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The Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow album cover
4.21 | 88 ratings | 8 reviews | 45% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1968

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. S.F. Sorrow is Born (3:12)
2. Bracelets of Fingers (3:41)
3. She Says Good Morning (3:23)
4. Private Sorrow (3:51)
5. Balloon Burning (3:51)
6. Death (3:05)
7. Baron Saturday (4:01)
8. The Journey (2:46)
9. I See You (3:56)
10. Well of Destiny (1:46)
11. Trust (2:49)
12. Old Man Going (3:09)
13. Loneliest Person (1:29)

Total time 40:59

Bonus tracks on 1998 & 2002 remasters:
14. Defecting Grey (single 1967) (4:31)
15. Mr. Evasion (single 1967) (3:31)
16. Talkin' About the Good Times (single 1968) (3:46)
17. Walking Through My Dreams (single 1968) (3:47)

Extra bonus tracks on 2002 remaster:
18. Private Sorrow (single version 1968) (3:52)
19. Balloon Burning (single version 1968) (3:47)
20. Defecting Grey (original acetate)* (5:10)

Tracks 14-20 recorded in Mono audio
* Alternate version, previously unreleased

Line-up / Musicians

- Phil May / vocals, story author
- Dick Taylor / lead guitar, vocals
- John Povey / organ, sitar, percussion, vocals
- Alan "Wally" Waller / bass, guitar, piano, wind instruments, vocals
- Twink (John Charles Alder) / drums, vocals

Releases information

Artwork: Phil May

LP Columbia ‎- SX 6306 (1968, UK) Mono audio
LP Columbia ‎- SCX 6306 (1968, UK)

CD Edsel Records ‎- ED CD 236 (1990, UK)
CD Snapper Music ‎- 155652 (1998, UK) Remaster by Andy Pearce & Mark St. John w/ 4 bonus tracks
CD Repertoire Records ‎- REP 4930 (2002, Europe) Remastered by Eroc with 7 bonus tracks

Thanks to exitthelemming for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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THE PRETTY THINGS S.F. Sorrow ratings distribution

(88 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(45%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(34%)
Good, but non-essential (16%)
Collectors/fans only (2%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

THE PRETTY THINGS S.F. Sorrow reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars 3.5 stars. This is a very significant and influencial album that was released in 1968. Regarded as the first Rock Opera, it's a concept album about one S.F. Sorrow and his life from the cradle to the grave. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios and produced by Norman Smith who by then was working with PINK FLOYD but previously was with THE BEATLES. The music has a Psychedelic flavour but is often quite poppy as well, or maybe commercial sounding is a better way to put it. The songs I like the least are the commercial ones which sound way too much like THE BEATLES. In fact after just a few listens of this cd I was skipping certain tracks because I was already tired of them. Too bad because there's a lot on here that I do enjoy.

"SF Sorrow Is Born" opens with strummed guitar then it settles in with vocals quickly. Backing vocals on the chorus. Not a fan of this one. "Bracelets Of Fingers" is very BEATLES-like just before a minute. I do like the short instrumental section a minute later. An okay tune. "She Says Good Morning" is a catchy BEATLES-like song. Quite poppy and a real toe-tapper. Some nice distorted guitar before 2 minutes. "Private Sorrow" is different. Acid soaked psychedelia. A calm with spoken words after 3 minutes with marching styled drums. "Balloon Buring" is my favourite. I like the repeated guitar line with those dreamy vocals. It becomes an uptempo burner.

"Death" is mealncholic with vocals and an interesting soundscape. "Baron Saturday" is maybe my least favourite. Catchy and very BEATLES-like. "The Journey" is laid back but it then picks up. It's more aggressive before 2 minutes to the end. "I See You" is my other favourite tune. It's that Psychedelic flavour including the lyrics and I love the guitar late to end it. Great track. "Well Of Destiny" is a short piece that builds to the end. "Trust" is a vocal track with harmonies. "Old Man Going" has some excellent guitar and the vocals are softer in the chorus. "Loneliest Person" is the ballad-like closer.

I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a slew of 5 star reviews for this one. There's something about Proto-Prog and concept albums that I generally don't like. Combine the two and it's a tough sell. Still I recognize the influence of this release.

Review by The Truth
COLLABORATOR Post/Math Rock Team
5 stars Glad to see this album finally added, a concept album of epic proportions, at times better than even Tommy whom it is said gained alot of influence from good ol' S.F. Sorrow.

The Pretty Things truly but the rock in rock opera and made the practice a regularity in rock music. While some look down upon this album because "Sgt Pepper was the first rock opera" (puhlease, it's hardly got a concept) S.F. Sorrow is an emotional journey that absolutely stuns the listener, psychedelic greatness with a story behind it. Isn't that pretty progressive?

Either way, Sorrow's tale of losing everything and eventually become the "Loneliest Person" is one of those where you know there's a personal metaphor and it makes the listener have to make up his own, for me, that's one of the best things a rock opera can do. Each song is well crafted and song transitions (you have no idea how important those are to me) are flawless. After maybe three listens every song on this record will be stuck in your head. No exaggeration, it happened to me.

I think I'll give this five stars because, honestly, it started something great when it itself was an amazing record that had a large part in starting the progressive rock era of music.

The live version they did awhile later with David Gilmour is also a top notch record with story interludes to further explain the action of the rock opera. Very cool stuff.

Review by Warthur
5 stars Ranking amongst the first narrative concept albums, S.F. Sorrow might not have a very well- explained plot, but musically it's downright fantastic, taking the most psychedelic moments of the Beatles (think Tomorrow Never Knows and the like) and bringing them to the next level. At some points the pulsating percussion on the album seems to offer a precedent for later drum and bass, whilst the acoustic closer Loneliest Person is downright haunting. At points a Kinks- and-Beatles-inspired product of its time, at other point years ahead of the rest of the pack, it's a fascinating musical trip and deserves its reputation as one of the keystone psychedelic albums of its era.
Review by patrickq
4 stars In a 1998 New York Times article, Neil Strauss said that S.F. Sorrow 'is generally acknowledged as the first rock opera.' Maybe things were different twenty years ago, but unfortunately, I don't really think S.F. Sorrow is 'generally acknowledged.'

In some ways, S.F. Sorrow sounds exactly like an album from 1968. I don't have the technical vocabulary to explain this other to say that the soundscape feels confined, as if the technology limited the band's ability to realize their vision - - but at the same time, we have a pretty good idea of what that vision must've been. On the other hand, S.F. Sorrow had to have seemed a little ambitious and risky for what had theretofore been a blues-based pop/rock band.

At least at the time it was released, S.F. Sorrow must've invited comparisons to the Beatles, and by extension, the Beach Boys. It may have been 'the first rock opera,' but it wasn't the first rock concept album, and there are definitely echoes of 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever' here. But there must've been a lot of cross-pollination, as there's a lot in common with contemporaneous recordings by the Moody Blues and Tommy James and the Shondells, and on the poppier material here, the vocals aren't all that different from, say, the Lovin' Spoonful or the Buckinghams.

But a lot of the material here is not especially poppy. A fair chunk of S.F. Sorrow is more experimental than Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds. For example, there's genuine musique concr'te throughout, in substantial quality and quantity. Tape manipulation is used to achieve pitch changes and synchronized delay effects long before digital techniques made these common. And the mixing is creative: often, the vocals are almost buried, challenging the listener to pay closer attention. This unorthodoxy is especially clear when the songs recorded for S.F. Sorrow are compared to those drawn from the same pool, but recorded for release as singles or for radio airplay. (On remastered reissues of S.F. Sorrow, several of these are appended to the original album.) A notable exception to this is the album's closing track, 'Loneliest Person,' which - - probably intentionally - - sounds completely different from the foregoing. Gone are the layered instruments and vocals, the heavy audio effects, and the edgy rock atmosphere which prefigured Black Sabbath more than once. 'Loneliest Person' is performed in what sounds like one take, featuring just an acoustic guitar and dry vocals. This starkness seems to fit with the album's storyline; in the end, the protagonist is, as the song goes, 'the loneliest person in the world.'

The material is strong throughout the album. This work is intended to be experienced more as an album than a compilation of songs - - after all, the standalone songs were recorded separately. But a few numbers stand out: 'S.F. Sorrow is Born,' 'Private Sorrow,' and 'Baron Saturday,' the latter reminding me of the Moody Blues' 'Legend of a Mind' reinterpreted as. John Lennon song. But the real standout here, and a good representation of S.F. Sorrow as a whole, is 'Balloon Burning,' a detached reminiscence of observing the destruction of the Hindenburg and the fiery death of one of its passengers.

S.F. Sorrow meets the definition of "proto-prog," but it's also heavily psychedelic; and while it's not at all a heavy-metal album, it has passages whose heaviness goes beyond that typical of Vanilla Fudge or Iron Butterfly. Like the music of those early heavy-metal bands, these passages aren't particularly slow or blues-based. And S.F. Sorrow also represents a transition from the Sgt. Pepper era to what is now regarded as 1970s progressive rock - - thus, much of what made S.F. Sorrow groundbreaking also makes it sound dated. Whereas the Beatles may have had to temper their technological ambitions to ensure a high-quality sound, the Pretty Things were willing to sacrifice sound quality to create a work which wasn't quite achievable at the time.

Nonetheless, S.F. Sorrow is an excellent album which, despite its practical shortcomings, is worthy of four stars for its concept, composition, and creativity.

Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars Of all the outstanding British pop rock bands that took the world by storm, it's always surprising when you discover that there were a great number of absolutely brilliant bands that never found much success at all despite crafting some of the best music of all time! THE PRETTY THINGS is one such band from the greater London (Sidcup to be specific) area that never got their just dessert in their day. While the band formed in 1963 and crafted a familiar sounding British rhythm & blues garage rock sound laced with the more psychedelic aspects of a small genre called freakbeat, the band was sort of labeled as a Rolling Stones clone due to the similarity in catchy melodies and a vocal style from lead singer Phil May that did indeed sound a bit like Mick Jagger but to my ears THE PRETTY THINGS were a much superior band in crafting excellent pop rock albums that were consistent all the way through instead of the lopsided ones of the Stones. Who says life is fair?

While not finding a larger audience during their 60s peak, THE PRETTY THINGS have become best known for their fourth album S.F. SORROW which is credited as being one of the very first rock opera albums although it wasn't billed as such upon its release. While it seems the first true rock opera was from the one shot band The Family Tree which released "Miss Butters" in May 1968, that album still remains somewhat of an obscurity whereas S.F. SORROW has gained much more respect over the decades since its initial release. This album that was released in December 1968 seems to have been the primary influence behind The Who's "Tommy" which emerged the very next year although the band has denied any such influences and it is true that "Tommy" was indeed the very first album that was actually released as a rock opera. Nevertheless, S.F. SORROW to my ears is a far superior album as far as unrelenting perfection with one infectious melodic hook after another graced with some of the coolest grooviliscious psychedelic effects.

The story was concocted by lead singer Phil May and the album is structured as a song cycle with the main character Sebastian F. Sorrow experiencing the trials and tribulations of life from birth to death. S.F. SORROW was also quite different from other rock operas that followed in that other albums that followed narrated a tale through the song lyrics whereas this one told much of the story through small paragraphs-sized chapters where appeared in the liner notes of the vinyl LP and later on the CD which alternated with the lyrics of the actual songs. That means this was a true multi-media experience where the visual artwork of the album operated in tandem with the audio performances. While The Beatles upped the art rock ante with 1967's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club," a legion of new artists quickly adapted an artier approach to their music with THE PRETTY THINGS being one of the more inventive of the era.

The original album consisted of 13 tracks with the opening "S.F. Sorrow Is Born" which immediately sets the stage for an entirely new direction for the band that as recently as the prior 1967 release "Emotions" still found the band to be a decent but still somewhat derivative Stones pop rock band but on S.F. SORROW all those failures of the past had simply transmogrified into sheer musical perfection with a concept that added an entirely new dimension to the music's depth, something fairly new in the world of rock music. Instead of cranking up the volume ever louder, THE PRETTY THINGS learned the art of dynamics and how to alternate softer passages with louder ones for greater effect. Added to that a stellar production job from Norman Smith who had been responsible for The Beatles albums up until 1965 and then moved on to get his feet wet in the burgeoning world of psychedelic rock with Pink Floyd's earliest works.

S.F. SORROW is one of those albums that you hit play and simply cannot opt out until the entire album runs its course. For newer releases on CD this includes the bonus tracks such as "Deflecting Grey" and "Talkin' About The Good Times" which were released as non-album singles, an annoying but common record label policy back in those days. As S.F. SORROW progresses from one track to others, there is an incessant parade of varying percussive beats, infectious melodic grooves directed by the bass playing skills of Wally Waller and interesting guitar leads that break out of nowhere making this one of the first albums i'm aware of that seriously focused on alternating styles, rhythms and dynamics to bring out a tidal wave of emotive reactions. Added to the overall storyline and the instantly addictive melodies, S.F. SORROW also strategically breaks out the psychedelic big guns with trippy organ parts as well as atmospheric extras generated through the mellotron and raga rock appearances of the sitar.

Melodically THE PRETTY THINGS dropped the Stones comparisons and focused more on the rich pop-infused hooks and harmonies of The Beatles coupled with the spacier layers of sound from Pink Floyd. This combo effect was triumphant and the album is literally flawless in its execution both sounding like it was spawned in the late 60s from whence it came yet exudes a timelessness that makes this sound fresh and relevant even in a world when such sugary melodies and easy listening pop music has been tainted with atonality and experimental avant-garde touches. Although i've heard of this album for years i didn't really get into until recently and once i gave it a spin a couple times i was utterly hooked. The album has catapulted up to my top albums of all time due to its irresistible hooks laced with psychedelic brilliance. While THE PRETTY THINGS have many great albums, this is where they hit sheer perfection with the perfect marriage of lyrical content, seductive mellifluousness and psychedelic inventiveness. A true masterpiece of the ages that has finally gotten the recognition it deserves.

Latest members reviews

5 stars It's no Revolver, but it's certainly on the level, to me, of other classic Psychedelic and Art Rock masterworks, such as Odessey and Oracle (The Zombies, 1968) and The Who Sell Out (The Who, 1967), so... it's still a damn essential if you have any self-respect (I kid... I think). No image of perfect ... (read more)

Report this review (#2634897) | Posted by DangHeck | Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars S.F. Sorrow is a unique album and is in my top 10 favourite 60's albums, if I don't count the Beatles ;-) I don't care about the fact if it's the first rock opera or not, I am focused on the music only and ignore lyrics or concept themes. After the previous efforts, especially the R&B, which I r ... (read more)

Report this review (#2431110) | Posted by sgtpepper | Tuesday, July 21, 2020 | Review Permanlink

2 stars S.F. Sorrow? More like S.F. Borrow! The Pretty Things' cult hit, originally released in December 1968, has drawn increased attention in the last 10 years with the belated availability of the group's discography. With that attention has come a bit of revisionist history, perhaps overstating ... (read more)

Report this review (#926204) | Posted by coasterzombie | Thursday, March 7, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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