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Not Fade Away: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Goats Head Soup,’ 40 Years of Living in the Shadow of ‘Exile’

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The Rolling Stones Goats Head Soup

In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we focus on the Rolling Stones‘ ‘Goats Head Soup,’ which had the unenviable job of following up ‘Exile on Main St.’ The chart-topping album turned 40 this weekend. 

“I think Mick and I were a little dried up after Exile,” Keith Richards wrote in his 2010 memoir, Life.

It’s understandable given the weight of Exile on Main St., the band’s much-lauded 1972 double album. If Goats Head Soup doesn’t totally measure up to that album, it would still mark a career high for almost any other band. It topped the album charts, spawned a No. 1 single (“Angie”) and went triple platinum.

The album was mostly recorded in Jamaica because, at that time, it was one of the only countries that would have Keith Richards. “By that time, about the only country that I was allowed to exist in was Switzerland, which was damn boring for me,” Richards says in the book According to The Rolling Stones. “Nine countries kicked me out, thank you very much.”

The album had a weariness — understandable, as the Stones had been around for a decade, recorded prolifically, toured the world and famously enjoyed the spoils that come with international rock stardom. In “100 Years Ago,” Mick Jagger sang of days gone by, when “the world was a carpet laid before me,” and of when “we had no secrets hid away… seems a hundred years ago.” Later, he sang, “Now all my friends are wearing worried smiles/Living out a dream of what they was.” Jagger may have been singing from Richards’ perspective.

Richards himself sang “Coming Down Again,” a ballad that manages to be sad and creepy at the same. “Slipped my tongue in someone else’s pie/Tasting better every time/She turned green and tried to make me cry/Being hungry it ain’t no crime.” It’s often been speculated that the song was about Anita Pallenberg, who used to date late Stones guitarist Brian Jones, but left him for Richards. However, in Life, he denies this flatly, saying “By then that’s all water under the f***ing bridge.” He sounds a bit defensive there. Whatever the case may be, it’s not hard to imagine the line, “She was dying to survive/I was caught, oh, taken for a ride” was written about Jones’ famously abusive relationship with Jones.

“Angie” is another (possibly) misunderstood song. Some have speculated that the song was about David Bowie’s then-wife, Angela, with whom Jagger was rumored to have had a relationship. Others guess it is about Keith Richards’ daughter Angela being born at the time that he wrote the song (while in rehab). In Life, Richards says, “I wrote ‘Angie’ in an afternoon, sitting in bed. I just went, ‘Angie, Angie.’ It was not about a particular person; it was a name, like ‘Ohhh, Diana.’” He noted that he didn’t know the baby’s sex at the time he wrote the song (“in those days you didn’t know what sex the thing was going to be until it popped out”).

In According to The Rolling Stones, Rolling Stones Records president Marshall Chess said that Atlantic Records, who distributed the band’s imprint, “did not want ‘Angie’ as the single off Goats Head — they really wanted another ‘Brown Sugar’ rather than a ballad, and there were some heated arguments.”

It wasn’t all ballads, of course. “Dancing With Mr. D” lead the pack, bringing the band back to the underworld for the first time since “Sympathy For The Devil.” “He never smiles, his mouth merely twists/The breath in my lungs feels clinging and thick/But I know his name, he’s called Mr. D … A human skull is hangin’ right ’round his neck/The palms of my hands is clammy and wet.” It’s also one of the band’s best funk numbers.

A horn section and Billy Preston on keyboards gave the band one of their funkiest tracks ever with “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).” Written about a boy who was killed by the NYPD “in a case of mistaken identity, they put a bullet in his heart,” and a 10-year-old girl who died of a drug overdose. Jagger has rarely sounded as enraged, before or since.

The album ends with “Star Star,” which finds the Stones having at least a little fun. Over an old-school Chuck Berry riff, the band sings about an unnamed woman with a taste for famous men, including Jagger himself: “Honey, I missed your two tongue kisses/Legs wrapped around me tight/If I ever get back to Fun City, girl/I’m gonna make you scream all night.” The extremely NSFW song also names names, saying that Ali McGraw got mad at the subject for some of her (also NSFW) activities with Steve McQueen. “I’m makin’ bets that you gonna get/John Wayne before he dies!”

In “100 Years Ago,” Jagger sang the prescient line, “Don’t you think it’s sometimes wise not to grow up?” “Wise” may not be a word often used to describe the band, but Mick was clearly on to something. Having just passed their half-century mark as a band (!), it turns out that not growing up has worked out quite well indeed for the Stones. And as it turned out, Keith was wrong: Mick and Keith still had a lot of great songs left in them. “It’s Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It),” “Memory Motel,” “Fool To Cry,” “Miss You,” “Beast of Burden,” “She’s So Cold,””Start Me Up” and “Waiting On A Friend” were just some of the classics to come. They just had to get over the beast of burden that was following up Exile on Main St.

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