Restoring Rock n Roll

By Paul Rigg

The Pretenders eponymous debut album (7 January 1980; Real Records) is not without its critics – some argue that it is overrated – but we at Guitars Exchange rotundly disagree, because the fact is that there is a huge amount to celebrate about this band’s first offering.   

Firstly, let’s talk about Chrissie Hynde. Yes, she is a very attractive woman and a siren for many; let’s get that out of the way first, as it is undeniable. Equally, she is a great rhythm guitarist and her sound is instantly recognisable – and that is, after all, the holy grail for those with stars in their eyes at the moment they first choose to pick up the six string.

Thirdly, she is a very powerful character, and that comes through strongly on this album’s songs, nearly all of which she wrote. The variety of styles is impacting, and the lyrics are often shocking.  

And then there is the album’s stand out single, Brass in Pocket, with its impossibly infectious hook, which helped the album get to number 1 in the UK charts and make Top Ten in listings all over the world.
"I'm special, so special / I got to have some of your attention," she sings, and of course, she gets it, because we agree.

In order to understand how this globally successful album seemingly arrived ‘out of the blue’, you have to know something about where this American band leader came from, and some of it is very hard. She used to hang out with bikers, who she thought were her friends, until one day they took her to a supposed ‘party’ where they raped her. That experience is partly recounted on the song Tattooed Love Boys. Shockingly, particularly in the context of today’s #MeToo movement, she later said "Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility," before ‘clarifying’ her comments later.

Hynde moved to London in 1973 and soon immersed herself in the punk scene, hanging out with people who would later form bands like The Clash, The Damned and The Sex Pistols. Her punk sensibility is clearly evident on the musical style of the aforementioned song, for example, and when she chants ‘fuck off’ on the album’s sultry opener, Precious.  

It took five years before she felt the time was right to form her own band together with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Pete Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers. They headed into the studio with producer Nick Lowe and recorded a cover of The Kinks’ Stop your Sobbing, which soon started to make waves and attract attention on the radio. Lowe however – one suspects to his eternal regret - felt the band ‘were not going anywhere’ and so Chris Thomas took over at the helm.
Kid kicks off ‘side two’ in very different tenor; as it is a sensitive love song. While guitarist Honeyman-Scott can be seen brandishing a pink Firebird on the video he actually used Hynde’s Telecaster to play the lead on the studio version. Hynde, on the other hand, according to Honeyman-Scott, “borrowed my 335” (that is, his 1964 Gibson ES-335) for her own distinctive guitar contribution.    

And so, we now have it; all the elements of the mix that produced a soundtrack to a whole generation’s lives and that continues to endure in all its legendary glory. It has been said that following the seismic eruption of punk, The Pretenders helped restore rock n roll to what it once was. And we at Guitars Exchange think that is a thought at least worth pondering…