England’s Pretty Things are probably best known to American audiences as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the Rolling Stones’ original bassist?” (The Pretty Things’ lead guitarist, Dick Taylor.) This 25-song, career-spanning retrospective fleshes out the rest of the story of this criminally overlooked, great band.
Their beginnings as a Stones-ish R&B band inspired by Bo Diddley (whose song “Pretty Thing” gave them their name) are illustrated on blues covers such as Bo’s “Road Runner” and Snooky Pryor’s “Judgement Day,” sounding a bit like the Yardbirds’ arrangement of “I’m A Man.” This is about as raw and anticipatory of punk that any ’60s British blues band got, with Taylor’s rough-and-tumble leads and Phil May’s Jaggeresque vocal delivery. “You Don’t Believe Me,” from 1965’s Get The Picture?, was co-written by Jimmy Page, who was such a fan that he later signed them to Zeppelin’s Swan Song label. Another devotee, David Bowie, covered their “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Rosalyn” (both included here) on his Pin Ups album.
Taylor is at his in-your-face best on “Come See Me,” which also features what sounds like fuzz bass – but the whole band sounds as though all VU meters were in the red on the early recordings. The group soon began expanding its blues base, venturing into garage rock like “L.S.D.” and “Progress,” the lilting pop ballad “The Sun,” the Floydish psychedelia of “Defecting Grey,” and the pre-prog rock of “Balloon Burning.” The latter pair of tunes comes from the Things’ 1968 rock opera, S.F. Sorrow. And while Frank Zappa fans will remember his “I Was A Teenage Malt Shop” as probably the first “rock opera,” S.F. Sorrow is cited as inspiring Pete Townshend’s Tommy.
The evolution of the Pretty Things encompassed more stylistic turns than any band this side of the Beatles or Spinal Tap. It’s startling to get to the last track, 1974’s “Singapore Silk Torpedo,” and then rewind 19 years to “Rosalyn.” At long last there’s a CD that illustrates the band’s varied and colorful history.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.