Back in the early and mid ’70s when Cleveland’s WMMS was a revolutionary radio station, a record came in by a glammy sort of hard rock band called the Pretty Things. The album Silk Torpedo, on Zep’s Swan Song label, wasn’t super consistent but had some hot songs in “Dream/Joey,” “Maybe You Tried” and “Singapore Silk Torpedo.”
When I looked into the band I found that they had been among the roughest and toughest of the Brit Invasion R&B-rockers in the early ’60s, had recorded the very first rock opera, and that the Silk Torpedo-era was the third incarnation of the band, who were revered in the U.K. So I snagged a copy of a collection of their early stuff called Attention and stood back in awe.
Come See Me is the first CD collection that covers the band’s recording career between their earliest R&B-garage hits, their later ’60s psychedelic period and the ’70s glam/hard rock era, and it’s an exceptional introduction to the band.
Led by art school ruffians, wailing lead singer and harp man Phil May (long freaking hair in 1964) – who out-Jaggered Jagger in swagger, aggression and lung power – and ex-Jagger/Richards bandmate Dick Taylor on guitar, the Pretties were the epitome of everything a good English mother hated in 1964, when their classic first single “Rosalyn” snarled out of speakers (they were banned for life from New Zealand after two weeks of touring mayhem there in ’65).
With a vicious, percussive backbeat, Taylor’s coiling, stinging guitar leads and May’s curled lip and screams, more classics followed in “Honey, I Need,” Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner,” and their definitive early hit, “Don’t Bring Me Down.”
“Midnight to Six Man” rocks with the same authority but a little more polish and was the band’s first great original, proudly detailing the time of day the band lived the largest. By late ’65 their sonic palette had expanded enough to include the Byrdsy jangle of “You Don’t Believe Me,” while “Can’t Stand the Pain” alternates between subtle beauty and explosive anguish, and “Come See Me” boasts perhaps the most corrosive, fuzzed-out bass on record, propelling a ripping rave up.
By ’67 the Pretties had shifted to flower power: “The Sun” is sweet regret with strings a la Love, and “Death of a Socialite” evokes experimental early Floyd riding on briskly strummed acoustic guitar. “Defecting Grey” is full-on psychedelia in multiple movements, which range from waltz-time “Strawberry Fields” or “Itchycoo Park” head-tripping, to acidic feedback assaults, to straight rock exposition – zounds!
Next came the very first rock opera, SF Sorrow, in ’68 (beating Tommy by a year), based upon a short story by May. Oddly, only two tunes, the rocking “Balloon Burning” and the sad, gentle coda “Loneliest Person,” are included here from the ground breaking album. And only one song is included from Parachute, their ’70 concept album that Rolling Stone picked as album of the year.
Which brings us back to Silk Torpedo (’74), where we began. Included here are “Dream/Joey” and “Singapore Silk Torpedo,” but inexplicably the quintessential glam riff-rocker “Maybe You Tried” is neglected. Alas, but nonetheless an exceptional collection by a criminally neglected (in the U.S. anyway), legendary band.