Built around the core formed by lead singer Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor, the Pretties began as a tough Blues Rock outfit often compared with The Rolling Stones (partially because Taylor was the Stones' first bassist), although they never achieved the level of fame and success that the Stones did. They signed with Fontana Records in 1964, releasing two albums (their self-titled debut and Get the Picture?) and several successful singles over the next two years in the UK. However, by 1966 the British R&B scene was decaying — and so were the band's sales. The Pretties were anxious to leave Fontana, but they owed the company one more album. The result, the 1967 release Emotions, was the product of severe Executive Meddling, as strings and horns were overdubbed onto the band's original recordings without their permission, leading to Creator Backlash.
By the end of the year, the Pretties had switched labels to EMI Columbia and evolved their style into Psychedelic Rock. In 1968, they released their Magnum Opus S.F. Sorrow, the first ever Rock Opera — yes, even before The Who's Tommy! It didn't sell well, although today it is usually regarded as a groundbreaking work of art. The next album, 1970's Parachute (on EMI's Progressive Rock imprint Harvest), continued in the psychedelic/art rock vein and received rave reviews. It didn't sell either.
Still failing to attain much popular success, the Pretties recorded a few more albums before disbanding in 1980; two of these, Silk Torpedo and Savage Eye, were originally released on Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label and were their only albums to chart in America. They went on to reunite several times and release further critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums. May and Taylor toured with a new lineup until they retired from the road in 2018. Also, a group called xPT's, consisting of several former Pretties (not including May or Taylor), released Parachute Reborn (a re-recording of Parachute with a couple of bonus tracks) in 2012.
Phil May died in 2020, bringing an end to the long story of The Pretty Things. They leave behind a following who regard them (along with contemporaries like The Creation and The Move) as one of the great lost bands of The British Invasion — a group who were never as successful as they deserved to be, but stayed true to themselves throughout their long career.
The Pretty Things' studio discography:
- The Pretty Things (1965)
- Get the Picture? (1965)
- Emotions (1967)
- S.F. Sorrow (1968)
- Parachute (1970)
- Freeway Madness (1972)
- Silk Torpedo (1974)
- Savage Eye (1975)
- Cross Talk (1980)
- Rage Before Beauty (1999)
- Balboa Island (2007)
- The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course...) (2015)
- Bare As Bone, Bright As Blood (2020; their Grand Finale, a Cover Album released after May's death)
"Honey, need your tropin', all the time, all the time":
- All Drummers Are Animals: Viv Prince, the Pretties' drummer on the earliest records, was even loonier than Keith Moon. In fact, he became so erratic and unreliable that he was fired by the time Get the Picture? was released.
- Cool Old Guy: What May and Taylor eventually became.
- Darker and Edgier: Just as The Rolling Stones were edgier than The Beatles, the Pretties were even edgier than the Stones.
- EmPHAsis On The Wrong SylLAble: The title of "Photographer" is sung "pho-to-GRAPH-er".
- Genre Shift: From heavy blues to Psychedelic Rock and art-rock.
- Heavy Metal: S.F. Sorrow included some proto-metal tracks, most notably "Old Man Going", which may have been heavier than anything that came before.
- I Am the Band: Phil May was the Pretties' only consistent member, although Dick Taylor, who left during The '70s but eventually returned, was in most of the lineups.
- Revolving Door Band: The Pretties went through many members, hardly surprising considering how long they were around.
- Rock Opera: S.F. Sorrow was the Ur-Example.
- Something Blues: "Blue Serge Blues".
- Starving Artist: "Photographer" is about one of these.
- Titled After the Song: In this case, Bo Diddley's "Pretty Thing". Their Cover Version ends with Phil May doing a Shout-Out: "We thank you, Bo, for the name".