Bo Diddley’s Punk Children
Of all the bands to appropriate the shudder and throb of American rhythm and blues made in the 1950′s and 1960′s, The Pretty Things have not been cast as favorably as their juggernaut contemporaries. While The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Who, and The Kinks have remained at their thrones as the kings of the mod britsplosion, time has cast aside a handful of bands who deserve to be as widely heard as the bands just mentioned. Of all the bands from this era that failed to join the pantheon in the British Invasion, perhaps none are more deserving of a place among the greats than The Pretty Things.
Guitarist Dick Taylor tenured in the earliest incarnations of The Rolling Stones, but when he was pushed from guitar to bass after Brian Jones joined the band, he struck out on his own with friend and vocalist Phil May. They corralled a quintet of like-minded mods and headed into the studio as The Pretty Things. Their first two records, “Get The Picture?” and an eponymous effort, were both released in 1965, and though their name was firmly nested in the same furtive circles of fans of The Rolling Stones in their native England, they made no headway into the American audience.
Of the differences between these two acts, the quality of their recordings was significant in their dissemination. Whereas the Rolling Stones’ efforts in that same year (“The Rolling Stones, Now!”, “Out of Our Heads”, and “December’s Children”) sounded fairly polished, The Pretty Things’ records sounded raw and messy. Of course, listening to them now, that raw messiness is what makes these records endearing, but at the time it made them seem less professional. Phil May and Dick Taylor have spoken to this fact, and note that when the records were done, they knew that The Stones would advance to fame and fortune stateside while they languished in relative obscurity.
The Pretty Things’ first two records are steeped in reverence to Bo Diddley (they took their name from a Diddley tune). Phil May’s piercing growl and pointed harmonica give the whole affair a proto-punk feel that The Stones were just not capable of. Dick Taylor’s guitar work is firmly rooted in the electric style of his influences but heads into some noisy territory, and the rhythm section, consisting of bassist John Stax (an apt nom de plume) and drummer Viv Prince, keep the songs treading along a tight line. What they lacked in studio wizardry, they more than made up for in an undiluted and meticulous rendering of the blues. That these five lads were smitten to the core with the blues music of the U.S., and pour it through their hearts unmitigated, is shown dazzlingly on these tracks.
After these first two records, they fumbled into a recording and creative nightmare with their record label on their third album “Emotions”, and then veered into psychedelic rock opera, their opus “S.F. Sorrow” predating The Who’s “Tommy” by half a year. Their psychedelic output of the late 60′s and early 70′s was critically acclaimed, but again, they found no traction among American audiences.
Although it would be a worthwhile endeavor to examine their entire discography, let’s focus our ears on their first two records, simply because they were singular in their vision and provide serve as a great starting point for anyone who has yet to hear this fantastic band. Below is a playlist comprised of selections from “The Pretty Things” and “Get The Picture?”. Both records have been remastered and re-released with bonus tracks and exhaustive liner notes on the Snapper Classics label, and are definitely worth tracking down.
1. Roadrunner – from “The Pretty Things”
2. Oh Baby Doll – from “The Pretty Things”
3. Rosalyn – from “The Pretty Things”
4. Don’t Bring Me Down – from “The Pretty Things”
5. Get Yourself Home – from “The Pretty Things”
6. Judgement Day – from “The Pretty Things”
7. You’ll Never Do It Baby – from “Get The Picture?”
8. Get a Buzz – from “Get The Picture?”
9. L.S.D. – from “Get The Picture?”
10. Gonna Find Me a Substitute – from “Get The Picture?”
11. Buzz The Jerk – from “Get The Picture?”
12. I Want Your Love – from “Get The Picture?”
Next Week: A look at the man responsible for bringing Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston, and Peter Tosh together.