|Also known as||The Electric Banana|
Pretty Things are an English rock band from London, who originally formed in 1963. 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, but they never recaptured the same level of commercial success of their very first releases.
Pretty Things were preceded by Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, which consisted of Dick Taylor, fellow Sidcup Art College student Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger, among others. When Brian Jones was recruiting for his own band, all three joined Brian and Ian Stewart and were dubbed "Rollin' Stones" by Jones. Taylor would briefly play bass guitar in the nascent Rolling Stones who employed a variety of drummers during 1962.
Taylor was once again playing guitar, with May singing and playing harmonica. They recruited Brian Pendleton on rhythm guitar; John Stax on bass; and on drums Pete Kitley, replaced by Viv Andrews (also known as Viv Broughton) and then by Viv Prince.
A fellow student at the Art College where May and Taylor studied, Bryan Morrison, was recruited as their manager. Morrison was to manage them for the rest of the 1960s, building his own Bryan Morrison Agency. This agency represented Pink Floyd among many other bands.
1964–1966: Early career
Pretty Things' early material consisted of hard-edged blues-rock influenced by Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed. Their first three singles appeared in the UK Singles Chart in 1964 and 1965: "Rosalyn" No. 41, "Don't Bring Me Down" No. 10, and the self-penned "Honey I Need" at No. 13. They never had a hit in the United States, but had considerable success in their native Britain and in Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the Netherlands in the middle of the decade. Their appearance and behaviour was provocative, with May claiming to have the longest hair in the UK and Prince often causing chaos wherever he went.
The band later blamed their lack of success in the US on the fact their management opted for a tour of the Southern Hemisphere in July-August 1965. During their two weeks in New Zealand, they caused so much outrage in the media that the New Zealand Parliament addressed the issue of granting entry permits to musicians like the Pretty Things. The band was never actually banned from re-entering New Zealand, contrary to what can be read in some sources.
The first of what would be many personnel changes over the years also began, with Prince, whose wild antics had become too much for the other members to endure, being the first to go in November 1965. He was replaced by Skip Alan. In early 1966 the band made a short film Pretty Things on Film; it featured live footage and a music video prototype for "Can't Stand the Pain", which also featured their manager, Morrison. Rarely screened at the time, the film can be found as a bonus multimedia item on the Snapper CD re-issue of Get the Picture. 1966 saw the R&B scene fall into decline and the Pretty Things began moving away, flirting with soul music. In mid-1966 they made the UK Singles Chart for the final time with a cover of the Kinks song "A House in the Country". In December 1966 came the single "Progress", where the band were joined by a brass section.
Pendleton left in December 1966, and Stax followed in January 1967. Jon Povey and Wally Waller, both former Fenmen from Bern Elliott and the Fenmen, joined and made the band a five-piece once again.
1967–1971: S.F. Sorrow and Parachute
Their final album for Fontana Records was a contractual obligation produced by Steve Rowland and the subject of controversy, since Emotions was laden with brass and string arrangements arranged by Reg Tilsley. EMI producer Norman Smith expressed interest in working with them and at the end of September 1967, the Pretty Things signed to EMI's Columbia label. In November 1967 they released "Defecting Grey", a psychedelic effort that failed to sell. This was followed three months later by a double A-side single, "Talking About the Good Times" / "Walking Through My Dreams".
That single marked the beginning of sessions for the S.F. Sorrow album. Released in December 1968, it was the first rock opera, preceding the release of the Who's Tommy in May 1969, however some maintain that The Kinks "Face to Face" album from late 1966 was the first. It was recorded between December 1967 and September 1968 at the Abbey Road Studios, while Pink Floyd were working on A Saucerful of Secrets (also produced by Norman Smith) and the Beatles worked on the White Album. In March 1968, drummer Skip Alan left the group. Twink replaced him to help the band to complete the album.
S.F. Sorrow was commercially unsuccessful, with no immediate release in the US. However, the album was subsequently picked up by Motown and issued with a different cover on its Rare Earth Records label. The work received only modest support from EMI, and its depressing narrative probably did not help sales.
1969 saw the band feeling disillusioned by the failure of S.F. Sorrow and that June, Taylor left the group. The Pretty Things borrowed guitarist Victor Unitt from the Edgar Broughton Band to replace Taylor. Shortly after he joined, Twink left. Skip Alan returned to the drumstool in time for the band's return to Abbey Road to start work on Parachute, which kept the psychedelic sound. During this period they also recorded an album for a young French millionaire Philippe DeBarge, which was intended only to be circulated among his social circle. The acetate has since been bootlegged. In 2010 it was finally picked up by Mike Stax, owner of 1960s music magazine Ugly Things. He unearthed one of the two acetates and had it mixed and mastered and then as a piece de resistance, had the classic Pretty Things line-up, which Dick Taylor had just left at the time of the recording of the tracks with DeBarge, record a song entitled "Monsieur Rock" (Ballad Of Philippe) a bonus track for this release on Ugly Things UTCD-2207.
Shortly before the release of Parachute, Unitt left to rejoin the Edgar Broughton Band and was replaced by Pete Tolson (born Peter Tolson, 10 September 1951, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire), former guitarist for Eire Apparent. Despite much stage work and acclaim, their records were still failing to sell at all well. With Tolson, they released a few singles before disbanding in mid-1971.
During the late 1960s, the group made some extra money by recording for music library company DeWolfe. Some of these songs ended up in low-budget films including What's Good for the Goose (1969), Haunted House of Horror (1969), and a couple of softcore porn films. Not intended for official release, these songs were later compiled on a number of records and released under the alias Electric Banana: Electric Banana (1967), More Electric Banana (1968), Even More Electric Banana (1969), Hot Licks (1970), and Return of the Electric Banana (1978). The initial releases featured one side of vocal and one side of instrumental tracks. Subsequent releases of these albums generally keep the true identity of the band secret.
Pretty Things reformed in late 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 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."
Around this time, Brooks left and was replaced by Jack Green and second keyboardist Gordon Edwards (born Gordon John Edwards, 26 December 1946, Southport, Lancashire) was added. In 1976, after the release of Savage Eye, May quit the band before a major London gig, and the band split up. 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.
The 1967 line-up of Alan, May, Povey, Taylor and Waller reformed in 1978 for a one-off gig in the Netherlands. Adding Pete Tolson, the six-piece recorded Cross Talk for Warner Bros. Records in 1980. The new wave sounds did not improve their sales figures, and the Pretty Things split up again in 1981, after an appearance in the horror film The Monster Club (1981).
Reforming in 1984, May and Taylor used various session musicians to release Out of the Island (1988). Mark St. John joined on drums, but by the end of the decade their profile had almost disappeared. May and Taylor reformed the band for a successful European blues tour in late 1990 with Stan Webb's Chicken Shack and Luther Allison. This outfit included drummer Hans Waterman (formerly of Dutch rock group Solution), bassist Roelf ter Velt and guitarist/keyboardist Barkley McKay (Waco Brothers and Pine Valley Cosmonauts) with Jon Langford ex-Mekons on guitar. This line-up regularly toured the European mainland until late 1994.
May and Taylor, together with former Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty, recorded two albums in Chicago as Pretty Things/Yardbird Blues Band. They were The Chicago Blues Tapes 1991 and Wine, Women, Whiskey, both produced by George Paulus. They also recorded one album with members of the Inmates and Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum under the name Pretty Things n' Mates. It was released in 1992 as Rockin' the Garage.
The early 1990s were taken up with a battle against EMI. This was over unpaid royalties stemming back to a deal EMI set up with Motown subsidiary Rare Earth in 1968. The band never received any royalties from Rare Earth nor had received any monies from EMI for many years. The band won the legal case, the result being that in 1993 EMI gave them back all their master tapes, copyrights and an undisclosed sum of money as settlement. On friendly terms again, the 1967 line up decided to return with the addition of Pete Tolson, Taylor's replacement in 1970, just like they had done in 1980 on Crosstalk. After much rehearsal, Tolson grew disillusioned and quit with Frank Holland taking Tolson's place.
Their label, Snapper Music, issued remastered CDs with many bonus tracks, plus a DVD of the September 1998 live netcast re-recording of S.F. Sorrow at Abbey Road Studios, with David Gilmour and Arthur Brown as guest players. They played a tour of the U.S. for the first time in decades.
2000s to present
Original rhythm guitarist Brian Pendleton died of lung cancer on 16 May 2001 in Maidstone. The following year their ex-keyboard player Gordon Edwards, who also played for the Kinks in the late 1970s, died of a drug overdose.
In 1999 they released the studio album Rage Before Beauty and in the early 2000s, they released several compilation albums, a live album and DVD. In 2003, Alan Lakey's biography of the band, Growing Old Disgracefully, was published by Firefly. The book dealt with the long and involved history of the band, and paid special attention to the legal proceedings issued against EMI in the 1990s. An extensively re-written version is planned to be published in 2013.
Skip Alan suffered heart problems in 2001 restricting his commitment to the band, with St. John deputising on the drums as required. In mid-2007, the Pretty Things released their eleventh studio album Balboa Island on St. John's Côte Basque record label. The album contained a number of Pretty Things originals. Family illnesses meant Waller and Povey were unable to commit to the band, and Jack Greenwood replaced Allan on drums in 2008, a year which also saw the death of their former producer, Norman Smith and ex-manager, Bryan Morrison. In December 2008, a re-release was made, on Ugly Things Records, of their 1969 album, Phillipe DeBarge and the Pretty Things.
In June 2009, May, Taylor, Waller, Povey and Allan reunited to receive the "Heroes" award at the annual Mojo Awards ceremony. The Pretty Things continued to gig into 2010, with the line-up revolving around the May and Taylor axis with additional hired help.
Waller, Povey, Allan and Tolson reunited in the middle of 2010 to re-record Parachute, to commemorate its 40th anniversary. Using the byline 'The XPTs', the album was released by Esoteric Recordings on 30 April 2012.
On 30 April 2012, a re-imagining of S.F. Sorrow, entitled Sorrow's Children and featuring covers by contemporary bands of each track, was released on Fruits De Mer Records, only on vinyl and in a limited edition of 700. The album included an interview with May and Taylor, and had a live version of "Loneliest Person". The latter was recorded at their gig at London's 100 Club in December 2010, at which they played the whole of their first album.
In 2012 the band returned to New Zealand for the first time since being banned in 1965. They also toured Australia and were reunited with original bass player, John Stax, for their Melbourne shows. This was the first time May, Taylor and Stax had played together since 1967.
In 2013 the Pretty Things celebrated their 50th Anniversary Tour with dates in the UK and Europe.
The band's latest studio album, The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course...), was released on 10 July 2015. Established members May, Taylor and Holland were joined by Jack Greenwood on drums and George Woosey on bass to record the album.
- The Pretty Things (1965) – UK No. 6
- Get the Picture? (1965)
- Emotions (1967)
- S.F. Sorrow (1968)
- Parachute (1970) – UK No. 43
- Freeway Madness (1972)
- Silk Torpedo (1974) – US No. 104
- Savage Eye (1976) – US No. 163
- Cross Talk (1980)
- ... Rage Before Beauty (1999)
- Balboa Island (2007)
- The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course...) (2015)
- Live at Heartbreak Hotel (1984)
- Out of the Island (1988)
- Resurrection (The Pretty Things album)|Resurrection (1998) (S.F. Sorrow performed live at Abbey Road Studios, featuring Arthur Brown and David Gilmour)
- The BBC Sessions (2011)
- Live at the 100 Club (The Pretty Things album) (2014) (First album performed live)
- Live at the BBC (2015)
- Live at Rockpalast (2015)
Pseudonymous and collaborative albums
Electric Banana was a pseudonymous 1967 album of the band. The band recorded this album and two subsequent ones for the De Wolfe Music Library. De Wolfe provided stock music for film soundtracks. The Electric Banana music wound up on various horror and soft-porn films of the late 1960s, such as What's Good for the Goose (1969). The song It'll Never Be Me featured in the 1973 Doctor Who story The Green Death. When the album was released, the stage name the Electric Banana was used to hide the band's identity.
- As Electric Banana (music for films)
- Electric Banana (1967)
- More Electric Banana (1968)
- Even More Electric Banana (1969)
- The Electric Banana: Live at the Grand (1969)
- Hot Licks (1973)
- The Return of the Electric Banana (1978)
- The Pretty Things/Philippe DeBarge (2009) – (recorded in 1969)
- As Pretty Things n' Mates (May and Taylor with members of the Inmates and Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum)
- Rockin' the Garage (1992)
- Greatest Hits 1964–1967 (1975)
- Real Pretty (1976) 2 LPs (reissue of S.F. Sorrow and Parachute)
- The Vintage Years (1976)
- The Singles As & Bs (1977)
- 1967–1971 (1982)
- Let Me Hear the Choir Sing (1983)
- Closed Restaurant Blues (1985)
- Cries From the Midnight Circus – The Best of 1968–1971 (1986)
- Get a Buzz: The Best of the Fontana Years (1992)
- Unrepentant – The Anthology (1995)
- The EP Collection (1997)
- Midnight to Six Man (2000)
- Latest Writs, Greatest Hits (2000)
- The Rhythm & Blues Years (2001)
- The Psychedelic Years 1966–1970 (2001)
- Still Unrepentant (2004)
- Come See Me: The Very Best of the Pretty Things (2004)
- Singles '64 (2013)
- Introducing the Pretty Things (2013)
- The Decca Years 1965-1967 (2015)
- Bouquets From a Cloudy Sky (2015)
|Release date||Title||Chart positions||Notes|
|1964||"Rosalyn"||41||67||Released in Australia after "Don't Bring Me Down", in 1965.|
|1964||"Don't Bring Me Down"||10||65||34|
|1965||"Honey I Need"||13||54|
|1965||"Cry to Me"||28||13|
|1966||"Midnight to Six Man"||46||62||19|
|1966||"Come See Me"||43||92||36|
|1966||"A House in the Country"||50||63||31|
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "The Pretty Things | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
- Roberts, David (1998). Guinness Rockopedia (1st ed.). London: Guinness Publishing Ltd. p. 333. ISBN 0-85112-072-5.
- "The Pretty Things / Philippe de Barge acetate 1968", Willy's rock, 27 September 2009.
- Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 769–770. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
- Stax, Neil & Baker, p.90
- Stax, Neill & Baker, pp.94-98
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 194. CN 5585.
- Alan Lakey, The Pretty Things: Growing Old Disgracefully (2002).
- Bonner, Michael: "An Audience with Jimmy Page", Uncut, January 2015, pp18
- "Sorrow's Children - The Songs Of S.F. Sorrow". Piccadilly Records. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
- "British band back after 47-year ban". 3 News NZ. 10 December 2012.
- "The Pretty Things - The Sweet Pretty Things (Are in bed now, of course)". Music-News.com. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 437–438. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Stax, Mike; Neill, Andy; Baker, John (2006). Don't Bring Me Down... Under: The Pretty Things in New Zealand, 1965. San Diego: UT Publishing. ISBN 0-9778166-0-5.
- ThePrettyThings.com, the band's official site
- The Pretty Things at AllMusic
- An Electric Banana release on the Forced Exposure catalog
- Brian Pendleton website
- The Pretty Things at Shoreditch Music Agency website