In the early 60’s it twas’ said that rock and roll was a passing fad, both in the U.S. and U.K.. “A blip on the social radar”. Rock and roll is the most important social phenom of the 20th and now the 21st century. It changed lives even when its relegating those early somewhat exploitative attempts to mimic itself to the dustbins of history.
British band, The Pretty Things were a small revelation among the genre. However, while exposing their relevance reflects how their brilliance took a foothold in rock history. The Pretty Things ran much deeper and earlier than is commonly assumed. Assuredly amounting to documentation of a missing chapter in rock & roll history. They formed in 1963 in Kent, England and got their name from a Bo Diddley song. They wore their hair longer and their “rough and tumble” persona was to be meaner and more vicious than the Rolling Stones and The Animals. They weren’t only a threat to these rock icons they were a threat to society. They got banned from performing in Australia and New Zealand for starting a fire on a commercial jet; which is still being enforced! Whilst The Stones were caught “pissin” on a garage wall “The Things” were busted for brandishing a shot gun at an angry mob outside one of their gigs!
Singer, Phil May, lived a “rudderless” life being disowned by his parents and having to live with an elderly couple as assigned by the state. After rehearsals and gigs he would get so fucked drunk that in the morning he would find himself propped up at the local magistrates beaten up and stinkin’ of piss. In 1965 they were in court for a cornucopia of charges from guns, fan riots and general social debauchery. Their early nastiness spawned two hits… “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” in 1964 that eponymously became significant hits in the U.K. a year later. Two of the best songs from Bowie’s tribute album, “Pinups” is enough incendiary proof of their importance and acclimation beyond their cult following. A young David Bowie (then Jones) would be like a punter following them from gig to gig, intently watching Phil May’s every androgynous camp move to sway over both sexes in his outrageous and extreme stage performances. In Bowie’s address book, Phil May’s phone number was listed under “God”! The press was awash with stories of their hair, their filth and their dirty habits – most of it not so far from the truth…. They shared a flat in London with Brian Jones until he got extricated from The Stones.. its like the fuckin’ blind leading the real fuckin’ blind!.
(clockwise)Pinups Bowie.. The Whereabouts. Brian and Keith..The Pretty Things
Most recently, Irish upstarts, The Whereabouts’ cover of “Don’t Bring Me Down” has received praise through radio play in the U.S. and Britain.
The Pretty Things were a band that had spotty world success but invariably they would shoot themselves in the foot with some outrageous shenanigan. Guitarist, Dick Taylor whilst holding court at the famous London nightspot, “The Ad Lib” ( the prototype for L.A.’s rock meeting place The Rainbow Bar and Grill) where Eric Burdon, Van Morrison and et. al. had the unlikely visit from Bob Dylan who was starting his first English tour. That night was documented in Dylan’s film, “Don’t Look Back” and when he returned to America he recorded “Tombstone Blues” for his album, “Highway 61”.. all inspired from his adulation with Taylor.
Dylan in England….The Pretty Things on the Streets of London
In 1967 The Pretty Things were booked in the Abbey Road studios at the same time The Beatles were recording Sgt. Peppers and Pink Floyd were recording “Piper At the Gates of Dawn”.. in adjoining rooms. The common thread between all three bands was Norman “Hurricane” Smith who was the long time engineer for The Beatles and now assigned to produce Floyd and The Pretty Things… Thus we have “ground zero” of the British psychedelic movement… There was copious amounts of LSD during recording sessions and Floyd’s, Syd Barrett had begun to show serious episodes of schizophrenia. Phil May and Dick Taylor of the Prettties created their most momentous album…S.F. Sorrow.. indisputably the first rock opera… Its story was the life of S.F. Sorrow from birth to death. Going off to war and returning home to a nation that had turned its back on him… Pete Townsend admitted that S.F. Sorrow was the inspiration behind Tommy and Who manager, Kit Lambert saw that this project was just the muscle needed to break them in America.
Norman “Hurricane” Smith.. S.F. Sorrow Artwork.. Syd Barrett
The Pretty Things/P.F.Sorrow on French TV..
The release of Tommy beat S.F. Sorrow by over a year due to complications with their record label EMI and were inevitably dropped with no promotion in either Britain or America… The Prettys’ album was finally picked up by Barry Gordy of Motown Records for his debut album release on the newly start-up… sub-label.. Rare Earth Records.. Marred by one mishap after another S.F. Sorrow never got its fair due until decades later when it was hailed by music journalists as rock’s hidden gem.
They lived up to predictions as being early rock casualties due to their own doing; yet they are still going strong, still drinking, fighting, laughing, fucking and fucking up…… and still the oldest gang in town. Never mind The Stones or The Who.. – if you REALLY want the goods, it’s always been “The Pretty Things”.. And they are still banned from touring Australia
Bloody but unbowed – “The Pretty Things” – the longest serving rock band in the world.
The Pretty Things 50th Anniversary..