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Pretenders

+ {JP, Chrissie & The Fairground Boys} + {Chrissie Hynde}

One of the few British-based new wave acts to feature an American female as their lead singer (The ELECTRIC CHAIRS? – well that was another story indeed!), Chrissie Hynde’s PRETENDERS had all the pop and punk panache to take them beyond mere wannabes, and into the top of the hit parade. Regarded as one of the sexiest women to strum a rhythm guitar, it all helped to catapult classic pop/rock songs such as `Brass In Pocket’ (their only No.1), `Talk Of The Town’, `I Go To Sleep’, `Back On The Chain Gang’, `Don’t Get Me Wrong’, `Hymn To Her’ and `I’ll Stand By You’ into the UK Top 20. Chrissie Hynde, herself, seemed never far away from the tabloid column inches, whether it was a dig at her punk past, her relationships with rock stars (she had a daughter, Natalie, in 1983 with RAY DAVIES, and subsequently married Jim Kerr of SIMPLE MINDS; they had a daughter, Yasmin), or her staunch vegan stance for animal rights.
Well before any thoughts of becoming a rock and pop star, Chrissie (born Christine Ellen Hynde, September 7, 1951, Akron, Ohio) had spent the early 70s at Kent State University, before moving to London in 1973 and subsequently securing work as an NME journalist, alongside the likes of Nick Kent. This connection would lead her to work for MALCOLM McLAREN and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood at their now-well-documented “Sex” clothing shop, where she would meet and er… nearly marry – only to gain a UK work permit – both Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, in turn. The registry office was thankfully closed for the day on an extended bank holiday.
The following year, after returning from another spell in Cleveland with the forgettable R&B combo Jack Rabbit, Hynde relocated to Paris to join the cringingly-titled The Frenchies, with new bass-player boyfriend Michael Fradji Memmi. Desperate to join any punk band in the London vicinity, she played guitar in Masters Of The Backside (later The DAMNED), unsuccessfully auditioned for a group that would become 999 and, ultimately, helped form the Berk Brothers (Dave and Fred) before they replaced her with the enigmatic and loud JOHNNY MOPED. On meeting CHRIS SPEDDING, she was invited to contribute backing vocals on his 1977 album, `Hurt’.
Not the greatest idea to join a band named after a pair of child-killers, The Moors Murderers (fronted by Steve Strange), understandably this outfit would be forced to quit. Not one to give up on her dream, her self-penned songs were strong enough, however, to attract the attention of Dave Hill (then in the process of setting up his own label, Real Records) for whom she cut a demo tape in early ’78; incumbent manager Hill duly asked Chrissie to form a band, and voila… the PRETENDERS were born that spring when she found bassist Pete Farndon, guitarist/keyboardist James Honeyman-Scott and in-session drummer Gerry Mackleduff (who’d stepped in for Jon Adkin). The Hereford connection was completed when drummer Martin Chambers joined the fray, but only after their debut single, `Stop Your Sobbing’ (a cover of a KINKS album track from 1964), was cut.
Held back for several months until the time was right (i.e. 2nd February 1979), the NICK LOWE production garnered much attention and had reviewers salivating over its fresh-faced, new wave/power-pop prowess, much in the wake of the punk overload. The emotionally-fragile `Kid’ (b/w `Tattooed Love Boys’), followed their debut into the Top 40 that summer, before the PRETENDERS reached for the stars at the tail end of the year with the simmering, `Brass In Pocket’. A swaggering slice of white pop-funk, the record topped the charts (Top 20 in America), to which Hynde was fast gaining a reputation as one of the finest female songwriters, with an evocatively sultry voice to match.
If there were any doubters, then the eponymous PRETENDERS (1980) {*9} set silenced them forthwith, a brilliant debut with a consistently engaging stylistic diversity. In addition to the singles, the album boasted the reggae-esque `Private Life’ (soon to be covered by GRACE JONES) and the gorgeous `Lovers Of Today’; the individual musicians acquitting themselves with impressive conviction, notably the talented Honeyman-Scott. The album guaranteed the PRETENDERS name a household one, while the band subsequently undertook a US stadium tour.
While in America, Chrissie met her hero and beau-to-be RAY DAVIES. Cited in his impending divorce, The KINKS man would eventually become her common-law husband, although the couple were allegedly refused a marriage certificate when the registrar became perturbed by their constant bickering.
The much-anticipated follow-up, PRETENDERS II {*8}, was eventually released in August ‘81 to mixed reviews. The attendant hit singles, `Message Of Love’, the follow-on pop jangle of `Talk Of The Town’ (from April 1980!) and the dreamy `I Go To Sleep’ (another KINKS cover), were by far superior than mistimed Top 50 minor flop, `Day After Day’. Along with the steamy and part-autobiographical `The Adultress’, the upbeat and suggestive `Bad Boys Get Spanked’, plus `Pack It Up’ and `Louie Louie’ (not the rock’n’roll relic but a true Hynde-hued highlight), overall the album just lacked the verve and pulling power of their master-class debut.
On 14 June ’82, Farndon’s spiralling drug addiction was such that he was fired from the band, but worse still, was the shocking death (two days later) of Honeyman-Scott, who was found dead in his London flat from a heart attack caused by cocaine abuse. In stepped guitarist Billy Bremner (ex-NICK LOWE, ex-ROCKPILE) and BIG COUNTRY bassist Tony Butler to record the driving melancholy of `Back On The Chain Gang’ (b/w `My City Was Gone’), a memorial to James.
With semi-permanent members Robbie McIntosh and Malcolm Foster brought in on guitar and bass respectively, The PRETENDERS began a new chapter in early ‘83. Incredibly, tragedy struck again, almost immediately, when, on 14 April, former member Farndon became another drugs casualty when he was discovered dead in his bathtub after taking heroin. A long overdue hit single eventually surfaced towards the end of the year, the undulating `2000 Miles’, while a third album, LEARNING TO CRAWL {*8}, appeared in early 1984.
Though the said album contained some stellar band moments, it once more met with mixed reviews and performed better in America than in Britain, where `Middle Of The Road’ and `Show Me’ were Top 30 hits. One song to catch both crowds from across the pond was the re-vamp cover of The Persuaders 1971 smash, `Thin Line Between Love And Hate’, while the rockabilly-styled `Thumbelina’ sat well with the yearning `I Hurt You’.
The following year was to be an eventful one for mother Hynde, meeting and subsequently marrying Jim Kerr as well as playing Live Aid and topping the UK charts via her UB40 collaboration of the old SONNY & CHER chestnut, `I Got You Babe’.
Hynde and McIntosh eventually re-emerged with another slightly modified PRETENDERS line-up, and a new deal with WEA in late ’86; replacing Foster with African-American JAMES BROWN refugee T.M. Stevens and, more importantly, swapping an understandably distraught Chambers (who’d lost his two buddies) with another American, Blair Cunningham (ex-HAIRCUT 100); Rupert Black played keyboards on tour. Showcasing a suffocating array of Stateside-based session people that included Bernie Worrell, Carlos Alomar and Bruce Brody, producers Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain stepped up to plate to supersede Steve Lillywhite for The PRETENDERS’ first transatlantic Top 10 hit: the infectiously-chugging `Don’t Get Me Wrong’. This was swiftly followed by the GET CLOSE (1986) {*6} album, a warmer and worldly sounding affair with Hynde singing to her newest daughter on the lovely Meg Keane-penned `Hymn To Her’ single hit, while revealing an increasing political awareness on the industry-baiting, `How Much Did You Get For Your Soul?’. Less memorable was her modified interpretations of JIMI HENDRIX’s `Room Full Of Mirrors’ and Alomar’s `Light Of The Moon’. Or for that matter (exclusive of the said set), one of the worst and least-known James Bond/007 alliances a la `If There Was A Man’, which scraped into the Top 50 in August ’87.
However, things looked brighter in 1988, a year that saw Chrissie billed on the Nelson Mandela concert alongside UB40 at Wembley Stadium (she also secured another Top 10 collaboration with the reggae combo that summer: `Breakfast In Bed’), while also becoming involved in various animal rights activities. She caused controversy in June ‘89, when she attended a Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors press conference, telling how she (a staunch vegetarian) once firebombed McDonald’s burger shop. The day after, one of their shops in Milton Keynes was firebombed and Chrissie was asked/told to sign a retracting statement, or be taken to court.
Chrissie eventually turned her hand to the PRETENDERS once more at the turn of the decade; now virtually solo with a revolving cast of musicians that included the aforementioned Cunningham and Bremner (plus producer Mitchell Froom on keys and John McKenzie on bass) backing her on her/their weakest set so far, PACKED! (1990) {*4}. Not included was her musical liaison with ex-SMITHS journeyman guitarist JOHNNY MARR on failure to launch, `Windows Of The World’, but inside was their dual collaboration `When Will I See You’. When both `Never Do That’ (b/w The BEATLES’ `Not A Second Time’) and `Sense Of Purpose’ failed miserably to garner any sales, not even another HENDRIX cover (`May This Be Love’) could pull it from the mire of the bargain bins.
The following October, mother of two Chrissie was credited on `Spiritual High’, a subsequent hit by Moodswings, although once again, things looked decidedly pear-shaped when a cover of 10CC’s `I’m Not In Love’ (from the Indecent Proposal movie of ‘93), totally bombed.
1994’s LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS {*6} roped in some other independents of a kind, when guitarist Adam Seymour (ex-KATYDIDS) and bassist Andy Hobson (ex-PRIMITIVES (who replaced former SMITHS man Andy Rourke), joined Chrissie and a revitalised Martin Chambers. Co-composing a handful of tracks with Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (the only cover stemming from DYLAN’s `Forever Young’), Hynde had reasons to feel upbeat when the UK Top 10 (US Top 50) album spawned two major hits in `I’ll Stand By You’ and `Night In My Veins’. The icing on the cake came a year later when HYNDE, CHER and NENEH CHERRY (along with ERIC CLAPTON on guitar), hit the top spot with charity single, `Love Can Build A Bridge’.
While not scaling the giddy heights of old, her recent catalogue proved Chrissie was still capable of writing affectingly melodic pop/rock. The acoustic, unplugged set was inevitable really; the PRETENDERS unveiling of THE ISLE OF VIEW (1995) {*6) – a pun on “I Love You” and more importantly, a collection of spartan re-workings of old classics – was televised at London’s Jacob Street Studios. An outtake of RADIOHEAD’s `Creep’ hit the cutting-room floor, having been a B-side to a reprised `Kid’ single.
Retaining the same line-up for once, Chrissie’s PRETENDERS strolled back into contention (at least in the UK), on the Stephen Street/Steven Hague-produced !VIVA EL AMOR! (1999) {*6}. She’d now divorced Kerr in the interim period and wed, in 1997, the artist Lucho Brieva (they divorced in 2002). The album – which featured a cover shot taken by the late Linda McCartney – saw Hynde and her resolute band find favour with her 80s fanbase; the opening track, `Popstar’, truly a single that deserved better airplay, while the almost obligatory re-treads (this time through The DIVINYLS’ `Human’ and SILVIO RODRIGUEZ’ `Rabo De Nube’), proved she was willing to expand her horizons.
With their “Greatest Hits” (2000) marking the end of her lengthy tenure with Warner Bros., LOOSE SCREW (2002) {*6} became the PRETENDERS’ first release for twilight-time imprint Eagle (Artemis Records in the States). Not that this downscaling had any kind of marked effect on their approach, except perhaps that Chrissie’s lyrics were more coruscating than ever, whether the target was errant lovers or her own shortcomings. Seymour was now upgraded to Hynde’s co-conspirator songsmith, although only Top 60 sales – as with flop singles `You Know Who Your Friends Are’ and `The Losing’ – had them virtually dropping off the proverbial radar. The closing `Walk Like A Panther’ (co-scribed by JARVIS COCKER and a few others) was its only cover piece among some heavy murmurings a la `Lie To Me’, `I Should Of’ and the reggae-fied `Clean Up Woman’.
Conspicuous by her absence (though the group were credited on the Elephant Man version of `Don’t Get Me Wrong’), her PRETENDERS were back in action in 2008. Having replaced Hobson with Nick Wilkinson (in 2005) and Seymour with James Walbourne (in 2007); on tour- only Chambers was again overlooked, this time by seasoned session man Jim Keltner and steel guitarist Eric Heywood. The US-only BREAK UP THE CONCRETE {*7} propelled the all-new line-up into the American Top 40, whilst British fans had to wait for a whole year when the set complemented a “Best Of Pretenders” double-CD package – unique but infuriating. Among its fast and frenetic rockers such as `Boots Of Chinese Plastic’ (sending up a certain DYLAN number) and `Don’t Cut Your Hair’, were the fragile but fiery `Love’s A Mystery’ and `The Nothing Maker’.
On the back of a LIVE IN LONDON (2010) {*6} album, the almost unavoidable and imperative breakaway of Hynde resulted in the collaborative JP, CHRISSIE & THE FAIRGROUND BOYS album, FIDELITY! (2010) {*6}. JP was a 20-something Welsh singer/songwriter JP Jones, whom the American-born singer was rumoured to be dating. One thing that was clear was the cohesion of both parties, lying somewhere between a gruff GLEN HANSARD and filmic counter Marketa Irglova (aka The Swell Season) on wistful and warm tracks like `Perfect Lover’, `If You Let Me’ and `Fairground Luck’.
Now 62 years of age, but looking like she’d just stepped off the Top Of The Pops stage, CHRISSIE HYNDE put the PRETENDERS on hold once again to fire out her inaugural transatlantic Top 40 solo set, STOCKHOLM (2014) {*6}. Named so, due to her musical liaison with Swedish songwriter/producer Bjorn Yttling (of PETER BJORN AND JOHN), there were touches of SPECTOR in highlights `You Or No One’ and `A Plan Too Far’. Somewhere, there were also guest cameos from NEIL YOUNG and former tennis ace John McEnroe. Suggesting there could be a sophomore set in the pipeline, she swept the years behind her for a GARBAGE-esque `Dark Sunglasses’ and `Down The Wrong Way’, contradictory as the reciprocity of roles relayed. A year on, Hynde was publicly dressed down for her “personal” remarks on rape, stirring the pot for the daily tabloids when recounting her own experiences, way back, at the hands of outlaw bikers. It was no coincidence that her autobiography, Reckless – My Life, was published around the same time.
Turning 65 mattered not to a cool Chrissie and, with her ever-ready PRETENDERS band back at the helm, a contradictory “comeback” title, ALONE (2016) {*8}, was anticipated greatly. Why it only scraped into the UK Top 40 was anybody’s guess. Moving with the times by way of roping in BLACK KEYS’ Dan Auerbach on the dials, long-time fans will probably never hear the group sound as punk-hard as on The STOOGES-like `Gotta Wait’. With the 60s-styled greasy garage riffs on the opening title track (complete with a tasty expletive), Hynde could reach to a territory unfamiliar with their 80s-pop aesthetic. Her softer side was also on show for `Let’s Get Lost’, `Blue Eyed Sky’, `The Man You Are’ and `Death Is Not Enough’, whilst the kitchen-sink was thrown in for the BOOKER T./MGs-“keystrokes” of `Roadie Man’, the Stax/soul groove of `Never Be Together’ and the lounge bossa nova of `One More Day’.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul-Oct2016

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