The Rolling Stones - Goats Head Soup (1973) - Album Review

By Sergio Ariza

A remarkably high level stumble 

In 1972 the Rolling Stones had reached the pinnacle of their art with Exile On Main Street, completing an incredible four-year period in which they released the four best albums of their career, as well as a great live album, and on which, after the Beatles' split, they had become what their motto said: "the greatest rock & roll band inthe world". It's understandable that when in 1973 this ‘soup’ appeared many saw it as a slight stumble. Of course, after four masterpieces from Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile, this ‘stumble’ is a remarkably high level one, even though it represented the beginning of the slow decline of the band...

After the orgy of creativity (and of sex, drugs and rock & roll) of the excessive Exile - an album with which the Stones finished their process of assimilation of American folklore, of blues, country, gospel and rock & roll, - it was time to look again at the present, and in 1973 the Stones discovered two things, on the one hand the rock glitter of Glam Rock and on the other they saw how their beloved black music turned towards funk. Many of these two elements can be seen on their eleventh studio album, a work that opens with the slow riff of Dancing With Mr D; new proof of their ‘sympathy for the devil’, although it remains far from their classics, and is one of the weakest opening songs of their period of splendor.


Things get better with 100 Years Ago, a song by Mick Jagger on which you can see that the singer has been listening to Stevie Wonder, with whom they were on tour the year before, and on which Billy Preston plays clavinet. Then comes one of my favorite moments of the band, one of the best songs ever sung by
Keith Richards, namely Coming Down Again, a song about the triangle (that finished off the first Stones formation’) formed by Brian Jones, Anita Pallenberg and Keith himself… that ended with Keith and Anita together and the blond founder licking his wounds and almost out of the band. It is one of the group’s best ballads and the mirror against which future wonders will be viewed, such as Fool To Cry or Memory Motel. But another reason I love this song, I have a real weakness for it, is the fact that it gives a moment of brilliance to two key guys in this band, pianist Nicky Hopkins and saxophonist Bobby Keys, who delivers my favorite solo of his entire excellent career. I've always thought they've never performed it live because it's a song too close to Keith's heart…

Then comes Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker), another small classic, with
Mick Taylor putting a wah wah through a Leslie that ends up sounding like 'blackexplotation', with a great horn section and Keith Richards playing bass, as on almost half of the album (Bill Wyman ‘anticipates future absences’ and only plays on three songs on the album). Closing side A is the most famous song on the album and one of the undoubted classics of the band, Angie, with Keith, the main composer, shining on his acoustic and Mick Jagger recalling Marianne Faithful in the lyrics (no, Angie is not the wife of David Bowie).

Silver Train
opens up side B and sounds like an unreleased trtack from Exile On Main Street, which isn't so bad either, although it's clearly a step below All Down The Line, its clear predecessor. Hide Your Love doesn't stand out too much either, but it has an excellent Mick Taylor on slide, and it gets more than interesting again when the third ballad of the album arrives,( the clear ‘winning aces’ of the álbum) Winter - a song that, like Sway, had Jagger acting as rhythm guitarist and, again like with Sway, Taylor claims that he had something to do with its composition. What is clear is that it is one of his best moments in the band, one of those in which you think about when you remember Richards' words, "sometimes I was amazed listening to Mick Taylor". You can also hear the tremendous influence Taylor has had on Slash


With Can You Hear The Music the influences of black music return, on another outstanding ballad in which funk echoes can be heard. Star Star (or Starfucker) closes the album with another of those Chuck Berry tributes/plagiarism that fit so well, with provocative lyrics around which Richards and his Telecaster can practice all the 'licks' from the father of rock & roll.


The ‘rejects’ prove that, in spite of everything, the band was going through a great moment: Criss Cross is a sketch of a song that has more strength and groove than most other rock & roll bands' singles, while Scarlet finally makes it clear that if you put
Jimmy Page and Keith Richards together you get something very similar to the Black Crowes' The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion. And that's not to mention that, despite not appearing in the 2020 reissue, during the recording of this album there were also a couple of great songs that would later appear on Tattoo You: namely Waiting On A Friend and Tops, the first being yet more proof that 1973 was the best year for ballads in the Stones' career.

In short, Goats Head Soup may be one step below the four records that preceded it, those considered as the Stones' imperial period, but that doesn't say much, as 99.9% of the records released in the history of rock are below those four; so yes, this is the beginning of the slow decline of the biggest rock band of all times, but it is not the same to start declining from a hill as from an eight thousand metre plus...