Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Pretenders

In 1973 Chrissy Hynde, a native of Akron, Ohio and student at Kent State University relocated to London, England where in between working for the weekly music newspaper New Musical Express and at a music store owned by Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, she found the time to record a demo of her music. In 1978 Anchor Records A&R (artists and repetoire) executive Dave Hill heard the demo while in the process of forming his own label Real  Records, and was impressed enough to arrange for Hynde to record more material enlisting future Motorhead drummer Phil Taylor and Chrissy Hynde's former bandmate in The Moors Murders Mal Hart on bass. At Hill's suggestion Hynde formed a more permanent band consisting of bassist Pete Farndon, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and drummer Martin Chambers, all three U.K.-born. Up to this point nameless, Hynde named the band The Pretenders after The Platters' classic song "The Great Pretender". Included on this band's initial studio effort was a cover of The Kinks' song "Stop Your Sobbing".

This song was released as the band's first single, produced by Nick Lowe in January of 1979. It garnered much positive critical attention despite the fact that it didn't exactly burn up the charts. It was pretty much the same situation with their second single release of one of my own personal favorites, "Kid".

Even a casual observation revealed this band to be something special. In Hynde and Farndon you had two of the coolest looking rock musicians to grace a stage, Farndon had the look everybody wanted to pull off with the same gum-chewing nonchalant presence. Hynde was the prototype rock and roll bad-girl-with-a-gutar, spit and vinegar vocals, topped off with her Jeff Beck haircut paving the way for the likes of Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson. Honeyman-Scott perfected that jangly, new wave guitar sound while Chambers' drumming was savage yet impeccable. The songs, mostly written by Hynde were nail-on-the-head dead wicked.There was no way this bunch could go much longer without a hit. And so it was with their third single release that the proverbial jackpot was hit. Reaching #1 on the U.K. charts and  #14 on Billboard's Top 100, in conjunction with the band's self-titled debut album, also critically acclaimed, this would prove to be the band's signature song to this day as well as a perennial FM radio fixture. The song was titled "Brass In Pocket".

In March of 1981 the band released an EP titled most literally Extended Play which contained a live version of "Precious" and two more hits, "Message Of Love" and "Talk Of The Town". this was followed by their second full-length album The Pretenders II in August that same year. June 14, 1982 Pete Farndon was fired due to assorted misbehaviours, then two days later James Honeyman-Scott died due to a cocaine overdose. While in the process of forming a new band with former Clash drummer Topper Headon, on April 14, 1983, Farndon was found dead by his wife, having drowned in the bathtub, passing out while on heroin. This left only two surviving
members .  

Carrying on, Hynde and Chambers recruited Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner and Bassist Tony Butler of Big Country to record their next single, "Back On The Chain Gang". This became their biggest hit, released in October of 1983 and staying at #5 on the U.S. charts for three consecutive weeks. The b-side, "My City Was Gone" was used as theme music for The Rush Limbaugh Show, much to Hynde's chagrin.

That particular line-up was not meant to be a permanent one, so in came guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Mal Foster for 1984's album Learning To Crawl which featured the top 20 hit "Middle Of The Road". After the band's appearance at the 1985 Live Aid Concert ,Chambers and Foster werer replaced by T.M. Stevens on bass and ex-Haircut One Hundred drummer Blair Cunningham. The album Get Close was the released in 1986 containing the two top 10 singles "Hymn To Her" and "Don't Get Me Wrong".
Following a hiatus in musical activity,The 1990 album Packed was released, and although credited as a Pretenders album, it was done with session musicians leaving Chrissy Hynde as the only official group member. This was fitting enough given that since the band's formation in Hereford,England in 1978, Hynde was always the driving creative force of the band. This collection contained a song that was very reminiscent of the band's early days and another favorite of mine called "Never Do That". It was a big hit in Canada but was only fairly successful elsewhere.                                                                       

In 1993 Hynde formed a new Pretenders line-up with ex-Katydids guitarist Adam Seymour, ex-Primitives bassist Andy Hobson and returning original drummer Martin Chambers, a line-up that would last over a decade  and would produce the album Last Of The Independents. songs from The Pretenders appeared on the soundtracks of the James Bond film Living Daylights and the Demi Moore film G.I. Jane.
The Pretenders were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March of 2005. Only the surviving original members Hynde and Chambers attended, though in her acceptance speech Hynde thanked all past members of the band with a special tribute to Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott . Hynde and the band remain active in various projects to this day.

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