Published 5:54 PM EDT Sep 3, 2020
If Mick Jagger had his way, the “Goats Head Soup” album cover would’ve been a lot more literal.
Earlier this week, the Rolling Stones’ Twitter account shared alternate artwork for the band’s 1973 album, which will be re-released Friday. Among the prospective covers: A goat peering out from a simmering pot, nodding to the album’s Jamaican origins. (It was mostly recorded in Jamaica, where the soup, known as “mannish water,” is a delicacy.)
“The goat’s head was my idea and it didn’t really work out,” Jagger tells USA TODAY. “The record company didn’t like it, so we went with the more user-friendly portraits of the band in the end.”
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“Goats Head Soup” was first released a year after “Exile on Main St.,” which is now regarded as one of the Stones’ best albums. “Goats” was met with mixed reviews from critics, but still managed to spawn a No. 1 hit in “Angie” on the Billboard Hot 100. The reissue features three lost songs by the legendary British rockers: “Criss Cross,” “All the Rage” and “Scarlet,” featuring Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
Jagger, 77, called us up to chat about new music, lockdown and working with Page.
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Question: Like 1972’s “Exile on Main St.,” critics have started to come around on “Goats Head Soup” in recent years. What does the album mean to you?
Mick Jagger: I think there’s some good things on it. It’s quite varied. The lead-off track (“Angie”) is a very wistful ballad with strings on it, and couldn’t have been more different from what had come before on “Exile.” The rest of the album is nothing like that – that’s the only track that goes in that direction. You’ve got “Heartbreaker,” a social comment that unfortunately is still a bit true these days. There’s some Billy Preston-led stuff (like “100 Years Ago”) and straight rock riffs like “Dancing with Mr. D.” I don’t really listen to the Stones albums as albums. I just listen to the songs individually, so I’m not sure where it stands.
Q: So if I’m correct, you recorded “Scarlet” with Jimmy Page in Keith Richards’ basement?
Jagger: It was Ronnie (Woods’) basement – I don’t remember Keith ever having a basement. (Laughs.) I don’t remember doing this particular version of it at all, but when I spoke to Jimmy, he remembered the session and talked me through it. And I said, “Yeah, OK. I believe you, Jimmy.” So that one got out and dusted, and you know, it sounds good. I like the way Jimmy plays, and Jimmy and Keith play well together on that. I didn’t do much to it – I added a little bit of percussion and did some vocals at the end of the track, when it starts to fade out. There’s a bit more shouting at the end.
Q: Paul Mescal from Hulu’s “Normal People” stars in the “Scarlet” video. Have you watched that show?
Jagger: Oh, yeah, I watched “Normal People.” Yeah, yeah. It was good. It was funny and poignant and a very successful show in the U.K. Very enjoyable.
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Q: You’ve talked a lot about “Scarlet” and “Criss Cross” in the leadup to this release, but what’s the story behind “All the Rage?”
Jagger: I think we recorded that in Jamaica. It’s lots of Mick Taylor playing some very nice guitar, Keith does his intros, and there weren’t really any finished vocals on it. It was just me trying to figure something out. We probably did it a couple times and then never finished, so it was never released. So when the record company said they wanted to release this album, they sent me these three tracks. Because the mixes sounded so horrible, I had to get the master tracks and see what was there really.
When I did the vocals (for the reissue), I tried to get the feel of the period. I listened to some of the other tracks and tried to get a feel for what I was sounding like (back then) because otherwise it doesn’t fit in right. But I like (“All the Rage”). The whole band plays really well on it, and Mick is pretty standout.
Q: In the process of putting together this reissue, did you discover more unfinished Stones material that you’d like to get out there at some point?
Jagger: I only listened to stuff pertaining to this album. I didn’t listen to any other stuff. Every Stones album has stuff that’s not finished or was for some reason left by the wayside. In retrospect, some of them are great, some of them are medium, some of them should be left alone forever. (Laughs.) And there are some good things. I mean, “Criss Cross” was a really good track that was finished. I don’t know why it wasn’t used on the (original) album. But there’s lots of things that were in the vault that are still to come out.
Q: How’s the new album coming along?
Jagger: I’m doing a lot of writing and I finished off a lot of tracks that we recorded. We’ll see how it goes when we get together. The last (six) months, it’s been quite hard to get together and studios aren’t really open much. But we hope to get together soon and get on with it. I would really like if it was finished by the end of the year.
Q: You fast-tracked the release of “Living in a Ghost Town” because of its relevance to the pandemic. Are there other new songs inspired by or related to current events?
Jagger: They’re all, to some extent, inspired by what’s going on. But they’re not quite so on the nose as “Ghost Town.” I think one like that’s enough. What you write reflects the times you’re living in, so lyrically, I think they’ll all be somewhat influenced without being obvious.
Q: How have you been holding up in lockdown?
Jagger: I’ve been in the country most of the time, which is pretty unusual for me. I’ve enjoyed being in nature because I’m really a townie and I haven’t been in a town since March 15th. But I’ve read a lot, done a lot of walking and watched probably a little bit too much TV late at night. But I’ve been working and writing, too, so I’ve been quite satisfied with that creatively.