10 February 2011

The Pretty Things - 1968 - S.F. Sorrow

Quality: 5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5

A full-length rock opera that predates the Who's Tommy, S.F. Sorrow is also a prime slice of British psychedelia that works just as well as the best of the early Pink Floyd, or psychedelic-era Beatles or Stones. In fact, this album is a third sibling to the better known Sgt. Pepper's and Pink Floyd's debut. These tracks were recorded at Abbey Road studios around the same time, with Beatles engineer Norman Smith serving as producer. The Pretty Things were a grungier, R&B sweating group, however, and this is by far the crunchiest of the three albums. Fortunately for you psychonauts out there, this is not at the expense of great songwriting and psychedelic flourishes. The lyric aren't quite as transcendent as the best of Bob Dylan and John Lennon, but they are good enough to be a reference copy for tripped out 60's psychedelic lyrics. As far as the rock opera story goes, I have no idea what the hell is supposed to be going on, but just as on Tommy, it doesn't really mater when the songs are this good.

There is no lack of phenomenal songs on this recording. While the opening track is very good, the creepy chanting vibe of "Bracelet of Fingers" is the first sign of perfection. It like the ghosts of the 1967 Beach Boys alternating with a whimsical Syd Barrett punch. I'm also a big fan of the insistent beat and sound effects of "Balloon Burning." My favorite thing here, though, is "Baron Saturday," which somehow sounds like a mid-70's Bowie track on the verses, while vocalist Phil May does a dead-on Lennon impression on the majestically psychedelic chorus. We also get a wall of delayed, Sun Ra-like percussion and short trip into an acid-fried happy land before blasting back into the chorus. Great stuff! For the big finally, there's a bit of full-blown, proto heavy metal on "Old Man Going." An amazing thing about this album is how often the Pretty Things managed to anticipate future styles of music. And before we move on, let me give a quick shout out to the criminally underrated guitarist Dick Taylor, who rattles off one awesome lead after another throughout the album.

We have a few fine bonus tracks here, but I'd be remiss not to address "Defecting Grey." This was a single, presented here in an unedited, five minute version. It's one of the best 60's psychedelic singles, period. It juxtaposes wildly demented psychedelic music hall sounds with wild acid rock rave-ups and pop bridge sections and ties it all together with noise and entertainingly jarring shifts. It's sort of like scanning through the 1967 radio dial from beyond the psychedelic curtain.

Like the other psychedelic Abbey Road albums, the mono mix is by far the superior mix. The stereo suffers from ridiculous stereo panning that dilutes the power of the band and a lack of skill in creating a proper psychedelic soundfield. Chances are a fair amount of you reading this are already perfectly familiar with this album, but it always a nice disc to revisit. If you haven't heard this, you're in for quite a treat - this could be your new favorite album.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.mediafire.com/?e6za4k9du83crcc

Anonymous said...

is this the mono or stero version?

Anonymous said...

I only have the mono on hand. I can get the stereo up sometime, but it really is significantly crappier.

Anonymous said...

amazing album, thx for posting!

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to hear this one. Thanks so much!
--K

JR said...

Wow. I'm speechless. I didn't know this even existed. It is up there with Tommy for sure. Love it and thanks!

Anonymous said...

My thanks too. I didn't know of these guys or this album before your post, and am enjoying it immensely. Especially, and not unlike yourself, Baron Saturday. I also get a Bowie vibe, as from The Man Who Sold the World. I read today somewhere that Bowie had Phil May listed in his address book, not under "P" or "M", but "G" for God. You can definitely hear the influence...
You keep coming through, Doc, and I salute you.

stinky.steve said...

Thank you for the mono version.

I've had the stereo vinyl of this for decades and always wanted to hear this version.

Miles said...

the singles released around this lp are among the pretty things finest moments on record (as is the lp itself), and the never-ending mono vs. stereo debate continues to rage on. either way, it's superb music.

bruce said...

You've convinced me to try it.
Thanx for reminding.

Dr Feelgood said...

My favourite tracks are 'Trust' and 'I See You', but there really isn't a track on the album that is anything less than superb. I may be alone in this but I actually prefer the stereo version, but there you go ...

Uri said...

I have only heard their first album, which I dig, but this sounds right up my alley. Gracias de nuevo, doc!!

Anonymous said...

SF Sorrow.. surely one of the greatest records ever made, a psych masterpiece !

have you heard of a guy named Philamore Lincoln? made one album "the North wind blew south" in 1968(?) , but not much is known about him. couldn't find it in your 'garage', as you might not identify the man.. should give it a listen though,

love your blog, many thanx !

Anonymous said...

another link please !!!
that one is dead.
thanks in advance.

Ankit said...

Here you go: http://www.mediafire.com/?xkjanommiod

Anonymous said...

I disagree. While there are some symptoms of cheesy psychedelic mixing, and 4-track bass and drums on one side of the stereo spectrum type symptoms, I think the mono mix misses some of the overall high-end and punch and the drums are far lower in the mix. Best example, "Balloon Is Burning". The drums sound very flat and cardboard-box like in the mono mix, whereas they have more room to breathe and the kick drum has more punch in the stereo mix. The stereo mix was eq'ed far better as well. Maybe I'm in the minority on this one.

Gabe Allen said...

Thank you so much. I'm excited to hear this album for the first time :)

Abhishek Sharma said...

All mediafire links blocked :(