The History of the Albums – n°282
It is time to give Julius Caesar back what belongs to him. One of the often forgotten outsiders of the early British Invasion bands, The Pretty Things is a cruelly underestimated group, one of the most prodigious, innovative and influential of all time. Believe me, this is not an exaggeration, dive into some of the greatest masterpieces of their discography to understand how much The Pretty Things lack recognition. Having never managed to achieve commercial success, the band has always remained in the shadow of those who were popular, which explains why their undeserved notoriety has overshadowed their impressive track record and content from 1964 to 1973. Opinions about the main reasons for "failure" are mainly due to their total lack of knowledge in the United States, to a few management mistakes but also to unpredictable facts of fate. I will therefore try to pay tribute to them by sharing with you my opinion on several episodes, because the Pretty Things have evolved and offered a varied artistic palette. Initially, the first period of the Pretty Things is characterized by a mixture of British Rhythms and Blues fulminant, of robust Blues Rock, of Garage Rock, and also of wild Mod/Beat Music when they expanded their formula. With an obscure aesthetic and by incorporating psychedelic experimentation into their musical base, the Pretty Things became the pioneers of the Freakbeat sub-style in 1964, along with the band The Sorrows, which would later be followed by The Creation, The Byrds and The Who at times. Although Freakbeat is rather isolated, the bases of this sub-style are directly linked to the development of the psychedelic movement. Very often, the story goes that the most "bad boys" were the Rolling Stones, especially as they played them, but in reality the Pretty Things were something as wild (anyway their stories are linked in some ways). I hope you're well set up correctly, here is now the first episode of a band that still influenced artists/groups like David Bowie, Radiohead, Tame Impala, Faces, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, Steve Haley & Cockney or Blue Oyster Cult.
When I say a few lines above that the history of the Pretty Things and the Rolling Stones are closely linked, it's because fate could have had a completely different adventure in store for us. Indeed, the leader and guitarist Dick Taylor was part of a band composed of Keith Richard and Mick Jagger since 2012, before Brian Jones took over and created the Rolling Stones. While he was forced to play bass, Dick Taylor stayed only 5 months with the Stones, then motivated to create his own band with singer Phil May. Thus the Pretty Things were born one fine day in 1963 in Sidcup, quickly joined by Brian Pendleton (rhythm guitar), John Stax (bass), and Pete Kitley (percussion). Just like the Stones, the Pretty Things are American Blues lovers such as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon or Chuck Berry. In parallel to the underground circuit where the Pretty Things performed, the band called on their friend Bryan Morrison to become their manager. Very convincing and gifted for that, Bryan Morrison will succeed in getting a deal with the Fontana label. In 1964, when the band replaced its drummer with Viv Prince, the Pretty Things released their first single Rosalyn in June followed by Don't Bring Me Down in October. Although not monumental songs (although excellent), it is important to note that not only did the band create Freakbeat but also these 2 singles anticipated the Kinks' image of Proto-punk. It is besides with Don't Bring Me Down that they will reach for the first and only time the top 10 of the UK charts. With their nascent success, the Pretty Things knew how to play without too much excess the game of provocations and trendy "bad boys". In March 1965, the band released its first eponymous album, which mainly contained blues covers, thus repeating the archetype of a first album. In spite of that, this eponymous album is very promising and really pleasant to listen to, especially the US version (ironically) it contains all the essential singles of their debut. Ironically yes, because the main mistake of the Pretty Things is to have failed to convince America. To illustrate this, it is as if an army battalion goes to war for the invasion, but fails to reach the battlefield. If history points to the mistake of having favored the Oceanic tour instead of the American one, chances are it explains this. In spite of the illusion one has in hindsight, the success of the British Invasion was by far a quiet river, where the bands arrived and greeted with flowers in their mouths.
After the eponymous album, The Pretty Things broaden their musical palette by exploring the Mod/Beat Music side while keeping their main essence. In September 1965, the band returned to the studio for a few days of recording sessions to record their second album Get The Picture. The main idea behind the album was to make a movie that showed the band a little bit like the Beatles had done, in order to offer a good promotion for the band. Unfortunately for reasons I don't know, probably lack of time and funding, the film was not released until 1966 and although it was a treasure for the band's fans, it didn't meet commercial expectations. Once again, this shows the mistakes made by the manager Morrisson, despite the fact that, deep down, the ideas and ambitions were always good intentions. So without relying on the film, since the album was released in December 1965, we will judge it without this detail. Composed of 12 tracks, the A side is composed of original songs with the exception of Rainin' in My Heart while the B side is composed of exclusive songs and covers. It is already a clear improvement compared to the first album because Phil May and Dick Taylor, helped by the producer/songwriter Bobby Graham started to write their own songs whereas before it was mainly external writers who delivered songs to them. We can also notice the emerging writing talent of the duo May/Taylor. The making of the album is also marked by the nascent tensions of the increasingly unstable drummer Viv Prince, which forced the band to cut the recording of the album short, which also explains why the album still contains many covers. For the story, Viv Prince eventually left the band in the middle of the sessions, replaced by the producer himself Bobby Graham. Musically, the most amazing thing about Get The Picture is that the band preferred to write album songs and include B-sides without putting any singles on them. A phenomenon that a lot of bands did more or less, but when you think that they had in their stock the magnificent Midnight To Six Man demo, it's a bit surprising to do without it. In reality, it must be said that the album is still amazing, even if the A-side is more interesting. First of all, there is the eponymous song which highlights the Freakbeat aesthetic with its guitars pushed to saturation or the You Don't Believe Me introduction where Jimmy Page is credited where we can observe all Phil May's talent for melancholic and tortured melodies. But above all my little crush is Can't Stand The Pain, a psychedelic Blues/country ballad that is brilliantly constructed and ideal for a night stroll on the desert roads. Objectively it is true that this second album has too many gaps to be part of the Pop Rock classics, but if we take into account that they didn't have everything in their dispositions to do the best possible job, we notice all the same all the energy, all the singularity and all the talent of the duo May/Taylor.