Wednesday, January 13, 1999

OG Rock Opera

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 1999 at 12:00 AM

The Pretty Things is an English rock 'n' roll band that came of age in the mid-'60s along with its more famous peers -- Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks, etc. While it began as a primitive and rowdy blues-based ensemble, the Pretty Things matured quickly and, in 1967, released the world's first-ever rock opera. To put it simply, S.F. Sorrow was born a year before the Who's epic Tommy and shared many qualities with Pete Townsend's now-famous story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy.

Recorded at Abbey Road the same year as Sgt. Pepper and Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn, S.F. Sorrow is a missing link from the dawn of British psychedelia. Following the title character from birth to his deathbed, this forgotten concept album is filled with many of the things that made English rock 'n' roll absolutely vital 30-odd years ago. I'm talking about things like rousing vocals, impassioned harmonies, gritty guitars, flamboyant string arrangements, trippy production, simple wisdom and esoteric sociopolitical commentary disguised as rock poetry.

Yes, this may sound dated when you first hear it. It will also sound vaguely familiar. Isn't that a snatch of Beatles production on the vocals? A bit of Kinks-like irony in the lyrics? Floyd-ish musicianship? Yes, yes, yes. But it isn't a rip-off as much as it was a group of young artists reflecting what was going on in their heads and hearts at a time when anything seemed possible -- even a bleedin' rock opera. Got it?

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