The Pretty Things are a British rock group, which formed in the 1960s and are named after a Willie Dixon song. They were most acclaimed for the recordings and performances done around 1965. They were also known for their 1968 recording of ‘S.F. Sorrow’, which many fans say should be considered the first rock opera.

They continue to perform and record currently with a new line-up, but which includes two original members - guitarist Dick Taylor and lead vocalist/songwriter Phil May. They have recently had several of their albums reissued and remastered all of which speak to the undisputed versatility that the Pretty Things’ possess.


‘Live at the BBC’

Tracks from ‘Live at the BBC’ were recorded between 1964 and 1975. There are too many fascinating examples of British cultural pop history here to list, but the personalities of the broadcasters and band members, coupled with the litany of selections, can make one feel as if he/she is moving through a three-dimensional time machine.

Even long time Pretty Things’ guitarist Dick Taylor recognised the unique role the BBC played in that era. “Believe it or not, apart from Radio Luxembourg, the BBC was all there was,” Taylor states in the booklet which accompanies this deluxe double CD set. The band made their groundbreaking debut on 'Top of the Pops' in 1964. The line=up (besides Taylor) was lead vocalist Phil May, rhythm guitarist Brian Pendleton, bassist John Stax and drummer Viv Prince.

This collection includes four discs recorded in the 1960s-1970s.It is delightfully interspersed with commentary by an enthusiastic broadcaster and embellished with short, but succinct Phil May interviews. When the curious journalist queries the band on their “shoulder-length hair” and clothing, you get a cunningly broad sense of the era in which this popular British band evolved and flourished.

The listener will be treated to a bounty of styles. May’s rendition of ‘Big Boss Man’ will unhinge the most jaded blues fan. His scowling vocals and the skittish electric guitar on ‘Mama Keep Your Mouth Shut’ will do the same. Along those same lines, ‘Big City’ features swirls of chords and knee-stomping rhyme schemes. For more riveting riffery, check out ‘Buzz the Jerk’. In contrast, songs like ‘Defecting Grey’ deliver a delightful barrage of dizzying ambience. To further that cause, the psychedelia-studded ‘L.S.D.’ induces a trance-like state.

May introduces ‘Sitting All Alone’ as one of his best tunes. It definitely shows off his most introspective self. ‘Sickle Clowns’ from under-rated ‘Parachute’ secures its place in rock history for that fabulous Hendrix-type riff. ‘Cold Stone’ also comes alive with passion, but there’s a more pronounced folk vibe evident in ‘Turn My Head’ and ‘Spring’. The crisp, smart guitar leaves a favourable flavour.

The fiery ‘Sweet Orphan Lady’ is rife with spirit, whilst ‘Walking Tbrough My Dreams’ alludes to a star-gazy effect. What the collection brings to mind most remarkably is how the band has transgressed musically throughout its formation; a fact upon which the journalist even comments. ‘Send You With Loving’ also conveys that sense of continued flexibility.

There are samples from ‘S.F. Sorrow’ which put everything in order as well. The theme song and ‘’She Says Good Morning’ give the fans a rich nostalgic nod. The clanky, garage-band lust of ‘Midnight to Six Man’ and the rhythmic flair of ‘Road Runner’ are not to be easily forgotten. A ton is packed into the latter’s 2:17 sequence.

The second disc stirs up a sizzling pot of rhythm, rock ‘n’ roll and blues. The Pretty Things’ proudly show off their famed harmonies, too, and as in the previous CD, they mix it all up. ‘Route 66’ is high-octane bliss. ‘All Night Sailor’ is rife with intricate guitar passages. In ‘Peter/Rip Off Train’, May’s voice is embellished by the warmest of harmonies. It’s hard to forget the resounding and memorable riff that made ‘Rosalyn’ a British chestnut. ‘Slow Beginnings’ is a fine example of how the band brings it all together: thematically, harmonically and instrumentally.

But for brilliant back-to-the-basics, ‘Stone Hearted Mama’ and Cold Stone’ do wonders for the dedicated rocker. You would be a fool to dismiss May’s unbridled snarling on ‘Onion Soup’. For more mild-mannered fare, tune in to ‘Circus Mind’ where a perfect balance of honesty and subtlety is achieved. ‘Love is Good’ is hauntingly epic and harmonically transparent — the electric guitar alone is breathtaking. “She was just a lonely girl, but I didn’t know if I should try…”— that vulnerable passage takes you to beautiful places. ‘Summertime’ is sunny, optimistic and blissfully contemplative. Be transported.

CD 3 is a 10-set collection, which includes alternative versions of ‘Religion’s Dead’ and ‘Havana Bound’ and CD 4 includes ‘Not Only But Also’, which segues into fresh terrain.

CD 1 is recorded in mono, whilst the other CDs include tracks that have been recorded for either mono or stereo. That said, you will probably glean as much as you’d like from the first two CDs, with the exception of the new songs listed above.


‘Silk Torpedo’ (1974)

The Swansong label’s second signing after Bad Company was the Pretty Things and this was their first album and the one on which the Things’ reunited with EMI producer Norman Smith (‘S.F. Sorrow and 1970's ‘Parachute’). They were hoping to break America. They were reeling from line-up changes ,but set off with high hopes despite their previously recorded 1972 album 'Freeay Madness' having sold poorly and being unsung.

On the cover, a young woman, with a flower pinned on her hair, sits on a zeppelin and faces a passing ocean liner. The album cover hints at the journey you will encounter on ‘Silk Torpedo’. Like the liner, the album starts off forcefully and with great purpose; perhaps foreshadowing waters tranquil and tempestuous.

‘Dream (Joey)’ brings forth grinding rhythms, forceful lead vocals and spiralling harmonies but still leaves enough space for keyboard vamps and smouldering electric sizzle. May is at the top of his driving, throbbing game here on ‘Maybe You Tried’.

For a short breather, relax to the wistful ‘Atlanta’, another nod to the Things’ virtuosity and flexibility. Not to be confused is ‘L.A.N.T.A’ another full-bodied anthem, where rhythmic risk-taking abounds. The remastered ‘Is It Only Love’ is a simple song that tugs at the heart, whilst ‘Come Home Momma’ lures the listener with cantankerous sonics.
With ‘Bridge of God’ you get a good idea of how the Pretty Things could create mini-rock operas at the drop of a hat. There’s so much essence packed into this tiny treasure: lyrically, thematically and instrumentally, that you can’t help but see the larger, epic picture.

‘Singapore Silk Torpedo’ will leave you wanting more after hearing: “Tattooed on my chest/Is the girl I love best.” Coupled with May’s “this means war” vocals, you get a tasty mix of convincing imagery and unrelenting beat. ‘Belfast Cowboys’ detours into another complex universe complete with soaring harmonies. Although short, ‘Bruise in the Sky’ also shakes your world. The live version of ‘Singapore Silk Torpedo’ features a fantastic and intricate instrumental intro. ‘Dream/Joey (Live)’ gradually escalates and resolves with jarring contrasts. The alternative single version may seem like overkill, yet it stands on its own. Of the several versions of ‘Joey’, the mono version astounds with fantastic guitar. The alternative version of ‘Bridge of God’, however, could easily have been omitted and we would have still been impressed.

All in all, this album is another good example of how the Pretty Things excelled in a variety of ways and always had something important to add to an ever-changing world of genres


‘Savage Eye’(1976)

The recording of ‘Savage Eye’ was followed by the departure of vocalist Phil May and a three-year hiatus. You’ll need 59 minutes to inhale the fifteen songs which move along at a fast, furious clip, starting with the big, boisterous hook-laden ‘Under the Volcano’ and the mood rises up thereafter like a tsunami although

‘My Song’ is a gentle one, more like a Caribbean breeze than a rock anthem, with sonorous harmonies and well-conceived transitions. The tender introduction to ‘Sad Eye’ sustains. ‘Remember That Boy’ is riveting and persuasive with penetrating rhythms.

The remastered ‘It Isn’t Rock and Roll’ is all about a word frenzy before it morphs into a scintillating jam. The frank story about a robber baron unfolds honestly in ‘I’m Keeping’ and you can’t help but hear a bit of Gospel in ‘It’s Been So Long’. “I went down to the muddy river where the blind fish swim” is one mind-bender of a line.

‘Drowned Man’ is underscored by powerful bass and searing lyrics. The delicate ‘Theme for Michelle’ is a stunning and breathtaking etude all miraculously undertaken in 1:47. In contrast, ‘Tonight’ recaptures the joy that the old-school boy bands displayed way back when. Songs like ‘Love Me a Little’ could be categorized as just plain fun.

Although we get a little too much of the ‘It Isn’t Rock and Roll’ variation, this album is a live wire and lets us ease into the Pretty Things hip inner circle.


‘Balboa Island’ (2007)

‘Balboa Island’ was their eleventh studio album, recorded in 2007, but the ethos of the 1960s was still in clear sight: “Way back in 1964, we came a-crashing to the floor,” sings illustrious lead vocalist Phil May on ‘The Beat Goes On’. So how significant is that sentiment? Well, the Pretty Things, a British band that has had a fifty-year record of songwriting genius and swooning harmonies, has been considered under-rated by many of their die-hard fans. Fortunately, this album gives one a good sense of how, through their acute teamwork and adaptability to an ever-changing market, they have kept a loyal legion of fans coming back for more.

‘The Beat Goes On’ is a fine example of their tenacity and May’s skill at crafting. There is a sense of immediacy here. ‘Buried Alive’ also is engaging with thunderous backbeats and their expected epic harmonies. ‘Living in My Skin’ will appeal to the hardcore rockists: “You know it ain’t easy living in my skin/You know it ain’t easy if you see where I’ve been…” The build is explorative and exciting. The vocal and instrumental call and response is clearly evident and you can’t help but feel that this song was written well ahead of its time.

‘(Blues for) Robert Johnson’ is an outstanding tribute to a one-off bluesman. The incendiary drumming and subtle backing vocals blend superbly. ‘Pretty Beat’ perfectly distributes the grooves. The steadfast woodblock ices the cake.

“It’s just the ritual they put you through…” Is this about the band’s rise to fame or about everyman’s plight? Regardless, the lyrics really make one think. ‘Mimi’ is playful but forceful. It curiously veers towards a Marley vibe. For some glorious slide, play ‘Feel Like Goin’ Home’. ‘The Ballad of Hollis Brown’ brings a Dylan-folk contrast to the fore. ‘Freedom Song’ is another lo-fi conquest.

For a healthy dose of cerebral imagery, there is ‘Dearly Beloved’. The actual theme song, ‘Balboa Island’ soothes the soul. In contrast, ‘All Light Up’ shifts into sizzling psychedelia and ‘Look Away Now’ may conjure a similar reaction. For the blues enthusiasts, ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ hovers magically around swampy waters and ‘Baby Please (My First Plea)’ follows suit. May doesn’t disappoint when it comes to raw, self-expression. ‘Mona/Pretty Things (Previously)’ is also exciting and essential listening with gut-wrench guitar and straight-ahead performance.


In conclusion, if you’re looking to enlarge your Pretty Things collection, here are some colourful options. You’ll have a good time no matter which one/ones you select so you can’t really go wrong. Enjoy.















Related Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pretty_Things
http://www.theprettythings.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Pretty-Things/115515605226


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