Not Fade Away: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Goats Head Soup’ Turns 40

In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we focus on the Rolling Stones‘ ‘Goats Head Soup,’ which had the unenviable job of following up ‘Exile on Main St.’ The chart-topping album just turned 40. 

“I think Mick and I were a little dried up after Exile,” Keith Richards wrote in his 2010 memoir, Life.

It’s understandable given the weight of Exile on Main St., the band’s much-lauded 1972 double album. If Goats Head Soup doesn’t totally measure up to that album, it would still mark a career high for almost any other band. It topped the album charts, spawned a No. 1 single (“Angie”) and went triple platinum.

The album was mostly recorded in Jamaica because, at that time, it was one of the only countries that would have Keith Richards. “By that time, about the only country that I was allowed to exist in was Switzerland, which was damn boring for me,” Richards says in the book According to The Rolling Stones. “Nine countries kicked me out, thank you very much.”

The album had a weariness — understandable, as the Stones had been around for a decade, recorded prolifically, toured the world and famously enjoyed the spoils that come with international rock stardom. In “100 Years Ago,” Mick Jagger sang of days gone by, when “the world was a carpet laid before me,” and of when “we had no secrets hid away… seems a hundred years ago.” Later, he sang, “Now all my friends are wearing worried smiles/Living out a dream of what they was.” Jagger may have been singing from Richards’ perspective.

Richards himself sang “Coming Down Again,” a ballad that manages to be sad and creepy at the same. “Slipped my tongue in someone else’s pie/Tasting better every time/She turned green and tried to make me cry/Being hungry it ain’t no crime.” It’s often been speculated that the song was about Anita Pallenberg, who used to date late Stones guitarist Brian Jones, but left him for Richards. However, in Life, he denies this flatly, saying “By then that’s all water under the f***ing bridge.” He sounds a bit defensive there. Whatever the case may be, it’s not hard to imagine the line, “She was dying to survive/I was caught, oh, taken for a ride” was written about Jones’ famously abusive relationship with Jones.

“Angie” is another (possibly) misunderstood song. Some have speculated that the song was about David Bowie’s then-wife, Angela, with whom Jagger was rumored to have had a relationship. Others guess it is about Keith Richards’ daughter Angela being born at the time that he wrote the song (while in rehab). In Life, Richards says, “I wrote ‘Angie’ in an afternoon, sitting in bed. I just went, ‘Angie, Angie.’ It was not about a particular person; it was a name, like ‘Ohhh, Diana.'” He noted that he didn’t know the baby’s sex at the time he wrote the song (“in those days you didn’t know what sex the thing was going to be until it popped out”).

In According to The Rolling Stones, Rolling Stones Records president Marshall Chess said that Atlantic Records, who distributed the band’s imprint, “did not want ‘Angie’ as the single off Goats Head — they really wanted another ‘Brown Sugar’ rather than a ballad, and there were some heated arguments.”

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— Brian Ives,

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