cream of the crate: cd review #37 – the pretty things: latest writs (the best of… greatest hits)
cream of the crate: cd review #37 – the pretty things: latest writs (the best of… greatest hits)
Cd front cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"They are without doubt the 'farthest out' group in the country. Their appearance makes the Rolling Stones look like an advertisement for high fashion" - (A British Music Mag 1965)

Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews.  
The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50
and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.


This is number thirty seven in the series of retro-reviews of Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The CD is by an English group of the 1960’s, who could have been at that time, been as great as the Stones. However, for some reason or another never quite received the accolades they deserved.

The group is The Pretty Things and the Cd is Latest Writs (The Best of… Greatest Hits).

Released in 2000 Snapper Music (SMACD823) it has 19 tracks that cover nine albums from their first album in 1965.

 

cream of the crate: cd review #37 – the pretty things: latest writs (the best of… greatest hits)
Cd label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

I chose this album from a decent selection because it contains some of the best tracks they ever recorded during their most productive period, 1965 – 1969.

There is an argument that can be mounted that Silk Torpedo, which was released in 1974, did reflect that the group “still had it”, albeit then without Dick Taylor in the group!

The CD comes with a six page glossy booklet, and the cover of the booklet forms the cover of the CD case.

All the pictures are black and white and it consists mostly of newspaper/magazine clippings all held together with a threaded piece of work written Phil May and dated December 1999, with the threat (or promise) that there was more to be revealed in a book.

To my knowledge that book has never eventuated.

 

Plates in the booklet

 

Look, on my mate “Mugsy’s” scale of 1 – 10 ratings for films I would rate the booklet at about 6.

It’s OK, you wouldn’t draw anyone’s attention to it, but it does have some redeeming features. Phil’s comments throughout this booklet tell the story of frustration and music chances lost, and projects never quite making it, “We watched two slices of our life – HMS S F Sorrow and Parachute sink without a trace on the horizon ….”

Phil makes an attempt to discuss the tracks on the album, but honestly, he’s not all that enthusiastic and reading between the lines I get the feeling this was a contractual obligation rather than a labor of love!

There is (in very small print), a listing of the band members on the rear of the booklet, but otherwise if you want any real info on the guys in the group, go Google it – Phil’s not going to discuss it.

cream of the crate: cd review #37 – the pretty things: latest writs (the best of… greatest hits)
Rear cover of the booklet – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The Pretty Things were one of a number of bands to spring up in response to the sudden and rapidly developing British Music Scene, that literally exploded with the success of the Beatles in 1963.

In fact the Pretty Things can be seen as the for-runners of the Rolling Stones, when Dick Taylor (who started on guitar and later moved to bass), joined up with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in a group called the “Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boy“.

In fact when Brian Jones recruited Jagger and Richards into his group with Ian Stewart, Taylor also joined them on bass for a short while.

On quitting the Stones after several months, Taylor (back on guitar) met up with Phil May (singer and harp) and bringing in Brian Pendleton (on rhythm guitar), John Stax (bass) and Viv Prince (drums. so, in 1963 the Pretty Things were formed.

Between 1964 and 1965 they had three decent charting singles, “Rosalyn” No. 41, “Don’t Bring Me Down” No. 10, and the self-penned “Honey I Need” at No. 13.

Yet for all there great stage act, their “mean” and “disheveled” appearance, the fact that the media gave them plenty of publicity as most definitely not being a band that you would want your daughters to be associated with, they could not record a number 1.

Sure they had minor hits over successive years but failed to find that elusive major music statement!

However they did trade successfully on their image, and were frequent guests on the many British music shows.

It wasn’t just the “shock” factor regarding their appearance, especially in the early years, they had a distinctive sound that was appealing.

In 1965, their studio (self titled) album – The Pretty Things actually went to #5 on the album charts and the Pretty Things had every reason to believe that even though the elusive #1 single had failed to materialise, it was just a matter of time.

With groups like the Beatles and the Stones taking up the mantle of being the “top bands”, and the likes of the Who and Pink Floyd only a tad below them, the Pretties even struggled to even find commercial music success that the “B” groups, groups like The Searchers, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, Dave Clark Five and even the light weight Herman’s Hermits, found!

Timing is everything, all musicians know this!

cream of the crate: cd review #37 – the pretty things: latest writs (the best of… greatest hits)
Booklet plate – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

In 1968 they developed and produced a promising “concept” album – S.F Sorrow! It was in fact the very first “Rock Opera”, preceding the Who’s Tommy!

However with the Beatles working on the “White Album“, and Pink Floyd working on a “Saucerful of Secrets“, S.F. Sorrow turned out to be totally a commercial failure.

1969 saw the band feeling disillusioned the failure of SF Sorrow and that June, Taylor left the group.

The Pretty Things gained guitarist Victor Unitt from the Edgar Broughton Band to replace Taylor. It was in some was the beginning of the end. From this time onward membership changes were frequent.

Yet the Pretties did have something! There was a rawness about their music and there was the development of some great music that allows us to retrospectively acknowledge their place in the British Music history.

So to this Cd! The 19 tracks have a good spread of their music over many albums.

Track Listing

cream of the crate: cd review #37 – the pretty things: latest writs (the best of… greatest hits)
Rear of the Cd – [CLICK to enlarge]
1. Come See Me *
2. Don’t Bring Me Down
3. Defecting Grey
4. SF Sorrow Is Born
5. £SD
6. All Light Up
7. Midnight to Six Man *
8. Remember That Boy
9. Rosalyn
10. Singapore Silk Torpedo
11. Old Man Going
12. Vivian Prince
13. Roadrunner
14. Talkin’ About the Good Times
15. Summertime
16. Tripping
17. Havana Bound
18. Cries From the Midnight Circus
19. Bitter End
* Video clips provided

Choosing tracks to feature is not that difficult, as there are a few tracks that mean a lot to me. These were tracks that grabbed me when I first heard them at the time of their release. 

Putting aside the tracks I have featured in the video clips, I would like to start with a Bo Diddley track – Roadrunner.

This track, #13, is a track covered many groups worldwide. It was a staple of the growing R&B/Blues bands in Melbourne in the early 1960’s. I liked the track a lot when I heard Bo playing it, but when I heard the Pretty Things version, it actually sounded dirtier, grittier and even more appealing.

It kicks off with Phil May declaring in a most distinctive and “sneering” voice – “I’m a Roadrunner honey!”, which is punctuated with a crunched snare. Then Dick Taylor runs his guitar “plectrum” down the strings – and the group is off and running with a great version of this classic track.

Roadrunner


Track # 2 is Don’t Bring Me Down.

While the Pretties we the first group to record it, the song was written the road manager of another British group of the day, the Fairies.

The Fairies rejected it but the Pretty Things saw an opportunity, as the song lent itself to the “sneering” “anti-establishment” attitude of the group. The track went to #10 in the British pop charts.

In the words of Phil May, writing in the Cd liner notes – “Like all classic rock tracks there’s not much to it, but it works.”

It’s a classic example how the delivery of a track can be as important as the words. Come to think about it, there really isn’t much to the lyrics – but I really like this track as a prime example of how the Pretty Things were developing their sound in that early period of their career.

I’m on my own, nowhere to roam
I tell you baby, don’t want no home
I wander round, feet off the ground
I even go from town to town
I said I think this rock is grand
Say I’ll be your man
Don’t bring me down, don’t bring me down

I met this chick, the other day
And then to me, she said she’ll stay
I get this pad, just like a cave
And then we’ll have, our living made
And then I’ll lead her on the ground
My head is spinning round
Don’t bring me down, don’t bring me down

I, I, I, I, I need a lover ’cause someone new
And then to her I will be true
I’ll buy her furs and pretty things
I’ll even buy a wedding ring
But until then I’ll ?settle down?
Say I’ll be your man
Don’t bring me down, don’t bring me down
Until then I’ll ?settle down?
Say I’ll be your man
Don’t bring me down, don’t bring me down
Don’t bring me down

 

Don’t Bring Me Down


Track #4 is S F Sorrow Is Born 

It carries the same name as the album, which was released in 1968.

Reputedly, and unchallenged as far as I know, as the first rock concept album, it tells the story of the main character, Sebastian F. Sorrow, from birth through love, war, tragedy, madness, and the disillusionment of old age.

The album is interesting in concept and for the fact that the group experimented with the latest sound technology, including the Mellotron and early electronic tone generators.

During the recording, drummer Skip Alan suddenly left, an ironically was replaced “TwinkAlder, who ironically was the drummer for the Fairies, the group that really gave the Pretty Things their first hit!

The Pretty Things were convinced they were on a winner.

Again, in the words of Phil May – “Thought we had the establishment the balls – Fuelled on acid we were encamped for a year in the music shrine that was Abbey Road with the odd time out to play on the barricades of embattled students and other oppressed minorities . . . this was serious, maybe just a touch too serious – But we dropped the tabs – worked through the night – lived and breathed this evolving piece of madness (commercially) – that was S F Sorrow – I say it loud and proud S-F Sorrow is Born.”

S F Sorrow Is Born


Talking of “acid”, or LSD, Track #5 wears the title of £SD.

The track was released in 1956, and created quite an outrage. Mind you back in that period it didn’t take much to do this, as the establishment was under “attack” from all corners, but any issue to do with drugs was the ultimate red flag to the bull!

In a magazine of the day called “Beat Time”. they ran an article titled “Group plugs LSD and wins a rebuke”, going on to say, “The Pharmaceutical Society today criticised The Pretty Things plans to issue a record “advertising” the use of LSD, the highly dangerous drug being smuggled into the UK“. What was that about no such thing as bad publicity?

The Pretty Things thrived on negative media publicity and despite my opinion that the track is worth listening to, the buying public did not – and it failed to chart!

Ev’rybody’s talking
’bout my £.s.d.
I say talk is easy
money´s never free

£.s.d.
£.s.d.

But I always tell them
life it ain’t so black
for ev’rything I’m given
something’s taken back

£.s.d.

Yes I need, £.s.d.

Yes I need, £.s.d.
Yes I need, £.s.d.
Yes I need, £.s.d.
Yes I need, £.s.d.
Yes I need, £.s.d.
Yes I need, £.s.d.

Man sits in his DB5
hasn’t got a care
he might be goin’ fast
but is he goin’ anywhere?

£.s.d.
£.s.d.
£.s.d.

 

£SD

I’ll finish off with their first release, which was Rosalyn – track # 9.

It’s a great uptempo blues driven track and is actually remarkably tight given the group had never recorded before, and again, it features that distinctive voice of Phil May.

The track charted somewhere in the forties, but was good enough to attract interest. It was enough for a “dodgy contract”, and to say goodby to art school, according to Phil May.

It seemed as though the group was promised many things on the basis of Rosalyn, but they don’t remember anyone mentioning “money”!

The track oozes intensity and has a thumpin’ good beat. It kicks off with simple enough riff, that was processed with the only piece of on-board processing gear a guitarist had at that time (except for the odd WEM Copycat), the tremolo setting on the amp.

Armed with maracas and his distinctive delivery style, Phil May demands attention and the group supports him very admirably. I listen to this track now, and I appreciate it as much as I did when it was released.

Rosalyn

 
Phil May in his halcyon days

 

This Cd is full of “lost” gems the Pretty Things – far too many to play and discuss here.

I really encourage anyone who either enjoyed that period, or indeed was born post the 1960’s, to rediscover what was essentially the raw but accomplished beginnings of the British Beat Music.

Sure, we had the Stones and the Animals, both carrying the “sneer factor”, but no one did it like the Pretty Things.

I know the group kept forming and reforming and performing, in fact the Pretty Things only played as the Corner Hotel in Richmond in December of 2012.

I didn’t go!

Sure I have no problem at all with musicians trading on their past to make a living – hell, a musician has to do anything to survive! But, somehow the Pretty Things without both Taylor and May, well, is not the Pretty Things, and besides, its hard to take someone in their sixties sneering as they sing.

Somehow, it comes out like moaning and groaning.

New copies can be expensive, around $30.00 on Ebay, but there are second hand copies floating around for about $10 – $12.00


VIDEOS:

Fortunately there are some live performances by the Pretty Things on Youtube, so I have linked a few so that not only can you appreciate their music, but also see how they appeared at the time. Shocking then . . . tame now!

 

 

Midnight To Six

 

Raining In My Heart

 

Big Boss Man

 

 


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

Click to open the following CD reviews:

#1. The Fugs: The Fugs First Album

#2. Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings

#3. Bob Dylan – Biograph

#4. Robin Trower – Essential

#5. Various Artists – Sixties Down Under Compilation

#6. Various Artists – The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans

#7. Hugh Masekela – African Breeze: 80’s

#8. The Last Poets – The Very Best of the Last Poets

#9. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Down By The Riversiide

#10. Various Artists – Sixties Down Under: Vol. 2

#11. The Beatles – On Air: Live at BBC Vol.2

#12. The Rolling Stones – Singles Collection: The London Years

#13. Compilation: Girl Groups Of The Sixties

#14. The Byrds – There Is A Season [Boxed Set]

#15. Various Artists – Sixties Down Under: Volume 4

#16. Howling Wolf – The London Sessions

#17. The Who – Thirty Years of Maximum R&B

#18. Thomas Dolby – Hyperactive

#19. Various Artists – Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965 – 1970

#20. Various Artists: 60’s Down Under – Volume 4

#21. 2nu – Ponderous

#22. The Great Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds [Boxed Set]

#23. The Sue Records Story: New York City – The Sound of Soul

#24. Various Artists – The Encyclopedia of Boogie Woogie

#25. Cam-Pact – Psychedelic Pop ‘n Soul: 1967 – 1969

#26. The Clash – The Singles

#27. Arthur Brown – Fire: The Story of Arthur Brown

#28. Various Artists – Red Hot & Blue: Col Porter Tribute

#29. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Global a Go Go

#30 – Jeff St John’s Copper Wine – Joint Effort

#31 – John Lee Hooker – Boogie Man

#32. Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Airplane

#33. Various Artists – The Ultimate Guitar Survival Guide

#34. Muddy Waters – The Real Folk Blues / More Real Folk Blues

#35. Dave Hole – The Plumber

#36. Sly & The Family Stone – Stand