Phil May, Pretty Things Frontman, Dead at 75

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The Pretty Things in 1964 (l. to r.): Viv Prince, Phil May, John Stax, Brian Pendleton and Dick Taylor

Phil May, the former frontman of Britain’s Pretty Things, died May 15, 2020, from complications of hip surgery following a cycling accident, according to several reports from the U.K. May, who co-founded the band in 1963, was 75. He died in a hospital in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England.

The Pretty Things, who took their name from a song by American bluesman Willie Dixon, were, in their earliest stage, contemporaries of the Rolling Stones; in fact, Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor had been in the Stones’ original lineup before being replaced by Bill Wyman. Taylor and May were the only original members still involved with the Pretty Things when the band ceased performing in 2018.

Listen to “Rosalyn” by the Pretty Things, from 1964

David Bowie recorded two Pretty Things songs on his Pin Ups album, “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Other fans were said to have included Bob Dylan and the Ramones, among others.

Phil May

Philip Arthur Dennis Wadey was born November 9, 1944, in Dartford, Kent, England. He and Taylor, along with John Stax (bass), Brian Pendleton (rhythm guitar) and Pete Kitley (drums), formed the Pretty Things as an R&B group, covering songs from American artists such as Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed. (Kitley was soon replaced by Viv Andrews, also known as Viv Broughton.)

The band’s first three singles—“Rosalyn,” “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Honey I Need”—were hits in the U.K. but the band was unable to score a hit during the British Invasion in the U.S.

The Pretty Things underwent numerous lineup changes through the years, but even their 1968 psychedelic concept album S.F. Sorrow, predating (but often compared with) the Kinks’ Arthur and the Who’s Tommy, could not gain a foothold either in their homeland or in the States, where it was released on the Motown subsidiary Rare Earth Records. May was the primary lyricist for S.F. Sorrow and for much of the Pretty Things’ original music.

Related: What were some of the highlights of rock music in 1968?

The followup, Parachute, recorded without Taylor in late 1969-early 1970 and released that summer, was the Pretty Things’ only album to make the U.K. charts, reaching #43. After a brief split, they reformed in 1971 around May. Two albums in the mid-’70s, Silk Torpedo and Savage Eye, became the only Pretty Things LPs to chart in America, peaking at #104 and #163, respectively.

In 1978, Taylor rejoined and he and May co-helmed the band until its split. Except for the one short break, May served as the singer and most consistent representative of the Pretty Things for nearly 55 years.

He also occasionally ventured outside of the group, co-founding the Fallen Angels in 1976 with members of Fleetwood Mac and Humble Pie.

In 2014, May was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. He was able to resume performing but the band announced its retirement from live performance in 2018.

Listen to a mono recording of “S.F. Sorrow is Born” aired by the BBC in 1968

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. JMM
    #1 JMM 22 May, 2020, 16:40

    Pretty Things releases SILK TORPEDO and SAVAGE EYES were released on Zep’s SWAN SONG label via Atlantic in 1974 and 1976 respectively.

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