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Latest Writs Greatest Hits… The Best Of
Pretty Things
El-Camel's Ratings:

Snapper Music
michael white


The original bad boys… so rotten they were the only band from the '60s that Johnny admired, The Pretty Things have been present - though not so correct - at many of the most significant shifts in style of the last thirty-odd-years. So much so that this affectionately compiled collection is not just a history of a band but also of music itself: especially from their conception in 1963 to the mid-'70s.

They have been the epitomé of a visible cult for as long as they have existed. Always there, always respected by those in the know and their more famous contemporaries, always courting controversy, influential out of proportion to their comparatively limited commercial success: the moniker Greatest Hits is completely tongue-in-cheek. For those who weren't there this is a trip from the Big Beat of the early '60s through the decade's punk, garage, psychedelia; into the self-consciously progressive and heavy avenues of the early-'70s and on up to a present day grizzled veteran status where, when the wind blows in the right direction, renowned vocalist Phil May and legendary guitarist Dick Taylor (the founding bassist of the Rolling Stones) can still turn back the years.

'Come See Me' is the opening track to wake the dead: a crunching prehistoric monster of a bass line mixes it with buzz saw guitar that takes no prisoners - propelling snotty vocals that blast a gap between your ears: it's the Small Faces all fuzzed up on attitude. The pace is unrelenting as the snide vocals of 'Don't Bring Me Down' take off on a Nuggets style strut. 'Rosalyn' takes Jaggeresque vocals, furiously giving it plenty of lip on a Bo Diddley maracas-fuelled thrash. Then it all turns weird… it's kitschen sink pyschedelia: Phil gets phased, sitars are plucked, abrasive bursts of black fuzz from Dick render relentless chop-changes of tempo; freak out merging with toy town oom pah pah and a beery singalong as a finale.

The psychedelic sophistication follows with a segment of the band's 1968 rock opera SF Sorrow. 'SF Sorrow Is Born' displays the Things' orchestral oeuvre - a masterpiece of typical late-'60s overstatement: thankfully here the bombast is kept under tight rein and fired by a percussive chord cluster which - in the parlance of the era - is very catchy. The drug celebration is next… '£SD' isn't about pre-decimal money: 'All Light Up' - with its Strawberry Fields intro - isn't about bonfire night, although getting kids from an Islington school playground to surreptitiously provide the chorus sparked another recent incendiary outrage.

The Pretty Things story tokes a heavy left turn as the idealism of the drug daze gave way to the heavy artillery of the progressive period. The energy is restored… 'Remember That Boy' fairly crackles along in a rifftastic sort of way as Dick tailors an obtusely anguished solo for nascent air guitarists everywhere - and slides literally out of the track. 'Singapore Silk Torpedo' has the obligatory silly title and gives Phil the chance to prove his all-round vocal dexterity. This time it's a shouter in the Led Zep Plant style with hints of Rogering Daltrey… Who, you might say. The chorus recalls Ritchie Blackmore over the Rainbow in its streamlined palatability. 'Old Man Going' shows where Iron Maiden and their ilk could have copped the lot from. The wizard of Phil's Ozzy-style vocal lines lyrically suggests it was written on a rather dark Sunday. It's rock, but not as we know it and it would take a brave old man to get going to this.

The classic 'Roadrunner' (ahem) runs over everything in the road and is a spiky hedgehog of a track. 'Summertime' has the rolling gait of a bright sunlit day - every one gets pastoral in the end. Stripped bare for the warm rays is Dick's country blues technique on 'Tripping' - it's all on a knife's edge you know. 'Havana Bound' is the good time squeal of a heavy head shake that your Mum - let alone Castro - wouldn't like. Final track is the bitter end… no honest it is the 'Bitter End.'

Thirty-seven years and counting… the bitter end hasn't come yet for Phil and the boys but when it does you can bet it will be a pretty sight for once. All of which means there's still time for you to get into the oldest punks on the block. Unrepentant after all these years, they're the best kept secret in British rock - an institution… although it would take one hell of an establishment to hold them in.

michael white

The Pretty Things: Latest Writs Greatest Hits… The Best Of - Snapper Music CD-Album SMACD823


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