‘Goats Head Soup’: The Rolling Stones Reach Beyond Rock With New Recipe

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The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup had its release as their 11th UK studio album on August 31, 1973. Forty-seven years later, it rode again in deluxe and multi-format editions that, remarkably, took it back to No.1 in the UK. As Mick Jagger said at the time of its first release: “I really feel close to this album, and I really put all I had into it…I guess it comes across that I’m more into songs.

“It wasn’t as vague as the last album which kind of went on so long that I didn’t like some of the things,” he continued, in a disparaging reference to Exile On Main St.There’s more thought to this one. It was recorded all over the place over about two or three months. The tracks are much more varied than the last one. I didn’t want it to be just a bunch of rock songs.”

Goats Head Soup was recorded between November 1972 and July 1973 at Dynamic Sound Studios, Kingston, Jamaica; Village Recorders, Los Angeles; Olympic Studios and Island Studios in London. It became the band’s fifth consecutive No.1 album in Britain on September 22 and their third in America.

Topping the US charts for four weeks, the LP mirrored the performance of both Exile On Main St. and Sticky Fingers. In 2020, it became their 13th album bestseller and made the Stones the first band to top the long player listings in six different decades.

The new release of 1973 had a not-so-secret ingredient that made the prospect of the new album even more inviting for the Stones’ millions of fans. As the LP debuted, the killer ballad “Angie,” with its Nick Harrison string arrangement and equally elegant piano by Nicky Hopkins, was spending a second week at its No.5 peak in the UK. It was a week away from claiming the crown on the Billboard Hot 100, as the perfect trailer for the new LP.

What’s more, the band had begun a European tour on September 1 in Austria, in which the British leg would include four nights at the Empire Pool, Wembley, later renamed Wembley Arena. “Angie” was in the set, as were its fellow album tracks “Star Star,” “Dancing With Mr. D,” and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).”

‘Obstacles in our way’

“Star Star” caused a lot of controversy with its lyrics about a highly active groupie and contains the sort of language that still has the ability to shock. Back in 1973, it was outrageous, and the BBC banned the song from being broadcast on the radio. According to Keith Richards, “Atlantic Records have given us a lot of trouble for all the wrong reasons – I mean, they even got down to saying that Steve McQueen would pass an injunction against the song because of the line about him. So we just sent a tape of the song to him and of course he okayed it. It was just a hassle though. Obstacles put in our way.”

The album was recorded chiefly at Byron Lee’s Dynamic Sound Studio in Kingston, Jamaica and produced, in his final studio outing with the Stones, by Jimmy Miller. In addition to the Jagger-Richards-Taylor-Wyman-Watts line-up, it featured such stalwart Stones squad members as Hopkins, Bobby Keys, Ian ‘Stu’ Stewart, and Billy Preston.

According to Danny Holloway, writing in the NME: “Of my three visits to the Stones’ sessions, the first was by far the most interesting. In the small 20×30 foot room – with primitive dividers around the amps – were about a dozen guitars, mostly Gibson and Fender, a Yamaha piano, small Fender amps, a small PA, and Charlie’s Gretsch drum kit. The bass drum mike was propped up by a brick and a pillow and the head was left on the front.

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“The Stones warmed up on a simple 12-bar blues with road manager Ian Stewart adding tasty licks from the 88s. Wyman plodded along on a small Fender Mustang bass, which must suit his small hands. Watts and Wyman might not even be looking at one another, but they’d suddenly both change the accent of the rhythm simultaneously. They sat while they played – except for Jagger and Richard.”

Artwork by Hipgnosis

Goats Head Soup has one of the most intriguing of all Stones album covers, and the story behind it is equally so. In mid-May 1973, the well-known design company, Hipgnosis, famous for their Pink Floyd artwork, were commissioned to work on the new sleeve. They took the band to their Floral Hall studio in Covent Garden for a photoshoot.

According to Aubrey Powell, one of the partners in Hypnosis, “The shoot was organized for 1pm and Mick and Keith turned up about 5pm. Storm Thorgerson and I had outlined the concept to the Stones and they were all enthusiastic, especially Mick. They were all to be centaurs and minotaurs prancing about in the photo in an Arcadian landscape, like the young bucks they were.” In the end, the cover was rejected and on Wednesday, June 6 the Stones did a photoshoot at David Bailey’s house in Gloucester Ave, London NW1.

The remastered and expanded Goats Head Soup 2020 can be bought here.

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