Guide to British Music of the 1960s

October 1998

CD Review

The Pretty Things- The Pretty Things


In a parallel universe, The Pretty Things may well have stolen the honours for top R&B group of the '60s. Instead, The Rolling Stones took that award and The Pretties ended up as extremely unlucky also rans. Here was a band even uglier and more frightening than The Stones, with an outrageous demeanor and visceral approach to R&B that made other groups seem prissy by comparison.

The band formed in Sidcup Art College when lead singer Phil May met guitarist Dick Taylor, who had already left an early incarnation of The Rolling Stones. They formed The Pretty Things with bass player John Stax, a second guitarist Brian Pendleton, and later, brilliant but 'mad' drummer Viv Prince. After signing with the Fontana record label, early success with their first three singles, Rosalyn, Don't Bring Me Down and Honey I Need, led them on to make their first album.

Given a none too generous two days of studio time in which to make the album, it almost ended in immediate disaster. Phil May recalls that producer Jack Baverstock was irked by the band's unruly behaviour. "He went upstairs and said, 'I'm not working with that bunch of animals!' So we'd only been at it for half an hour and we had no producer. And Viv had spewed over the drums and fallen over twice."

A new producer was hurriedly found, session drummer Bobby Graham, who turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He was much more sympathetic to the band's overdriven sound, taking the view: "Well, we might lose some definition, but at least we'll get some bollocks in it." He was also able to fill in on drums when Viv Prince once more toppled off his stool. Phil May: "He just went straight over the back, and when we ran round to him he was unconscious, gone..."

The album was duly completed in the allotted two days. After the first day's recording the band drove off to do an evening gig before returning to the studios to sleep in the van ready for the next day. With such a short time to work in, the group could do no more than run through their live set, but despite this, or perhaps because of it, they turned in a powerful performance which sounds as raw and exciting today as it did then. As well as the already mentioned three singles, the album contains tracks by Bo Diddly (their hero and, indirectly, provider of their name), Jimmy Reed, plus a few others, including some of the group's first self penned numbers which see the start of the Taylor/May writing partnership.

In some ways the album is typical of the white R&B sound of the time, but it nevertheless shows just how good a group they were. Although there are some recognisable glitches in their performance, in places the band gel together superbly, producing that live sound that other bands failed to achieve on record. It may sound a little messy in places, but what it lacks in technical proficiency, it makes up for in honest energy. And just listen to Viv Prince's superb drumming. If you want to know where Keith Moon honed his particular style, listening to this record may give you a clue.

Roger Purbrick, September 1998

Released: 1965
Fontana TL 5239
Highest UK Chart Position: 6

Essential Tracks:

  • Pretty Thing
  • Big City
  • Rosalyn

Track Listing:

  1. Roadrunner
  2. Judgement Day
  3. 13, Chester Street
  4. Big City
  5. Unknown Blues
  6. Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut
  7. Honey I Need
  8. Oh Baby Doll
  9. She's Fine She's Mine
  10. Don't Lie To Me
  11. The Moon Is Rising
  12. Pretty Thing
  13. Rosalyn
  14. Big Boss Man
  15. Don't Bring Me Down
  16. We'll Be Together
  17. I Can Never Say
  18. Get Yourself Home
  • CD reissue also includes video footage.

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