Highly recommended. Make sure you buy the STEREO LIMITED EDITION GOLD CD VERSION (Snapper SDPCD 109)released 2000, not the mono one released 1998 on Original Masters.It's only a pound more and well worth it. It's been a personal favourite since I bought the original vinyl in 1968 and played it constantly, alongside Sgt.Pepper, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Axis Bold as Love and Music in a Dolls House(Family). It's been excellently remastered from the original tapes, sounding as fresh and dynamic as it did way back then.
on 17 May 2007
The Pretty Things' 1968 album "S.F. Sorrow" did not cause much attention when it was originally released.
The band had already shown, with their previous album "Emotions", that they wanted to explore new grounds, and that they felt that the r&b concept was too limited for them.
"Emotions" showed that the band possesed excellent songwriters in Wally Allen, Phil May and Dick Taylor. Unfortunately the production of that album was not too successful; at least at the time it was considered as some kind of a "disaster".
This is not the case with the follow-up album "S.F. Sorrow". The sound is great and Norman Smith's production captured the new psychedelic sounds and trends of the late 1960's perfectly.
"S.F. Sorrow" is a concept album, which tells the sad story of the life of S.F. Sorrow. The idea of doing rock concept album was very new at this time. And Pretty Things were among the very first to come up with a rock album; but in my opinion this is not what makes "S.F. Sorrow" a classic album. The album's strength is clearly the music; though the story is quite interesting too.
The catchy "S.F. Sorrow", driven by great acoustic guitars, gives the album the perfect start. The song almost has hit-record potentials.
The musically more complex "Bracelets" follows. It's a song in the same vein as their great "progressive" 1967 single "Defecting Grey". The song did not make it to the charts, but I remember that it got some airplay here in Denmark in 1967-68. The song is featured here as a bonus-track.
"She Says Good Morning" indicates that the Pretty Things were also inspired by the Beatles' "Revolver" album.
"Private Sorrow" is another great track - the flute and the acoustic guitars almost sounding like Jethro Tull.
The dramatic "Ballon Burning" tells the dramatic story of the "Hindenburg" crash in which Sorrow's girlfriend dies
"The mysterious "Baron Saturday" enters the story in the song of the same title. Great Beatle-like vocals.
Musically some of the last tracks are obviously songs that serve to tie the story together and not meant to stand alone.
2 tracks stand out, though. "Trust" and the sad but very beautiful finale "The loneliest Person" featuring only an acoustic guitar and Phil May's vocals.
The 4 bonus tracks are 2 Columbia singles released in 1967-68. All good songs and musically fitting perfectly into the rest of the album.
This album is a milestone in the Pretty Things' career!
on 21 February 2004
I have never understood why this album had so little impact. Its been quoted as Pete Townshend's influence for Tommy etc etc but still gets ignored. Its not a typical Pretty Things album. It was sandwiched between their mid-sixties R&B and the much harder feel of 1968's "Parachute", yet its strongest element is the melodies that light up every song. There's not a weak track on it, its superbly played and sung, and it manages to tell a story without feeling awkward. Many groups have made a fortune out of crud. The Prettys produced a diamond and still haven't made it.
The Pretty Things' "S.F. Sorrow" didn't exactly set the world on fire when it was released and, like a few albums from that era, was only recognised by the world as an important record of its time some decades later. Released the same week as The Beatles' "White" Album and another truly great album which virtually got ignored at the time, The Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society", "S. F. Sorrow" is reputedly the first rock opera, ever. It tells the story of Sebastian F. Sorrow from birth ("S.F. Sorrow Is Born") to his demise, via work, love ("She Says Good Morning"), war ("Private Sorrow"), the death of his fiancée ("Balloon Burning" and "Death"), psychedelic trips ("Baron Saturday"), self-discovery ("The Journey" and "I See You") and depression ("Loneliest Person").
It's certainly a very innovative piece of work and was a ground-breaking album at the time in terms of structure and ambition. Do I actually think it's any good, though? Well, I certainly don't think it's one of the greatest albums of all time, as many people seem to. Musically, it's a little uninspiring and repetitive in places and its real appeal lies in the rich, interesting lyrics, although some songs stand out such as "Private Sorrow" which has a Jethro Tull feel to it, the bouncy "Baron Saturday" has a great hook and "Loneliest Person" has a vulnerable pathos which makes it the easiest song on the whole album to connect with on an emotional level. Oddly enough, the bonus tracks on my CD edition, such as the early Pink Floyd-sounding "Defecting Grey" and the more straight-forward poppy psychedelia of "Walking Through My Dreams" are amongst the most enjoyable tracks on this re-issue.
I suppose, when it comes down to it, there are other albums and groups from the same era I much prefer. The Small Faces' "Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake", for example, has the same eccentric creativity but manages to be more enjoyable, The Zombies' "Odyssey and Oracle" has a greater melodic appeal to it, The Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society" captures the human condition more effectively, The Move's debut, "Move" managed to be heavy, psychedelic but also more musically rich than this album and, let's face it, The Beatles' "White Album" is just plain better. So, no, I don't think this album is a masterpiece, certainly when you compare it to what else was around at the time but I definitely like it and there is plenty I appreciate on a creative level. I just wish that appreciation translated into an actual tangible love for "S.F. Sorrow", but, quite honestly, I don't truly love it and I doubt I ever will.
'SF Sorrow', as many have noted is one of the great lost-albums of the era - it deserves to be ranked alongside such albums as 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' & 'Sgt Pepper'- & belongs to a wider range of psychedelic-classics such as 'Odessey & Oracle' (The Zombies),'Surrealistic Pillow' (Jefferson Airplane)& 'Younger Than Yesterday' (The Byrds). It's also one of the first concept-albums - without it, I'm not sure if any of the following would exist: 'Tommy', 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway', 'The Dark Side of the Moon', 'Diamond Dogs', 'The Wall' etc (this may or may not be a good thing for some...).
'SF Sorrow' seems to completely define that British-take on psychedelia - producer Norman Smith ('Arnold Layne', 'See Emily Play') perfectly captures these perfect songs as The Pretty Things psych'd-out!!! The original-thirteen tracks are remastered & blend together wonderfully; while the four-bonus tracks include the bizarre see-sawing-schizo-epic 'Defecting Grey' (drifting from raga to psych to full-on lo-fi punk & off into sinister drones that the Floyd would borrow heavily from) & 'Talkin' About the Good Times'- which sounds like a mellowier-Who...
The album itself is perfect, every track a killer- I wonder why it hasn't been sampled to death by some pioneering electronicartist? It sounds even better than the post-modern sixties stylings of The Dukes of Stratosphear & The Wondermints- possibly as it was the real thing (...just sadly overlooked at the time). 'Baron Saturday' is probably my favourite- having loops that remind me of M83 & DJ Shadow, a percussive-middle that reminds me of Can's 'Halleluwah' & a Lennonesque-vocal that cuts across the Sydesque one! 'I See You' predicts Ride of 'Going Blank Again', while 'She Says Good Morning' offers up a groovy-alternative to The Small Faces (sounding like a blissed-out 'Song of the Baker').
'SF Sorrow' is a complete cult-classic, one that is perfect in this budget-price, remastered edition (replete with great pics, lyrics & sleevenotes). A highlight of my retro-take on the sixties and of its time and timeless; a lost psychedelic classic from 1968-
on 23 May 2000
One of the biggest missing Link in the 60's Rock'n Roll history is uncovered before us. This late 60's "WORLD FIRST" Rock Opera sure gives you a psychedelic smash by its variety of tone, changing rhythm, Phil May's heartful vocal- sometimes ardent, dreaming, desperate etc etc - and its unity as total Rock Opera,
But, why Pretty couldn't be on majour stream? It must be because they are not so easy. Because It's difficult to make catchy copy for them. They started as British R&B band, but have gone through Psychedelic, Colledge Rock, Minimal Rock, Gram style, and all the more as one of pioneers.
If you have not tried Pretty, I fully recommend you this album "SF SORROW" and/or "PARACHUTE"(Rolling Stone's best album of 1970). You sure will find great work of careful composition and Rock & Pop musical experimentalism and 'real emotion', which all good music sure have to have.
on 23 February 2013
...a bold statement to make when you consider the great albums i've reviewed in the past, the great ones I know about but have yet to explore, and the ones which lie ahead in the great unknown, past and present. So how does one come to this conclusion when the competition for this coveted Number 1 spot is so fierce? Well luckily I can explain...later. First we need to talk about the band/songs/album in question.
"S.F. Sorrow" is the concept album to end them all despite being one of the first of it's kind. It tells the story of an ordinary man born into a less than ordinary life, and i'll say no more about the story directly. The album was released in 1968 despite being recorded in mid 1967, which is why nobody really heard of it then. It was recorded in Abbey Road studios simultaneously alongside The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and Pink Floyd's "The Piper At The Gates of Dawn", no wonder it bloody bombed!
Although not nearly as popular as neither band nor album, "S.F. Sorrow" has matured rather gracefully over the years, to the point were it's sonic revelations, studio trickery, and ground-breaking innovation certainly surpass "Pipers" outdated child-like outlook. It even rivales "Pepper" for it's song-structures and use of the studio as an extra band member, at times the hapless producer (Norman Smith) just cannot keep up with the multi-colored, psychedelic visions pouring out these wonderful musicians brains. Enough nonsense, on with the songs.
"S.F. Sorrow Is Born" is more than mere story setup tomfoolery, it's actually a brilliant deceptively straight pop song. A nagging acoustic riff (turned down fairly low) amidst crystal clear vocals, a wonderful acoustic solo and clever use of pronounce and reply vocals. The taboo subject of masturbation is next with "Braceletes of Fingers", the first of many psychedelic numbers. It gets better the more you listen, right down to it's dreamy instrumental break. "She Says Good Morning" comes in with a bang. Two guitars playing the intro riff at higher and lower octaves come crashing into a glorious proto-punk snarl. It's an extraordinary rock song, catchy, enjoyable to listen to and quite subtle. Rhythm guitars are turned down to 3, fuzz guitar up to 11.
The story takes a sinister twist in the next three numbers. "Private Sorrow" takes things in a lighter direction (as in slower) with marching band drums and flute loops, it serves as a wonderful appitizer for..."Baloon Burning". At first I wasn't too sure about this one, but it grew on me. A ferocious two-note riff dominates the song over purposfully delayed lyrics to create an intoxicating sense of dread, which was no doubt the bands intention. "Death" rounds off this interesting trio of songs, certainly the most crucial and relevant parts to the story during the entire album. It's a harrowning number, although the edge is taken off somewhat by the (almost bright) sitar solo, this one was a grower also.
This is the point of the original vinyl album were Side 2 would start, and here's were things start to get VERY intersting. "Baron Saturday" is sung double-tracked by the lead guitarist, and it really gives the song a quirkiness that the album sorely needed at this point. It's here you begin to realize just how much work the band are putting in to try and represent what's happening to the protagonist, it's astonishing to think how primitive and restrictive the studio was back then. Not only are songs like "Baron Saturday" sonically and structurally innovative, they're highly enjoyable catchy songs in their own right. "The Journey" is simply mind-blowing, it's essentially two magnificent pieces of music at once. The first half is a "normal" song, well normal in the form of structure. It's lovely surprising lead-bass made this young man smile, but that smile changed to a gaping open mouth very soon. In the latter half of the song they try to showcase the protagonist recalling his life experience in an unsettling flashback, how do they accomplish this? By playing you snippets of almost every previous song leading up to this, it's an absolute masterstroke, and how they pulled it off I do not know.
It gets better...somehow. "The Jouney" segues into the majestic "I See You", and I was puttey in this albums hands. It hit me in ways that are indescribable, and this was without me being sprawled out flat on my back, with a large number smouldering in the ash-tray! It's another game-changer for me, story-wise it's amazing. That's the most impressive thing about this album. Because it's a story, the band want to tell that story and bring you on a journey. It turns out that they do it so well, every song is exactly that, a journey, and one which i'll gladly take. The absolutely chaotic, nervous breakdown inducing sound-collage, "Well of Destiny" is next. I can't really say much about this except listen for yourself, I like it ; )
It...gets...better? Why yes, yes it does. In a rare moment of unrivalled beauty and emotion, the band hit you with "Trust", another impeccably timed number to take you on a much-needed magic carpet ride. It's simply stunning. Woozy piano, thoughtful emotive backing vocals and a slick bassline make up one of my favorite songs of all time. What's next? How about the birth of Death Metal?! "Old Man Going" provides the albums most uncompromising heaviest moment, once again a theme is on the table trying to be portrayed. Madness is certainly what I get from it, one of the albums best moments (of which there are so, so many)
The original album ends rather depressingly with "Loneliest Person", a bleak 1:30 simple acoustic number. As a standalone track there's not much to be said, but as it's tied in with every song which precedes it, you enjoy it on another level. Had there not been any bonus tracks i'd even at this stage concede that this is the most ground-breaking, foreward thinking album of all time, but there's one more song I need to talk about. "Defecting Grey" fits in so perfectly with the rest of the album, and could argueably be a natural successor (story-wise) to "Lonliest Person" and why it wasn't originally included I'll never know. How's the song though? Amazing is the answer. It's verses are anchored by sitars and they merely serve as connectors for the other, more interesting aspects to this song. It's a bit like The Beatles' "Hapiness is a Warm Gun"...after drinking a bottle of lysergic acid laced with magic mushroom juice. The song keeps chopping and changing without notice to create a hellish nightmare (in a good way) before heading into a lyrical mid-section, which in turn ends in drunken bar-room shenanigans, all without a cohesive chorus. What a song, and what a band.
Earlier in the review I alluded to this being the greatest album of all time and here's how I think why. Certain attributes contribute to the status of greatness in an album. They range from things like, quality of songs, innovation, production, influence on future generations etc. S.F. Sorrow posesses almost every tool in the making of a classic album, although it's influence was minimal, because nobody f***ing heard it! It was unceremoniously shunned and barely promoted upon release to make room for established greats (The Beatles) or young flamboyant upstarts with something to prove (Pink Floyd-Syd Barrett really). Studio limitations do become apparent at certain points during the album, and the more you listen the more they become noticable. There were two crucial reasons why the production sounds a tad dated, shoddy even, by todays standards. 1. The band weren't The Beatles and 2. They didn't have Geoff Emerick and George Martin (One a genius engineer, another a studio maestro)
I can honestly say that precious few albums moved me the way this one did, and i'm no washed-up hippy preaching about how the music of the 60's was better (it was to be honest) I'm just a young man with a huge appetite and passion for albums, and if you are too than I DEMAND you give this masterpiece at least the once over. It may open you up to things you didn't think were possible in the world of popular western music.
on 19 October 2010
I bought the original US vinyl copy of this in the die-cut sleeve on the Rare Earth label (The Pretty Things were the only white rock band to be signed to that Tamla Motown subsidiary). I've bought the various mono and stereo CD issues too since, as all bar one review says, the album is about as good as 60s psych gets - an absolute classic.
The stereo mix is infinitely preferably for the period sound and effects. Ignore that one 1* review and comment on the mixes especially the stereo mix. The stereo mix may have some parts of tunes where the vocals are in one channel and instruments in the other but this only applies to a small portion of some songs. Most have instruments in both left and right channels and some in the centre. Others have vocals in both channels, not to mention superb phasing. In any event that was the form that the original stereo mix took. As one who bought the original albums in the 60s I would much rather have the original stereo mixes preserved on CD than have them replaced by a modern remix that is nothing like the original.
This is a great place to start with 60s psych, Pretty Things or concept albums and if you like this album then as another reviewer says check out the Pretties library music output as The Electric Banana. It's much the same as the tracks on this album and, apart from the tracks from the couple of singles, is the only place you'll find anything similar.
on 27 July 2000
I'm amazed that it didn't sell hugely when it was released in 1967 (I suppose there was a lot of great music about then). There are very few albums I have encountered which use such a range of styles and can generate such a broad sweep of atmospheres and emotions. If you like late 60s British psycedelic rock there is nothing, as far as I'm concerned, with as much combined talent, whimsy, and where necessary, punch. I think it surpasses Tommy (its nearest rock opera rival in age and quallity)and should be regarded as one of the greatest albums of that decade. If you like Sgt. Pepper's, Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, or any of the other epoch making records of the time this is an essential buy.
on 11 October 2013
The Pretty Things were one of many R&B bands operating in the mid-60s. Their reputation was that of a band even scruffier than the Stones! By 1967 though, they had lost three of their original members; guitarist Brian Pendleton, bass player John Stax, and their flamboyant drummer Viv Prince. Prince was replaced by Skip Allen as early as 1965, and singer Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor had brought in Wally Allen and John Povey to complete the line-up. They then embarked on a radical change of direction, more in keeping with the psychedelic times. Out of this came `Defecting Grey', a classic piece of psychedelia that was cruelly edited and so lost out on chart success. By then, however, Phil May had come up with the idea of `S.F.Sorrow', a concept album showing the life of an imaginary character. Its influence on Tommy is well catalogued, but it did not enjoy much success at the time.
It's worth pondering on why exactly S.F.Sorrow fared so badly, as it's now placed in the category of 60s classic - at least on the insert of this CD, where it's (rather extravagantly) placed in the company of `Sgt. Pepper' and Pink Floyd's `Piper at the gates of Dawn. To start with, it's a very dark album, and though filled with imaginative arrangements and great riffs it tells a story that's quite at odds with the optimism of the times. One track, `Death', even has the sound of soil falling, while the closing `Loneliest Person' is unremittingly bleak. Lyrically, lines like `Excuse me please as I wipe a tear away from an eye that sees there's nothing left to trust' and `Hopscotch of life will lead you to the grave' simply don't sit easily in the happy, trippy, positive 60s. No, it doesn't surprise me that the public just didn't take to S.F.Sorrow at all. Unfortunately, that's the price you pay for being ahead of your time.
For now Phil May and Co. are hopefully getting the reward they deserve. Yes, it's a dark album, but one that is uniformly excellent; great guitars, vocals, great tunes, experimentation, a storyline that works, it's all here. Plus there are bonus tracks that are excellent, including the full sitar-drenched version of Defecting Grey, their fabulous Talkin' about the good times, a booklet with the story and lyrics, not to mention the tale of how it all came about. My only gripe is that it's all in mono. Glorious mono, it says in the insert. Well, pardon me, but mono is only glorious when it comes from an old 7" single being played on my Dansette! I'll be hanging on to my stereo vinyl reissue for a while, but this CD is still an essential purchase for any 60s fan.