Monday, June 2, 2008

the pretty things


photograph by Mike Dowson

More renowned for their 1968 double slab of narrative psychedelia, S.F. SORROW - a "rock opera" first, beating Pete Townshend's "Tommy" by a year in terms of its conception - The Pretty Things had a lot more to offer than this mere footnote alone. Or their predictable earlier years on the live circuit, hammering out raw stonesy R&B riffs to the immense enjoyment of Bo Diddley fans the world over, culminating in a string of hits in the UK between 1964 and 1965.

So far as I'm concerned, the early 70s were the Pretties' finest twinkling hour. Ladbroke Grove was their acid drenched stamping ground, home to Van Morrison's Madam George and the group's fluctuating line-up saw them brazenly trading key members with pioneering mental cases, the Pink Fairies ; recording in and out of Abbey Road studios and switching record labels as quick as jumping on a London borough bus.

What made them so popular when they played screwed-down solid tight as part of the British Invasion made them even better when they finally loosened up and really let it roll.

Glam without the ham.

1970's "Parachute" was a critical triumph, Rolling Stone's album of the year, but it didn't convert into commercial sales and made them precious few new executive friends in the music business. And what an album it is. As smokey brown as the Beatles' "Abbey Road" in places, but shimmering and translucent too as the best of Chilton & Bell's Big Star. A perfect pop masterpiece painted from a well rehearsed palette of limited colour, a perfect teenage summer's trip.

And it didn't end right there. Jettisoned by Harvest EMI and picked back up by Warner Bros., their follow-up two years later, "Freeway Madness", could scarcely be derided as dull. The lead track , "Love Is Good", is a huge relief ; coming on like a ex-girlfriend as it does. Not as urgently imbued an affair as first time around, but familiar and tenderly warm.

A misplaced love briefly rekindled.

THE PRETTY THINGS: GRASS from "Parachute" LP (Harvest EMI) 1970 (UK)
THE PRETTY THINGS: SHE WAS TALL, SHE WAS HIGH from "Parachute" LP (Harvest EMI) 1970 (UK)
THE PRETTY THINGS: RAIN from "Parachute" LP (Harvest EMI) 1970 (UK)
THE PRETTY THINGS: LOVE IS GOOD from "Freeway Madness" LP (Warner Bros.) 1972 (UK)



Scarab said...

A little bit of Badfinger, a little of early Guess Who & of course the late Beatles. All good. What a great band

ib said...

Agreed, Scarab. You will find a pretty heavy footprint from this quarter spread throughout The Bleachers. For that, I make no apologies whatsoever. It is very sad that the unfurling of "Parachute" especially did not convert into sales.

I am hugely flattered that at least one visitor bought a Pretty Things CD after hearing them here first. That kind of feedback is very rewarding.

Scarab said...

Let me say that I had heard a little of The Pretty Things before, but you really opened my ears to these cats. I will be the second person to purchase some CD's or vinyl. Thanks

Scarab said...

Let me also mention that I was born in 1969 & find that the best tunes come from 1968-1972. What a transition from flower power to white boy blues to prog to,even early glam (Bowie etc.). I wish I would have been about 18 years old back then. Keep up the good work