The Pretty Things: Reissues/Live At The BBC

They could have been the Rolling Stones, you know...

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The story of the Pretty Things is an extraordinary one. Their career should have been glorious – great mid-60s storming R&B singles like Don’t Bring Me Down and Rosalyn, the first concept album in 1967’s SF Sorrow, thunderous hard rock in the 1970s on Led Zeppelin’s Swansong label – and yet they missed the bullseye almost every time.

Volatility, strong personalities and a wildness which other bands only pretended to – as well as a lot of bad luck – kept the Pretties out of the charts. It’s only now that their post-millennial line-up is collecting respect and seeing the fruits of a decent reissue programme.

If you didn’t want to fork out for the massive Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky box set, these individual CD reissues are superb. This batch features, a little randomly, 1974’s Silk Torpedo (the first release on Swansong), 1976’s Savage Eye, 2007’s Balboa Island and – drawing together live and session recordings from the 1960s and 70s – a four-CD BBC compilation. Fans can no longer complain that the Pretty Things are a neglected band – they’re as prevalent as can be.

In the 1970s, the original line-up was dispersed and a slicker sound prevailed. Silk Torpedo (810) is a brilliant rock album, riffed-up and cocky, from its super-heavy title track and the oddly Faces-y Come Home Mamma to the epic Dream/Joey.

Lacking the pop ear of Free or Mott, the Pretty Things nevertheless made a superb piece of hard rock. 1976’s Savage Eye (710), however, is more of a curate’s egg. Tracks like Under The Volcano continue the tough riffing of before, but soft rock ballads like My Song and Sad Eye dissipate the sound (and the stand-alone single Tonight, recorded against the band’s wishes, makes REO Speedwagon sound like Black Flag).

The attitude and the roughness were back in force for Balboa Island (710), which is both thunderous and self-referential, a mixture of every era of the band’s music strapped to an aptly garagey sound. Every year of the Pretty’s career is here and while it might not be sweet, it’s still impressive.

Perhaps best of all is Live At The BBC (910). The Pretty Things were – and are – superb live, and this collection of 60 tracks is every kind of rock at its best. Start here, but don’t stop here.

David Quantick

David Quantick is an English novelist, comedy writer and critic, who has worked as a journalist and screenwriter. A former staff writer for the music magazine NME, his writing credits have included On the HourBlue JamTV Burp and Veep; for the latter of these he won an Emmy in 2015.