The Pretenders are an English New Wave/rock band, formed in London in 1978 by American-expat Chrissie Hynde. In 1979, the band released three singles on WEA-subsidiary Real Records, followed in January 1980 by a self-titled album on Real/Sire. One further album was made by the original lineup before the death of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott in June 1982. With two new members, the band came back with the 1983 release Learning to Crawl. Further albums appeared at lengthier intervals during the subsequent three decades.
Members: Chrissie Hynde (guitar, vocals), Martin Chambers (drums, vocals, 1979-85, 1993-present), Pete Farndon (bass, vocals, 1979-82), James Honeyman-Scott (guitar, keyboards, vocals, 1979-82), Robbie McIntosh (guitar, vocals, 1983-87), Malcolm Foster (bass, vocals, 1983-85, 1987), Rupert Black (keyboards, 1983-85, 1987), T.M. Stevens (bass, 1986-87), Blair Cunningham (drums, 1986-90), Bernie Worrell (keyboards, 1987), Johnny Marr (guitar, 1987-90), Adam Seymour (guitar, vocals, harmonium, 1993-2005), Andy Hobson (bass, 1993-2005)
The Pretenders were formed in London by American expat singer/guitarist Chrissie Hynde, born Christine Ellen Hynde in Akron, Ohio, on September 7, 1951. As a teenager, she became enchanted with the rock bands of the British Invasion, particularly The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. Withdrawn from her classmates and preoccupied with concert-going, she dreamed of one day fronting such a band herself.
In 1970, she attended Kent State University, where she played in a band called Sat. Sun. Mat. with art student Mark Mothersbaugh. On May 4, she and classmate Gerald Casale ran for cover across campus grounds as National Guardsmen opened fire on a student antiwar protest. Their friend, Jeffrey Miller, was among four students killed that day. In response to the event, Mothersbaugh and Casale developed the theory of de-evolution, the basis for their future band Devo.
In 1973, Hynde moved to London, where she soon took up with rock journalist Nick Kent of the New Music Express, which employed her as a columnist. Dissatisfied with the experience, she found work at SEX, an S&M boutique at Worlds End on King’s Road, Chelsea, ran by designer Vivienne Westwood and impresario Malcolm McLaren. It was here that Hynde befriended 19-year-old shop-regular John Lydon, an enthusiast of Captain Beefheart, Hawkwind, and Van der Graaf Generator.
Around the same time (mid-1975), McLaren took garage-rockers The Strand under his managerial wing. That band, which featured SEX clerk Glen Matlock on bass, underwent a lineup overhaul that left them without a frontman. After miming to “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper, green-haired Lydon was hired by the band, which proceeded to crash the local club and college circuit under a new name, The Sex Pistols. In search of her own band, Hynde went to France, where she briefly played with garage-rockers The Frenchies before heading back to England to scope the London scene.
During the first half of 1976, as the Pistols developed a cult around their exclusive aesthetic, McLaren, hoping to spearhead a musical movement, oversaw the formation of similar bands. Hynde got involved in Masters of the Backside, one of multiple outgrowths of Pistols rehearsal-mates London SS, which also spawned The Clash and Generation X. MotB featured Hynde on guitar alongside singer Dave Vanian, bassist Captain Sensible, and London SS alumni Brian James (guitar) and Rat Scabies (drums). After management switched over to SEX accountant Andy Czezowski, they renamed themselves The Damned at the exclusion of Hynde.
Later that year, Hynde answered a musicians-wanted ad in Melody Maker placed by ex-Kilburn & the High Roads guitarist/singer Nick Cash. She, along with fellow respondent and future Edge/Culture Club drummer Jon Moss, were denied spots in Cash’s new band, 999.
In 1977, Hynde played briefly with pub-punks Johnny Moped but grew despondent over her inability to land a permanent gig. Undeterred, she demoed her own material and sang backing vocals on the album Hurt by guitarist Chris Spedding.
Early the following year, she partook in The Moors Murderers, a rehearsal band assembled by scenester and future-Visage frontman Steve Strange. As an American, Hynde was unaware of the 1965 Moors case and its gripping effect on the British public. Moving on, she sang background vocals on albums by Mick Farren (Vampires Stole My Lunch Money) and Johnny Thunders (So Alone).
In early 1978, Hynde took a demo of her song “The Phone Call” to Dave Hill, the head of WEA-subsidiary Real Records. Hill started managing Hynde, who briefly rehearsed with drummer Phil Taylor of a momentarily waylaid Motörhead. That spring, she sparked musical chemistry with bassist Peter Farndon, drummer Martin Chambers, and guitarist James Honeymoon Scott. They named their band The Pretenders, inspired by Sam Cooke’s version of “The Great Pretender,” a 1950s doo wop classic first made famous by The Platters.
Farndon hailed from the unrecorded folk-rock combo Cold River Lady and cut the 1977 album Murrumbidgee with Aussie folksters The Bushwackers Band. Chambers drummed with garage-punks The Vacants on the 1977 album Punk.Rock, issued exclusively in France on Disques Festival. He also drummed on the 1978 album Guitar Star by Ron Warren Ganderto’s Sound Ceremony. Honeymoon-Scott notched one prior credit (as Jim Scott) on Fall of Hyperion, the 1974 album by keyboardist, composer, and future Enid founder Robert John Godfrey.
The Pretenders cut multiple demos — including “Precious,” “The Wait,” and a cover of the 1964 Kinks deep-cut “Stop Your Sobbing” — that Hill handed to musician Nick Lowe, who’d recently produced albums for The Damned, Elvis Costello, Dr. Feelgood, and Graham Parker & the Rumour. Lowe produced their first single, “Stop Your Sobbing” (b/w “The Wait”), released in January 1979 (UK #34). It was followed that June by the Hynde original “Kid” (UK #33, b/w “Tattooed Love Boys”), which started a longtime association with Pistols/Roxy Music producer Chris Thomas.
Concurrently, Farndon and Honeymoon-Scott played on the Paul Rodgers-produced album Place Your Bets by fellow Real Records recording artist Tommy Morrison. Meanwhile, Hynde sang backing vocals on “Nite Club” by The Specials, included on their Costello-produced debut album.
On November 12, 1979, The Pretenders issued their third single “Brass In Pocket” (b/w “Swinging London” and “Nervous But Shy”). With its slick jangle-funk arrangement and rising “I’m special” refrain, the song reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart in January 1980 — the inaugural chart-topper of the new decade — just as the band released their self-titled debut album.
(more to come…)
- Pretenders (1980)
- Pretenders II (1981)
- Learning to Crawl (1983)
- Get Close (1986)
- Packed! (1990)
- Last of the Independents (1994)
- ¡Viva el Amor! (1999)
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