Formed in the later stages of 1963, the Pretty Things
arrived on the Londoner scene playing Berry/Diddley/Reed influenced raw rhythm
and blues. The driving force behind the ‘Pretties’ were vocalist Brian May
and Dick Taylor. (Taylor had left a version of the embryonic Rolling Stones
with Brian Jones, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger because the three wanted him
to play bass guitar while he was born to play lead guitar.)
The Pretty Things were contemporaries of ‘The Rolling
Stones’ and ‘The Kinks’. Of course there was also that little band with
that funny name from Liverpool, the Beatles. This dog always had a soft spot
for the ‘Pretties’ as the Beatles were a little bit goody two shoes to be
considered cool. I mean your parents liked them! The Rolling Stones were great,
but always seemed to want to be Americans, denying their Dartford, Kent roots,
and the Kinks could get a little whimsical at times.
The ‘Pretties’ had no image; music was their thing and
hard edged rhythm and blues was the starting point. Their first seven singles
all went top 50 in the U.K. (they did not mean a light in the U.S. of A., no
image, nothing to promote). The sight of the ‘Pretties’ standing on Top of
the Pops, trying to hide their embarrassment as they mimed their way through
their latest single, was a wonder to behold. Unlike most of their
contemporaries their lineup was quite liquid, revolving around the main duo,
the drum seat, revolving faster than Spinal Tap’s.
In the late sixties the Pretty Things plunged head first,
along with everybody else, into the psychedelic culture. Gone was all the
straight ahead music and in came sitars, thousands of overdubs on all guitar
parts, and kaftans and beads. Although huge on the underground scene, this did
not exactly get the till bells ringing over, and in a state of confusion Dick
Taylor left the band to settle down into production work. Away from the chaos
of life on the road, Taylor produced the first albums from Hawkwind and
Taylor was quickly replaced in the band, which imploded
within the year.
But famous rocking’s roll manager Bill Shepherd, upon
hearing of the ‘Pretties’ demise, tried to persuade them to reform, telling
them that the ‘Pretties’ were too good a band to lose. How right he was.
With a new dual lead guitar partnership in place, the mercurial Peter Tolson
and Gordon Edwards, they were ready to roar again. After six weeks rehearsal
they went into the studio to record the seminal ‘Freeway Madness’. The
‘Pretties’ had now put the entire wishy-washy psychedelic behind them and
come back with a new hard-edged sound, combining their love of American harmony
vocals and crunchy guitar licks with screaming solos.
This gained them enough attention to get them to be the
first signing to the newly formed Swansong label, the brainchild of Led
Zeppelin manager Peter Grant. Two wonderful albums were released over the next
two years, but, although critically acknowledged, both failed to dent the
charts. Once more the band fell apart in 1976, when Phil May decided enough was
The band came together again in the late nineties, including
old running mate Dick Taylor on lead guitar, and in 1999 they released ‘Rage
Before Beauty’, an apt title if you consider what had gone before. The band
still plays gigs to this day.
This collection of work from the B.B.C. Sessions gives you
an overall view of the ‘Pretties’ career from 1964 to 1976. All the early
singles are here. (The Pretty Things had a surge of popularity stateside when
David Bowie covered their first two singles ‘Rosalyn’ and ‘Don’t Bring
Me Down’ on his album Pin Ups. To many Americans, this was the first time
they ever heard of the ‘Pretty Things’.)
It all goes a bit pear shaped in their psychedelic era, but
then it did for a lot of people (remember the Stones? Or Their Satanic
Majesties Request?), but on their return to hard edged rock ‘n’ roll, like
on the Radio One ‘In Concert’ show to promote ‘Freeway Madness’, the
band is so hot, it is incendiary. Nobody can throw caution to the wind with
such abandon and still nail a song down like the ‘Pretties’ like ‘Onion
Soup’ and especially ‘Route 66’. The live sessions for the following two
albums are a little more controlled, but equally as exciting.
This album is not only a good overview of the Pretty
Things’ career, but also a good overview of British rock in this era. If you
are not familiar with the Pretty Things, this album would be an excellent way
to find out.