The Pretenders

  • English-American new wave band formed in 1978 from Hereford England. There have been numerous members, with Chrissie Hynde (rhythm guitar, lead vocals, songwriting) as the face of the group. Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals) has been in-an-out as a member. During their run in the 80s, James Honeyman-Scott was the lead guitarist/backing vocals, followed by Robbie McIntosh. Pete Farndon was the original bass guitarist/backing vocals, followed Malcolm Foster.
  • Hynde grew up in Akron Ohio, and she attended art school in college and performed in a band that included Mark Mothersbaugh (later of Devo fame). She moved to London England when she was 22 years old, and found a job as a writer at New Musical Express (NME – England’s equivalent to Rolling Stone magazine). That did not last long, and she started working at a clothing store that specialized in outfits for punk rockers. This connected her with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. She tried to marry each of them in order to get her work permit, but the scheme fell apart. By late 1976, Hynde responded to an advertisement in a music magazine for band members. She auditioned for the punk band 999, but was turned down.
  • After several other attempts to land in a band, she made a demo tape in 1978 and gave it to a independent record label executive. The executive offered to become her manager, and he encouraged her to form her own band. Subsequently, she met Farndon, and soon after, Chambers and Honeyman-Scott. They began to perform together, calling themselves The Pretenders, inspired by the 1955 song The Great Pretender.
  • The Pretenders made a demo tape that landed them a recording contract with a major label. Two singles were released in 1979 – a cover of the Kinks’ Stop Your Sobbing and a song written by Hynde, Kid. Both songs charted in the UK. A debut album was compiled, the self-titled Pretenders, which included these singles as well as Brass In Pocket. The album was released in January 1980 in the U.S., and it became a hit, topping the UK chart and peaking at #9 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Brass In Pocket went to #1 in the UK and to #14 on the Hot 100 chart in the U.S. The album ultimately was certified platinum. Rolling Stone ranks it at #155 on the Greatest Albums of All Time list, and the 13th best debut album of all time.
  • Their second album was titled Pretenders II, released in 1981. The single Message of Love reached #5 on the Mainstream Rock chart. In June 1982, Farndon was fired from the band due to his heavy drug usage. Two days later, Honeyman-Scott died due to heart failure related to cocaine usage. Less than a year later, Farndon died of drowning after passing out while using heroin.
  • Hynde and Chambers continued the band. They recruited a guitarist and bassist, and recorded Back On the Chain Gang, releasing the single in October 1982. It became their biggest hit, peaking at #5 on the Hot 100. Hynde then hired McIntosh and Foster to replace Honeyman-Scott and Farndon. They released the single Middle of the Road in 1983, which reached #2 on the Mainstream Rock chart and #19 on the Hot 100. These songs were included on their third studio album, Learning to Crawl, which was released in early 1984. The album reached #5 on the album chart, and was certified platinum.
  • In 1985, they started recording their next album. After completing one track, Hynde declared that Chambers wasn’t playing well, and she fired him. Foster then quit, and Hynde and McIntosh were left to complete the album with session musicians. Get Close was released in 1986. Two singles became hits – Don’t Get Me Wrong reached #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart and #10 on the Hot 100, and My Baby also topped the Mainstream Rock chart. Following the tour to support the album, McIntosh quit the band.
  • Hynde hired session musicians to create the next Pretenders album – Packed!, released in 1990. It sold poorly. 1994’s album Last of the Independents marked the return of Chambers as the drummer, 8 years after his firing, along with guitarist Adam Seymour and Andy Hobson on bass. This lineup remained intact for 10 years and for albums released in 1999 and 2002. Last of the Independents included their last hit, I’ll Stand By You, which reached #7 on the Mainstream Rock chart and #16 on the Hot 100.
  • An album was released in 2008 with a new line-up (Chambers was fired again for the recording, though he continued to perform on tour). The most recent album, Alone, was released in 2016, and Hynde is listed as the only member of The Pretenders, with session musicians supporting her. Today’s version of The Pretenders lists Hynde and 4 other artists (including Chambers again) – their 2020 spring/summer tour co-headlines with Journey.
  • As an 80s New Wave music fan, I certainly saw The Pretenders as a major act in that genre. You can see and hear the punk rock influence, though they were a long way from hardcore punk. My favorite is their earliest hit, Brass In Pocket. Here’s the video.

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