The (Finally) PopNarcotic Top 20 Of 2009 List!

February 2, 2010 at 4:02 pm (Uncategorized)

Hey hey hey! Long time, no see. How are you? How about the kids? Great!

Me? Oh, I’ve been busy. Work. You know.

But now that I finally feel like I’m not going to commit any sins too egregious with this list, so I suppose we’re ready to roll.

One thing: sometimes the songs that I personally think are representative of why an album is great aren’t necessarily the songs the artist or label is “pushing”. That’s their hangup, not mine. As always, I’m going to include song links to the songs that I feel merited a record’s inclusion in this year’s list, and if you click a song and hear something you like, by all means support the artists and buy something.

Let’s roll!

20. The Pretty Things With Phillippe DeBarge, S/T

So yeah, let’s take care of the obvious thing first: this album was recorded back in 1969–forty years ago if you’re keeping score. The Pretty Things excellent adventure with a French playboy millionaire named Phillippe DeBarge is the sort of thing that deserves a bit of explanation.

In 1967 The Pretties had recorded a string of amazing slabs of incredibly influential psychedelic rock leading up to the first album-length “rock opera”, a convoluted but utterly wonderful bit of lysergic awesomeness called “S. F. Sorrow”. That album sounded about 3 years ahead of its time and the band–never particularly adept at promotion–saw it sell decently but not hugely in Britain, whilst it made zero impression in the States (where the Pretties never found anything more than a cult audience). The band had spent all available monies on the 4-track recording studio where they’d cut “Sorrow”, and founding member Dick Taylor decided to leave the group and by 1969 things weren’t looking so hot for the Pretty Things.

Enter a French millionaire playboy named Phillippe DeBarge. Philippe was in his early 30’s and was a huge Pretty Things fan. DeBarge also passionately wanted to be a rock star. He contacted the Pretty Things songwriting team of Phil May and Wally Waller and made them an offer: lots of money if the Pretties would write and play on an album with Philippe singing. They’d record it at London’s Nova Studios, then second only to Abbey Road as the most technologically advanced recording house in the UK. May and Waller had ideas for a new album but no financial means to record it. Doing this vanity project with DeBarge would then allow the Pretty Things the freedom to record their own record once they made the millionaire happy, so they finally agreed. The group recorded with May (normally the Pretties lead singer) producing and recording “scratch” vocals into headphones for DeBarge to sing along into the recording mics with. Once finished, Philippe paid the band, pressed a few dozen copies of the record he’d made, and gave them to baffled and scandalized friends and family and moved on. For their parts, the Pretties recorded the albums “Get The Picture” and “Parachute”, using a lot of the money DeBarge had fronted them to record with. Those latter two Pretties albums get generally good marks from fans of the band, but…they aren’t “S. F. Sorrow”. The band had moved on creatively from the gloriously ridiculous psychedelia of that record, and never recorded anything as charming in their career.

And here’s the thing about the stuff The Pretty Things recorded around the time of “S. F. Sorrow”: you listen to it nowadays and think “boy I wish there was more of this out there.” Sadly, that’s it, all there is. Well, except for a scratchy, wobbly acetate bootleg of that vanity project album the band did with Philippe DeBarge. Copies started surfacing in the ’70’s and ’80’s and fans of the Pretty Things psychedelic era swooned. Here, at last, was the “more of this out there”. Unfortunately, the recording quality on the boot was terrible.

So this past year, with all hurdles gone or departed (Philippe DeBarge passed away in the 1990’s, sadly) a fully-restored from the original tapes version of the album was created using all the modern tech various studio wizards could throw at the record. What we end up with as a result is pretty revelatory. First off–a vanity indulgence like this by all rights should be just terrible…but it isn’t. May and Waller wrote some of the strongest material of their careers for Monsieur DeBarge. Also revelatory: DeBarge actually has a pretty solid voice. Given the instruction and sing-along tapes from Phil May, it’s little surprise he sounds a lot like the Pretty Things vocalist but that’s ok. If songs like “Hello How Do You Do” (which seriously sounds like something Jim Noir recorded last year) and “Alexander” are instant grabbers, songs like “You’re Running You And Me”, “New Day”, and “Eagle’s Son” can easily stand alongside Pretty Things standards like “Defecting Grey” or “Walking Through My Dreams At Night” as slabs of psychedelic brilliance (kids, wanna know where the Olivia Tremor Control or Flying Saucer Attack nicked their sound from? Here you go.) Penalized about 15 spots for being 40 years late on release, but definitely a first-time 2009 turn for this remarkable album.

“You’re Running You And Me”

“Eagle’s Son”
“New Day”

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