The Pretenders


Members: Chrissie Hynde Martin Chambers Adam Seymour Nick Wilkinson

Active: 1978-Present

The Pretenders are a British rock band. The original band consisted of group founder 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 was fractured by drug-related deaths and numerous subsequent personnel changes have taken place over the years, with Hynde as the sole constant member.


Hynde, originally from Akron, Ohio, United States, attended Firestone High School and later Kent State University at the time of the Kent State shootings in 1970. Hynde moved to London in 1973, dated the English rock critic Nick Kent, and from there began writing for the weekly music paper, New Musical Express. After several years of false starts, including the bands Masters of the Backside and The Moors Murderers, she moved definitively from writing to performing.

The Pretenders formed during the tail end of the original British punk movement, in 1978. Hynde's eventual band comprised a set of acquaintances from Hereford, near the Welsh border ? young players with a pop aesthetic who had missed out on the punk explosion of 1976, but were eager to catch up.

Farndon (who was romantically linked with Hynde) was the first to join Hynde's band, following a medium-noteworthy run with the Bushwackers, an Australian folk-rock ensemble. Farndon then recruited guitarist Honeyman-Scott, at the time working in the guitar room at Buzz Music in Hereford. However, the Pretenders had no official drummer even as late as the recording session for their first single ("Stop Your Sobbing"), which featured drumming by session player Gerry Mackleduff. Finally, Honeyman-Scott recruited Chambers, who was at the time working as a driving instructor only a few blocks from where Hynde was living.


Following their 1978 signing to Real Records on the basis of a demo of the song "The Phone Call", the band quickly rose to critical attention with the January 1979 single, "Stop Your Sobbing", written in 1964 by Ray Davies and produced by Nick Lowe. It was followed in quick succession that year by the popular singles "Kid" in June and "Brass in Pocket" in November, which cracked the American market for the band (reaching #14 on the Billboard Hot 100).

The debut album Pretenders was released in January 1980, and was a great success in both the United Kingdom and the United States, both critically and with chart-topping sales. (Pretenders was subsequently named one of the best albums of all time by VH1 (#52) and Rolling Stone (#155).) The band played the entire album at the noted Heatwave festival in August 1980 near Toronto.

That the Pretenders were led by a hard-rocking woman was no small factor in their early breakthrough. With her trademark dark bangs, dark eyeliner, and dark jeans, Hynde appealed to both genders. And due to, as the 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide would say, "her sheer authenticity as a three-dimensional woman whose sexuality is completely in sync with a superb rock sensibility," she was able to escape many of the clich?d roles of women in rock music.

Hynde's girl group-influenced vocals were also crucial to the band's success, although the early group was very much an ensemble, adept at playing interlocking musical parts, shifting mood and tempo on cue, and responding to subtle signals from one another. Their recordings were mostly performed live in the studio, with only lead guitar and vocal overdubs. Among the interesting features of the first two albums are casual shifts into odd time signatures, as in the alternating 7/8-4/4 time signature of "Tattooed Love Boys." Another major element of the band's early success was producer Chris Thomas (famed, with engineer Bill Price, for the sound achieved on the Sex Pistols' album, Never Mind the Bollocks). Fans familiar with the band's U.S. chart singles are often unaware of how loud and aggressive the early Pretenders could be, and how loose and experimental some of their early recordings were.

In March 1981 the EP Extended Play was released, a holding action containing the UK and U.S. hits "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 in August, 1981. Most critics at the time called it disappointing, although it is now generally considered a great album. Pretenders II is more spread-out than the debut, and included the Extended Play hit singles, the MTV video hit, "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 hung around during the sound checks and never said a word. Chrissie never initiated any conversation, but thought about him later in the tour.

At this early peak of the band's success and potential, Hynde kicked ex-lover Pete Farndon out of the group for ongoing drug problems. Two days later, 16 June 1982, Honeyman-Scott was dead of a cocaine overdose. While the band tried to regroup in the following year, Farndon overdosed on heroin and died on 14 April 1983. Honeyman-Scott is now regarded as an important rock guitarist, while Farndon is widely admired as a rock bassist.


Hynde subsequently decided to continue with the band. In July 1982, just weeks after Honeyman-Scott's death, a caretaker line-up of Hynde, Chambers, Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner and Big Country bassist Tony Butler, was assembled to record a comeback single, the death-haunted "Back on the Chain Gang." The song was released in October and marked a new level of musical sophistication for the band. 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; it's now perhaps best known as the theme music of The Rush Limbaugh Show.

Hynde then reformed The Pretenders, 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 in January 1984.

"Middle of the Road" was this lineup's first single, released in December, 1983. Recapturing some of the group's earlier hard-edged sound, the song dealt with, among other things, Hynde's new motherhood (Hynde had a daughter with Ray Davies in January 1983), the pressures of stardom, 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 angry rockers ("Time the Avenger") and hopeful ballads ("Show Me") and included an effective cover of The Persuaders' "Thin Line Between Love and Hate." The subsequent tour (with an added keyboard player) successfully showcased a tight band centered around Martin Chambers's forceful drumming. The 1985 Live Aid charity concert was the last gig for this lineup.

Shortly 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 let go, and after an appropriate interval, the newly-revised Pretenders lineup was officially announced as Hynde, McIntosh, bassist T.M. Stevens, and drummer Blair Cunningham. In reality, though, the Get Close album was largely the work of Hynde, McIntosh, and a bevy of session musicians.

Get Close was released in 1986; the disc included the singles "Don't Get Me Wrong" (helped by a popular video homage to the television series The Avengers) and "Hymn to Her" (a #8 hit in the UK).

Two new songs, "If There Was a Man" & "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 keyboardist Bernie Worrell, but this incarnation of the band went through many difficulties. Two players were fired, McIntosh eventually quit, and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr joined for a final brief period in 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.


There was a hiatus in musical activity for Hynde until 1990, when Hynde hired still more session players (including one-time Pretenders Billy Bremner and Blair Cunningham) and released Packed! to a generally dismal reception. 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 hit, peaking at #26. However "Never Do That" didn't do as well in other markets, peaking at #81 UK, and failing to crack the US Hot 100 (although the track did make the US Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts, at #4 and #5 respectively.)

By 1993, Hynde had teamed up with ex-Katydids guitarist Adam Seymour to form a new version of the Pretenders. The team of Hynde and Seymour then went through a number of session musicians to record Last of the Independents that year, including ex-Smiths bassist Andy Rourke. But by the end of the album sessions (and for the subsequent tour) the official band line-up was Hynde, Seymour, bassist Andy Hobson, and returning drummer Martin Chambers. This line-up would endure (perhaps surprisingly) for well over a decade with no changes, although Hobson would often be replaced with session bassists on many of the band's studio recordings.

When Last of the Independents was released in 1994, it met with reasonable overall commercial success. Lead single "Night In My Veins" was a minor hit in the US, a mid-chart hit in the UK, and a top 10 hit 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 hit in the US and UK, and top 20 in Canada. Hynde (perhaps seeking hit material) wrote a good portion of the album with the hitmaking team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. These songwriting partnerships resulted in a minor controversy, as Hynde typically had not collaborated with "hit-makers" in the past. She succinctly pointed out that they were all good songwriters, writing good songs, end of story.

Subsequently, the band toured in small venues around the U.S., sometimes including a string quartet, with Hynde wistfully noting that a certain violin part "was a fine transcription of James Honeyman-Scott's guitar solo." Some of these arrangements are preserved on the 1995 The Isle of View live album and DVD, made at London's Jacob Street Studios, which sometimes revealed an approach perhaps more sophisticated and subtle than was shown by the original albums.

Over time, Hynde had become increasingly focused on political activism, vocally supporting the environmental movement and vegetarianism, and her social and political views were woven into more than one of the band's successful releases.

In June 1989 at a Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors conference in London, when asked what she had done to save the environment, Hynde replied, "I firebombed McDonald's." The next day, a McDonald's restaurant in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was actually firebombed. Though no one was hurt in the attack, McDonald's threatened legal action against Hynde, who subsequently agreed in writing not to make inflammatory statements in public against the hamburger chain.[citation needed]

Later performances at the 1999 edition of Lilith Fair were high-energy and inspiring, featuring clashes between the resolutely un-PC Hynde and festival organizers. While sometimes strident, Hynde has also delighted in confounding others' expectations, once flippantly saying she is no feminist icon and in fact "is just like any chick who likes to talk about makeup in the girls' room."

Viva el Amor was released in 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. In 2002 Loose Screw came out on Artemis Records to 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."

In March 2005, the Pretenders were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Only Hynde and Chambers attended the ceremony. In her acceptance speech, Hynde named and thanked all the replacement members of the group, then said:

"I know that the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years. ... And we?re paying tribute to James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn?t be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here, but that?s the way it works in rock 'n' roll."

After their Hall of Fame induction, The Pretenders continued touring as a four-piece unit (Hynde, Seymour, Hobson and Chambers). In 2006, bassist Hobson was replaced by Nick Wilkinson, marking the band's first line-up change in 13 years. Not soon after, guitarist Seymour left and was replaced by James Walbourne. The current Pretenders lineup in 2008 now consists of Hynde, Chambers, Wilkinson and Walbourne.

The Pretenders' album Break up the Concrete was released through Shangri-La Music on 7 October 2008. It is described as having a rockabilly influence. Tracks include Boots of Chinese Plastic, Don't Cut Your Hair, Love's a Mystery, The Last Ride,and Almost Perfect. With Hynde is guitarist James Walbourne, pedal steel player Eric Heywood, bassist Nick Wilkinson and legendary drummer Jim Keltner (on the album only). Martin Chambers let Hynde work with Keltner as a favor to her for the album but he will be doing the tour. They plan to promote the album late August and September, and perform in the Yahoo Nissan Live Sets in October.


1980 ? 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 - Released 7 October 2008

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Submitted by OptimusPrime at Wed 08 Oct, 2008 3:20 am

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