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Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Pretty Things: Get The Picture?


1) You Don't Believe Me; 2) Buzz The Jerk; 3) Get The Picture?; 4) Can't Stand The Pain; 5) Rainin' In My Heart; 6) We'll Play House; 7) You'll Never Do It Baby; 8) I Had A Dream; 9) I Want Your Love; 10) London Town; 11) Cry To Me; 12) Gonna Find A Substitute; 13*) Get A Buzz; 14*) Sittin' All Alone; 15*) Midnight To Six Man; 16*) Me Needing You; 17*) Come See Me; 18*) L.S.D.

Drummer Viv Prince was kicked out of the band right before the release of their second LP — in fact, relations with him had reached breaking point during the sessions, so that many tracks fea­ture session player (and the band's producer) Bobby Graham instead. Although Viv was not that much involved in the band's songwriting, it may be argued that this first out of many lineup changes was the most significant one — think of The Who firing Keith Moon as an awful ana­logy. Somehow this initiated a shift of image, as The Pretty Things began to drop the «wildness» aspect and turn towards more soulful, psychedelic, and artsy matters: fortunately, not before relea­sing their flawed masterpiece of the «wild thing» period.

Get The Picture? is a massive improvement over the self-titled debut, largely because much of the material is now self-written, with Phil May and Dick Taylor emerging as a competent and convincing songwriting duo — still not on the Jagger/Richards level if you average out the results, but not so much because they did not have an ear for melody as it is due to inferior technical aspects of the performances and recordings. Every time I listen to something like ʽCan't Stand The Painʼ with its decidedly Stonesy atmosphere (in some ways, predicting the slightly cavernous mystical-sexual sound of Aftermath), I can't help but wonder if it could be hailed as a timeless classic of longing-and-yearning with Mick on vocals and Keith on guitar.

And there are aspects where The Pretties would indeed go farther than their chief superior com­petitors. You only have to get past the opening number (ʽYou Don't Believe Meʼ is a mix of over­playe R&B ecstasy with crude Byrdsy jangle guitars) to hit the jackpot: ʽBuzz The Jerkʼ is, I believe, not only the very first pop song to feature the word "jerk" in the title (only two years earlier, the Stones had to guiltily censor the word in their cover of Chuck Berry's ʽCome Onʼ), it is as heavy and as uncompromising as it ever gets (at least, in 1965) in a song seemingly dedi­cated to problematic issues of rough sex. The rhythm section is on an adrenaline kick here: John Stax plays a broken-up bass riff that does things to your girl that even whacky perv Bill Wyman, all gentlemanly on the outside but EVIL on the inside, would never dream of, while Viv (I do hope that's Viv, I don't think Bobby Graham would dare play with that much aggression) goes so heavy on the cymbals and snares that Keith Moon could be his only competition. Throw in a mean fuzzy tone from one of the guitarists, and the entire tune is a two-minute explosion of garage rock wildness that ranks together with the greatest nuggets of the decade. Finally, by get­ting their act together and achieving tight focus, The Pretty Things explode.

The title track, when you take a detached look at the verse, is just one of those simple Britpop tunes, à la Dave Clark Five, that is usually supposed to put you into a jovial mood; but with May's breathy-beastly vocal onslaught and Taylor's crisply roasted guitar, it is only a tad less wild than ʽBuzz The Jerkʼ. "I ain't gonna quit ya / Get the picture?" predates The Troggs in its brief musical summary of the life of the Neanderthal lover. Later on, you are informed that ʽWe'll Play Houseʼ, obviously a nod to Elvis' ʽBaby Let's Play Houseʼ because of the title, but taking the metaphor to a whole new level. But the top prize is ʽYou'll Never Do It Babyʼ, a song originally recorded by the little-known UK act Cops & Robbers in a weak, piano-centered version: it took the Pretties to open up its full potential — the shotgun-style «blast 'em and pick up the pieces» riff and May's bluntly threatening lyrics give the song a bit of murderous feel, as in, she'll never do it, baby, because I've got a knife and I know how to... oh, never mind, just toying around with the dark side for a moment.

Not everything is equally exciting: as long as they keep up and nourish the sinister vibe, the re­sults are cool, but a few of the songs are second-rate R&B grooves (ʽI Want Your Loveʼ) that pale in comparison; besides, on this front they are natural losers in comparison with the Stones, and their version of Solomon Burke's ʽCry To Meʼ is nothing compared to the slower and far more turbulent commotion of guitars and vocals that the Stones had going on Out Of Our Heads. But they are also treading different types of water, such as melancholic folk rock (Tim Hardin's ʽLondon Townʼ) and soulful blues-rock — ʽCan't Stand The Painʼ is a very adventurous type of song, alternating between slow, moody, dreamy folksy passages with groaning, echoey slide guitars and fast, chugging, paranoid verses. I don't think there was anybody else in Britain in 1965 who'd be making that same sort of music: it's like an amalgamation of the soft melancholy of The Searchers with the raw aggressive energy of the Stones.

The expanded CD edition makes things even better: without getting overboard in terms of length (throw in all those bonus singles and you still get only 45 minutes of music), it fattens up the record with such classics as ʽGet A Buzzʼ (this is basically ʽBuzz The Jerk Vol. 2ʼ, although a tad less explosive), ʽMidnight To Six Manʼ (one of the band's catchiest singles ever and one of the greatest affirmations of Night Power), and, oh my God, ʽL.S.D.ʼ — actually, correction: ʽ£SDʼ, so the song formally refers to currency, but they do sing it with an L: "everybody's talking about my LSD... yes I need LSD, yes I need LSD"! Sometimes, you know, it helps being second class: neither the Stones nor the Beatles would probably be allowed to issue anything like that, but since nobody cared that much about The Pretty Things, these guys could get away with everything next to murder. They just wouldn't be paid for it.

Ultimately, Get The Picture? gets my vote for the most «badass-nasty» recording of 1965, which is, of course, absolutely not the same as its «best» recording — in any case, on their second try the band totally got it right, and carved a proper niche for itself that everybody else was either too afraid or too shy to try out. Not even The Who were that nasty: with Townshend's «thinking» approach to songwriting, those guys were far more happy, from the very start, to dress in Union Jacks rather than Neanderthal furs. The problem was that — at the time, at least — it was unclear how they could take this thing further, and so Get The Picture? remains the unsurpassed pin­nacle of The Pretties' nasty phase. Their glory days would be far from over, yet it can also be argued that this was their single most important «individual-identifying» moment, placing them in nobody's category but their own. A glorious thumbs up here — do not waste any time trying to buzz the jerk, now.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, nasty and VERY hard-rocking by 1965's standards. But just as in case with The Who's debut, 'Buzz the Jerk' or other fast/nasty/rocking/raw R'n'B numbers carry more historical value rather than instant pleasure for me.

    It's the dynamic songs like 'Can't Stand The Pain' (well spotted connection to Stones' 'Aftermath' album!) that stand out. Love the unique combination of uncertainty and self-assuredness and, yes, I value the next album much higher than this one and the debut.