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Source: Original CD
Artwork: Full Scans 300dp
S.F. Sorrow has a significant place in rock & roll history, though it's hardly widely acknowledged. Generally considered the first "rock opera," the 1967 opus by erstwhile gritty rockers turned psychedelic visionaries predates the Who's vastly more popular Tommy by a year. (Incidentally, there are significant parallels between the plots of both records.) Some would therefore lay blame for all the theatrical tomfoolery that followed at the feet of the Pretties, but they didn't get much credit for their accomplishment, so they probably don't deserve much reproof. Like most everything that came out of London in the late '60s, S.F. Sorrow owes a debt to the Beatles in its sonic adventurousness (Beatles/Pink Floyd engineer Norman Smith deserves credit) and kaleidoscopic lyrical bent, albeit with darker hues (the protagonist's sweetheart is killed in a hydrogen balloon explosion). If your idea of a night at the opera centers around classic Brit rock, S.F. Sorrow is just the ticket.
Amazon user review
S.F. SORROW seems to elicit extreme responses--many either love it or love to bash it. I'm in the former category; in fact, I think it's the group's masterpiece and one of the many masterpieces from the psychedelic era. After the two 1965 albums (albums that were a bit ahead of their time, I might add), Pretty Things released EMOTIONS (1967) in the UK and started working on S.F. SORROW the same year. It's an enthralling work--yes, brilliant...there isn't a weak song to be found. The whole is cohesive, and it's filled with bracing variety.
Pretty Things keep the chord progressions fairly simple and straightforward, which works well with the group's hard-edged sound. The thoughtful and infectious melodies and harmonies, the highly tasteful and original rhythms, the band's mix of drive and finesse...all this works together most convincingly to thoroughly knock me out. Even the endings are imaginative! Horns and strings are used to give a classy psychedelic disposition to "S.F. Sorrow Is Born." An interesting, even bizarre mix of instruments embellishes "Bracelets Of Fingers." The middle instrumental breaks of that tune and "She Says Good Morning" pour on the cosmic splendor. "Private Sorrow" is a favorite of mine, with its quirky little breaks and hypnotic march rhythms. Each song is individualistic and has its own uniquely special qualities.
The Beatles and Pink Floyd influences are present, but are assimilated into the group's own sound and style. Nothing here sounds pilfered, not even the very Beatles-like "Baron Saturday." (The bending strings on the chorus are just an ecstatic gas, and that fake-out ending gets me grinning from ear to ear every time!)
I see no need at all to compare this album with anything done by The Who. I love The Who, and I love Pretty Things. They are two different bands with two different sounds.
As far as this being the first rock opera goes, I'm still not convinced that a true rock opera exists. (Grab a copy of Willi Apel's HARVARD DICTIONARY OF MUSIC, read the seven and a half pages for opera, then read the two pages on oratorio and make up your own mind.) I think it's really stretching it to call this and TOMMY opera--too much is simply narration, for one thing.
The first rock concept album? I think the first rock concept album was by Elvis. In general, both Christmas and Gospel easily qualify as concepts, and the Elvis albums predate S.F. SORROW by several years.
Because of various circumstances, this product of 1967 was not released until late in 1968 (when psychedelia was very much on the decline). That's no matter; anyone who loves the psychedelic 60s should thrill to this. My advice is to forget all the hype on what this album was supposed to be, and just enjoy it for what it still is--a great album.
1. "S.F. Sorrow is Born" – 3:13
2. "Bracelets of Fingers" – 3:41
3. "She Says Good Morning" – 3:24
4. "Private Sorrow" – 3:52
5. "Balloon Burning" – 3:51
6. "Death" – 3:06
7. "Baron Saturday" – 4:01
8. "The Journey" – 2:46
9. "I See You" – 3:56
10. "Well of Destiny" – 1:49
11. "Trust" – 2:50
12. "Old Man Going" – 3:10
13. "Loneliest Person" – 1:30
14. "Defecting Grey" [Bonus Track] – 4:31
15. "Mr. Evasion" [Bonus Track] – 3:31
16. "Talkin' About the Good Times" [Bonus Track] – 3:46
17. "Walking Through My Dreams" [Bonus Track] (May, Taylor, Waller, Povey) – 3:47
18 - Private Sorrow (Single Version)
19 - Balloon Burning (Single Version)
20 - Perfecting Grey (Acetate Recording)
* Phil May - vocals
* Dick Taylor - lead guitar, vocals
* John Povey - organ, sitar, percussion, vocals
* Wally Allen (aka Waller) - bass, guitar, vocals, wind instruments, piano
* Skip Alan - drums
* John Charles Alder (aka Twink) - drums