As a woman breaking into rock, Pretenders founder and lead singer Chrissie Hynde offered a much-needed upset to the genre’s domination by men. Even as she deplored her perceived lack of commercial “beauty,” she was able to use this ostensible deficiency to her advantage—thus establishing herself as a serious songwriter and musician. She told Fred Schruers in a 1981 Rolling Stone story, “They’re not looking at me like I’m some sex symbol or girl with huge tits bouncing around the stage…. And this thing [her guitar], this isn’t an extension or a phallic symbol.” Hynde has also insisted on being uncompromisingly straightforward in her music. Newsweek contributor Jim Miller noted her attack on the sexism prevalent in rock lyrics: [Her songs] are memorable not only for the skilled way in which Hynde reworks stock riffs, but also for the matter-of-fact, unsentimental manner in which sex is described from the viewpoint of a woman with appetites and a will of her own. Her best lyrics, at once tender and tough, are a bracing change from rock’s stock erotic fare, which often features a macho stud laying waste to the enemy.”
Members include Martin Chambers (born September 4, 1951, in Hereford, England), drums; Peter Farndon (born in 1953 in Hereford; drowned as a result of heroin intoxication, April 14, 1983; replaced by Malcolm Foster [born January 13, 1956, in Hereford]), bass; James Honeyman-Scott (born October 27, 1957, in Hereford; died of cocaine-induced heart failure, June 16, 1982; replaced by Robbie Mclntosh, 1982), lead guitar, vocals, keyboards; Chrissie Hynde (born Christine Ellen Hynde, September 7, 1951, in Akron, OH; daughter of Bud [a telephone company employee], and Dee [a secretary] Hynde; married Jim Kerr (a singer), c. 1984 (divorced, 1990); children: (with Ray Davies [a singer and songwriter]), Natalie, (with Kerr) Yasmin; attended Kent State University, late 1960s to early 1970s), vocals, guitar.
Hynde worked for London rock tabloid New Music Express; Honeyman-Scott worked in a music shop; Chambers was a driving instructor; group formed in London, c. 1978; released single “Stop Your Sobbing” and album Pretenders, 1979; signed with Sire Records c. 1980; toured the U.S., 1980.
Awards: Gold record for Pretenders; platinum record for Learning to Crawl.
Addresses: Record company —Sire Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
Like other pivotal figures in popular music, Hynde did not initially fit neatly into the contemporary music scene, or for that matter, into her own band; while the rest of the original Pretenders were English—the band is known generally as an English one—Hynde was born in Akron, Ohio. Her upbringing took place against a typical blue-collar, Midwestern backdrop. Hynde’s father, Bud, worked for Ohio Bell; her mother, Dee, worked part-time as a secretary. At an early age, Hynde adopted rock musicians as her idols—proto-punk Iggy Pop, guitarists Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix, English rock pioneers the Kinks, and Brian Jones of the early Rolling Stones; her desire to be in a rock band spawned a fantasy world that became Hynde’s refuge from what she viewed as the static nature of life in Ohio.
Despite her early devotion, however, Hynde had to fight her way slowly into the real music world. While male friends were playing in garage bands in Akron and Cleveland, Hynde had to teach herself to sing and play rhythm guitar without the feedback of a band or audience. She wrote songs as a teenager but had no forum for testing them. Shyness further limited her; she retreated to a closet whenever she wanted to sing, even after everyone left the house. Hynde had only one opportunity to play with a band in the U.S.—and that was only for one night, when she performed with a local band, Sat. Sun. Mat., whose Mark Mothersbaugh eventually went on to fame with the zany new-wave band Devo.
After a few years spent studying art at Kent State University in Ohio—during which she witnessed the fatal shooting of four student anti-war protesters during the infamous National Guard incident of 1970—Hynde left school to try her hand in the Cleveland rock circuit, where for several years she also held a series of odd jobs. Learning of the lively English music scene from the London rock tabloid New Music Express, Hynde decided to seek her fortune in London. She put the $1,000 she had saved as an investment in her future toward the move. Though the relocation was a gamble, she told Schruers, “I would rather have my head blown off than sit… in Akron, Ohio, and watch television or go to the mall.” Most of her early years in London were so lean that she once viewed petty theft as an option. But Hynde did hold some jobs during that time. Writing for New Music Express connected her with several English musicians and producers; she also worked for a while in a small clothing store with Malcolm McLaren, who would figure prominently in the late 1970s punk-rock movement.
Between 1973 and 1978, however, Hynde’s determination to become part of a rock band met with only near misses. Despite invitations to various gigs, during which her peers recognized her as a strong musician and songwriter, none of the men forming bands would accept Hynde as a full-fledged member. After one failed attempt to start a band with guitarist Mick Jones, she reconnected with McLaren, who invited her to join his latest effort, Masters of the Backside. Hynde was a member of that group long enough to rehearse with them, but not long enough to enjoy their success as the noted punk band the Damned. Jones returned to the picture briefly, asking Hynde to play on tour with his new band, the Clash; but the temporary membership proved frustrating as Hynde was again dropped before the band caught on.
In Dave Hill, who had recently formed Read Records, Hynde recognized an opportunity to put together her own band. Hill offered himself as her manager in 1978 and urged her to take her time in recruiting the musicians she needed to record a demo tape. First Hynde heard about a bassist, Peter Farndon, through a friend. Farndon had been in Sidney, Australia, playing with the Bushwackers, a folk-rock outfit. Back in his hometown of Hereford, he was in the market for a new band himself; with Hynde, he found both the first real musical break of his life and, for a while, a romantic relationship. Farndon described his first impression of Hynde to Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone: “I walked into the pub and there was this American with a big mouth across the other side of the bar…. As soon as we got down to her rehearsal room, which was the scummiest basement I’d ever been in in my life, the first thing we played was ‘Groove Me,‘ by King Floyd…. I’ll never forget it: we go in, we do a soul number, we do a country and western number, and then we did The Phone Call,‘ which is like the heaviest… punk-rocker you could do in 5/4 time. Impressed? I was very impressed.”
Farndon brought in an exceptional lead guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott, who would later be described by Rolling Stone’s James Henke as “the guitarist whose lyrical playing formed the bedrock of the group’s sound.” With Irish drummer Jerry Mcleduff, Hynde, Farndon, and Honeyman-Scott put together a demo featuring a number of cuts that would become Pretenders classics: “Precious,” “The Wait,” and “Stop Your Sobbing.” Singer/songwriter Nick Lowe, one of Hynde’s New Music Express connections, agreed to produce a single of “Stop Your Sobbing” backed with “The Wait.” Hynde’s years of dedication finally began to pay off in January of 1979 when Lowe released the first Pretenders single; “Stop Your Sobbing,” a cover version of a Kink’s tune, was an instant success in the United Kingdom.
Before cutting the single, however, the band had found a drummer who could produce exactly the sound they were seeking. Martin Chambers beat the skins so much harder than the average drummer, even in rock, that he had a drum kit “specially built to withstand his onslaughts,” reported Rolling Stone’s Loder. Chambers and Honeyman-Scott had departed their hometown of Hereford some years earlier with a band called Cheeks. Although Cheeks lasted for three years, the band never cut an album, which left the drummer and guitarist without any real musical credits. Honeyman-Scott had been working in a music shop when bassist Farndon contacted him; Chambers was a driving instructor when Farndon and Honeyman-Scott asked him to audition.
The singles released after “Stop Your Sobbing” were received with mounting acclaim. In 1980, “Kid,” “Talk of the Town,” and “Brass in Pocket” all reached bestseller status in the U.K. “Brass in Pocket” even claimed the Number One spot on British charts. These scraps of recognition ultimately melded into a sure foundation with the early 1980 release of the first Pretenders album. Titled simply Pretenders, the record’s cover pictured Hynde, Farndon, Honeyman-Scott, and Chambers clad in leather jackets—mostly unsmiling. The cover and music exemplified the unforgiving attitude that the Pretenders’ blend of British punk and American rock brought to the music scene of the early 1980s. Chris Thomas, who replaced Nick Lowe as the band’s producer, graced the album with the same production values that had helped create the sound of famed British bands the Sex Pistols and Roxy Music. In the U.K., the album instantly shot to Number One.
The band’s reputation grew more gradually in the U.S. than in the U.K., but no less steadily. Once Sire Records won the American rights to Pretenders and released it in the U.S., the album’s success led to a gold record and a promotional concert tour. Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone explained the band’s appeal: “The Pretenders’ chief strength onstage, as on record, was their rhythmic ingenuity…. Hynde, [Honeyman-]Scott and bassist Pete Farndon wove a taut meshwork of staggered, propulsive rhythms that drummer Martin Chambers would spike with sinewy snare-and-tom bursts. In effect, it was a reversal of rhythmic standards, with the drums, instead of guitar, dictating fierce melodic lines.”
Critics and fans received the group’s debut album with considerable excitement, promoting it to the Number Nine position on U.S. charts. Pretenders was later described, when placed at Number 20 of Rolling Stone’s “Top 100 Albums of the Decade,” as “more diverse than the machine-gun rhythms of punk, because the three Britons were accomplished musicians and Hynde had grown up on a diet of AM radio.” American fans immediately hailed the Pretenders as the embodiment of a no-holds-barred rebellion that they craved. Of their reception at a Los Angeles-area concert, Gilmore concluded, “The point, I gather, was to herald these Anglo-American New Wavers as something like preordained, conquering pop heroes, and in a way, that’s just what they were.”
Backstage, the tone of the tour was rebellious as well. Bandmembers drank heavily while reaping the benefits of their burgeoning fortunes. Both Honeyman-Scott and Farndon were able to freely indulge their heroin addictions. Hynde became notorious for kicking out the windows of a police car after being arrested for disorderly conduct. Although the pace of the road took its toll—Chambers eventually collapsed from exhaustion—no one took a break after the tour. Instead, the Pretenders returned to London to immediately begin recording material for their next album.
1981 saw two more successful albums and more touring. Pretenders II and Extended Play cemented the band’s reputation for skill and hard work. The tenor of the 1981 tour was markedly different from that of its predecessor, however. Chambers and Hynde, in particular, began to “settle down.” The music was hardhitting as ever, but the lifestyle behind it was changing. Chambers had married a woman who worked for Sire, and Hynde had met Ray Davies of the Kinks—one of her childhood idols—in a New York City nightclub. The meeting led to a committed relationship and, in 1983, to the birth of Hynde’s first child, Natalie. Even with the mellowing of Chambers and Hynde, though, the tour presaged difficulties to come. When Chambers cut his hand opening a window sash (Hynde later admitted that a rare fit of temper inspired the drummer to punch a lamp), the injury was so bad that he couldn’t play for a number of weeks. The band decided to postpone the tour rather than replace Chambers. Meanwhile, Farndon and Honeyman-Scott continued the excesses afforded them by their newfound wealth and fame. The former especially moved farther and farther away from the rest of the band, his heroin addiction increasingly affecting his playing. He became irritable and easily angered, behavior that seemed to intensify when Hynde turned her affections toward Davies.
Whatever the source of his demeanor, Farndon finally became so irascible that Honeyman-Scott refused to work with him; although the lead guitarist was also using heroin, he managed to maintain his professionalism. When the band returned to London after the 1981 tour, Hynde made the difficult decision to fire Farndon. Since the remaining trio again wished to begin recording material for their next album right away, Honeyman-Scott suggested his friend Robbie Mclntosh as a replacement for Farndon. But the Pretenders were devastated when—the very next day—Honeyman-Scott died of cocaine-induced heart failure. The group that had come to life as a powerhouse of diligence, pumping out tours, hit singles, and albums at a remarkable pace, took a three-year break between the release of their second album and their third.
Tragedy struck again in 1983; on April 14, Pete Farndon drowned in a bathtub, the result of heroin intoxication. Though his death dealt a severe blow to his former bandmates, the work of preparing a new album was already underway. Chambers and Hynde had put together a temporary band for some early summer recording sessions in 1982. The resulting single was a good omen; “Back on the Chain Gang,” backed with “My City was Gone,” became the Pretenders’ first hit single in the U.S., where it broke the Top Five.
Robbie Mclntosh had come in as the Pretenders’ first permanent replacement member—on lead guitar— late in the summer of 1982. He brought in Malcolm Foster for an audition on bass. Forgoing the frantic pace, but with the old Pretenders dedication intact, the band had a strong album ready for release in 1984. Learning to Crawl debuted to critical acclaim in both the U.S. and the U.K., going platinum in the former, despite the inevitable reservations about the absence of Farndon and Honeyman-Scott. Various attempts to analyze the album in terms of the profound emotions surrounding the birth of Hynde’s daughter and the trauma of Farndon and Honeyman-Scott’s deaths led the Pretenders frontwoman to remark in Rolling Stone, “[It’s] just a collection of ten measly songs. It’s not a real important deal. I hate this sort of romantic or sentimental take people have on it—you know, the tragic demise, the reawakening. It wasn’t like that at all.”
Hynde, however, was no longer the defiant punk she had been. After her breakup with Davies, she met and married Jim Kerr, lead singer of Simple Minds. Hynde’s second daughter, Yasmin, was born in April of 1985. Her activities during the hiatus between the release of Learning to Crawl and its follow-up, Get Close, cemented Hynde’s growing reputation as a spokesperson for liberal political causes and as a musician who demanded quality.
For Get Close, both Chambers and Foster stepped aside as Hynde brought in a variety of session musicians to work on tracks for the album. Jimmy lovine and Bob Clearmountain replaced longtime producer Thomas. The record emphasized keyboards, and L. Shankar’s Indian violin even emerged on one song. Get Close, however, was ultimately panned. Critics seemed to feel the release lacked the power of the Pretenders’ first two albums and failed to demonstrate the consistency of Learning to Crawl. Others argued that the album’s format attempted to cover too large a variety of musical styles, and that the production experimented with too many musical effects, detracting from Hynde’s vocals. Nonetheless, the first single, “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” enjoyed Top Ten status.
High Fidelity contributor Ken Richardson reported in 1988 that Hynde had put together “an all-new Pretenders band.” Even Mclntosh had vanished from this lineup, which would produce the album Packed! in 1990. As evidenced by their reviews of Packed!, critics had finally accepted that the original Pretenders—and their sound—would never be duplicated. And as it became clear that Packed! was more impressive, track after track, than Get Close —though certainly more mainstream than the group’s earliest work—critics and fans alike seemed to realized that Chrissie Hynde had, in fact, become the Pretenders. Richardson characterized the duality of the band’s sound thus: “The Pretenders were two different bands: purveyors of top 40 hits and, on their first two LPs, creators of potent new wave, grounded in punk energy.”
On Sire Records
Pretenders (includes “Stop Your Sobbing” and “Brass in Pocket”), 1980.
Extended Play, 1981.
Pretenders II, 1981.
Learning to Crawl (includes “Back in the Chain Gang” and “My City Was Gone”), 1984.
Get Close (includes “Don’t Get Me Wrong”), 1987.
The Singles, 1988.
High Fidelity, September 1988.
Musician, March 1984.
Newsweek, April 2, 1984.
People, March 23, 1987.
Rolling Stone, May 29, 1980; June 12, 1980; November 26, 1981; April 26, 1984; April 10, 1986; November 16, 1989.
—Ondine E. Le Blanc
"The Pretenders." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 18, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/pretenders
"The Pretenders." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/pretenders
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Formed: 1978, London, England
Members: Martin Chambers, drums (born Hereford, England, 4 September 1951); Andy Hobson, bass (born Swinton, England, 20 November 1962); Chrissie Hynde, vocals, guitar (born Akron, Ohio, 7 September 1951); Adam Seymour, guitar, vocals (born Leicester, England, 17 January 1961). Former members: Pete Farndon, bass (born Hereford, England, 2 June 1952; died London, England, 14 April 1983); James Honeyman-Scott, guitar (born Hereford, England, 4 November 1956; died London, England, 16 June 1982); Robbie McIntosh, guitar (born Hereford, England, 1 January 1950); Malcolm Foster, bass (born Gosport, England, 13 January 1956).
Best-selling album since 1990: Last of the Independents (1994)
Hit songs since 1990: "I'll Stand by You," "Night in My Veins"
The Pretenders emerged from the London music scene in the late 1970s with a personalized style encompassing punk angst, reggae grooves, and pop craftsmanship. The principal songwriter and lead vocalist, Chrissie Hynde, led the group with a forceful and self-assured stage presence. After three successful albums, the group incurred the tragic loss of both guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon. Hynde continued to record with various studio musicians and by the mid-1990s had recruited a stable group. In this incarnation, the Pretenders reestablished their hard rock aesthetic with critically acclaimed albums and strong performances at the Lilith Fair festival and on tour with the Rolling Stones.
Hynde grew up in Akron, Ohio, and attended Kent State University for three years. In 1973 she moved to London and worked as a music critic for New Musical Express. Dissatisfied with the job and the music scene, she moved back to Akron and joined the group Jack Rabbit. Hynde returned to London three years later and, through the assistance of Malcolm McLaren (manager for the punk band the Sex Pistols), she was hired to play guitar in Masters of the Backside. Although dismissed, she continued to perform with various bands and honed her songwriting skills, eventually recording a demo tape and signing with Real Records.
With the help of producer Nick Lowe, Hynde recruited Farndon, Honeyman-Scott, and session drummer Gerry Mackleduff to form the Pretenders. Their cover version of Ray Davies's (of the band the Kinks) "Stop Your Sobbing" breached the U.K. charts and was followed by the pleasantly melodic "Kid." After the addition of drummer Martin Chambers, the group recorded their eponymous debut album, The Pretenders (1980). The first single, "Brass in Pocket," was an immediate success and hit number one in the United Kingdom and number fourteen in the United States. The song begins with a hypnotic guitar riff in a languid tempo that gradually builds to the chorus. The lyrics present a self-assured woman in pursuit of a man: "I'm gonna have some of your attention. Give it to me." The accompanying music video, which depicts Hynde as a waitress in a diner, was placed in constant rotation by MTV and gained the group a wide American audience.
Due to heavy demand, the group quickly released the aptly titled Extended Play EP (1981) with its single, "Talk of the Town." After a busy touring schedule, the Pretenders moved to Paris and recorded their second album, The Pretenders II (1981). On June 14, 1982, Farndon was asked to leave the group due to his constant use of heroin and cocaine. In a strange twist of fate, Honeyman-Scott died of a drug overdose two days later. The remaining members, Hynde and Chambers, rallied together and produced the wistful "Back on the Chain Gang," dedicated to Honeyman-Scott. Before this album could be completed, the group suffered the news of Farndon's drug-related death in April 1983.
Crawling through the 1980s
Learning to Crawl, which alludes to Hynde's infant daughter with Ray Davies and the band's tentative activity after the tragedies, was finally released in 1984. The album went platinum and featured the raucous "Middle of the Road," with its incendiary guitar and harmonica solos. During this time, Hynde married Jim Kerr of the pop group Simple Minds and gave birth to her second daughter. The relationship soon dissolved and Hynde eventually married Colombian sculptor Lucho Brieva in 1997.
After the album release the group was effectively dismantled and Hynde enjoyed success on her own, recording a cover of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" with UB40. The next two albums were released under the Pretenders moniker but were largely solo efforts by Hynde with uneven results. In 1994 the group was reinvented with the addition of guitarist Adam Seymour and bassist Andy Hobson, and the subsequent album, Last of the Independents, was hailed as the return of the Pretenders. While songs such as "Hollywood Perfume" and "Rebel Rock Me" recalled the energy of their earlier efforts, the album was significantly marred by innocuous ballads. "Night in My Veins" exhibits a pleasant harmonic progression with a steady drum groove. Although the melody is shapeless, Hynde's performance is memorable with the rapid line, "Even if it's," followed by "just the night in my veins." The surprise hit from the album was the ballad, "I'll Stand by You," with its piano introduction, predictable melodic phrasing, and backing gospel choir.
Renewing Their Rock Aesthetic
The Pretenders released the acoustic live album, The Isle of View (1995), with imaginative arrangements of previous material. With ¡Viva El Amor! (1999), the Pretenders reasserted their rock aesthetic with the biting commentary of "Popstar" and the rugged energy of "Legalize Me" with guitarist Jeff Beck. Hynde reveals outstanding vocal prowess in "One More Time" and a supple intimacy in Silvio Rodriguez's "Rabo de Nube." The ballad, "From the Heart Down," exhibits some of Hynde's most poignant lyrics: "You sink into my flesh like a knife," and "Longing hurts the teeth like something sweet." Although this album went largely unnoticed, it represents one of the band's strongest releases.
In 1999 the group performed at the Lilith Fair, a festival centered around female musicians. As an outspoken crusader for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Hynde was arrested in March 2000 in a protest against the Gap clothing store. Although she spent a night in jail, the protest was a success, with the Gap changing its policy toward illegal leather products.
The Pretenders' next album, Loose Screw (2002), highlights the group's signature rock sound merged with reggae beats and textures. The album features imaginative bass lines, varied sonic textures, and an overall clean production. "You Know Who Your Friends Are" begins with a rollicking bass line and guitar delay, sliding subtly into the chorus. The vocal line is relaxed and conversational with gentle melismas. The reggae-saturated single, "Complex Person," exhibits a hypnotic melody centered around certain key notes and concludes with an unexpected harmonic change. The confessional "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" wistfully describes the complications of human relationships: "I want you more than before, so I conceal it." During this time, the Pretenders reached another milestone by performing with the Rolling Stones in their U.S. concerts.
Hynde's innovative songs fueled the Pretenders through various incarnations. The original quartet presented edgy rock songs coupled with a remarkably melodic approach. With the tragic loss of Honeyman-Scott and Farndon, the group sputtered in the late 1980s and early 1990s, only to reemerge with a powerful new lineup in the mid-1990s. While Hynde generally eschewed the designation of female rock star, she undoubtedly challenged the orthodoxy of rock gender roles through her stalwart persona and performances.
The Pretenders (Sire, 1980); Extended Play EP (Sire, 1981); The Pretenders II (Sire, 1981); Learning to Crawl (Sire, 1984); Get Close (Sire, 1986); The Singles (Sire, 1987); Packed! (Sire, 1990); Last of the Independents (Warner Bros., 1994); The Isle of View (Warner Bros., 1995); ¡Viva El Amor! (Warner Bros., 1999); Loose Screw (Artemis, 2002).
"Pretenders, The." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 18, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pretenders
"Pretenders, The." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved December 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pretenders