In the concrete valleys the electric storm.
We members of the midnight circus,
Our bodies so brightly adorn
In your long sedans and your Oldsmobiles,
Through that slit in your face, you ask me,
How it feels.
Can you hear me, can you hear me,
I’m a-telling you again.
Daughters of Satan all stand in line,
With their faces greased and a mouth full of shine.
With iron hand you bruise the flesh,
Then through a closing door you ask,
Pray why the distress.
Hear me, can you hear me, can you.
lyrics from ‘Cries From The Midnight Circus’, track 8
The Pretty Things were a prolific former blues, psychedelic band who influenced some of the most celebrated names in rock music, such as Led Zeppelin, the Stooges, and Pink Floyd. Joey Ramone claims that they “invented garage bands” and Bowie covered their music in his seventh studio album Pinups. Their 1968 album S.F. Sorrow was the first rock opera, while the band’s wild behaviour led to press coverage as long haired, LSD doting, pre-punk punks. The founding members of the Pretty Things who went on to perform and release music in the early 60s were Phil May (lead singer), John Stax (bass), Brian Pendleton (rhythm guitar), Dick Taylor (lead guitar), and Viv Prince (drums). By the time their fifth studio album Parachute was recorded in Abbey Road Studios, keyboardist John Povey joined, Stax was replaced by songwriter Wally Waller, Taylor by Vic Unitt, and Prince by Skip Alan. Guitarist Pete Tolson joined later on the album’s bonus tracks. The band’s music has had a seismic influence on generations of musicians right up to the present day. At a gig in The Bowery in 2019, I witnessed a young Dublin band called Classic Yellow perform a cover of a popular Pretty Things banger, ‘Baron Saturday’*. They did it justice. This year, the songwriting force of nature Phil May passed away at 75, in the same year that Parachute turns 50. No better reason to celebrate with extra gusto the music of a band that has not stopped giving it to the rock music scene and its fans since 1963.
* A previous version of this article mistakenly made reference to a different banger, Song of a Baker by The Small Faces.
The lyrics of Parachute collectively deal with the expansion of city living, changing attitudes, loneliness, sex, generational divide, and the decline of the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s. They’re tied up in heady and skillful guitar melodies and shifts between roaring throaty vocals and subdued piano chords. Originally a 13 track album in 1970 with eight on side A and five on side B, it was reissued in 2000 by Snapper Classics with six bonus songs. It’s altogether a somber mood when you focus on the lyrics – brilliant narratives as they are – but the vocal harmonies breath new life into them, urging you to repeat the listening experience over and over again. There’s a seedy, bluesy prog vibe throughout, sitting alongside, and taken over occasionally by Beatles-sounding vocal arrangements veering into upbeat rock n roll. Personally, it overtakes the greatest works from Rolling Stones, The Who and The Beatles, who you tend to hear about tenfold more than the Pretty Things, despite their band members openly admitting being influenced by each other. My introduction to Parachute was ‘Cries from the Midnight Circus’, one of the more popular songs from the album. Now, I’m addicted to ‘The Good Mr Square’, ‘She Was Tall, She Was High’, ‘The Letter’, ‘Rain’, ‘Blue Serge Blues’, ‘Grass’, ‘Circus Mind’, and ‘October 26’. If you need any more convincing, this review from a fan on allmusic.com should leave you in no doubt as to the untouchable status of Parachute.
Featured photograph taken from the Parachute LP booklet, by Hypgnosis