By Jeff Burger
Goats Head Soup, which the Rolling Stones cooked up in Jamaica, Los Angeles, and London in late 1972 and the first half of 1973, topped charts in the U.S., England, and other countries. It also delivered a number-one international single, “Angie.” But critics offered lukewarm reviews for this 11th (British) album—and those critics even included members of the group. Mick Taylor, for example, described Goats Head Soup as “weak” and “not one of my favorite albums.” And while Mick Jagger at the time called the album “more focused” than its widely praised predecessor, Exile on Main Street, he recently told Rolling Stone that “I say stupid things like that when I’m promoting albums. You gotta take that with a pinch of salt.”
Fans, critics, and the band members themselves now have an opportunity to reassess the record, thanks to the release of an expanded edition that earns its “super deluxe” label with a long list of extras. The first of its three CDs presents a new stereo mix of the original album; a second offers rarities and alternative mixes; and a third delivers a 1973 Brussels, Belgium, concert that has long been a popular bootleg. There’s also a Blu-ray that features surround-sound Dolby Atmos and hi-res PCM stereo versions of the original album plus videos for three of its tracks (“Dancing with Mr. D.,” “Angie,” and “Silver Train”).
While you’re listening, you can peruse the box’s lavishly illustrated 120-page hardcover book, which contains multiple essays about the recording sessions and subsequent world tour. You’ll also find four tour posters (rolled, not folded, for the benefit of those who want to frame them) and even a booklet that explains how to make Jamaican goats head soup. (“Chop a goat’s head into two-inch pieces” is the recipe’s first step.)
Of course, it’s the music that matters most and, in that regard, it’s not the original album that represents this box’s greatest attraction. That said, Goats Head Soup probably deserved at least somewhat better reviews than it received in 1973. “Angie” remains one of the Stones’ most indelible ballads, thanks largely to effectively arranged violins, Nicky Hopkins’s piano, an emotive Jagger vocal, and a great lyric that ends with, “Angie, ain’t it good to be alive?” and “You can’t say we never tried.” “Winter,” another ballad, is also memorably atmospheric. And “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” features excellent clavinet by Billy Preston, a strong Jagger vocal, and a lyric about police misbehavior that now sounds prescient.
Still, this material pales alongside the tracks on such earlier triumphs as Exile on Main Street and Beggars Banquet, as do the other numbers. “Star Star,” about rock groupies, isn’t a bad guitar showcase, but it’s less distinctive than Beggars Banquet’s similarly focused “Stray Cat Blues.” “Coming Down Again” rings true—especially if you know that Keith Richards and producer Jimmy Miller were both battling addiction at the time—but it’s not a particularly potent song. Neither is “Dancing with Mr. D.,” which delivers little more than nastiness and Keith Richards’s guitar riffs.
As for the recording’s sonic quality, disc one’s new mix doesn’t sound dramatically different from the album’s 1973 version. The Blu-ray, however, offers a significant sonic upgrade.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the original LP, you might appreciate some of the extras on disc two. It includes a previously unreleased song called “Scarlet” (with Jimmy Page guesting on guitar) and instrumental renditions of “Dancing with Mr. D.” and “Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” that arguably outshine the familiar recordings. But the best thing in the box is the 80-minute Brussels concert, which took place in October 1973.
The band sound fired up as they run through a 15-song set that includes such classics as Exile on Main Street’s “Happy,” “Tumbling Dice,” “All Down the Line,” and “Rip This Joint”; Beggars Banquet’s “Street Fighting Man”; Sticky Fingers’ “Brown Sugar”; Let It Bleed’s “Midnight Rambler,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”; and the hit singles “Honky Tonk Women” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Tellingly, perhaps, the set includes just four numbers from Goats Head Soup, which had been released only about six weeks before the concert.
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, Volume 1. Veteran blues artists Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Heart, and the late Jim Dickenson recorded these tracks back in 2007 along with former Squirrel Nut Zippers leader Jimbo Mathus and Dickinson’s sons Luther and Cody.
Like the personnel, the program reflects multiple generations: it includes old classics such as Charlie Patton’s “Pony Blues,” the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Stop and Listen Blues,” and the traditional “Come On Down to My House” alongside Wilbert Harrison’s 1970 R&B hit, “Let’s Work Together” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free.” Styles range from rootsy country blues to funky modern rock. Throughout, the participants seem to be having a lot of fun, and you likely will, too.
A second volume is due next spring.
Joey Molland, Be True to Yourself. You’re bound to think of the Beatles when you listen to this first album of new material in almost a decade from Joey Molland. Like his old group Badfinger—which was signed to Apple and which he served as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter—he features Beatlesque melodies and instrumentation. Moreover, he enlists Julian Lennon as a backup vocalist; and Mark Hudson, who produced numerous Ringo Starr albums, fills the same role on this set. Moreover, Molland’s vocals on tunes like “All I Want to Do,” “Shine,” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Done with You” could easily be mistaken for the work of Paul McCartney. Unfortunately, so could some of the lightweight lyrics.
While the message may not be profound or the sound 100 percent original, however, this record—which also recalls the Beatles-influenced Electric Light Orchestra—still manages to be consistently enjoyable. Molland is an engaging vocalist and his lilting, lushly produced, hooks-laden power pop will make you want to turn up the volume and sing along. Let’s hope he doesn’t wait another 10 years to deliver more.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.