Guide to British Music of the 1960s

November 2017

CD Review: The Pretty Things - Greatest Hits


The Pretty Things were an important part of the R&B scene in the 1960s, coming out of the same scene as contemporaries such as the Rolling Stones. However, although they were a superb live act and produced some excellent singles and albums, they did not have any major chart hits and never became mainstream. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that they produced a fine body of work that is worth revisiting. They were dirtier than the Stones and more controversial with an aggressive edge to their early tracks, in particular.

Their early singles saw the Pretty Things at the heart of the British R&B movement. Rosalyn and Don't Bring Me Down are truly great tracks while Midnight to Six Man stands perfectly alongside other mid-1960s tracks. The band was able to change with the times. Alongside the Beatles, the Who, the Small Faces and others, the Pretty Things moved in the psychedelic direction with the rock opera SF Sorrow. This is radically different from the dirty R&B but nonetheless it compares extremely well with its contemporaries and still sounds great today. SF Sorrow was the first rock opera and, according to the band, it had a major influence on Pete Townshend who went away and wrote Tommy. However, the band always remained on the edge of success as they were not seen to be as commercial as their contemporaries. Not surprisingly, some of their lyrical content was too risqué for the BBC and so the band did not receive the radio airtime it surely deserved.

The first ten or so tracks on the CD are clear proof that The Pretty Things were a top rate R&B band. Like many other bands of the time their influences are evident in the cover versions such as Solomon Burke's Cry To Me. However, other singles are original tracks and, increasingly, the band were writing their own material. Dick Taylor and Phil May were the core of the band and they co-wrote the superb Midnight to Six Man.

As time moved on the Pretty Things changed their sound and embraced the new psychedelic era. Another May/Taylor track is LSD which precedes the "Summer of Love" by two years so, presumably, it is about money. Nevertheless, it was banned by the BBC!

SF Sorrow remains the band's masterpiece. It should be viewed alongside the other rock opera and concept albums of the late 1960s. The album tells the story of Sebastian Sorrow as he progresses through life. The title track is outstanding with a wonderful combination of electric and acoustic guitars in the introduction. This album is an essential slice of English psychedelia and the tracks included here show off perfectly how the Pretty Things' sound had evolved. Place Talkin' About the Good Times and Walking Through My Dreams alongside SF Sorrow and there is the band's contribution to the new sound neatly summed up.

A second CD covers the whole of the band's reunion concert in December 2010 when they convened at the 100 Club in London. They run through the whole of the first album with its R&B classics. This is also a great listen and makes buying the double CD well worth it if you already have the studio tracks.

The Pretty Things were one of the UK's foremost R&B bands that made the Rolling Stones appear like the good boys (which of course they were until Andrew Loog-Oldham developed their image).

The album is also available in single CD and double vinyl LP. There are excellent sleeve notes as well as descriptions of the tracks by Phil May and Dick Taylor.

Madfish SMACD 1082

CD Release: 13 October 2017

Essential Tracks

  • Rosalyn
  • Midnight to Six Man
  • Walking Through My Dreams

Track Listing

Disc One:
  1. Rosalyn
  2. Don't Bring Me Down
  3. Honey I Need
  4. Cry To Me
  5. Midnight to Six Man
  6. Come See Me
  7. Can't Stand the Pain
  8. Sittin' All Alone
  9. Get The Picture?
  10. You Don't Believe Me
  11. I Can Never Say
  12. LSD
  13. Defecting Grey
  14. Talkin' About the Good Times
  15. Mr Evasion
  16. Walking Through My Dreams
  17. SF Sorrow is Born
  18. Trust
  19. Old Man Going
  20. Loneliest Person
  21. Scene One
  22. Grass
  23. Cold Stone
  24. October 26
  25. Mr Tambourine Man
Disc Two: Live at the 100 Club
  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


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