The Pretty Things in concert tonight. Lest you think The Rolling Stones can lay claim to being one of the oldest still-performing bands in Rock (50+ years!) – The Pretty Things have been around easily that long. And, like The Rollings Stones, The Pretty Things are still (with a lot of personnel changes as well as numerous break-ups and hiatuses) around and still touring.
The Pretty Things formed in 1963 in London. They took their name from Willie Dixon‘s 1955 song “Pretty Thing”. A pure rhythm and blues band in their early years, with several singles charting in the United Kingdom, they later embraced other genres such as psychedelic rock in the late 1960s (with 1968 S.F. Sorrow being one of the first rock operas), hard rock in the early 1970s and new wave in the early 1980s. Despite this, they never managed to recapture the same level of commercial success of their very first releases.
Pretty Things reformed in late 1971 after disbanding in early 1971. Wally Waller, who had become assistant producer at EMI, was replaced by Stuart Brooks (ex-Black Cat Bones). They signed with Warner Bros. Records and released Freeway Madness at the end of 1972. Although Waller was no longer a member of the band, he produced the album under a pseudonym and contributed lead vocals to the song “Over the Moon”. The album was commercially unsuccessful.
In 1973, David Bowie covered two of their songs, “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”, on his album Pin Ups. Around this time, the band recruited a sixth member, Gordon John Edwards (born 26 December 1946, Southport, Lancashire). A versatile musician, Edwards could play the guitar as well as the keyboards, and he also sang.
In 1974, Pretty Things were one of the first acts signed by Swan Song Records, the label created by Led Zeppelin, and Peter Grant became their manager. Stuart Brooks left the band before the recording of their first album for Swan Song, Silk Torpedo. The bass lines on the album were recorded by guitarist Pete Tolson before the arrival of a new bass player, Jack Green, who only contributed backing vocals.
Silk Torpedo was the first British album release on Zeppelin’s own label Swan Song. It charted in the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, for the first time in the band’s history. Jimmy Page later remarked:
“The Pretty Things were a band that were really changing their music and had done because they probably did one of the best singles way back in the day with ‘Rosalyn’. That’s wild! That’s serious! And then they’d gone through S.F. Sorrow and the music that they were doing on Swan Song was incredible. It was the sort of band that, when someone said, ‘Oh, some tapes have come in,’ I was keen to hear what they’d done, because it was always so good! Good writing, good performance from everybody. A fine band.”
During the recording of Savage Eye, the follow-up to Silk Torpedo, tensions arose between the members of the band, with May finding himself at odds with newcomers Edwards and Green. After the release of Savage Eye, May did not show up at a major London gig, and he was fired soon after. Alan, Edwards, Green and Tolson tried to form a new band called Metropolis, but Swan Song was not interested in offering them a contract and they went their separate ways. Edwards briefly joined the Kinks for their Misfits tour, while Green became a member of Rainbow for a few weeks before launching a solo career.
In case you missed them during their mid-phase, here is a concert they did at Golders Green in London in 1973, right before their Swan Song period.
In the 70s they rocked.