When I started reading music books in the late ’80s as a budding grade-school classic-rock student, I found that Creem‘s take on Goats Head Soup had won out over Rolling Stone‘s guarded optimism. Time and again, Goats Head Soup was positioned as a sloppy and ill-considered departure point, a downward spiral from the heights of the “classic” ’68-’72 period that produced Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile On Main St. It formed a trilogy with the band’s other mid-’70s albums, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll and Black And Blue, as a bad stretch of road between Exile and the triumphant 1978 comeback LP, Some Girls, as The Records Best Left Ignored By Future Generations.
Even Rolling Stone came to adopt this position. In the first two editions of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, which I read religiously as a music ignorant lad, Goats Head Soup was saddled with a pitiful one-star rating, with critic Dave Marsh declaring it “a mistake, a jumble or the beginning of the end.” Around the same time, in the magazine’s comprehensive Illustrated History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Robert Christgau called Goats Head Soup “musicianly craft at its unheroic norm, terrific by the standards of Foghat or the Doobie Brothers but a nadir for the Rolling Stones.”