Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Pretenders "Pretenders" 1980- (500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone)


The Pretenders  "Pretenders" 1980- 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (Rolling Stone)
full spotify with bonus…
https://open.spotify.com/album/6AFFu3ilmlEDz1I9ZaNOZw


The Pretenders’ 1980 debut is a remarkable balancing act of punk-inspired rock ’n’ roll and raw emotional power and sincerity. On jacked-up pop songs like “Precious” and “Tattooed Love Boys,” frontwoman/songwriter Chrissie Hynde howls sassy imperatives about love, innocence, and sex like no one before her. Then her gutsy songcraft shows an empathetic and tender side, as songs like “Kid” and “Brass in Pocket” soothe with lyrical sweetness and guitar-pop luster. And the band’s take on the classic Kinks weeper “Stop Your Sobbing” could stop your heart….~

The Pretenders’ debut album was a great and influential CD when it came out in 1980. NOTHING else sounded like it as it essentially started the signature 80’s sound that people think of today. Every song here is great, although they’ll probably have to grow on you - the most accessible song here is their hit “Brass In Pocket” which is a classic. Singer Chrissie Hynde has a slightly annoying voice at first, but it’s one that grows on you - give it some time and you’ll start to like it. It’s similar to the modern punk vocal style. She definitely has a great personality, though, which the lyrics only help to emphasize. Speaking of the lyrics, they’re all very well-written as they aren’t simply a means to make the songs catchier - they’re definitely gifted songwriters. As for how it sounds, it sounds like most 90’s and even some 00s pop rock bands today with a lot of punk and some new wave mixed in - you can tell that a LOT of people were influenced by “Pretenders”. It’s very energetic and it’s mostly a straight-up rock & roll album, but there’s so many little additions to the formula that it rewards repeated listens. It’s very creative and inspired as it doesn’t feel like it was produced - it feels organic which is always a good thing. The production here is great, although it could probably use a remastering. All in all I think a lot of people will love this album if they approach it with an open mind. Absolutely recommended!…by.c.cross…~


Few rock & roll records rock as hard or with as much originality as the Pretenders’ eponymous debut album. A sleek, stylish fusion of Stonesy rock & roll, new wave pop, and pure punk aggression, Pretenders is teeming with sharp hooks and a viciously cool attitude. Although Chrissie Hynde establishes herself as a forceful and distinctively feminine songwriter, the record isn’t a singer/songwriter’s tour de force – it’s a rock & roll album, powered by a unique and aggressive band. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott never plays conventional riffs or leads, and his phased, treated guitar gives new dimension to the pounding rhythms of “Precious,” “Tattooed Love Boys,” “Up the Neck,” and “The Wait,” as well as the more measured pop of “Kid,” “Brass in Pocket,” and “Mystery Achievement.” He provides the perfect backing for Hynde and her tough, sexy swagger. Hynde doesn’t fit into any conventional female rock stereotype, and neither do her songs, alternately displaying a steely exterior or a disarming emotional vulnerability. It’s a deep, rewarding record, whose primary virtue is its sheer energy. Pretenders moves faster and harder than most rock records, delivering an endless series of melodies, hooks, and infectious rhythms in its 12 songs. Few albums, let alone debuts, are ever this astonishingly addictive…..by Stephen Thomas Erlewine….allmusic….~


After years of knocking around Ohio and England, writing record reviews and hanging with the Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde put together a band as tough as her attitude. The Pretenders’ perfect debut is filled with no-nonsense New Wave rock like “Mystery Achievement” – plus a cover of “Stop Your Sobbing,” by the Kinks’ Ray Davies (three years later, the father of Hynde’s child). The biggest hit was “Brass in Pocket,” a song of ambition and seduction. Hynde, however, wasn’t so sure about the song’s success. “I was embarrassed by it,” she said. “I hated it so much that if I was in Woolworth’s and they started playing it, I’d have to run out of the store.”…Rolling Stone….~

This nearly perfect debut album showcases both the extraordinary songs of Ohio-born singer Chrissie Hynde and the rhythmically complex performances of her U.K.-bred band, Pretenders. The band tramples through the sexual aggression of “Precious,” “Up the Neck” and “Tattooed Love Boys”; the classic pop of “Kid” and “Brass in Pocket”; and a brilliant cover of the Kinks’s “Stop Your Sobbing.” Hynde’s sneering vocals add resonance to these tales of sexual revenge, abuse, and longing appropriately fleshed out with blood, guts, and guitar. –Rob O'Connor…~



“The Pretenders” was a watershed moment in rock music during the 1980’s combining the spiritial energy of punk with the melodic, riff driven music that came before. What made the album work so well then continues to resonate now. The Pretenders unique sound was evident from the first note of their self titled album and Hynde’s voice, songwriting and attitude contribute a lot to that but it wasn’t the exclusive reason they sounded so fresh–James Honeyman-Scott’s unique guitar playing and arranging skills along with Pete Farndon’s bass playing the the propulsive drums of Martin Chambers all added to the chemistry of what made The Pretenders unique. 
“The Pretenders” has been remastered at least three times so I am going to compare the three versions that I’ve heard on CD to the Mobile Fidelity SACD hybrid. 
The original mastering sounded pretty good on CD particularly at the time but it wasn’t from the original mastertapes. Instead the first generation EQ’d LP master. That doesn’t mean it sounds bad but that it does sound like the LP if that’s what you’re looking for. The original CD version is quite dynamic sounding. 
The second mastering was the deluxe edition done by Bill Inglot and Dan Hersch. That edition wasn’t quite as dynamic but evidently Inglot and Hersh used the original masters for the album (something that Inglot is known for being very picky about). Some folks found this edition a bit bright as well but it’s a solid version because of the source used and the fact that there were a number of bonus tracks added to the first disc AND a second disc with a live performance by the original band. 
The third mastering (I’m aware of)is the one done by Audio Fidelity. The original tapes were used for this edition as well and there was improvement in detail but sacrificed to by compression that was applied after it was already mastered. How do we know that the original masters were used? The original masters didn’t have some overdubs applied (like the effects on “The Phone Call”) and they were missing here. 
This version takes care of the issues that have existed with just about all previous versions of the album. Some folks don’t like the “new” Mobile Fidelity’s approach to remasters so let me disclose my bias–I DO. Not all of their remasters are perfect but this is an example of one that just sounds terrific but with a precaution–you will appreciate this best if you have a player with SACD capability. The CD layer of this disc sounds terrific as well and, depending on your system, you will hear a better soundstage, improved depth, bass (but not a bloated bass sound as on many remasters)and noticeable improvement in the separation of the instruments. The SACD layer is NOT a 5.1 remix but the original stereo mix just with greater resolution. 
Keep in mind that you’ll need to have a nice system capable of appreciating this but I noticed an improvement just listening to this in the car. I would also suggest that you keep in mind that this album was recorded 35 years ago so this won’t sound like an album recorded yesterday (maybe that’s a good thing given how mastering has often times been pretty pathetic over the last couple of decades at times). 
If you have the original CD pressing or Audio Fidelity, you can sell them or trade them in. I would keep the Inglot/Hersh remaster because of the extra tracks and extra disc–those are essential tracks. Be aware, however, that the version here of “Kid” has the highs rolled off perhaps because of the different studios used to record various tracks (and perhaps due to higher tape hiss because the first generation master tape wasn’t ableto be located or even different tape stock used or, perhaps, due some tape damage/aging issues). That’s the only track where this is the case which is a surprise as even “The Phone a call” which used a higher gen source tape because of the sound effects, doesn’t have the highs rolled off this way. Curious and we don’t have an answer (could it also be due to tape damage? Possibly but be awre this is the only track so effected). 
If you hate the Mofi reissues (there are those folks that don’t appreciate them and that’s fine), I don’t think this edition is going to change your mind on their mastering approach but if you do appreciate this album AND appreciate their approach, you’ll enjoy this album…by  Wayve Klein…~



Pretenders, is the self-titled debut studio album by the British-American band of the same name. Released just weeks into the new decade of the eighties, this was one of the more widely anticipated debuts as the group had already achieved commercial success with three charting hits in 1979. Those three singles (along with two of the ‘B sides’) were combined with new studio material to make this fine rock album, which debuted at #1 in the UK and went platinum in the U.S. The album also received high praise critically, which it has sustained as it is included on many lists of top debuts of all time. 
The Pretenders are led by composer, guitarist and vocalist Chrissie Hynde. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved to London in 1973 and wrote for the weekly music paper NME. She formed and played in many groups through the mid seventies and was involved with the inception of the punk scene, including short stints with early versions of The Clash and The Damned. After recording a demo of original songs, Hynde was convinced to assemble a more permanent band to reach the next level. Bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott joined Hynde in this yet-to-be named band in early 1978. 
Later that year, the group chose their name after the Platters song, “The Great Pretender”, and recorded a cover of the Kinks’ ,”Stop Your Sobbing”, with producer Nick Lowe and drummer Gerry Mackelduff. Released in January 1979, the single gained the new group some attention and radio play as well as the backing to record more songs and eventually this debut album. Martin Chambers signed on as the group’s permanent drummer and the quartet recorded scores of tracks through 1979 with producer Chris Thomas, many of which were not released until a re-mastered edition of Pretenders was released in 2006.Hynde wrote the bulk of the material on Pretenders and found a nice blend of rock, punk and pop, with the slightest hint of new wave edge. “Precious” starts as a rapid, two chord jam until the song gets a little more intense and sonically interesting with phasing and reverse-reverb effects, and overtly vulgar lyrics. The song was a cynical ode to Hynde’s home city of Akron, a theme she would revisit in a more sentimental way in later years on “My City Was Gone” from Learning to Crawl. “The Phone Call” is a rudiment driven, new wave rocker where the vocals are mostly spoken word with some interesting deviations during the short, rapid, off-beat choruses, while “Up the Neck” is much more contemporary and melodic than the first two tracks as a steady, jangly, and pleasant pop/rocker throughout. 

The PretendersReturns to the feel of the opening track, “Tattooed Love Boys” shoots a strong sexual vibe by Hynde and is close to punk in underlying feel, albeit much more refined up top. This track also employs a very odd time signature and the first of several brilliant guitar leads by Honeyman-Scott. Next comes the album’s only instrumental, “Space Invader”, driven by Farden’s bass line in the opening jam and a slight synth section by Honeyman-Scott. “The Wait” has more interesting riffs and rudiments in the verse where Hynde’s lead vocals seem to be in a race between the crunch riffing, while the chorus has a more standard rock release with great bass by Farndon, who co-wrote this song. 
While this album is fine throughout, the second side is especially strong. “Kid” is a melodic and upbeat ballad with some cool instrumental passages, including a nice acoustic section and very animated, rolling drums by Chambers. Here, Hynde abandons the punk bravado and branches out with a love song about vulnerability and Honeyman-Scott contributes layers of fine lectric guitars. “Private Life” follows as a quasi reggae tune, but with the guitar riff and vocals giving it a dark feel. Although the group rarely leaves the same basic riff through its six and a half minute duration, the song does contain some soul-fueled background vocal variations and another respectable rock guitar lead.“Brass in Pocket” is the most popular early track by The Pretenders, driven by the slightly funky riff by Honeyman-Scott, Hynde’s great sense of melody, and Farndon’s rounded eighties bass to introduce the new decade. Lyrically, the song is one of self-assurance among women with a laid-back swagger and confidence. The song was a pop hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 20 in the US. “Lovers of Today” starts as pure ballad but takes some interesting turns into classic rock areas with coolly strummed acoustic with strong electric riffs above while maintaining the overall melancholy mood of the track. The album ends strong with “Mystery Achievement”, a powerful and intense rocker with more melodic vocals by Hynde. 

Pretenders was a commercial success worldwide, reaching the Top 10 on a half dozen album charts in 1980. The next year the group followed up with an EP and a second full-length album, Pretenders II….. Classic Rock Review….~
The self-titled debut album from The Pretenders introduced Chrissie Hynde to the world of rock & roll and it immediately catapulted her to the upper echelon of lead singers. Her style was forceful, feminine, distinct and warned everybody that she could kick your ass if she had to. Add that to the steady playing of bandmates Pete Farndon (bass), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, keyboards) and Martin Chambers (drums) and you have one of the best albums of the 1980s….~

A perfect debut, it not only shows great promise but also delivers the goods. I suppose I’ve got to get this out of the way, so I’ll start by saying this: Hynde obliterates any barriers that stand in the way of females rocking out. This may be the first real “rock” album (as in loud guitars, meaning Aretha doesn’t count) by a woman that stands on equal footing with any rock album by a man. Not rock with an “art” tag qualifier (Patti Smith), or a mannered pop that evades emotional directness (Debbie Harry). Other than certain key lyric moments (“maybe I’m going to have a baby”) and the times when you fall in love with her amazing voice, you don’t notice and don’t care that she possesses a vagina. Let’s talk about that voice, shall we? Soulful, husky, sensual yet not “sexy”, deftly switching from bitchy putdowns to motherly tenderness within a moment’s notice. She’s got a lot of competition, but for my money she may be the best vocalist in rock'n'roll. She transforms “Stop Your Sobbing”, an early Kinks obscurity, from formulaic cloyingness to an irresistable plea. Out of the hundreds (no, thousands) of Kinks covers, this may be the best one I’ve heard. She announces in “Brass In Pocket” that she’s “special”, and you pity the fool who doesn’t give her the time of day. “Kid” builds to a powerful, lashing bridge….but you already know the singles, right? The band plays a lot punkier than the singles or their subsequent work would suggest, with Honeymoon-Scott’s meaty guitar both flashy and to the point. He digs up some crunchy, pounding riffs and doesn’t waste too much time soloing. I can’t understand a word of “The Phone Call”, but wow, what driving rock'n'roll it is. The urgency of “Mystery Achievement”, boasting a great bass-line, ends the album on a high point - but they’re damn near all high points, aren’t they? At the end of “Lovers Of Today”, Hynde moans “I’ll never be a man in a man’s world”, which captures her predicament as a woman in testorene-dominated rock, but the rest of the album refutes any gender limitations, loudly. One of the (the?) best debut albums of all time, sometimes I think it perfectly encapsulates everything you need for great rock'n'roll….~

The 100 Best Albums of the Last 20 Years 
On the hit single “Brass In Pocket,” Chrissie Hynde succinctly declares, “I’m special.” On the rest of the Pretenders’ first album, she proves it. Until this album came out in 1980, their previous output had been restricted to a few well-received British singles. With Pretenders they showed a range, depth and confidence that suggested a far more mature band: the record includes both bracing, nervous hard-rock songs and lovely, lilting ballads. Hynde immediately developed a persona as vivid and three-dimensional as that of any woman (or man) in rock & roll; on Pretenders she’s aggressive, introspective, sexually confident, compassionate and full of intriguing contradictions rather than obvious clichés. 
In his review of the album for Rolling Stone, Ken Tucker wrote, “Indeed, the songwriting of the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde is the first indication I’ve had that we’ve finally progressed beyond the Me Decade. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Hynde and her exceptional band examine and refute so many socio-liberal pieties — replacing them with personal, hard-earned lessons and unfashionable conclusions — that Pretenders stands as some of the freshest, most provocative music around.” 
The Pretenders’ lineup may have changed plenty of late (Hynde is the only remaining original member), but when they made their first album, they were a genuine band, made up of three British rockers and a former journalist from Ohio who lived in London. The late guitarist James Honeyman-Scott underlined Hynde’s moods with precisely the right combination of raunch and delicacy. And the rhythm section — bassist Pete Farndon (who died in 1983) and drummer Martin Chambers — was capable of rocking out ferociously, even in 7/4 time. 
The songs that made Hynde and the Pretenders instant heroes were brassy, derisive rockers like “Tattooed Love Boys” and, especially, the scornful anthem “Precious.” To Hynde, there was nothing unusual about a woman leading a hard-edged rock & roll band. “There’s nothing butch about me,” she said. “See, that’s the big myth, you know — the ‘loudmouthed American.’ I am the loudmouthed American — no one can be meaner, and no one can be more of a cunt than I am. But I don’t want to be. It’s a front, you know? I just do what I do to get what I have to get.” 
And there certainly was another side to Hynde, who proved herself equally capable of compassion (“Stop Your Sobbing,” “Kid”) or confusion (“Up the Neck”). From the start, Chrissie Hynde knew how to convey honest, believable emotion, and the band knew what that emotion ought to sound like. ….Rolling Stone Twentieth Anniversary Special Issue August 27, 1987….~


So at last this is The Pretenders’ debut album, one of the first releases in the '80s from last decade’s new rock rulers; so eagerly anticipated, yet ironically not one which will make or break reputations. 
No, Pretenders — for the public at least even if not those tetchy pop paper people — floats on the snug assumption that The Pretenders are a major act. But considering they’ve achieved pop acceptability with only three consecutive hit singles, then it is remarkable so much can be established by so little. Thanks principally to the overzealous thrashings of Melody Maker — a music paper desperate to create for itself '70s credibility and often miscalculating to the extent of overkill — Chrissie Hynde and her boys were “hot property” and — ahem — front page news long before they did anything to justify such acclaim (and some would argue that they still have that to do). 
In any case, the hits “Stop Your Sobbing,” “Kid” and “Brass In Pocket” are all included here, as are two of the B-sides. So what we have is not so much an “eagerly anticipated debut album,” but an LP of which half is greatest hits history and the other seven tracks probably their next three singles. Excuse the cynicism, but when rock'n'roll was supposed to restore some of its own dignity and values at the end of the '70s, these sort of business shenanigans hardly do the cause much good. 

In fact, so much about The Pretenders is reminiscent of '60s pop games that any claim they are innovative is completely invalid. Simply their success and new rock “credibility” is a result of their own conceit and the image that has created. 

Of the three singles, the first was a cover of a tremendous Ray Davies song (and a very good impersonation of Sandie Shaw), the second (“Kid”) was an appalling mix of Shadows and Blondie and “Brass In Pocket” was — well, brilliant. The Pretenders’ greatest moment or more importantly, Chrissie Hynde’s. 

Like everything she does, there is something familiar about it. Her music invariably reminds you vaguely of something in pop history, and on this album we have a collection of influences from the Velvets (“The Phone Call”) through The Beatles (on Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott’s instrumental, “Space Invader”), the 60s British beat boom, right up to Blondie and The Police. Certainly the white reggae base of “Private Life” echoes Stewart Copeland’s drum style; yet with a tough, intelligent and sensitive lyric from Hynde and delivered with superb vocal phrasing, it’s the best thing on the set. 

Unfortunately there is not a lot of competition. The new, unreleased material — all seven songs, but we’ll discard “Space Invader” right now for having all the instrumental dexterity of a bricklayer with two left hands — usually has something distinctive, but the band seem unable to give it an edge. That’s what prevents The Pretenders being a brilliant rather than an enjoyably ordinary band; and it’s also what prevents the material being “classic.” 
In a way, Chrissie Hynde’s efforts with “Precious,” “The Phone Call” and the plaintive “Lovers Of Today” are almost wasted by the insensitivity of Pete Farndon (bass), John [sic] Honeyman-Scott (guitar) and drummer Martin Chambers. Although there are times when they have their moments (Farndon’s is on “The Wait” and Scott’s on “Private Life”), quite often they sound as if they’re playing under a wet blanket — which has little to do with Chris Thomas’ production because he does an excellent job in bringing out a staggering range of textures in Hynde’s voice. 
Perhaps the band aren’t in Hynde’s league. Despite being unable to disguise her influences — “Mystery Achievement” works on a riff not a whole lot different to the Spencer Davis Group’s “Keep On Running” — she has a rare and special talent both as a performer and a writer. 
Unlike so many other women in pop, she manages to combine an obvious sensuality (“Up The Neck” conjures up an image of her writhing about the floor) with intelligence and a sensitivity to a wide range of emotions. Lyrically her songs are successful enough to suggest she’d make a great actress too. 
But maybe all that publicity bullshit, her arrogant stage manner and the rather elitist attitude that surrounds the band makes me judge this album too harshly. It doesn’t justify their reputation — but then very little could…by Tony Stewart….New Musical Express January 12, 1980…~

It was in 1973 that the PRETENDERS, an unnatural union between a Yankee brunette from Akron, a shoreline from Lake Ontario, and three “so British” anglophones, were created by guitarists James Joneyman Scott, Bassist Pete Farndorn and drummer Martin Chambers. This is of course happening in London where Chrissie works in the record shop of mother WESTWOOD and father MCLAREN. This big brunette with arrogant fringe and advantageous attitude on stage is a real beast. Not necessarily a cannon, but the ideal rocker, carrying in it the seeds of a seduction pegged to the soul … Yeah, that’s a lot for a girl … The panther rolled his hump in the prototypes versions of CLASH and DAMNED, a beautiful business card. So we will very quickly take it seriously.
This is our good Nick LOWE who will produce the first single found here. This is a recovery of KINKS … On this occasion, note that the naughty will have an extra marital relationship with Ray Davies -whose she will have a child-, for now she is content to talk with the bassist Pete. “Stop your sobbing” is their first hit, and presents the group from a resolutely Pop-Rock angle. But it is with their composition “Brass in pocket” that our artists will break the house by reaching the first place of the English billboard. The title offers a very innovative rhythm for the time, that we can relate to the current New Wave without much difficulty, it’s nice, not back for two cents and Chrissie immediately appears in full light.
Then follows a “Private Life” with a light rhythmic Reggae, accompanied by an unequivocal bass. We begin to distinguish the perimeters of the various influences of the leader of the group through his astonishing and varied compositions, we note a superb solo of James. The third single is “Kid” very close to the songs of girlfriend BLONDIE. From the New Wave Pop trend, very nice and cool, we will remember the beautiful bridge and the excellent job of Honeyman-Scott. These singles will allow the PRETENDERS to clear the ground with a disconcerting speed.
But the album is not empty so far: “Precious” opens with an identity downright Punk, we remember the experiences of the beautiful, and we take rapido desires to ride in the middle of pretty brunettes! A must for their live performances. In the same spirit “The phone call” is a title with a punk frame developing an aggressive constant through a monolithic drums and an inescapable guitar. It’s sharp and soberly effective.
Conversely, the sweetness of the song and the melodic simplicity of “Up the neck” remind me of certain titles of the DICTATORS, so it is undeniably Punk. “Tatooed love boys” is less memorable but remains in a good vein, especially in this post punk era. The bass leads the piece “Space invaders” and introduces a judicious rhythmic guitar, it is an instrumental masterfully led by our musicos … In addition it is well surrounded. Let’s hope that quality is ubiquitous on this first vinyl effort.
I still have to evoke the consistent “The wait”, where we perceive for the first time the ingredients somewhat “irritating” the voice of our beautiful brunette. Failure ? In my opinion, no, although this aspect will often be criticized. It’s a singing style that suits him, quite simply. The slow “Lovers of today” allows to appreciate at its fair value this voice so special, you have the right not to appreciate it … But it would be a pity, because the damsel is a seducer of the first order. We finish with the very rock “Mystery achievement” with the same energy that started the skeud. It’s won!
The Rolling Stone ranks it in 155th place of the greatest albums of all time, a proof of the quality of this brand new group, which is not ready to abandon the top of the charts even if the fate will take a huge tribute on its members. In my opinion, a great Rock album, and the discovery of an endearing and deeply seductive personality….By ERWIN …~

“Change has a way of just walking up and punching me in the face” – Veronica Mars

The scene now changes; this blog is now being written by two people – Marcello Carlin and me, Lena Friesen. For the rest of this blog’s (un)natural life we will both be writing here, and it has been a long wait for me to arrive; in part because I am a bit younger, and thus was a mere bystander to the on-going colourful slo-mo crash which was the 1970s. So I am starting right here, in 1980, with the first album I ever owned, knowing that this was my new favourite band; that this was more than just an album, in some ways.
Let me set the scene; it’s Los Angeles, spring of 1980. At some point I get a radio with a tape deck and earplugs; at some point, I get this album on cassette.  I know nothing – repeat – nothing about punk. I am so naïve, I don’t even know about Joan Jett, let alone the Runaways or the Ramones – I listen to Top 40 radio and serious AOR stations and Dr. Demento and Rick Dees and KRLA with Art Laboe, who will play oldies, particularly plaintive ballads for the low riders and those who love them. New Wave is a concept I understand; but the radio had so many great singles in ’79 that going out to buy albums seemed unnecessary. Dr. Demento plays the anti-disco anthem out of Chicago and I am suddenly aware there are disco-haters out there, people who would hate my neighbourhood in L.A. – Silverlake - where the Toy Tiger and the Frog Pond are local gay clubs. The New Wave hits keep coming (I now understand some of them as New Pop) – Gary Numan’s “Cars” and M’s “Pop Musik” and even Tusk could be seen as a New Pop gesture. As 1979 waned, there was an impatience in the air, an eagerness, to see this decade out, gone, never to return. A decade of men who could not be trusted, disaster after disaster, the whole way through. But it was also a time when women were, Equal Rights Amendment or not, gaining strength and dominating the radio – Debbie Harry, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie and Linda Ronstadt, to name a few that could be heard at almost any given time on L.A. radio, sometimes on FM for a whole commercial-free half hour.
But then Pretenders came out, and assumed (for me, anyway) an overwhelming prominence. I had just turned 13; I’d had a radio for two years, had listened dutifully to it for that time, and had never heard anything even close to this. I was still learning about the history of rock ‘n’ roll at the time, and unwittingly bought only one of the most important albums ever; absorbing it, assimilating it, and realizing slowly that this was new, with the equally newfound arrogance of the teenager who believes she has a favourite band that was far superior to anything else, and that everything in the future would have to be as good as this or she just wouldn’t bother with it. I listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall because the serious heads at KMET told me it was an instant classic, and I was impressed; but its deeper meanings, because I was naïve, were lost on me. (I had no idea who Syd Barrett was, and FM radio never played any Syd-era Floyd.)  But no one needed to tell me Pretenders was a classic; it was mine, and needed no hype.
The album tells a story; so I will go through it song by song. The band were named after the song “The Great Pretender” by The Platters – Chrissie Hynde had a pal who, when he was in a bad mood, would go into his room and play the song over and over. It is a song about being brave and showing no misery after a breakup; one of many songs where the man pretends to be happy when he isn’t. At first Hynde makes it very clear that she isn’t pretending…but is she?
“Precious” is a song of – well, from the first drumstick clicks and inchoate yells, this is not your ordinary song. Hell no. Hynde and James Honeyman-Scott’s guitars surge back and forth so intensely that you know there’s a tug-of-war here; between the nervous narrator (because this album is so autobiographical I will just call the narrator Hynde) and the superior proto-preppie she’s with, the big frog in the small pond (small in Hynde’s view) who leaves her with a “bruised hip” but also makes her feel like she’s “shitting bricks” as she knows she can’t live up to whatever he wants from her. Swearing! Swearing, dammit! It has taken us this long to get to a woman who really doesn’t give a crap and is going to swear, is going to make a lot of those guys who run radio stations a little…nervous. The song’s not even over and I love it already; the dive-bombing guitar as she goes into the break wherein she seems to make fun of…the idea of having a baby which automatically cancels out a thousand ‘baby’ lyrics in so many tacky songs. The conventional life of a suburban Akron teenager was supposed to aspire to, accept. You can just tell she’s not going to settle for that, no way, and then it gets very quiet; Hynde’s voice is miked very close, her every breath and inflection can always be heard. “Trapped in a world that they never made” is what anyone in the 1970s could say, and when Hynde then says, heroically, “Well not me baby I’m too crazy – fuck off” it’s as if the 1970s barely existed. They’re dead, as Hynde escapes in 1973 to be in a rock band in London, come hell or high water. The push-and-pull ends, Honeyman-Scott gets the visa and plane ticket and the door all but shuts at the end, Martin Chambers’ drums providing the slam.
And that’s just how it starts.
“The Phone Call” is one of the many songs here (the album didn’t, and still doesn’t, come with lyrics, and in 1980 you just had to make them out yourself as best you could) that I never really understood, other than it was in an odd time signature (7/8) and was about someone getting a call that was urgent, from a callbox, with the phone ringing and ringing on the other end. The song is urgent, claustrophobic, fixated on the one thing; the security of whoever is supposed to get these messages – a spy? A woman in danger? A gang member? If this is another song about escape, it is an escape that is full of running, sudden stops, pieces of paper shoved under doors – it’s a getaway car ready with the motor running. “This is a mercy mission” she says, her voice muffled as PJ Harvey’s will be one day, with the guitars ascending and descending like the breathing of a nervous person, willing themselves to be calm, only just holding out. It ends with a long exhale of final freedom, with the phone back again, the line engaged. Beep-beep-beep-beep; you hope the person who is there heard about the parcels in the mail. There is danger everywhere, this is the 1970s; or should I say, the 1970s themselves had to be fled, to be escaped. (This album, quite pointedly, doesn’t sound like anything from the 1970s or earlier.) So are we free yet?
“Up The Neck” is a laid-back song about “anger and lust” that is just as claustrophobic in its way as “The Phone Call” except now it’s the apartment, the flat, and not the callbox that’s the setting. The gruesome relationship is spelt out with a veteran’s sneer from Hynde on the one hand, and a kind of crushed innocence on the other. “Under the bed with my teeth sunk into my own…flesh” is how badly she feels one morning – UNPRECEDENTED here in Then Play Long, and her description of sweaty sex as “it was all very…’run-of-the-mill’” then followed by how the relationship was full of “bondage to lust” – the two people as physical beings only, with nothing else between them. Her continuing cries of “I said, baby? Oh, sweetheart…” grow less ironic as she realizes that that’s all there is. Sticky shag rugs, dirty tiles, tongues and lips and bulging veins…and then the relationship dies, the guitars churn and churn mechanically, the ease of the song gone, evaporated. The relationship never got above the neck; it was all kisses and slugs, no heart. She walks out, sorry and rueful, sadder but wiser. (How many girls like me learned so much from this, as opposed to the cheery advice columns in Seventeen or Glamour?)
Pretenders was an album bought by girls, after all. And guys too; Hynde’s no-bullshit singing/songwriting was a fresh breeze at the time, and a big corrective to having to listen to “Whole Lotta Love” and other such paeans to the female sex yet another time. And the next song is one of those that simply separates – as if the three before hadn’t already – this from anything else even thinkable in rock ‘n’ roll at the time. For one thing it’s a 7/4 -4/4 time signature, meaning producer Chris Thomas had his hands full trying to keep this erratic and wild song from coming right off the damn rails. That he and the band could do it was a testament to their intense rehearsing and gigging, meaning that the album was done quickly and (I assume, I don’t know this for sure) as live as possible. This is a band, after all, Chrissie’s band, and the unity and skills shown by everyone here is amazing. Along with Hynde’s voice, the band is also close, all the better to emphasize the intimacy of the songs; you feel as if you are there, though Hynde’s voice is the guide, letting you in on some things while leaving other things to your imagination, which Hynde assumes you have.
“Tattooed Love Boys” rings like a bell and before you know it, the struggle is on. “Little tease – but I didn’t mean it…but you mess with the goods doll, you gotta pay, yeah…” Her “tease” is squeaked out as if maybe she wants to, and maybe, she doesn’t. She knows how to flirt, but she’s not with the flirty types; these are bad boys, the kind she’s read about…and now here they are. The song comes to a stop after yet another unprecedented lyric: “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole is for” and here Honeyman-Scott stings, floats, wrenches his guitar, bitter and fierce, as Hynde groans and says “oh baby baby baby” as if reinventing the blues, the band then leaping from one speed to another out of the mystery of what happened to the consequences. Well, it’s not pretty for him; “you’re gonna make some plastic surgeon a rich man” she crows, with the song ending with nothing but contempt for her would-be…attacker? Rapist? “Another human interest story…YOU ARE THAT.” And the song ends, abruptly as it started. Our heroic narrator survives hanging out with some tough guys who maybe, really, aren’t so tough. She is not singing those kind of blues – not yet, anyway.
“Space Invader” is an instrumental – one that points back to 1970s rock and yet lighter, simpler, pacing around at its root like a lioness stalking prey, or for that matter someone playing the video game of the same name that is sampled at the end. “The pulse of the new” as I noted, and this is where Pete Farndon and Honeyman-Scott shine; the song is like a knot being tied and untied, yet another breakaway from the past, the bomb effectively dropping, the past being destroyed, for lack of a better word. (Already I can sense all sorts of guitar players, teenagers and rock stars alike, listening to this album and playing along, from Johnny Marr to Lindsey Buckingham, from Courtney Love to Neil Young.) The bravado and heroism continue.
“The Wait” is yet another song that is sung so quickly and rhythmically that just what it’s about and what is going on is only half-understandable; even knowing the lyrics now I still don’t know what it’s about, besides a child who is forgotten, alone, kicking a ball up and down the street, an outcast, a loner, who is hurting and who only Hynde seems to care about. But there is the wait; something is coming, something Hynde knows is coming that in the tense breaks of the song – again it is one that is brutally physical, meant for pogoing (in 14/8 time what else can you do?) – and you can hear her breathe as if she has run in the studio, as if she is actually waiting along with the hapless “child” for The New to occur. Hynde is particularly vocal here, calling out, snarling, as the song yanks itself this way and that. Honeyman-Scott’s guitar after the break is nearly atonal, as if he is trying to make the ugly beautiful, the beautiful ugly; in part I think this is due to his not really enjoying doing guitar solos as such, so they tend to be brief and to the point, sardonic even, a good match for Hynde’s voice.
“Stop Your Sobbing” was, as I eventually understood it, their first single, produced by Nick Lowe; it is a song by The Kinks, one I had never heard, and yet another turning-around of rock conventions – Hynde is now singing to some guy that it’s about time he laughed and had fun instead of just crying and bringing her down. Here the band prove that yes, they can play your normal 1960s pop just as well as anything else; and it continues the theme of the crying man, unable to hide his emotions. (“Stop snivelling!” she yells at the guy in “Tattooed Love Boys” – as if she’s the guy now, and he’s the weaker sex. Hmmmm….) Jangly fun, but Hynde’s doubled voice at the end is desperate, as if she is somehow singing to herself as much as him; even from the start, there is the undercurrent of never quite knowing what is going on, in these songs, despite the authority and power of them. It’s itchy and uneasy. Even the future she writes for herself here – meeting and falling in love with Ray Davies, who wrote the song – is going to be unpredictable and troublesome.
“Kid” is by far the most ‘normal’ song here, echoing Hynde’s beloved Beatles; the boy is ashamed of something, feels it’s wrong, and won’t hold her hand; why we never know. He leaves, too proud to cry, though she begs him to cover his face, and Hynde’s voice is direct and yet full of the blues and sorrow that he can’t accept her for what she is; the situation is hopeless, and the song is cheery and upbeat as the scene is quiet, final. “Kid, my only kid” – he goes, beautiful and young and uncaring, it seems, about her feelings. The album is suddenly revealing (literally; this is the other side) that Hynde isn’t just a tough chick from Ohio who has been the victim and victor in physical encounters*. There is another side here, one where a guy will just dump her, and she longs for him, “full of grace” but it doesn’t matter. Write a pretty song about it and have a hit single, I can imagine Hynde thinking; and so they did. But then, Hynde finds herself in a whole other situation.
“Private Life” is a slow reggae – menacing, erupting with nagging/nail-digging solos from Honeyman-Scott that emphasize just how impossible the title really is. A wife – unhappy, theatrical – comes to Hynde and pleads for advice, help. Hynde pushes her away, dismisses her like dirt: “Your marriage is a tragedy but it’s not my concern.” But the woman continues, complaining about her sex life, about everything, and Hynde just tells her to leave the “somebody you deplore” and accuses the wife of “emotional blackmail.” Pity, contempt, hatred; she asks continually to be left out of the whole mess, but the pressure builds and builds, and none of Hynde’s tactics here seem to work. Hynde moans with pain as the guitars pierce her side; “Oh you’re mean!” she says, dying of a thousand insinuations and threats. Does she give in? Has she met her match? It ends so quickly it’s hard to know, but the pressure breaks, and now there is no escape. Hynde the Heroic of the first side is no longer able to conquer; the lies and stories and constant talking of the wife are too much.
After this, “Brass in Pocket” can be seen as a relief but also as a sharp irony. Here is she is, detailing everything about her that is so special, but it seems like an inventory mostly to impress herself; she’s all ready to go, but is anyone actually noticing her? Again the lyrics and music go arm-in-arm, slinking down the street, but the attention she craves never seems to come, and she is alone at the end, and maybe someone noticed her and maybe someone didn’t. She’s got so much to show, to tell, but there is an odd emptiness in the song, a kind of false hope that if she likes herself so much, then surely there must be somebody out there who will really appreciate her. She stood up for herself in the first song, after all; but since then has yet to find that right person. And then…
And then she does meet someone; and there they are, late at night, in bed. He is crying (again, there’s no explanation; he just is) and it is breaking Hynde’s heart. The delicate figures of the song – hesitating, hoping – as she tries to comfort him, tells him that he makes the birds sing and the stars shine – the song leaps up to the dramatic, as Hynde wails her “oooohhh” and their relationship falters, as she tries – tries – to talk to him. Hynde sounds as if she is finally crying too; the whole song is a lament for those who are scared to see people in love, people brave enough to take a chance, and for those who are too scared of having their hearts broken to get involved in the first place. (If Brett Anderson owned this album, as I’m sure he did, this is the song that undoubtedly influenced him the most.) The break is power chord glory mixed with an acidic lace, that this is how it ends. She has tried and tried and found boys and kids and mere children to care about, and now (presumably when she is truly in love, not lust, not bondage) she has to face herself and know herself with as much acuteness as she has brought to bear on everyone else. And it’s terrifying.
“No…noooo…” she sings over and over, in total disbelief. It’s the loneliest and coldest feeling in the world, this one. She can’t leave and shut the door on it. Because for once it’s not him; it’s her. “No…I’ll never feel like a man in a man’s world.” The whole album, nearly, leads up to that moment, as the song fades, as the relationship is engulfed by the sky, the birds, as being a woman is something she has tried to escape, to pretend wasn’t real, that she could move to London and be one of the blokes in a band and hang out with her punk band friends and never get hurt – the vagabond above the law. But there’s law, and there’s what you can’t escape from, which is yourself. She sings a lullaby but sounds as if she’s about to have some kind of breakdown herself; that promise of whoo-hoo self-definition badass which got her this far is of no more use. So now what?
“Mystery Achievement” looks at the facts straight; where is her sandy beach? What is success, in or outside of the band? She just wants to have fun, be in a band, get drunk and dance the Cuban slide but the trophies –the promise of fame and fortune – she could care less about. (How many debut albums come with a song about how the singer doesn’t actually want to be famous?) The song is a classic of a sort – drums first, followed by an audible Hynde sigh, then bass, then guitars. Her worried “oohhs” are all over the place, and the instrumental break is one of joy; you can hear all the band somehow talking to each other, Hynde’s voice coming in for what sounds like her real happiness – finally she has her own band, they’re doing her songs, and they are having fun doing them. (That a bit of it sounds like Magazine is par for the course; I mean, who wasn’t listening to them at this time?) That she has done all this, had hit singles, survived the 1970s – seems unreal to her, as if it was a bad dream, that she is being rewarded for all the wrong reasons.
Privately she may be the woman looking for the one good man, but here in her band, she has gotten what she has had to work hard to achieve; what she set out in 1973 to do, while those in Ohio called her crazy. She was virtually the last one of the Sex shop on King’s Road set to get a band together, to play gigs (the first on the day Sid Vicious died), to make music so stunning that this album was the first debut album by anyone to enter the UK charts at #1. This was in part due to anticipation of the band’s fans, but word of mouth as well, from girl to girl, woman to woman: she is telling it like it is. Pete Townsend found it, well, compulsive listening as did I; there was nothing else like it, and it jolted just about anyone who heard it (including fellow rhythm guitarist John Lennon) into some kind of action. Words like “tough” and “tender” are used to describe Hynde and this album, but her voice has a piercing urgency to it that make generalities like those pointless.
This album is a record (literally) of courage; of chances that led to ugly disasters, bodily harm, but also self-knowledge, to where she ends with a kind of Zen knowledge/not-knowledge situation. She has a lot to learn, but at least she knows what it is she doesn’t know (hello Juliana Hatfield) and what she does; a heart that hurts is a heart that works, and being a woman in a band/a woman otherwise doesn’t have to be – cannot be – an either/or proposition. Hynde showed a whole generation or two how it could be done; how to be frank and noble and most importantly, be herself and have her own band. One woman talks and sings the truth of her life, and a whole world opens up; a world that leads to Sinead and Alanis, to Madonna (who saw The Pretenders live in 1980 in Central Park**) and L7, but just as importantly, to all the young future Britpop stars like Justine and Brett and Damon, who all inherited different aspects of the band’s works. (Heck, even Katy Perry cites Hynde as an inspiration, but then her first album is called One Of The Boys, which this album could’ve been called, too.) The Pretenders succeeded where The Clash, Hynde’s friends from way back, couldn’t; as great as London Calling is, this is what the public wanted***, and the plethora of female voices now springs from only a few voices from the past; and Hynde’s is one of them.****
This was a band that was almost too intense and brilliant to last; just months after the unnecessarily rushed Pretenders II, Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure in June of 1982, just a day after Pete Farndon was dismissed from the band – Farndon died less than a year later. Hynde and Chambers found a new guitarist and bassist, Robbie McIntosh and Malcolm Foster, and continued to record startling singles and a blazing album, Learning To Crawl, the band on the cover dressed in black, as if still in mourning. At the same time she was in love with a new man, and I will be getting back to that relationship in a few years…
And so at 13 I realized that it was possible to go somewhere else - this mysterious place called London - and I looked up to Hynde as a model of what I could possibly, just possibly, be…an American girl in London. I realized there were other places to live, other countries (besides Canada, where I’d already been and would return to sooner than I’d thought)…and as I took Hynde as a role model, I realized there was more to the world, more in the world, and that it was right to be romantic and heartbroken, as long as I kept going. And so I am writing this in London, a place I never thought back then I would get to visit, let alone reside in. But I did visit, and years later, did move. This album started that whole process, that opening up of possibilities.
What else can 1980 offer? As she sings in “Brass In Pocket” Hynde is “Detroit leaning.” And so off to Michigan we go…
*Hynde was attacked by Nick Kent one day in the Sex shop; he beat her with a cheap belt as she tried her best to hide. The album makes it sound as if she dealt out karate chops to guys, but in reality Vivienne Westwood thought she was causing a disruption, and thence Hynde was dismissed and oh-so-coincidentally later Nick Kent was beaten up at a Sex Pistols gig.
**The live version of “Precious” on their EP is from this same concert. It is, if you can believe it, even faster and more intense than the original.
***Note how these days bands like The Specials (whom Hynde also knew) and The Clash will go on the radio and reminisce about ’79-’80 while Hynde pointedly refuses to indulge in any sort of nostalgic looking back. This is more proof, I feel, that Pretenders is a far more rebellious and troublesome album for all concerned, and a lot of the songs still aren’t ‘radio friendly.’
****Hynde herself would acknowledge Sandie Shaw and Joni Mitchell as influences, even as she would downplay her own singing and guitar playing. Part of her appeal is that she’s not a diva in any sense, and is very much someone who would say “If I can do it you can do it, if you have the nerve.”……~

Tracklist
A1 Precious 3:37
A2 The Phone Call 2:30
A3 Up The Neck 4:28
A4 Tattooed Love Boys 3:00
A5 Space Invader 3:27
A6 The Wait 3:37
A7 Stop Your Sobbing 
B1 Kid 3:07
B2 Private Life 6:27
B3 Brass In Pocket 3:05
B4 Lovers Of Today 5:52
B5 Mystery Achievement 5:24 

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