It’s concept album time again here at First Draft. The Pretty Things started off as a standard issue British blooze rock/R&B band. Then came Sgt. Pepper and, like so many others, they went all psychedelic and conceptual.
This 1968 rock opera tells the story of Sebastian F. Sorrow. It’s based on a short story by Pretty Things lead singer Phil May who also designed the cover for the British release. If you want to hear more about the story, check out the Wikipedia entry.
In the immortal words of Tom Jones, it was not unusual in those days for albums to have different covers in the UK and US. In this case, I prefer the UK cover. It fits the era and subject matter better but, hey, the LP was released in America even if very few people heard it.
Here’s a description of the Pretty Things and these sorrowful covers by Richie Unterberger’s whose fine essay on US vs. UK album art I stumbled into whilst researching this post:
Digging so deep into the British Invasion that you come across bands who never had a hit here, there’s the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow. The best ‘60s UK group never to make it into the States, the Pretty Things started out as a rawer version of the Rolling Stones; lead guitarist Dick Taylor had been in the Stones until late 1962. By the late ‘60s, they’d evolved into psychedelic rock, and S.F. Sorrow was one of rock’s first concept albums.
It’s a clear victory, in a change of pace, for the UK version. Which was certainly more in line with the band’s vision, as the cover was designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May. The US cover (on Motown’s Rare Earth subsidiary) had its curiosity value, though, for its tombstone shape if nothing else. The cover change wasn’t the biggest way Rare Earth fumbled the ball; though the album had come out at the end of 1968 in the UK, it wasn’t released until August 1969 in the US, which meant that some American listeners and critics accused it of being a rip-off of the Who’s Tommy (which it predated by months in the UK).
I agree with his artistic conclusion. Let’s start with the UK cover:
The tombstone shape of the US cover is a pretty swell thing in and of itself:
I have a confession. I don’t recall ever hearing S.F. Sorrow until yesterday. I selected it because I liked the cover and Phil May was a talking head in Blues Britannia. It’s a terrific record. You might want to give it a virtual spin: