Pretenders are an English rock band formed in 1978. The original band consisted of initiator and main songwriter Chrissie Hynde (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards), Pete Farndon (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals, percussion). The band has experienced drug-related deaths of the members, and numerous subsequent personnel changes have taken place over the years, with Hynde as the sole continual member.
Hynde, originally from Akron, Ohio, attended the Kent State University at the time of the Kent State shootings during 1970. She moved to London during 1973, working at the weekly music paper, New Musical Express and at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX store. She was involved with early versions of The Clash and The Damned, and in short-lived bands such as Masters of the Backside and Moors Murderers. Pretenders formed during 1978 (see 1978 in music) after Dave Hill at Anchors Records heard some demos Hynde had recorded and suggested she form a regular band to record for his new label, Real Records. Hynde formed a band composed of Pete Farndon (who was later associated romantically with Hynde) on bass, James Honeyman-Scott on guitar, and Gerry Mcilduff on drums. This band, without a name at this stage, recorded five tracks at Regents Park Studio in July 1978, including “Stop Your Sobbing”. Gerry Mcilduff was replaced on drums by Martin Chambers, and Hynde named the band “Pretenders” after The Platters song “The Great Pretender”.
The band’s first single, a cover of The Kinks song “Stop Your Sobbing”, produced by Nick Lowe, was released in January 1979 and gained critical attention. It was followed in June with “Kid” and then in November the band got to no.1 in the UK with “Brass in Pocket” which was also successful in America reaching #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The debut album Pretenders was released during January 1980, and was a success in both the United Kingdom and the United States, both critically and commercially. (Pretenders was subsequently named one of the best albums of all time by VH1 (#52) and Rolling Stone (#155).) The band played at the noted Heatwave festival during August 1980 near Toronto.
During March 1981 the EP Extended Play was released, containing the UK and U.S. success “Message of Love” and “Talk of the Town” and a live version of “Precious,” recorded in Central Park.
The second full-length album, Pretenders II, was released during August, 1981. Most critics at the time termed it disappointing, although it is now generally considered a great album. Pretenders II included the Extended Play singles, the MTV video success, “Day After Day,” and popular album-radio tracks “The Adultress,” “Birds of Paradise,” and “The English Roses.” According to Hynde from the Songwriters Circle, “Talk of the Town” is a song about a fan who just stayed around during sound checks and never said a word – Hynde never initiated any conversation, but thought about him later during the tour.
Hynde dismissed ex-paramour Pete Farndon from the group for chronic drug problems. Two days later, 16 June 1982, Honeyman-Scott died of a cocaine overdose. Farndon was in the midst of forming a new band with former Clash drummer Topper Headon – who coincidently also was battling heroin abuse and left the band unable to cope with it – when he was found dead on 14 April 1983 by his American model wife, Conover, after passing out and drowning in his bathtub after a heroin overdose. This left The Pretenders with only two of their original four members.
Hynde continued with the band. During July 1982, just weeks after Honeyman-Scott’s death, a caretaker team of Hynde, Chambers, Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner and Big Country bassist Tony Butler, was assembled to record the single, “Back on the Chain Gang”. The song was released in October and marked a new level of musical sophistication for the band while becoming their biggest success in the U.S., staying at #5 for three consecutive weeks. The single’s flip-side, “My City Was Gone,” in which Hynde expressed dismay at industrial pollution and rampant commercial development in her home state, was equally strong, though, and is still often played on American FM radio “classic rock” stations; it’s now well known as the theme music of The Rush Limbaugh Show.
Hynde then changed the lineup, keeping Chambers and adding professional musicians Robbie McIntosh on guitar and Malcolm Foster on bass. The band’s first album with this lineup, Learning to Crawl, was released to respectful critical acclaim during January 1984.
“Middle of the Road” was this lineup’s first single, released during December 1983 and reached the US Top 20. Recapturing some of the group’s earlier style,the song dealt with, among other things, Hynde’s new motherhood (Hynde had a daughter with Ray Davies during January 1983), the pressures of fame, and the indifference of wealthy nations to the plight of the world’s poor. The flip-side, “2000 Miles”, was a melancholy Christmas song that was especially popular in the UK. The rest of the album alternated between aggressive songs (“Time the Avenger”) and ballads (“Show Me” which scored the US Top 30) and included an effective cover version of The Persuaders’ “Thin Line Between Love and Hate”, which featured Paul Carrack on guest keyboards. The subsequent tour (with an added keyboard player) successfully demonstrated Martin Chambers’s forceful drumming. The 1985 Live Aid charity concert was the last gig for this lineup.
Soon after recording sessions for the next album began and one track had been completed, Hynde declared that Chambers was no longer playing well and dismissed him — allegedly by booking new recording time without telling Chambers about it. Foster was also dismissed, and after an appropriate interval, the newly-revised Pretenders team was officially announced as Hynde, McIntosh, bassist T.M. Stevens, and ex-Haircut 100 drummer Blair Cunningham. In reality, though, the Get Close album was largely the work of Hynde, McIntosh, and several session musicians.
Get Close was released in 1986; the disc included the Top 10 singles “Don’t Get Me Wrong” (helped by a popular video homage to the television series The Avengers) and “Hymn to Her” (popularly interpreted as a hymn to the Goddess), a #8 success in the UK.
Two new songs, “If There Was a Man” and “Where Has Everybody Gone?” were released on the soundtrack of the Bond film The Living Daylights, and were used instrumentally by John Barry in several scenes.
The lineup for the Get Close tour was then expanded to include former P-Funk and Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell, but this version of the band had many difficulties. Two players were dismissed, McIntosh eventually quit, and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr joined for a final brief period during 1987. By this time, it was evident that the Pretenders were a band in name only, the name merely serving as a vehicle for Chrissie Hynde.
Please enjoy this music video of The Pretenders performing their 1979 hit “Kid“.