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S.F. Sorrow is the title of a 1968 LP by the British rock group The Pretty Things.
One of the first rock concept albums, S.F. Sorrow was based on a short story by singer-guitarist Phil May. The album is structured as a song cycle, telling the story of the main character, Sebastian F. Sorrow, from birth through love, war, tragedy, madness, and the disillusionment of old age.
The album is now generally acknowledged as having been an influence on The Who's Pete Townshend in his writing of Tommy (1969).
The songs were recorded over several months during 1967 at EMI's famous Abbey Road Studios in London, during the same period when The Beatles and Pink Floyd were recording Sgt Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn respectively.
Working with noted EMI staff producer Norman "Hurricane" Smith (who had engineered the earlier Beatles recordings) and house engineer Peter Mew, the group experimented with the latest sound technology, including the Mellotron and early electronic tone generators, often employing gadgets and techniques devised on the spot by Abbey Road's technicians.
Phil May has emphatically stated that Smith was the only person at EMI who was fully supportive of the project, and that his technical expertise was invaluable to the effects and sounds on the album; May once even referred to Smith as a "sixth member" of the band. This attitude was in marked contrast to Pink Floyd's unhappiness with Smith.
S.F. Sorrow's narrative is different than others in the Rock Opera/Concept Album genre: while Tommy and Pink Floyd's The Wall relay their concept through the lyrics of their songs, The Pretty Things tell the bulk of the story through small paragraph-like chapters which were printed between each song's lyrics in the liner notes of the LP and the CD. These explanatory notes were also read aloud between song performances by Arthur Brown during The Pretty Things' only live performance of the opera.
Like The Wall and Tommy, S.F. Sorrow opens with the birth of the story's protagonist. Sebastian F. Sorrow is born in a small nameless town to ordinary parents in a house called "Number Three." The town is supported by a factory of some sort, referred to as the "Misery Factory." ("S.F. Sorrow is Born") Sorrow, an imaginative boy, has a relatively normal childhood until it ends abruptly when he needs to get a job. He goes to work with his father at the Misery Factory, from which many men have been laid off. This might make S.F. the object of hate in a sense that he might be a scab in the story, or perhaps the young boy who is taking some older man's job. ("Bracelets of Fingers")
Sorrow's life is not yet over, though. Joy still exists for him in the form of a pretty girl across the street. She says "good morning" to him every day, and he thinks about her constantly. This is the factor that keeps him going despite his childhood's abrupt ending. The two fall in love and become engaged, but their marriage plans are cut short when Sorrow is drafted. ("She Says Good Morning")
Sorrow joins a light infantry and goes off to fight in a war, possibly World War I. Sorrow sinks into a daze, living out the entire war in a funk. Soon the sounds of gunfire and artillery become the rhythm to his life in a daydream. He survives the war and settles down in a land called "Amerik" (obviously referring to the country America, because the first words of the song Balloon Burning are "New York"). Sorrow's fiancee travels by a balloon, The "Windenberg" (Hindenberg) to join him, but it bursts into flame at arrival ("Balloon Burning"), killing all aboard. Sorrow is left alone, his beloved fiancee dead ("Death").
Sorrow drifts into a state of depression that leads him on an epic journey to the center of his subconscious. When wandering the streets, he encounters the mysterious Baron Saturday (a figure from Haitian mythology). The black cloaked–Saturday invites Sorrow to take a journey, and then, without waiting for a response, "borrows his eyes" and initiates a trip through the Underworld. ("Baron Saturday")
The trippish quest begins by taking flight into the air, where Sorrow is driven by a whip-cracking Baron Saturday. Sorrow thinks he is flying toward the moon, which would have been lovely as he always had a fascination with it, but instead he sees that it is instead his own face. The Baron pushes him through the mouth of the face and then down the throat where they find a set of oak doors. Saturday throws them open and prompts S.F. Sorrow inside where he finds a room full of mirrors.("The Journey") Each one of them shows a memory from his childhood, which Baron Saturday suggests that he studies well. After the hall of mirrors comes a long winding staircase which brings him to two opaque mirrors that show him the horrible truths and revelations from his life. ("I See You")
Sorrow is destroyed by his journey; it leads him to understand that no one can be trusted any longer, and that society will only do away with you when you become old and serve it no longer. ("Trust") He is driven into a dark mental seclusion where he suffers from eternal loneliness. Much like The Wall, S.F. Sorrow is the tale of a man who has endured hardships which he uses to build into a mental wall that cuts him off from the rest of the waking world, and leaves them without light. ("Old Man Going") At the end of the album he identifies himself as "the loneliest person in the world." ("Loneliest Person")
Pretty Things caused a sensation in England, and their first three singles — "Rosalyn" #41, "Don't Bring Me Down" #10, and the self-penned "Honey I Need" at #13 — appeared in the UK singles chart in 1964-1965. They never had a hit in the United States, but had considerable success in their native United Kingdom and in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the Netherlands in the middle of the decade. However, in the U.S. they, along with The Yardbirds and Van Morrison's Them, were a huge influence on hundreds of garage bands, including the MC5 and The Seeds.
Their early material consisted of hard-edged blues-rock influenced by Bo Diddley (they took their name from Diddley's 1955 song "Pretty Thing") and Jimmy Reed. They were known for wild stage behaviour and edgy lyrical content; their song "Midnight to Six Man" defined the mod lifestyle. Around this time, the first of what would be many personnel changes over the years also began, with Prince the first to go late in 1965. He was replaced by Skip Alan. Brian Pendleton left late in 1966, and was not initially replaced. Stax quit early in 1967. Jon Povey and Wally Waller joined to make the band a five piece once again.
After a flirtation with mainstream pop on the Emotions album in 1967, they embraced psychedelia, producing the concept album S.F. Sorrow during 1967-68. This album, released in late 1968, is arguably one of the first rock operas, preceding The Who's Tommy by about a year. It was recorded in the legendary Abbey Road Studios six months after The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Each album shares a similar late-1960s psychedelic sound (as well as sharing the same record producer, Norman Smith).
S.F. Sorrow was commercially unsuccessful, with no immediate release in the US. Their album was subsequently picked up by Motown Records and issued with a different cover on their Rare Earth label.
S.F. Sorrow was followed by the highly-acclaimed record album Parachute, which kept the psychedelic sound and was named "Album of the Year" in 1970 by Rolling Stone. During this period they also recorded an album for a young French millionaire Philippe DeBarge, which was intended only to be circulated among his social circle. The acetate has since been bootlegged. [Taken from Wikipedia site]
Who could ever have thought, going back to the Pretty Things' first recording session in 1965 — which started out so disastrously that their original producer quit in frustration — that it would come to this? The Pretty Things' early history in the studio featured the band with its amps seemingly turned up to 11, but for much of S.F. Sorrow the band is turned down to seven or four, or even two, or not amplified at all (except for Wally Allen's bass — natch), and they're doing all kinds of folkish things here that are still bluesy enough so you never forget who they are, amid weird little digressions on percussion and chorus; harmony vocals that are spooky, trippy, strange, and delightful; sitars included in the array of stringed instruments; and an organ trying hard to sound like a Mellotron. Sometimes one gets an echo of Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn or A Saucerful of Secrets, and it all straddles the worlds of British blues and British psychedelia better than almost any record you can name. The album, for those unfamiliar, tells the story of "S.F. Sorrow," a sort of British Everyman — think of a working-class, luckless equivalent to the Kinks' Arthur, from cradle to grave. The tale and the songs are a bit downbeat and no amount of scrutiny can disguise the fact that the rock opera S.F. Sorrow is ultimately a bit of a confusing effort — these boys were musicians, not authors or dramatists. 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. [This CD reissue on Snapper adds four valuable songs from their 1967-1968 singles ("Defecting Grey," "Mr. Evasion," "Talkin' About the Good Times," and "Walking Through My Dreams"). This version of "Defecting Grey" is the original, long, uncut five-minute rendition, and not of trivial importance; it's superior to the shorter one used on the official single.] [Taken from AMG site]
01. S.F. Sorrow Is Born
02. Bracelets Of Fingers
03. She Says Good Morning
04. Private Sorrow
05. Ballon Burning
07. Baron Saturday
09. I See You
10. Well Of Destiny
12. Old Man Going
13. Loneliest Person
14. Defecting Grey [Acetate Recording]
15. Defecting Grey [Bonus]
16. Mr.Evasion [Bonus]
17. Talkin' About The Good Times [Bonus]
18. Walking Through My Dreams [Bonus]
19. She Says Good Morning [Live 1969]
20. Alexander [Live 1969]