Someone once said “you don’t become a Rock Star for no reason, or overnight.” In fact, no matter how much you want it, there’s no guarantee that it’ll ever happen. Luckily for us, Rock Stars all have one thing in common… they believe in themselves. Everyone can do that, right? No, in this bizarre world of music there are so many moving parts; the thought of constant failure is enough to drive a person mad. Not only is getting their difficult, staying there is just as hard. In 2020, there’s an artist that stands out among the rest. She’s a legend among legends. Not only did she make it, she still commands respect; her name is Chrissie Hynde.
On the surface she seems so mild-mannered, almost as if she has a Clark Kent-like persona. That is… until you really pay attention. She’s the no-nonsense, straight shooting front-woman of The Pretenders.
As long as she can remember, she’s always had lofty goals in all aspects of life. She always looked beyond the obvious and never accepted the limitations thrown at her. No matter who knocked her down, those moments just motivated her to get back up and try even harder. The legends all do that you know.
So what was it that made her such a legend? Ask her fans, they know the answer….. “life in general and nothing in particular… it’s her heart, soul and attitude.”
Let’s circle back to 1981 when The Pretenders self-titled debut album blew up. I remember walking into a Music Plus record store and I was taken aback by what I saw. The striking and stark front album cover, the iconic and cool photo of the band standing against a white backdrop, confidently self-assured, dangerous, and ready to take no prisoners, musically speaking of course.
They weren’t posers or wannabes. The Pretenders were the real deal then, and have remained so for the last 40 years.
Clearly, The Pretenders have had a successful career filled with ten charting albums and a multitude of hit singles. Their 11th album, “Hate For Sale,” is due for release on July 17,
Their music catalog has songs that are part of the soundtrack of our lives. Classic songs like “Precious,” “Brass In Pocket,” “Tattooed Love Boys,” “Back On The Chain Gang,” “Middle Of The Road,” “I’ll Stand By You,” “Talk Of The Town,” “My Baby,” “Hymn To Her,” “The Wait,,” “Mystery Achievement,” “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” the holiday classic “2000 Miles” and many more fan favorites.
Their commercial appeal was balanced by being a critical favorite as well. The band expertly blended new wave and melodic rock.
The Pretenders were lauded for their idiomatic, deft songwriting, supplemented by the multifaceted talents of iconic founding member, Chrissie Hynde. No slouch in the swagger and bravado department herself, Hynde’s versatile contralto vocals can switch from tough to tender, giving heart and soul to the band.
Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott provided the unconventional guitar leads characterized by unique, gritty chord progressions that aggressively powered the material. Bassist Pete Farndon played with fight and heart, as well as sang back up and co-wrote a couple of songs. High-energy showman drummer Martin Chambers’s pounding rhythms anchored the band’s aggressive sound. This initial lineup released the debut LP and their second album, “Pretenders II.”
As a unit, the Pretenders seemed to arrive out of nowhere. Hynde, an Akron, Ohio native, fell in love with rock in her teens because of the British Invasion of 1964-1965, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, Iggy Pop, and more. Seeing Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels live whet her appetite to eventually start a band. She was an art student at Kent University and played in a band called Sat. Sun. Mat. with Mark Mothersbaugh (who went on to become the co-founder, lead singer, and keyboardist of DEVO).
To know just how this fairytale-like story actual materialized, we need to go back…. way back. You see, life wasn’t candy canes and rainbows for Hynde. Like the rest of us, life was tough for her as a kid. She just had a vision for herself that wasn’t going to materialize for her in Ohio.
She made it out of Ohio and moved to London in 1973 where one of her jobs was at SEX clothing boutique. The store was central to burgeoning punk scene. The store she worked at was run by fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, and music impresario, Malcolm McLaren (manager of the infamous and controversial punk band The Sex Pistols and a budding band called Master of the Backside).
After failed band attempts with Mick Jones (co-founder of The Clash), and McLaren (Masters of the Backside), Hynde had to press on.
HYNDE on PRETENDING
“Confidence is usually a bluff, if you’re lucky you might have it, but frankly … nobody will know the difference”
So…. Masters of the Backside… that was a very-very interesting moment in time for her. That band featured Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies. You see, those guys would go on to form another band, a legendary punk band called The Damned.
A few years ago, we did an interview with Captain Sensible on an unrelated story about the Damned. We asked the Captain about those early days and Chrissey in particular. He said “she was very good, way too good for us… and we told her so. We parted ways, but I think she did alright for herself, we knew she didn’t need us.”
After parting with Sensible and the boys, Hynde was desperate to be in a band of her own. About that time, she once said “It was great, but my heart was breaking,” She said. “I wanted to be in a band so bad. And to go to all the gigs, to see it so close up, to be living in it and not to have a band was devastating to me… All the people I knew in town, they were all in bands. And there I was, like the real loser, you know?”
In 1978, Hynde gained the attention of a record label owner who suggested she create a band carefully. She took his advice and gathered Hereford, England natives Honeyman-Scott, Farndon and Chambers. The Pretenders were born and they created a demo with The Kinks’ song, “Stop Your Sobbing.” It was part of their debut album the following year and it just skyrocketed them to having godlike status.
Despite the growing accolades and popularity of the band, tragedy struck the group with the drug-related deaths of Honeyman-Scott and Farndon in 1982 and 1983 respectively.
Don’t get me wrong…. it was a very sad and difficult time, but as with anything in life, they dusted themselves off and moved onward.
Hynde employed a rotating cast of musicians and the music shifted to a more pop-oriented direction, while retaining its edge. After an appearance at the historic 1985 benefit concert Live Aid, the band released “Get Closer.”
The album Featured Hynde as a more mature professional musician with a band to match.” About the album, Hynde said “it’s dominated by more mid-tempo songs and less rocking as she explores her emotions and thoughts about parenthood.”
Following the compilation album, “Pretenders – The Singles,” a hiatus helped bring 1990’s “Packed!” to life. Notably Hynde was the only person pictured on the album and the only official band member.
Hynde teamed up with ex-Katydids guitarist Adam Seymour for a new version of Pretenders. “Last of The Independents” featured the lead single, “Night In My Veins,” and the incredibly successful album centerpiece, “I’ll Stand By You.”
The band continued to have success under Hynde’s leadership and in March of 2005, the Pretenders received the ultimate honor. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. It was no mystery achievement, it was an honored that was earned.
In celebration, Rhino Records released the four-disc and DVD box set “Pirate Radio 1979-2005,” which spanned the group’s entire career. She was inducted by fellow icon and friend, Neil Young.
The Pretenders have continued releasing albums, plus Hynde has had multiple solo projects. She is known as animal rights activist and supporter of PETA.
She published her autobiography in “Reckless: My Life as a Pretender” in 2015, and in 2018, she released a limited edition book of her artworks, “Adding The Blue.”
Over the years Hynde has teamed up with several great artists and bands on side projects creating another reason for her fans love her as much as they do.
She’s collaborated with Annie Lennox, Frank Sinatra, Cher, INXS, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave and Morrissey just to name a few.
Oh yeah, she also covered epic songs with Rastafarian juggernauts UB40 recreating the magic of “I Got You Babe.” She followed it up with another hit with them with a song that was well-received by not only the Rasta crowd, but Main Street America also fell in love with “Breakfast in Bed.”
Then, she took us on a sonic journey with MOODSWING and challenged our senses with a song called, “Spiritual High (State of Independence).”
Circling back to the future, there is a bright spot for 2020. The Pretenders are back with a new album “Hate For Sale.” It’s their 11th studio album and it finds the band, Hynde in particular, “channeling their inner riotous punk rock selves.”
The lead single is a tribute to the English punk legends The Damned. Once the Zombie apocalypse is over, The Pretenders plan to tour in 2021.
Hynde has come a long way since her days in Ohio. Her band has become a juggernaut in the music industry. Like the Runaways and the Go-Go’s, Hynde is credited with bending the traditional male roles of rock, creating a new and revolutionary aesthetic.
As for her fans, many say she embodies feminist attitude, influencing the musical landscape, and changing it for current and future generations. Plus, she’s a pretty damn good songwriter. Her vocals carry a signature sound that only voices like Dolores O’Riordan, Terri Nunn or Florence Welch could be best compared to.
With immaculate rock anthems, and timeless pop gems with pure, raw emotion that will continue to resonate with us all, The Pretenders are that rare, one-of-kind band with special talents that just can’t be replicated.