Various Artists: Oh! You Pretty Things – album review
Oh! You Pretty Things Various Artists Grapefruit 3CD | DL Released 26 February 2021 Subtitled Glam Queens And Street Urchins (1970-1976), this new set is loosely a follow up 2019’s well-received RPM 3CD box All The Young Droogs. This time round Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople and The Troggs rub shoulders with lesser-known combs like […]
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Oh! You Pretty Things
3CD | DL
Released 26 February 2021
Subtitled Glam Queens And Street Urchins (1970-1976), this new set is loosely a follow up 2019’s well-received RPM 3CD box All The Young Droogs. This time round Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople and The Troggs rub shoulders with lesser-known combs like Streak, Rococo and Rosie. Ian Canty ventures to a land beyond the valley of Devil Gate Drive…
On first inspection this new compilation Oh! You Pretty Things seems to explore the shiny and brash glam explosion, which became the first true UK pop craze of the 1970s, plus its more “serious” and diverse “older brother” underground rock. But in between we have talented singer-songwriters, proto-punk maniacs, would-be natural heirs to The Small Faces and a boatload of opportunists, among the many other shades of early 70s pop. This does seem to me to be squarely a follow up to the All The Young Droogs 3CD set of a year or two ago and includes some of the same artists too. That isn’t really a big deal as far as I’m concerned, because that was an excellent selection box of the era (read the review here). It does, however, give Oh! You Pretty Things a lot to live up to.
Naturally inhabiting the same terrain to All The Young Droogs, this new set adds vital detail to what has these days become something of a glittering myth. Glam has become as much a 1970s cliché as dark, foreboding streets, terrible interior design, rumblings of industrial discontent, power cuts and three tv channels that shut off at midnight. Really just an overfamiliar trope purpose-built to be mocked on We Love The 70s-type clip shows. Yet despite this it had real, lasting value and revitalised what was becoming a very dull music scene. Glam only made a limited impact in America, despite being the place pioneers of the style like the Velvets, the Warhol crowd and The Stooges initially emerged from, but in Britain, it was big news.
What isn’t often recalled is that even though thousands of kids all over the UK embraced glam as their own, virtually everyone else in the country hated it and weren’t exactly backwards in lambasting the whole thing. Much like punk, which couldn’t conceivably occurred without glam, all-comers from the Peter Pan of pop Cliff to the NME, from guardians of the nation’s morals to “serious” rock fans, lined up to vent their collective loathing for the glitter pop scene which occupied centre stage.
Old duffers were outraged (and perhaps a bit turned on?) to see bands in wild outfits and pretty boys in make up, whilst hip music journos sneered peevishly “they can’t play” and “it’s all a money-making con”. Ring any bells? Even though many of the glam ranks came directly from the 1960s generation, a good few of their contemporaries weren’t happy with the situation either. Perhaps being usurped as no longer being the bright young things upsetting the oldies, but becoming the “oldies” themselves, is what irked them. The passing of the years matured the 60s rebels into the new establishment, whereas the glam rockers were just toting some frothy, pure fun for a generation too young to enjoy the fruits of the swinging decade. Even some of the bands codified under the glam label weren’t too happy about it, witness Blackfoot Sue’s scathing Glam Obituary on disc one of this set
But we’re only getting half or possibly three quarters of the story of Oh! You Pretty Things by focussing on solely glam, because a lot else was happening too, with underground rock not a total thing of the past and would-be proto-punks making their first steps. So let us delve into the music, which when all is said and done will determine whether or not you choose to pursue this set further.
The first disc certainly comes out swinging with four big-name acts. Roxy Music open things up with Pyjamarama and there’s probably not a better scene-setter than could have been selected, still sounding otherworldly and like a future yet to be discovered, but also zeroing the listener into the sense of wonder and imagination of the best of the early 1970s UK pop scene. ELO follow with the atypically tough Ma-Ma-Ma Belle and Sparks seems well on the way to inventing new wave a couple of years early on Barbercutie. Here they weld Eddie Cochran riffs to The Who’s original power-pop attack but, aided by the strangeness intrinsic to the Maels, it becomes something completely of their own. Given the boxset’s title it is natural that The Pretty Things are here and the tuneful and assured Joey just goes to show what a valuable outfit they still were.
Front cover stars The Hollywood Brats could have gone on and become one of the UK’s top bands of the time, They were bold, brash and trashy with great tunes, but being ahead of their time and the chaos that surrounded them didn’t help. As it was, they laboured away in obscurity, which doesn’t make Tumble With Me any less great. There’s so much on this disc of note, but space dictates this will have to be a whistle-stop tour. Hopefully most people know how fabulous Be Bop Deluxe, Ian Hunter, The Kinks and Hawkwind are and their contributions here, respectively Teenage Archangel, One Bitten Twice Shy, Powerman and the punk soul Kerb Crawler, all cut the mustard.
Mick Ronson’s spirited cover of White Light White Heat was a cast-off from the Pin Ups album sessions and it would be inaccurate not to mention that the considerable shadow of David Bowie hangs over this set. Most obviously, Simon Turner covers The Prettiest Star, Dana Gillespie does a cool take of Andy Warhol and DB’s underlying influence is usually somewhere to be found in the background.
Among the lesser well-known artists are Peter Perrett’s pre-Only Ones band England’s Glory. Their Bright Lights may have a bit of VU influence, something that is strongly suggested in the sleeve notes, but this song is heart-breaking in a way only Pete could do. Peter Meaden proteges Streak reimagine The Stooges as a pop act on the fine On The Ball and Blue Movie Star, an unreleased song by obscure five-piece Rococo, is a fast and explosive effort which wouldn’t shame Sparks. Gary Holton’s Heavy Metal Kids give us the tearaway anthem The Cops Are Coming and Send Me The Bill For Your Friendship is a bitter, brilliant song right out of the top drawer by the late Duncan Browne, a visionary artist who thoroughly deserves more acclaim. The Pink Fairies rough and ready Street Urchin finishes things off for what is a top quality platter from beginning to end.
Moving on to the second part of Oh! You Pretty Things, you would think that this disc would have trouble following up its predecessor. But when you open up with Slade’s grandstanding breakthrough number one Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Thin Lizzy (with a fuzzy and tough rocker Little Darling), Lou Reed And John Cale as four out of the first five offerings, you know the standard set is not going to drop. Lou is represented by the peerless Satellite Of Love and Cale goes back to his VU roots on the menacing chug of Gun. It is the mix between the bigger bands/singers of the time and new discoveries unearthed which makes this set so appealing.
After this initial blast (and one shouldn’t forget Zior’s infectious stomp Cat’s Eyes among Noddy, Phil and the Velvets), we enter a run of proto-punks. The mighty Jess Hector is a nailed-on certainty for this kind of collection and his Hammersmith Gorillas rarely failed. They certainly don’t on Shame, Shame, Shame, where a mid-60s mod pop number is kitted out with prime 70s raunch and solid playing. Knox of The Vibrators crops up in Despair, who provide us with the busy and pleasing Lady Easy Action and the excellent Doctors Of Madness, who give us a demo version of B-Movie Bedtime, show here how far ahead of the crowd they were in 1975. Iggy crops up with Mainman demo Gimme Some Skin and Third World War get bluesy on the class conscious Rat Crawl.
There is so much to dig and excite here, one is tempted to write about every track. Curved Air are alarmingly punky on The Purple Speed Queen and Agnes Strange (a band from Southampton, not a female singer) seem to anticipate The Pistols’ Did You No Wrong on Give Yourself A Chance. Rosie, a spin-off band from Streak, are a real discovery, appearing like a slightly restrained Hammersmith Gorillas on their decidedly non-PC Rosie’s Coming To Town (it was a different time, as I think I once heard someone say) and The mighty Troggs bump and grind on Strange Movies. Tim Curry’s cast recording from The Rocky Horror Show Sweet Transvestite hits the sweet spot betwixt spoof and authenticity and Wayne County, who was another huge influence on all things glam and punk, shows again why his/her work should be more lauded with the fast and funny Queenage Baby.
We arrive at the final disc of Oh! You Pretty Things with The Dolls’ Personality Crisis, the album version with producer Todd Rundgren’s flowing piano part. Then Slough’s Tina Harvey does a more or less straight cover of I’m Waiting For The Man, a record that arrived just that a few months early for the punk crowd. I know I’m biased but to me John Howard is one of this country’s best songsmiths and early recording Small Town, Big Adventures shows his muse already fully formed. It is stuffed full of great lines and cut with a breezy, elegant style. Brett Smiley’s Space Age is full-blown glam mayhem and this opening salvo makes Leo Sayer’s actually quite pretty tune The Dancer seem inconsequential in comparison.
A Raincoat, a pseudonym for studio boffin Andy Arthurs, cut an irresistible camp gem in I Love You For Your Mind (Not Your Body) and Duffy’s The Browns is the kind of 1960s character study The Small Faces and The Kinks specialised in, updated for glitter rock times. Who knows who the berk was at Chrysalis who decided not to issue The Winkies’ superb freewheeling rocker Last Chance as a single. Given a chance it may well have given them a much deserved leg-up. Then The Flamin’ Groovies prove with their back to basics sound Dog Meat they were helping to prepare the ground for punk, prior to jangling themselves right back to the sixties with Shake Some Action.
Spiv, from London, veer close to heavy metal on high energy rocker Little Girl. So much so that it is no surprise that drummer Tony Church later played in NWOBHM band Shadowfax. Jesse Hector returns with more brutal and beautiful sounds in High School Dropout, cut with his pre-Gorillas outfit Crushed Butler. If this is the sound of “three ugly heavy musicians making music to match” sign me up right now!
The Hollywood Stars were put together by Kim Fowley as a LA version of the New York Dolls, though the premeditation doesn’t harm the slightly bluesy rocker King Of The Night Time World. The set finishes with Alex Harvey’s semi-autobiographical The Last Of The Teenage Idols and Mott’s eternal Saturday Gigs – it’s hard not to think The Clash may have got their start as a combo of these two, they are such brilliant snapshots of the early 1970s you can almost touch it.
I’m not going to be making any apologies for raving about this set – it is brilliantly put together and sequences top-notch better known material with rarities in a way that had me jumping out of my seat with joy. As usual with these kind of sets we get nuggets of information and pictures of the artists in the accompanying booklet and the clamshell box it comes in for me gives it that touch of quality the slipcase simply doesn’t. Oh! You Pretty Things is as good a survey of the glam times as we are likely to see and massively enjoyable to listen to.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here