Thursday, June 10, 2010

Another lost classic

According to Wikipedia, The Pretty Things 1968 album "S.F. Sorrow was released in the same week as The Beatles White Album, The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet, and The Kinks Village Green Preservation Society. The album was barely promoted by EMI." Produced by former Beatles former engineer Norman "Hurricane" Smith, it was a concept album sometimes referred to as the first rock opera. For me, its narrative of a man's descent into melancholy madness holds together better that Tommy.

Musically, Sorrow is a product of its time with psychedelic flourishes throughout. Mr. Smith's production adds odd instruments along with layered vocals. Pandora's box was opened with Sgt. Pepper the previous year and Sorrow takes advantage of the giant leap forward. Unlike the musical kaleidoscope, the story is quite grim. In fact it may well contain the most depressing story arc in the history of pop music. Before side one has ended, Sebastian F. Sorrow - the protagonist - as a young man has taken a job as a scab worker at a factory where his father had previously been employed. He goes off to war, witnesses atrocities, returns home only to witness his fiance's death in a Zeppelin disaster.

Later in the story Sorrow has been shown the dark side of life by the wicked Baron Saturday, and comes to the conclusion that the world is devoid of people of honor and trust. The song Trust finds him barely holding on to the last of his sanity. The loping melody, syncopated bass line and gorgeous vocal harmonies stab at a sharp angle with the hopelessness of the lyrics. This is truly one of the lost treasures of the sixties.

Excuse me please as I wipe a tear
Away from an eye that sees there's nothing left to trust
Finding that their minds are grey
And there's no sorrow in the world that's left to trust.


Holly A Hughes said...

Okay, CLEARLY I need to remedy my appalling lack of knowledge about the Pretty Things. I only have one of their songs on my iTunes, and that's there because it's a Kinks cover ("House in the Country"). But from this song -- and from your description -- I think I'd like them immensely. Is this the best album to start with, or is there some classic ground to cover before getting into the magnum opus?

Mister Pleasant said...

Holly - I am glad this tune has caught your ear. Definitely start with Parachute, their exceptional 1970 LP. S.F. Sorrow is nearly as good, and in my book is a must-own record. Things get dicier before and after this period. The early R&B stuff is raw and exciting but has none of the melodic touches or nearly poetic lyrics, and their later works are much more hard rock. The 1967-1970 period was really their peak.

Holly A Hughes said...

Okay, I took the plunge -- ordered both S.F. Sorrow and Parachute on Amazon. (Using a gift card credit earned by cashing in my kids' high school textbooks -- does that sound depraved?) I'll be reporting back!