The Rolling Stones are readying a re-release of their 1973 album Goats Head Soup in September, featuring demos and rarities and all sorts of goodies. Yesterday, they dropped the above song: “Scarlet.” Never bootlegged before, this firecracker of a track features Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page on guitar.
The recording happened in October 1974, long, long after the recording of the Goats Head Soup tracks in Jamaica at Dynamic Sound Studios. In fact, they’d also finished recording It’s Only Rock and Roll, Goats Head Soup’s follow-up. Mick Taylor was about to leave the band. But in this case, Led Zep and the Stones were two groups passing in the night, or in this case the corridors of London’s Island Studios.
Jimmy Page was there recording solo with Richards, along with a group that included Ian Stewart (a longtime unofficial member of the Stones) on piano, Traffic’s Ric Grech on bass, and Bruce Rowland on drums.
“My recollection is we walked in at the end of a Zeppelin session,” says Richards. “They were just leaving, and we were booked in next and I believe that Jimmy decided to stay. We weren’t actually cutting it as a track, it was basically for a demo, a demonstration, you know, just to get the feel of it, but it came out well, with a lineup like that, you know, we better use it.”
The initial sketch of the song came out of an earlier jam session, according to Jagger:
“I remember first jamming this with Jimmy and Keith in Ronnie (Wood)’s basement studio,” he said. “It was a great session.” The choppy riff is very much Keith Richards all over. Jagger’s lyrics are rough too, and you can hear a shared melody with “Angie,” their hit from that year.
Named after Page’s young daughter, “Scarlet” coulda woulda shoulda been a single or even an album track, but was shelved for whatever reason.
In the Stones’ minds, Goats Head Soup was one of their best. But when it came out in August the music press considered it as a pale follow-up to the sprawling Exile on Main Street. The band were riding high, but their fame sort of turned on this album, as the band started to reference themselves and plunge into true 1970s rock star excess. Lester Bangs hated the album, writing in Creem, “just because the Stones have abdicated their responsibilities is no reason we have to sit still for this shit! Because there is just literally nothing new happening.”
Allen Crowley, also in Creem, noted the generational shift happening: “The Stones are still consummate entertainers, but somewhere along the line we began to expect something more than entertainment from them. In Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, the Stones began to tell us what was going on... And that's what missing in this very durable record. And beneath that knowledge is the wonderment at how that durable expertise carries on in the face of disintegration.”
Rolling Stone's Bud Coppa was more enthusiastic, knowing that a lot of Stones’ albums are sleepers: “Soup stands right next to Mott, the thematically similar LP of the Stones' brightest students, as the best album of 1973. For me, its deepening and unfolding over the coming months will no doubt rate as one of the year's richest musical experiences.”
Over the years, the critical reception has come around on Goats Head Soup. Not a classic, but not a disaster—it was a conscious break with the muffled sounds of Exile, yet still filled with lyrics about crime, despair, and alienation. It’s not the happiest of albums.
And by the way, this would not be the last time Jimmy Page played with the Stones. He played the solo on their 1986 single “One Hit (to the Body).”
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.