"History doesn’t repeat itself," said Mark Twain, "it rhymes." Think about that for a minute… ok, enough thinking. What he really meant was that magazines, especially music ones, will try to make you believe the music you’re reading about is new, original, and rebellious. So when you’re reading about the Libertines or the Hives, or whatever, they won’t tell you it’s been done before, and better. Lucky for you, I’m here, and I’m going to tell you about the Pretty Things.
While not particularly obscure, especially in the UK, their history and influence remains largely overlooked. Around 1962, guitarist Dick Taylor left what would become the Rolling Stones, met vocalist Phil May, guitarist Brian Pendleton, bassist John Stax, and drummer Viv Prince. Like other Brit groups of the time, the Pretties were influenced by American artists such as Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters. They developed these influences into the first versions of garage punk, and later, into psychedelic rock. In 1968, the Pretties created the first rock opera, predating Tommy by a year. This album, SF Sorrow, wasn’t even released in the US until after Tommy, leading many to believe that the Pretties had copied Townsend — when it was the other way around. The Pretty Things signed with EMI in 1967 and recorded tracks at Abbey Road, at the same time the Beatles and Pink Floyd were there. The result of these sessions, Parachute, would become Rolling Stone magazine’s 1970 Album of the Year. In the 70s, the PT’s toured with Led Zeppelin and recorded two albums for the Swan Song label. The group’s influence would continue to be felt in heavy metal, as various members would work with Hawkwind and Motörhead.
Despite all this, the Pretties never broke in the States, most notably due to greedy management… or maybe it was rhythm section problems. Living up to the reputation of drummers as problem children, the always drunk Viv Prince was known to break down dressing room doors with an axe and light stages on fire, antics that led to a lifetime ban for the group in New Zealand.