The Pretenders are an English-American rock band formed in Hereford, England, in March 1978. The original band comprised 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 and Chambers as the remaining original members.
Hynde, originally from Akron, Ohio, moved to London in 1973, working at the weekly music paper NME and at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's clothes store. She was involved with early versions of The Clash and The Damned and played in short-lived bands such as Masters of the Backside and The Moors Murderers. The Pretenders formed in 1978 after Dave Hill at Anchor Records heard some demos of Hynde's music. He arranged a rehearsal studio in Denmark Street, where a 3-piece band consisting of Hynde, Mal Hart on bass (he had played with Hynde and Steve Strange in the Moors Murderers), and Phil Taylor of Motörhead on drums played a selection of Hynde's original songs. Dave Hill was impressed and arranged a day at Studio 51 to record another demo. Although it was rough, he felt he had seen and heard enough "star potential" to suggest that Hynde form a more permanent band to record for his new label, Real Records. Hynde then 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, then without a name, recorded five tracks at Regents Park Studio in July 1978, including "Stop Your Sobbing." Shortly thereafter, Gerry Mcilduff was replaced on drums by Martin Chambers, and Hynde named the band "Pretenders" after the Platters song "The Great Pretender."
Original band (1978–1982)
The band's first single, a cover of The Kinks song "Stop Your Sobbing" (produced by Nick Lowe and recorded at the July Regents Park sessions) was released in January 1979 and gained critical attention. It was followed in June with "Kid," and then in January 1980 the band got to No. 1 in the UK with "Brass in Pocket," which was also successful in the US, reaching No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Their self-titled debut album was released at the end of December 1979 and was a success in 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, No. 52, and Rolling Stone, No. 155.) The band played at the Heatwave festival during August 1980 near Toronto.
During March 1981, the EP Extended Play was released, containing the UK and US success "Message of Love" and "Talk of the Town", "Cuban Slide" and a live version of "Precious," recorded in Central Park.
The second full-length album, Pretenders II, was released during August 1981. Pretenders II included the Extended Play singles, the MTV video success, "Day After Day," and popular album-radio tracks "The Adultress," "Birds of Paradise," "Bad Boys Get Spanked" and "The English Roses".
Farndon was fired 14 June 1982 by Hynde. Two days later, on 16 June 1982, James Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure as a result of cocaine intolerance. Farndon was in the midst of forming a new band with former Clash drummer Topper Headon (who coincidentally, was battling heroin addiction and left the band, unable to cope), when he was found dead on 14 April 1983 by his American wife, Conover. After taking heroin and passing out, Farndon drowned in his bathtub, leaving the Pretenders with two living 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, becoming their biggest success in the US, staying at No. 5 for three consecutive weeks. The single's B-side, "My City Was Gone" is now the theme music for 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 during January 1984.
"Middle of the Road" was this line-up's first single, released in the US in November 1983 and reached the Top 20 there. Hynde had had a daughter with Ray Davies during January 1983, the "kid" mentioned in the song. The US B-side, "2000 Miles", was released as a single in the UK. The album included a cover version of The Persuaders' "Thin Line Between Love and Hate", which featured Paul Carrack on keyboards. The 1985 Live Aid concert proved to be the last gig for this line-up.
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 both him and Foster. The revised Pretenders team became Hynde, McIntosh, bassist T.M. Stevens, and ex-Haircut One Hundred drummer Blair Cunningham. 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" a No. 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. Two players were dismissed, McIntosh eventually quit, and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr joined for a final brief period during 1987.
There was a hiatus in musical activity for Hynde until 1990, when Hynde hired session players (including one-time Pretenders Bremner and Cunningham and bassist John Mckenzie) and released Packed! Hynde was the only person pictured anywhere on the album, and was the only official member of the band. In Canada, the lead single "Never Do That" was a Top 40 success, peaking at No. 26 but it fared less well elsewhere.
By 1993, Hynde had teamed with ex-Katydids guitarist Adam Seymour to form a new version of the Pretenders. The team of Hynde and Seymour then hired a number of session musicians to record Last of the Independents that year, including ex-Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, ex-Primitives bassist Andy Hobson, and drummer/writer/producer James "Fred" Hood, formerly with The Impossible Dreamers and Moodswings. But by the end of the album sessions (and for the subsequent tour) the official band line-up was Hynde, Seymour, Hobson, and returning drummer Martin Chambers.
This line-up would endure for well over a decade with no changes. Several recordings as The Pretenders occurred during 1993, including a cover version of the Jimi Hendrix's "Bold As Love" for the tribute album Stone Free, and a cover of 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" for the film, Indecent Proposal.
When Last of the Independents was released in 1994, it had reasonable overall commercial success, being rated gold in the US. Lead single "Night In My Veins" was a minor success in the US, a mid-chart success in the UK, and a top 10 success in Canada. The second single was the album's centrepiece ballad "I'll Stand by You"; this track received substantial airplay, and was a top 10 success in the US and UK, and top 20 in Canada. Hynde wrote a good portion of the album with the team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. Subsequently, the band toured in small venues around the US, sometimes including a string quartet. Some of these arrangements are preserved on the 1995 The Isle of View live album and DVD, made at London's Jacob Street Studios. Damon Albarn played piano on the recording, which also featured the Duke String Quartet.
During 1997, the Pretenders supplied two tracks for the soundtrack of the Ridley Scott film G. I. Jane: "Goodbye" and "The Homecoming".
Over the course of the decade, Hynde became increasingly concerned with political activism, vocally supporting the environmental movement and vegetarianism. Viva el Amor was released during 1999, as was their collaboration with Tom Jones on the album Reload.
The Pretenders joined with Emmylou Harris on Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, performing the song "She". A Greatest Hits compilation followed in 2000. During 2002 Loose Screw was released by Artemis Records with only modest commercial success. It was the first Pretenders record to be released by a company other than WEA. Rolling Stone noted its "refinement, stylish melodies and vocal fireworks," while Blender called it "slick, snarky pop with flashes of brilliance".
During March 2005, the Pretenders were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Only Hynde and Chambers attended the ceremony. During her acceptance speech, Hynde named and thanked all the replacement members of the group, then said:
After their Hall of Fame induction, the Pretenders continued touring as a four-part team (Hynde, Seymour, Hobson and Chambers). During 2005, bassist Hobson left and was replaced by Nick Wilkinson, marking the band's first line-up change in thirteen years. That same year, Rhino Records released the four disc and DVD box set Pirate Radio 1979-2005 which spanned the group's entire career. Two disc remastered versions of the first two albums also came out that year with bonus tracks. During 2007, Rhino remastered both Learning To Crawl and Get Close once again with bonus tracks. Not long after, guitarist Seymour left and was replaced by James Walbourne.
The Pretenders' album Break Up the Concrete was released through Shangri-La Music on 7 October 2008. It was the band's first Top 40 album in the US in twenty two years. Tracks include "Boots of Chinese Plastic", "Don't Cut Your Hair", "Love's a Mystery", "The Last Ride" and "Almost Perfect". With Hynde was the guitarist James Walbourne, pedal steel player Eric Heywood, bassist Nick Wilkinson and drummer Jim Keltner (on the album only). Chambers returned to the drums on tour with the band. Several one-off shows were performed during the closing months of 2008, including a couple of Christmas charity shows. The 'Break Up The Concrete Tour' began in mid-January and covered most of the United States, with shows until the end of March. It then continued in Europe, with gigs in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Belgium, and the UK during the months of June and July, before returning for a new tour in Canada and the US during August and September 2009. A show from the tour, filmed at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London on 15 July 2009, was released on CD with bonus DVD / Blu-ray on 9 February 2010, titled Pretenders: Live in London. Another tour was announced in May, a double headlining tour in New Zealand and Australia with Blondie for a few capital city and winery shows.
On 5 February 2011, Hynde and the Pretenders performed live on CMT's Crossroads with Faith Hill and her band, including songs from both catalogs.
In September 2012, The Pretenders re-grouped (Hynde, Chambers, Heywood, Welbourne, Wilkinson) as part of the entertainment lineup for the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix.
- 1979: Pretenders
- 1981: Pretenders II
- 1984: Learning to Crawl
- 1986: Get Close
- 1990: Packed!
- 1994: Last of the Independents
- 1999: Viva el Amor
- 2002: Loose Screw
- 2008: Break Up the Concrete
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