Friday, September 30, 2011

Many Steps to the Stones: "Goat's Head Soup"

I have never really been into the Rolling Stones. My younger years were defined by a progressive rock high horse that arrogantly looked down on their loose mimicry. As time moved on, though, it seemed like I was missing out on something. I noticed it during the first half of my undergrad, when I lived in an un-air conditioned dormitory called Bruce Hall. Bruce was across the street from the music building, so despite its comparatively dilapidated state, it was the ad-hoc “music major” dormitory. I made many close friends there, many of which were incredible musicians and many of which I m sadly no longer in touch with. The whole experience was eye-opening, to say the least.

When I started living in such close quarters with all of these phenomenal musicians, I was surprised to find out that a lot of them were into the Stones. Many of the justifications they used for their adoration sounded uncomfortably similar to those I had for my own unconditional Rush fandom. One of my closest friends, the self-proclaimed Mr. McKoolChords, would often describe Keith Richards as the “best worst guitar player ever.” There were also several Mick Jagger impersonators in my hall that developed heated rivalries, sometimes spontaneously erupting into hilarious competitions.

I describe my undergraduate as occurring in two halves because it was bifurcated in 1993 by a reflective, soul-searching year away from the concerns of the music major. During this “sabbatical,” I continued my retail career as a Sound Warehouse record store employee. One of the few benefits of any record store gig was the promotional materials. Promo CDs, which were arguably for in-store play, could be “held” by employees and adopted when promotion was done. The best stuff was almost always snatched up by the check-in guy. The day that the materials for the remastered Stones back catalog came in, however, he just happened to have the day off and I was fortunate enough to work the early shift. It seemed like the chance to hop on board and figure out what I had been missing, so by the power of the Post-it note, I laid claim to three albums: Exile on Main Street, It’s Only Rock and Roll, and Goat’s Head Soup.

Those three albums have generally sat in my record collection since them. I think I have played the first two a couple of times, but I can’t remember if or when I have ever listened to Goat’s Head Soup. Of the three, it has the least amount of fan support, but I still could not bring myself to get rid of it. Recently, I had a desire to get some new music, but really no good leads on anything interesting. It seemed like it might round out the mix, so after eighteen years, I finally put it in rotation. Despite the criticisms that the average Stones fan seems to level at this album, it kind of clicked for me.

The Stones have always had more attitude than substance in their work, but my recent encounter with Goat’s Head Soup has forced me to consider the possibility that the Stones' attitude may actually be their substance, and possibly their most relevant innovation. By pure charismatic will, the Rolling Stones convince their listeners that they are the sexiest, baddest boys around, despite the fact that they clearly aren’t. I mean, if I was a woman and Jagger whispered in my ear like he does on Angie, I would probably be genuinely frightened. Still, when he does it, it somehow works. This song was always one of Mr. McKoolChords favorites, and it is impossible for me to hear it without thinking of him fluidly switching between the melodramatic wail of Jagger and the drunken swagger of Richards. It is his impersonations that make the song captivating and memorable for me – probably more than the song itself.


  1. Charlie is the bomb! Checkout the interplay between the kick drum and the hi hat. He is twice as good as Jim Keltner! Watch the documentary about the making of Exile on Main Street. Very illuminating!

  2. You have me there. You can't take a stab at the Stones' musicianship without taking exception to Charlie Watts, who takes the opposite approach to that of his bandmates. He hides his virtuosity behind a stoic demeanor.