Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lord she almost touched the sky

Three Kinks LPs to go, but today I am taking a break to clear my head for the final volley. So in the interim it brings me the utmost pleasure to blather on about my most favorite lost cause. Do you remember the Rolling Stone Magazine 1970 album of the year? Let It Be? Nope. All Things Must Pass? Nein. Fun House? If only. Led Zeppelin III? Just kidding. Parachute? (yes) Huh? Am I referring to The Pretty Things LP? Indeed. The only RS Mag album of the year ever not to earn the RIAA gold certification. And probably the only time those RS dipwads got it right. Dumped on Motown's Rare Earth label in the USA with no promotional effort whatsoever, it died a lonely underground death on the charts.

This album was 36 years old the first time I heard it. And literally within two or three listens it rose to somewhere in my top ten favorite LPs ever. If I could distill this album into a single concise description I would, but it escapes my effort. All I can say is that it is a cohesive unit, a soundscape that never fails to set a mood when I listen.

It was recorded at EMI's Abbey Road studios and produced by Norman Smith of early Beatles fame. And like the Beatles' album named for that studio, it has a deep rich sound. And it also borrows some of that album's novel structures - a couple of song suites, and a couple of heavy rockers that are years ahead of their time. Here are the opening tracks that set the stage for the side 1 story of the pitfalls of life in the city. The bottom drops out when the story line descends into a dark back alley in tracks 7 & 8 but that will be a post for another day.
  1. Scene One - a prelude that sounds nothing like anything the Pretties had produced up to this point. "Stone spires rise high, lacerate warmer skies, iron laced populations, beneath molten fields"
  2. The Good Mr. Square - the Pretties are not the Hollies or Beatles when it comes to harmony singing, but their effort here is top notch. Lovely! Mr. Square could very well be the social hermit from Waterloo Sunset. The linkage to the next track is seemless.
  3. She Was Tall, She Was High - Ah that opening is so Beatle-worthy! More stellar harmonies.
  4. In the Square - The beginning of another song suite, with a breathtaking acoustic guitar and harpsichord-like mellotron accompaniment.
  5. The Letter - An upbeat melody hides the pain as the protaganist learns that his girlfriend has bailed to move out to the country
  6. Rain - a gradually building rave-up that starts acoustic and ends in blue-hot heat.
And we have yet to reach the REALLY good parts :)


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Ahh Mr. P, as far as I’m concerned any album that’s in your Top 10 is one I need to get, no questions asked. But thanks so much for the excellent liner notes & 10 minutes of songs to tide me over in the meantime. I’ve never before listened to a note from this band!

Mister Pleasant said...

It always amazes me that there is practically no discussion of the Pretty Things as compared to other British invasion groups. I realize they had zero success here but there are frequent comments on blogs (PowerPop for instance) about that other invisible-in-the-US band The Move.

Anyway thanks for being willing to give them a go. I also highly recommended their previous album, S. F. Sorrow which by most accounts is truly the first rock opera. At one point Pete Townshend apparently admitted that it was partially the inspiration for Tommy, but then when Tommy went over like gangbusters in the US he retracted his statement. And not to be missed are the two psychedelic 45 singles they released between Sorrow and Parachute. Probably their best work - very Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd-ish.