The Pretty Things
In 1968, the Pretty Things, a British R&B outfit-turned-garage-rock band, released their fourth album, S.F. Sorrow; a record generally considered to be the first bona fide rock opera. Based around a short story by singer/songwriter Phil May, S.F. Sorrow examines themes of grief, alienation and madness in the tragic tale of Sebastian F. Sorrow, a man who goes into an emotional tailspin after witnessing the death of his girlfriend in a ballooning accident. As a work of conceptual psychedelia once referred to as Art Rock, S.F. Sorrow lacks the elaborate cast of characters, multi-dimensional story line, and operatic structure of Tommy, which the Who released a year later. Yet it’s no secret that Pete Townshend was clearly influenced by Phil May’s prototype. “Baron Saturday,” an enigmatic character who introduces the despondent Sorrow to LSD, shows up in Tommy as “The Acid Queen,” and the strummed guitar intro of “Old Man Going” is instantly familiar as the prelude to the infinitely more popular “Pinball Wizard.” Remember who came first.
Similarly, the descending guitar chords of “Balloon Burning” recall Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” As an historical footnote, Pink Floyd recorded their own masterpiece of psychedelia, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, at the very same time this record was recorded. Those who blaze the trail for others often disappear in their own smoke. Perhaps it’s not too late for the Pretty Things to get the recognition they should have received when they made this amazing record thirty years ago.