The Pretty Things: Parachute (1970)

Reading the sad news today that long-time Pretty Things singer Phil May has passed. May was the band's one constant member from their early days in the 60s up through various present-day reunions.

While it's the Pretties' foray into late 60s psychedelia, with the classic concept album S.F. Sorrow, that gets the most kudos (alongside their earlier Stonesy, blues-based contributions to the British Invasion), I find 1970's Parachute to be an oft-overlooked classic, an album that seems unfairly omitted from the classic rock canon. It's a clearly transitional album for the band, and you can hear them genre-hopping as the LP itself progresses, opening with a gorgeous psychedelic suite before moving into an edgier, harder-rocking sound that presages their sprawling (and often underrated) hard rock albums of the seventies. Indeed, I'd hold Parachute up alongside Who's Next as a quintessential sign of music's shift from the idealistic, pop-art and psyche-tinged 60s to a more cynical, darker, and louder 70s -- only Parachute does it all right there over the course of the album, in contrast with Who's Next's clean break from the work that had preceded it.

The album kicks off sounding like an S.F. Sorrow sequel, a brief sonic collage followed by a lovely, psychedelic suite of brief pieces. The pairing "The Good Mr. Square/She Was Tall, She Was High" is probably my single favorite thing the band ever recorded, gorgeous and trippy, with soaring harmonies and as solid an example of British psychedelia as anything from the genre's 67-68 heyday.  It's followed by another couplet, "In The Square/The Letter," every bit as fabulous. This run closes out with "Rain," a nice little cap the psyche-side of the LP. 

The sound then noticeably shifts. "Miss Fay Regrets" is a bit of a throwback to their pre-psyche days, some basic British R&B; but it's the lengthier "Cries From The Midnight Circus" that proclaims the band's entry to the 70s, a bluesy riff and May's anguished howl dropping any flower-power vestiges of the album's first third.  From there it's a bit of a mix; "Grass" blends the psyche sounds with the more open-ended harder rock, while "Sickle Clowns" is downright dark and scary, a heavy groove that really digs its claws in. "She's a Lover" approaches a more pop sound in the Guess Who ballpark, and the closing title track bids farewell to the 60s with a mellow, operatic hymn that makes a bid for an Abbey Road-like send-off.

Damn. This album is just a motherfucker.

The CD appends some fantastic bonus tracks, both "Blue Serge Blues" and "Summertime" perfect slices of rocking radio-friendly pop, the sort of things that would be classic rock radio mainstays in a just universe.

Here's an audio rip of the "Good Mr. Square/She Was Tall" medley:
Here's a performance of "In The Square":
And for some jarring contrast, here's a performance of "Midnight Circus":
 How about a raging performance of "Rain"?
Finally, an audio rip of an alternative version of the "Summertime" bonus track. Trust me, you already love this song, you just don't know it yet.