The Pretty Things

Singles A's & B's [Repertoire]

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One has a tendency to think of acts like the Pretty Things in terms of their albums, primarily because most of their singles simply never charted, even in England (and many were never even heard of in the United States), and the albums have been easier to find over the decades since. Actually, it was singles that best defined what most bands were about at the point that the Pretty Things first got together, and they never stopped neglecting that category of release -- hence, this three-CD set containing the product of 33 singles (66 sides) over a period of 35 years, from 1964 through 1999. Disc one is the undeniable jewel of this set, and one of the most potent and enjoyable assemblages of British Invasion R&B that one is ever likely to hear -- 28 tracks that, song for song, can go head-to-head with anything the Rolling Stones or the Animals were putting out at the time and match them for quality and intensity. Numbers like "Rosalyn," "Don't Bring Me Down," "Roadrunner," "Cry to Me," and even seeming "throwaway" B-side jams like "Get a Buzz" are a match for the best blues-based British rock of the era, and once the band drifted into more of a mod-inflected R&B sound, they developed a sound nearly as distinctive as the work of the Who or the Small Faces. Disc two, covering the years 1967-1975, is even more interesting musically, coinciding with the group's move into psychedelia and progressive rock, though it is also less distinctive, as most of the singles from those years were derived from the band's LPs -- it's fascinating to hear the group adapt their basic blues sound to the newer forms, with results such as "Talkin' About the Good Times," which featured a Mellotron, and also move into stereo mixing on their 45s, starting with "The Good Mr. Square"; they apply the new sound to "Blue Serge Blues" (a rare non-LP B-side) in an effort at adapting psychedelia to blues, which comes off somewhere midway between the Creation and the Moody Blues (not a bad place to land). "Summertime" comes off almost like a sunshine pop-style side -- as self-consciously "pretty" a record as the band ever issued on a single -- and by the time of their early/mid-'70s successes, the group has mastered the art of the hook, and is making memorably mainstream high-energy rock. And then there's disc three, which picks up at the end of the continuity of the original band -- Phil May might despise the single "Tonight," and coming from a band with this background one might understand why, but the truth is that it was as radio-friendly a single as the group had ever generated, even if it does sound like England Dan & John Ford Coley impersonating the Raspberries. Most onlookers would probably have the tendency to dismiss the band's late-'70s-plus reincarnation as a coda, but there is some surprisingly good music here -- not remotely as influential as their early stuff, but played and sung with the same fire and more virtuosity. The 230 minutes of music here is all just different enough from era to era so that listening to all three discs in a sitting or two isn't repetitive at all. The sound is excellent throughout, the discs break down neatly between phases, and the annotation is thorough, supported by great photos.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:20
2 2:37
3 2:09
4 2:09
5 1:58
6 2:35
7 3:12
8 2:00
9 2:50
10 3:59
11 2:46
12 3:01
13 2:46
14 2:30
15 2:19
16 2:40
17 2:39
18 2:24
19 2:58
20 1:57
21 2:39
22 1:54
23 3:02
24 3:05
25 3:22
26 2:42
27 2:05
28 3:00

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 4:27
2 3:27
3 3:42
4 3:36
5 3:51
6 3:46
7 3:00
8 3:52
9 4:53
10 3:09
11 3:26
12 4:28
13 1:59
14 4:06
15 3:51
16 5:05
17 6:46
18 2:41
19 3:58
20 4:56
blue highlight denotes track pick