Stones freaks like me have been wandering in purgatory ever since the band had to cancel its world tour summer amid the global pandemic. Not that Keith Richards would have been the least bit vulnerable to a ridiculous little virus, but that was the call. Man, how I miss live music of any kind, but I had really been looking forward to one more go-round with Mick and the boys. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been quite the same atmosphere as my first Stones show more than 30 years ago, but it would have been fun nonetheless.
Well, it may not be a Stones tour, but the deliciously raunchy sounds sneaking out of the band’s upcoming re-release of Goats Head Soup might just tide me over to next summer. The September re-issue of the powerful 1973 album includes three new tracks, “Criss Cross,” “Scarlet” and “All The Rage,” the first two of which are now available via streaming.
For an album that went to #1 in the US, Goats Head Soup is relatively overlooked in the Stones pantheon. Naturally, any album that followed Exile On Main Street, considered by many to be the album that best captured the band’s decadent blues-born power, was destined to live in a shadow. Like Exile, Goats Head Soup was recorded outside of England, this time in Jamaica. The island location was chosen at least in part because Keith was running out of countries where he could get a visa. The Stones recorded Goats Head Soup the same way they recorded Exile, in free-form marathon jam sessions occurring over the course of a period of weeks or even months, the highlights of which were packaged for the album. Also similar to Exile, and reflective of the band’s ethos at the time, Goats Head features numerous guest artists, credited and uncredited, contributing to the album’s feel of bleary-eyed improvisation and general lawlessness. Keyboard players Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart all leave their mark.
But the best surprise so far from the re-release, in my opinion anyway, is “Scarlet,” because of a certain guest guitarist appearing in the lineup—Jimmy Page. Page says the particular session that produced Scarlet actually was recorded at The Wick, the London house where Keith Richards was living at the time (which was then owned by Ronnie Wood, before he joined the Stones. Pete Townshend owns it now.) According to Page, he laid down the lead guitar and Keith added the Jamaica-flavored reggae rhythm guitar attack.
Thought to be named for Page’s daughter Scarlet, the track is quintessentially Goats Head. It’s ragged and far from perfect, but there are moments of explosive power and genius. In that way, the song is quite like Goat’s Head’s “100 Years Ago,” which I always thought had the power to be a truly great Stones song if someone had spent just a little more time polishing it. But then, that wasn’t the Stones in 1973.
The band had just peaked; they had already crested the hill of their greatness but might not have quite known it yet, or cared. Mick Jagger would soon be as famous for his jet-setting playboy exploits as for being the Stones’ frontman, Keith was on his way to full-blown heroin addiction, and Mick Taylor would leave the band the next year. Goats Head Soup is a bit like looking back at a summer wedding weekend years ago that turned out to be the last time everyone was together.
But give "Scarlet" a listen. It will take you back. For a moment, anyway.