Under The Radar: The Pretty Things

Yeah, I know. The Pretty Things aren’t exactly unknown.

Well, to you, maybe, if you’re feigning surprise at the title. Hell, they were The Rolling Stones before the Stones were, and although they never got the press that Mick and the boys got in later life, they were still a significant part of the transition of rock’n’roll way back when. They were unmistakeably cool. They probably created the first concept album, even though Tommy by The Who is what most people will nominate when asked that question.

But even many of those who nod approvingly about Dick Taylor and Phil May and the boys from the 60s assume that it all ended a long time ago. So I’m writing today for those people.

To the amazement of many, in 1999 they came off the mat with a new album almost a quarter century past their zenith. Eight years later they released another (Balboa Island), but I prefer Rage Before Beauty. Here are my words from eleven years ago as they appeared in Consumable Online (including references to cloth-covered speakers and an amazement that men can rock in their fifties!)

Rage Before Beauty. And if you think that’s a great title, consider that the original was Fuck Oasis, and Fuck You!

Yessirree, these geezers haven’t lost one iota of vinegar over thirty five years, and now there’s a recorded document to prove it. Snapper Music has recently released the classic older titles by The Pretty Things along with this collection of material recorded during the mid and late nineties. The original band is as intact as it possibly can be in 1999, and that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “boys to men” now, doesn’t it?

For those unfamiliar with the band, they were contemporaries of The Rolling Stones (guitarist Dick Taylor was an original Stone), but their behavior and attitude made the Stones look like decent lads. When your drummer is widely considered the inspiration for Keith Moon‘s loutish lifestyle, well…that’s saying a mouthful.

It’s also pretty widely accepted that their S.F.Sorrow was the first rock opera, although Tommy certainly got the accolades and the airplay. They were the first signing to Led Zeppelin‘s flagship label Swan Song, but snafus let Bad Company get theirs out first. Whatever! It seems that The Pretty Things were snakebitten from the start, so why not channel that aggression into your life as well as your music? And so they did.

Rage Before Beauty is a telegram from a shipload of survivors, serving notice that although they’re old, they’re not in the way. Shit, Phil May‘s voice has a rasp that only pain could season. On “Love Keeps Hanging On”, May’s autobiographical tale of a relationship that’s been battered over time, his heart almost bleeds through the speaker cloth. What starts like “Wild Horses” soon increases intensity and by the finish is a full blown Pink Floyd anthem, with David Gilmour providing the type of emotional guitar solo he has built a career upon. Listen to the intensity of “Not Givin’ In”, which dares to drape garage punk with acoustic guitars (!), and it’s hard to believe that this is a band of men in their fifties. Ditto the opening cut “Passion Of Love”, very uptempo (for the Pretties) and a challenge to bands half their age.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

Guitarists Dick Taylor and Frank Holland simply shine throughout the record, but perhaps these two are great examples of less being more. “Everlasting Flame” recalls “19th Nervous Breakdown”; Skip Alan‘s drumming and the keyboard’s duel with the guitar leaving May no choice but to use the same cadence. And speaking of Bo Diddley, the tribute to their loon of a drummer, “Vivian Prince”, is another winner.

Making the record was reportedly as easy as passing a stone, though, and in spots it shows. Songs like “Blue Turns To Red” and “Going Downhill” (their single from 1989) sound like unfinished ideas when compared to some of the others already mentioned. And although they were probably a gas to record, three covers (“Eve Of Destruction”, “Mony Mony” and “Play With Fire”) are a large percentage to have when you’ve had so much time on your hands. “Fire” does have an interestingly seamy arrangement, and “Mony Mony” does feature Ronnie Spector, but they would have been better saved for live shows or buried as bonus cuts. I’d rather have seen the band add more rave ups or even songs like the frail, acoustic “Fly Away” instead, but I say that just to amuse myself. I know that the band would just tell me to piss off if I really suggested it to them.

Had the band not issued Rage Before Beauty at all, their legacy would have still been assured. They just wanted you to know that they’re not going out quietly, and they just might kick a few more asses before they do. By all means grab their earlier works,  especially S.F. Sorrow and Silk Torpedo, and then savor the great moments captured here, which far outweigh the ordinary ones.

Pretty Things Wiki page

I played the snot out of “Come Home Momma” when I was a DJ

One of my favorite mags was inspired by the Pretties – Ugly Things

The great old days are much like the new ones

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