, and I like to imagine it was included to prove to younger bands that the Stones could still rock out with the best of them without even breaking a sweat.
And that’s what really makes Goats Head Soup so Trunkworthy: after a decade in which the by-word was “don’t trust anyone over 30,” Jagger and Richards were facing the big 3-0, and confronted it head-on. It might not have been what I was looking for from the Stones in high school in 1973, but as we’ve learned, while you can’t always get what you want, sometimes you get what you need. Even if it takes 40 years to figure that out.