S. F. Sorrow

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S. F. Sorrow
Studio album by
Released20 December 1968 (1968-12-20)[1]
StudioEMI, London
ProducerNorman Smith
Pretty Things chronology
S. F. Sorrow

S. F. Sorrow is the fourth album by the English rock band Pretty Things. Released in 1968, it is known as one of the first rock operas ever released.


S. F. Sorrow is a psychedelic rock opera that explores the life of a single character[5] "from rural birth to Prodigal's Oliver Twist freakout".[6] PopMatters says that the album "mixes the story of the protagonist Sebastian and his journey towards learning to trust people and ultimate disillusionment with a psychedelic pop score that fittingly captured the mood of 1960s Swinging London".[7] Phil May said regarding Pretty Things' decision to record a rock opera, "We were looking for another way of making a 40-minute disk. I could never understand why an album had to be five A-sides and five B-sides with no connection. Pieces of music had been written for at least a 40-minute listen, and I thought the best way to do that was to overlay a story line and create music for the various characters and instances. It was the oldest concept in the world, but at the time nobody had done it before."[8]


In the United States, the album was released by Rare Earth Records, a Motown subsidiary which focused on white rock artists, in contrast to the generally African American soul music artists of the main label.[9] Motown acquired the rights to release S. F. Sorrow through a licensing deal with EMI.[10] Rare Earth Records was launched with a five album promotional box set that included S. F. Sorrow alongside releases by Love Sculpture, Rustix, the Messengers and Rare Earth, the band the subsidiary was named after.[9]

Pretty Things were unable to reproduce the rock opera on stage at the time of release.[11] What's more, the release was delayed until December 1968, by which time it was less revolutionary than it would have been had it been released earlier;[11] however, the Pretty Things' album is generally considered to be the first rock opera.[8] Members of the Who have claimed that S. F. Sorrow did not have an influence on Pete Townshend or his writing of Tommy. Pretty Things[8] and several critics disagreed with the Who.[12] In 1969, the band opted to mime recordings from the album for a television performance because they, along with the mixing engineer, had taken LSD before they were to go on the air, in addition to the compositions being difficult to replicate live.[13]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Rolling Stone(unfavourable)[14]

In Rolling Stone, Lester Bangs termed it "an ultra-pretentious concept album, complete with strained 'story' [...] like some grossly puerile cross between the Bee Gees, Tommy, and the Moody Blues" and suggested that the band "should be shot for what they've done to English rock lyrics."[6]

Later reviews have been far more positive, with many considering the album a UK psychedelic classic. AllMusic said that the album "straddles the worlds of British blues and British psychedelia better than almost any record you can name".[15] The New York Times wrote, "Loaded with rich harmonies, sharp dissonances, odd electronic effects, early Pink Floyd-style psychedelia, proto heavy metal and songs that drastically change styles from one moment to the next, the album was full of pop experiments and abstractions that have become a calling card for current underground alternative bands."[8]

Mojo wrote in a review of the band's studio albums box set, "The Pretty Things stretched to their furthest extent for S.F. Sorrow. Slathered in backward guitar, sitar and mellotron, May’s gloomy extended piece about a disillusioned Great War soldier has a heft that fey Brit-psych contemporaries could not match. May’s molten-Wilfred Owen lyrics on Private Sorrow, the Greek chorus wails and Taylor’s sheet metal guitars on Old Man Going and Balloon Burning signposted a bad trip tour de force."[11]


Professional ratings
Review scores
The Guardian[13]
New Musical Express0/10[16]

In 1998, Pretty Things, along with Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and singer Arthur Brown, performed the album in its entirety at Abbey Road Studios for an Internet simulcast,[8] which was recorded and released as the album Resurrection the following year.[17] The 2009 incarnation of the Pretty Things featuring May, Taylor, Frank Holland, George Perez, Jack Greenwood and Mark St. John would perform the album onstage on April 10, at the 5th annual le Beat Bespoke Weekender sponsored by Mojo magazine.[18] In 2023, all 13 of the band's studio albums were released in the box set The Complete Studio Albums 1965-2020.[5][11]

AllMusic wrote in its review of the album, "Although it may have helped inspire Tommy, it is, simply, not nearly as good. That said, it was first and has quite a few nifty ideas and production touches. And it does show a pathway between blues and psychedelia that the Rolling Stones, somewhere between Satanic Majesties, "We Love You," "Child of the Moon," and Beggars Banquet, missed entirely."[15] The Guardian called it "one of the few consistently brilliant British psych albums [...] the taut drums and endless two-note guitar riff of Balloon Burning sounds remarkably like motorik krautrock a decade early [...] the SF Sorrow-era Pretty Things seem not disaster-prone but perfectly poised, not behind the times but ahead of them."[13]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
1."S. F. Sorrow Is Born"Phil May, Dick Taylor, Wally Waller3:12
2."Bracelets of Fingers"May, Taylor, Waller3:41
3."She Says Good Morning"May, Taylor, Waller, Twink3:23
4."Private Sorrow"May, Taylor, Waller, Jon Povey3:51
5."Balloon Burning"May, Taylor, Waller, Povey3:51
6."Death"May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink3:05
Total length:21:03
Side two
7."Baron Saturday"May, Taylor, Waller4:01
8."The Journey"May, Taylor, Waller, Twink2:46
9."I See You"May, Taylor, Waller3:56
10."Well of Destiny"May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink, Norman Smith1:46
11."Trust"May, Taylor, Waller2:49
12."Old Man Going"May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink3:09
13."Loneliest Person"May, Taylor, Waller, Twink1:29
Total length:19:56


Pretty Things[edit]

  • Phil May – vocals
  • Dick Taylor – lead guitar, vocals
  • Wally Waller – bass, guitar, vocals, wind instruments, piano
  • Jon Povey – organ, sitar, Mellotron, percussion, vocals
  • Skip Alan – drums (on some tracks, quit during recording)
  • Twink – drums (on some tracks, replaced Alan), vocals


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Segretto, Mike (2022). 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute: A Critical Trip Through the Rock LP Era, 1955–1999. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 590. ISBN 978-1-4930-6460-1.
  2. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Great Moments in Folk Rock: Lists of Author Favorites". www.richieunterberger.com. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  3. ^ Christman, Ed (13 March 1999). "Pretty Things Rage On In New Set". Billboard. Vol. 111, no. 11. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. p. 15. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  4. ^ Young, Rob (2011). Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 454. ISBN 978-1-4299-6589-7.
  5. ^ a b Watts, Peter (5 May 2023). "The Pretty Things – Complete Studio Albums 1965-2020". Uncut. Retrieved 11 June 2023.
  6. ^ a b Bangs, Lester (7 February 1970). "S.F. Sorrow". Rolling Stone. No. 51.
  7. ^ a b Zupko, Sarah. "The Pretty Things, S.F. Sorrow". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e Strauss, Neil (3 September 1998). "THE POP LIFE; The First Rock Opera (No, Not 'Tommy')". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 10 April 2020. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  9. ^ a b Thompson, Dave (2002). The Music Lover's Guide to Record Collecting. Backbeat Books. p. 408. ISBN 9781617132025.
  10. ^ Betts, Graham (2014). Motown Encyclopedia. AC Publishing. p. 471. ISBN 9781311441546.
  11. ^ a b c d Wirth, Jim (30 March 2023). "The Pretty Things Reviewed!". Mojo. Retrieved 11 June 2023.
  12. ^ Logan, Nick; Woffinden, Bob (1988). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. New York City: Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0517534113.
  13. ^ a b c Petridis, Alexis (6 May 2010). "The Pretty Things: SF Sorrow | CD review". The Guardian.
  14. ^ Bangs, Lester (7 February 1970). "Records". Rolling Stone. No. 51. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. p. 40. Archived from the original on 26 February 2022. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
  15. ^ a b c Eder, Bruce. "S.F. Sorrow – The Pretty Things". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
  16. ^ Quantick, David (7 November 1987). "Count Five: Psychotic Reaction / Pretty Things: SF Sorrow". New Musical Express. p. 32.
  17. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Resurrection Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 June 2023.
  18. ^ Le Beat Bespoke Weekender Is Here! 3:49 PM GMT 09/04/2009. "Le Beat Bespoke Weekender Is Here! – News – Mojo". Mojo4music.com. Archived from the original on 13 April 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Scott, Ken (2012). Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off the Record with the Beatles, Bowie, Elton & So Much More. Alfred Music Pub. ISBN 978-0-7390-9266-8.