Still flying high

The Pretty Things are like that eccentric old uncle of yours. You know, the one they tell all those questionable tales about concerning his glorious or notorious deeds. "Yeah, sure," you scoff. Then you find out later that he really did do all that stuff – and more. The Pretty Things are like that relative, and their tale will surprise you.

The British music invasion was just beginning in 1963 when the Pretty Things grew out of the Rolling Stones, for whom guitarist Dick Taylor was the original bassist. But while Mick and the boys went on to huge pop heights, Taylor decided to finish art school. Since the Stones were the house band at school, their departure left an opening for a new outfit. With the addition of lead singer Phil May and some other friends, Taylor and the Pretty Things filled the Stones’ shoes with their wild and woolly R&B.

On the British Invasion continuum, the Beatles were the band your parents thought were nice and polite, the Stones were a bit scruffy and rude and the Pretty Things were a parent’s nightmare – and they lived up to their reputation. Their music was raw as could be and their behavior offstage was as raw as the music. Original Things drummer Viv Prince was the blueprint for Who drummer Keith Moon’s legendary lunatic behavior (and Prince’s manic nuttiness was one of the reasons the Pretty Things were deported from Australia and New Zealand for unruly behavior). In legendary swingin’ London they were huge celebrities. Taylor and May lived with the Stones’ Brian Jones and hung out with the Fab Four as well as a much more unlikely social circle including Rudolf Nureyev and Judy Garland.

"It was just the times and Judy was fun to hang with, but she kept stealin’ our booze and pills," explains Phil May.

The Things were more than just a bunch of wild lunatics, though. They truly were a band of firsts: They were the first band to sing openly about doing drugs ("LSD") and the first band to make "psychedelic" music ("Deflecting Grey"). Need verification? Just ask the Beatles and Pink Floyd – who were recording at Abbey Road studios at the same time. The Pretty Things were the first band to conceive and record a rock opera (1968’s S.F. Sorrow) recorded before the Who’s much-lauded Tommy (even if, due to record company snafus, it didn’t come out until after Tommy was released). To put it simply, the Pretty Things weren’t just happy being part of the scene, they wanted to be the ones setting the scene.

"The Pretty Things were always risk takers. The band was always about moving forward," says May.

"That’s why our music never sounded like our last album, we liked to experiment with sounds and what was happening around us.

"The record companies hated it and (that) caused problems. They wanted everything to sound like our last hit record, while we wanted to experiment with our music," continues May, explaining the band’s lasting enthusiasm.

"That’s why we got back together and recorded our new album, Rage Before Beauty."

Longtime fans and folks just getting around to the Pretty Things’ early R&B stomp won’t be disappointed, as the band features the 1966 lineup which includes May, Taylor, Jon Povey on keyboards, Wally Allen on bass and Skip Alan on drums.

Check out the band that, after 30 years, continues to evolve and hear why such artists as underground garage rock icon Billy Childish and David Bowie (who covered the Pretties on Pin Ups) still cite the band as one of the most influential in the history of rock ’n’ roll.

And tell your uncle about it, too. Willy Wilson is a Detroit-based writer who hosts "The Willy Wilson Program" on WDET-FM, 101.9, Saturday morning from midnight to 5

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