The Pretty Things


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1963-)

- Phil May --  vocals, bass, guitar

- Brian Pendleton -- rhythm guitar

- Viv Prince -- drums, percussion

- John Stax -- bass

- Dick Taylor -- lead guitar

.

  line up x (-75)

- Skip Alan -- vocals, drum, percussion

- Stuart Brooks -- 

- Gordon Edwards -- keyboards, bass, guitar, vocals 

- Phil May -- vocals bass, guitar

- John Povey -- harpsichord, keyboards, percussion, vocals 

- Pete Tolson -- bass, guitar 

 

  line up x (1975-) 

- Skip Alan -- vocals, drum, percussion

 - Gordon Edwards -- keyboards, bass, guitar, vocals 

NEW - Jack Green -- guitars, bass, vocals (replaced Stuart Brooks)

- Phil May -- bass, guitar, vocals 

- John Povey -- harpsichord, keyboards, percussion, vocals 

- Pete Tolson -- bass, guitar 

 

 

 

- The Electric Banana

- Phil May & the Fallen Angels

- Metropolis (Skip Alan, Gordon Edwards, Jack Green, John Povey, 

  and Pete Tolson

- Sunshine (Skip Alan)

 

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Silk Torpedo

Company: Swan Songs

Catalog: SS 8411
Year:
 1974

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; original custom inner sleeve

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 2163

Price: $15.00

 

Lots of folks thought 1974's "Silk Torpedo" was going to be The Pretty Things' breakout album. After years of trying they finally had a sponsor with cache and money - none other than longtime fans and admirers Led Zeppelin.  And if you were going to have a sponsor, who better than the world biggest rock band who were willing to spend some big money on the band, including signing the group to their Atlantic affiliated Swan Song label.

 

Produced by Norman Smith, the album probably came as a surprise to longtime fans raised on the band's R&B roots, or having grown up with their cutting edge early-'70s stabs at rock operas.  Musically the set was quite diverse including stabs at commercial ballads ('Is It Only Love'), early glam ('Joey'), political commentary ('Belfast Cowboys'), and plenty of standard rock ('Come Home Momma').  Combined that made for one of their most conventional and mainstream releases.  Unfortunately, those characteristics attracted criticism from the type of listeners who love to scream "sell out".  While I'll readily admit the collection wasn't nearly as creative, or daring as some of their earlier releases, I actually enjoyed their stab at commercial success.  In fact, the only disappointments were the studio jam 'L.A.N.T.A.' and the sappy ballad 'Is It Only Love'.  How could you blame a band that had been working for a commercial breakthrough since 1963?   

 

full gatefold sleeve

 

Opening for Led Zeppelin, the band toured the US in support of the album.  Unfortunately the tour was cut short when Robert Plant was involved in a nasty car accident.  The album still managed to hit # 104 on the US charts.

 

"Silk Torpedo" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Dream (instrumental)   (Jon Povey)  - 1:08

The aptly titled 'Dream' wasn't much more than a lysergic song fragment, but it certainly had the bones on an impressive tune.   rating:*** stars

2.) Joey   (Jon Povey - Phil May) - 5:35

Showcasing Phil May on lead vocals and Jon Povey on Hammond organ, 'Joey' managed to combine a bouncy, lysergic-tinged melody with some of Pete Tolson's most melodic guitar and Skip Alan's overlooked drumming.  Image a classic Mott the Hopple tune and you'd have a feel for how good this song was.  It did little commercially, but the tune was released as a US single:

- 1974's 'Joey' b/w 'Come Home Mama' (Swan Song catalog number SS-70104)   rating; **** stars

3.) Maybe You Tried   (Phil May) - 4:19

Nice melodic rocker, but the biggest surprise were the song's sweet harmonies.   rating: *** stars

4.) Atlanta   (Phil May - Pete Tolson) - 2:42

'Atlanta' started out sounding like an unfinished demo, but what began as a stark ballad unexpectedly morphed into something sounding like a promotional soundtrack by the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.  LOL  Wonder if any of these guys even knew where Atlanta was ...  rating: *** stars

4.) L.A.N.T.A.   (Phil May - Jon Povey - Al Smith) - 2:24

'L.A.N.T.A'  was essentially a continuation of the previous song.  Basically a loose and ill-focused jam based on a lyric that endlessly repeated the title, to my ears it sounded like a bad Eric Burden and War track.  rating: ** stars

 

(side 2)

1.) Is It Only Love   (Phil May) - 5:05

Pretty ballad with an interesting Salvation Army horn arrangement that was docked a star for the wobbly lead vocals and a lyric that essentially repeated the title until your head was ready to explode.  Who know why, but the song was tapped as the leadoff single in the UK:

- 1974's 'Is It Only Love' b/w 'Joey' (Swan Song catalog number SSK 19401rating: *** stars

2.) Come Home Momma   (Phil May) - 3:41

Decent, but not particularly original slice of boogie woogie rock and roll.  The refrain was nice enough, but you'd heard stuff like this one dozens of times before.    rating: *** stars

3.) Bridge of God   (Phil May) - 4:57

Sporting one of the album's better melodies and an interesting lyric certainly didn't hurt 'Bridge of God'.  Shame the vocals were so fragile.   This one's always reminded me of a second-rate Terry Thomas and Charlie tune.   rating: *** stars  

4.) Singapore Silk Torpedo   (Phil May - Pete Tolson) - 5:12

The lyrics seemed to have something to do with the joys of shore leave in Singapore ...  At least to my ears the title track had a distinctive Who feel and sound.   I'd suggest they were luck Pete Townshend and company didn't sue them for plagiarism.  Course I'm a big Who fan so I can think of worse influences.  YouTube has a nice Live at the BBC performance of the tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjtXt6JNH40     rating: **** stars

5.) Belfast Cowboys   (Phil May - Jon Povey) - 6:55

Admittedly The Pretty Things aren't a group you tend to think of as having a political and social agenda.   Accordingly their commentary on Northern Ireland was somewhat of a surprise.  The thing is nobody seems to have been paying much attention (perhaps Paul McCartney had just garnered all the headlines when 'Give Ireland Back To the Irish' got banned by the BBC).  Opening up with a nice Neil Young cop (harmonica and acoustic guitar), the tune quickly morphed into a surprisingly rocking and insightful commentary on The Troubles.   rating: **** stars

 



Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Savage Eye

Company: Swan Songs

Catalog: SS 8414
Year:
 1975

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; original custom inner sleeve

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 2041

Price: $15.00

 

So how could you go wrong when the world's biggest, baddest, and best known rock band [Led Zeppelin] goes out of their way to champion your cause, even signing you to their own record label ?  Seems like it would be hard to do ...  but The Pretty Things managed to pull it off.

 

Released in 1976, "Savage Eye" was their second release for Swan Song and teamed the band with producer Norman Smith.   Musically this one has always struck me as being kind of an aural mess.  You almost got the feeling they knew they were operating on borrowed time and needed to find a hit, or they were going to be commercial and artistic toast.  That sense of desperation came through on the collection's extreme diversity.  'Under the Volcano', 'Remember That Boy', and 'Drowned Man' all aptly showcased their rock roots.   At the other end of the spectrum, the glorious 'Sad Eye' and  the throwaway instrumental 'Theme For Michelle' were stark ballads seemingly intended to showcase the softer, more commercial band.  And in-between those genres you got stabs at pedestrian blues-rock ('My Song'),  Jeff Lynne-styled orchestral pop ('My Song'), and even 10cc-styled pop-rock ('Remember That Boy').  It certainly wasn't a bad album, but the thing was so inconsistent you can easily understand people's frustration with the band and why it gets so many lukewarm reviews.  To my ears it had enough top notch material to warrant the investment of time and energy in checking it out.

 

"Savage Eye" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Under The Volcano   (Phil May - Pete Tolson) - 6:02

Seemingly inspired by the Malcolm Lowry novel and Phil May's own childhood memories (not everyone enjoys a textbook childhood), 'Under the Volcano' started the set off with a sizzling rocker that had one fatal flaw - namely Phil May's horrible vocal ... Producer Norman Smith managed to make it sound like the band had recorded the vocals from a phone booth in a neighboring country.  That said, the rest of the tune had a slinky energy that largely made up for the sloppy vocals.   rating: **** stars

2.) My Song   (Phil May) - 5:12 

LOL - May's heartbreaking dedication to writer's block ...  Not sure who actually sang the tune, but the vocal was a bit rough (thing along the lines of Graham Nash with a head cold).  Opening up as a stark ballad, the song abruptly shifted into Jeff Lynne/Electric Light Orchestra territory, complete with elaborate and fully orchestrated arrangement.   Strange.    rating: *** stars

3.) Sad Eye   (Pete Tolson) - 4:31 

Featuring Jack Green on lead vocals, 'Sad Eye' was a pretty, plaintive, and stark ballad.  Most of the arrangement was just Green with an acoustic guitar accompaniment and some spine shivering backing vocals on the chorus.  One of the prettiest things The Pretty Things ever recorded.  The song was also tapped as a British single:

 

 

 

 

- 1976's 'Sad Eye' b/w 'Remember That Boy' (Swan Song catalog number )   rating: **** stars

 

 

 

 

4.) Remember That Boy   (Phil May) - 5:04 

Back to full throttle, no-frills rock. that's actually always reminded mea bit of 10cc pretending they could actually rock out. (check out the weird little guitar refrain).   Not immediately breathtaking, but with a couple of spins the tune began to reveal it's charms.   Skip Alan's drumming was particularly good on this one. This one was also released as a US single:

- 'Remember That Boy' b/w 'It Isn't Rock 'n' Roll' (Swan Song catalog number SS-70107)    rating: *** stars

 

(side 2)

1.) It Isn't Rock 'n' Roll   (John Povey) - 4:07 

Bouncing between music hall and conventional bar band moves, 'It Isn't rock 'n' Roll' probably wasn't going to appeal to hardcore rock fans, but I actually liked the oddball arrangement.  Surprising the tune wasn't tapped as a single.   rating; *** stars

2.) I'm Keeping'    (Phil May) - 4:04 

Admittedly a bit light in the concept department, but 'I'm Keeping' was a bouncy tribute to keeping bad, bad company with one of the album's sweetest melodies.  An album highlight at was released as a UK single:

-  1975's 'I'm Keeping' b/w 'Atlanta' (Swan Song catalog SSK 19403).   rating:**** stars

3.) It's Been So Long   (Phil May) - 5:07 
Need to hear a breezy, bluesy ballad featuring Gre
en on vocals ...  Well, here's 'It's Been So Long'.  Professional, but kind of plodding and forgettable, though the backing vocals were surprisingly sweet.  Always wondered about the strange almost Gregorian chants that were mixed way in the backing track. rating: *** stars

4.) Drowned Man   (Phil May - John Povey) - 4:23 

Reportedly a tribute to a band roadie who drown in Greece, 'Drowned Man' was the album's best rocker. I've always loved the dark, heavy bass and Skip Alan 's martial drumming on this one ...  With May handling vocals, this was another tune with kind of a 10cc vibe.   rating: **** stars

5.) Theme For Michelle (instrumental)   (John Povey) - 1:59 

Written by keyboardist John Povey, 'Theme For Michelle' was certainly an odd way for the band to end the album.  A fragile, piano-powered ballad, the brief track had a very Liberace/lounge lizard vibe to it.   You were left wondering if you'd somehow missed the joke.   rating: ** stars

 

 

 

In 2002 Repertoire Records reissued the album in CD format with three bonus tracks:

1.) Tonight   (Gordon Edwards) - 3:05

2.) Love Me a Little - 3:10

3.) Dance All Night - 2:53 

 

Swan Song made some efforts to promote the album and the band undertook a handful of UK performances opening for the likes of fellow Swan Song act Bad Company.  Unfortunately the LP did little commercially, peaking at # 163 on the US album charts.  The last original member, May subsequently quit, reappearing with Phil May & the Fallen Angels.  The rest of the band (Skip Alan, Gordon Edwards, Jack Green, John Povey, and Pete Tolson) continued on under the name Metropolis for about a year.

 

 

 

Night **(*)

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