All The Rage: The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup at 50

Why there’s so much to this album beyond “Angie”

A can of Goats Head Soup (Image: Rolling Stones)

The greybeards are sitting around the firepit downing a few and talking old-school rock ‘n’ roll.

At some point in the discussion, this sort of exchange is inevitable:

“But it’s all about the ‘70s Stones, man.”

“Absolutely! Exile on Main Street, nothing better! That was ‘72 – I remember the year, because my older brother got it the day it came out, and he was a freshman in high school.”

“Yeah, Exile! But I mean, right before that you had Sticky Fingers – c’mon, ‘Brown Sugar,’ totally iconic.”

“You want iconic, how about It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll? Name of the album, name of the song, but I like it!”

“Great stuff, sure, but track for track? Give me Some Girls: You got ‘Miss You,’ ‘Shattered,’ ‘Respectable,’ and ‘Beast of Burden.’ Not to mention ‘Far Away Eyes’ and ‘When the Whip Comes Down.’ I dunno, Exile or Some Girls? Which one is better? Might be a tossup.”

The Rolling Stones Goats Head Soup, Rolling Stones Records 1973

And maybe … just maybe … somewhere in the discussion Goats Head Soup might get a mention.

“Wait, isn’t that the one with ‘Angie’ on it?”

… which is pretty much how a lot of people think of the album that hit number 1 in the U.S. (triple platinum), U.K., Canada and elsewhere, and which Entertainment Weekly included as number 9 on their list of the Stones’ 10 best albums.

Maybe that’s because after a career-defining record like Exile, any record is going to come across as inferior. Or maybe because in addition to “Angie,” the album’s best moments are also ballads.


VIDEO: The Rolling Stones “Angie”

Take “Winter,” for example. Keef sits this one out and Nicky Hopkins’ piano dances beautifully around Mick’s vocals as he shuffles through the snow and sleet and ice and laments what might have been.

Or “Coming Down Again,” which opens with Hopkins again at the piano and, in its opening seconds, seems like it might be a 1973 Elton John track. Richards takes the vocal lead on this one, singing about his relationship with German-Italian actress, artist and model Anita Pallenberg, who he stole from fellow Stone Brian Jones and with whom he went on to have three kids.

Which is not to say the album is all mellow Stones. Take “Starfucker” (that’s the real title, though it’s listed on the label as “Star Star”), which opens with Richards recalling Chuck Berry and finds Jagger pulling no lyrical punches as he sings to the ultimate groupie: “Yeah, I heard about your Polaroids / Now that’s what I call obscene / Your tricks with fruit was kind of cute / I bet you keep your pussy clean.”

Goats Head Soup ad (Image: eBay)

“Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” is another solid rocker, fat with horns, that tells a pair of thematically related stories, one of New York City cops shooting a boy “right through the heart” because they mistook him for someone else and another of a 10-year-old girl dying of a drug overdose “in the dirt of an alleyway.” The second single off the album (“Angie” was the first), its sound seems to call back, probably unintentionally but quite appropriately, to “Sympathy for the Devil.” 

The 2020 deluxe reissue of Goats Head Soup added three more rockers along with a bunch of demos, alternate mixes and instrumental versions. “Scarlet,” featuring Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page on guitar and Blind Faith’s Rick Grech on bass, is the most interesting of the three and would have been a worthy addition to the original release. I mean, c’mon – Keef and Page!

“Keith kicked it off and I began to mold a riff around his guitar part to augment the arrangement,” Page recalled in 2021. “It began to lock in pretty soon with the musicians and we all got a successful take that evening.”

Goats Head Soup alternate cover art (Image: Universal)

“All the Rage” and “Criss Cross” (found on Stones bootlegs through the years as “Criss Cross Man”), the other two bonus tracks added in the 2020 reissue, are fine slices of ‘70s vintage Stones to boot.

The Stones’ ‘70s catalog is something of an embarrassment of riches, but as you go back and mine that vein, don’t leave Goats Head Soup on the back burner. Beyond “Angie,” there’s plenty of music to enjoy there, too. What’s really remarkable is how fresh it all sounds a half a century later – fresher, even, than many of the band’s well-worn megahits.

Then again, would you expect anything less from the best damn rock and roll band in the world?



Craig Peters

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Craig Peters

Craig Peters has been writing about music, pro wrestling, pop culture and lots of other things since the Jimmy Carter administration. He shook Bruce Springsteen’s hand in 2013, once had Belinda Carlisle record the outgoing message on his answering machine, and wishes he hadn’t been so ignorant about the blues when he interviewed Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1983.

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