26 September 2023

SF Sorrow

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Reviewed by Ian Phillips.

By The Pretty Things, EMI, 1968.

I thank Reprobate Media and Dirty Water Records for bringing this wonderful piece of nostalgia to my attention.

Firstly, I must warn that as far as I know, this album has been out of print for a very long time and therefore this review is really a flight of fancy on my part.

SF Sorrow is a true concept album, made at a time when the idea of producing extended musical compositions built around a central theme was in its infancy.

When The Pretty Things released SF Sorrow they found themselves competing with The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and unfortunately the Pretty Things’ wonderful ground-breaking effort sunk with barely a ripple.

While other bands had begun to experiment with the concept album no one at this time had actually managed to produce one.

The Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake only manages to hold firm to the theme for the second side of the album and The Beatles achieved even less with Sgt Pepper’s. However, The Pretty Things provided us with an entire album of songs that told the story, from birth to death, of its central character, SF Sorrow.

The album was based on a short story titled Cutting Up Sergeant Time (and its protagonist, Sergeant Sorrow) written by Pretty Things lead singer, Phil May and the album was recorded at the Abbey Road Studios.

Listening to SF Sorrow all these years after its inception, I’m amazed by the vastness of its scope and ambition.

Many of you would have seen footage of The Beatles working with producer, George Martin using multiple 4-track tape machines to bounce tracks and create overlayered sounds. Well this is precisely the techniques that the Pretty Things employed, along with extensive use of early synths.

Like The Beatles, The Pretty Things emerged at the end of the recording process with an album that was so intricate that it was impossible to play live, which didn’t help with its promotion. (In the late 90s the band went back into the Abbey Road studio to record a live version of SF Sorrow with additional musicians, including Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour).

SF Sorrow is really a precursor of what was to come later from bands like Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues and it’s wonderful that I’ve finally had the opportunity to hear it.

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