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Friday, April 16, 2010

Pretenders

Earlier this week I wondered who was cooler than Joan Jett. A possibility may be Chrissie Hynde, and in this week's trip down memory lane I point out that it's been thirty years since her band, The Pretenders, released their debut album. It sounds as great today as it did then.

Hynde, unlike Jett, was a seasoned vet when she formed the group. She was almost thirty when the first album was released. She grew up outside of Cleveland, but repatriated to England and worked as a writer for rock magazines before forming the group.

The record kicks off with "Precious," which betrays her Cleveland roots: "moving through the Cleveland heat," and even mentioning Howard the Duck. She also tosses off a few epithets, like "I was shittin' bricks," and "fuck off." Hynde clearly was no one to be taken lightly.

The album is full of hard-driving numbers that pulse with a combination of the punk ethos and old-fashioned rock and roll. "Up the Neck," "Tattooed Love Boys," and a magnificent song called "The Wait" highlight side one. As a rule I don't dance, but if any song could get me to my feet it would be "The Wait." I have no idea what Hynde is singing (she starts it off with a guttural wail), but it doesn't matter, as Pete Farndon's bass and Martin Chambers' drums create an impossibly catchy rhythm. I can't listen to this without bopping my head and turning my fingers into drumsticks, beating them against the steering wheel.

Side one ends with the only cover version, The Kinks' "Stob Your Sobbing," which displays Hynde's range on vocals, as in this song her voice is a more traditional female purr. This carries over to Side two, which begins with the plaintive "Kid," and eventually comes to the biggest hit from the record, "Brass in Pocket," a sassy declaration of sexuality--"gonna use my fingers, gonna use my, my, my imagination."

Side two also has a couple of down-tempo songs that I tolerate--"Private Life" and "Lovers of Today," before ending with one of my favorite all-time rock songs, "Mystery Achievement," which again I can't help but tap various body parts to. It's a longish song, but I wish it went on for twice as long, as it's a perfect little symphony of leather-clad rock.

Over the years, the Pretenders have had only one constant--Chrissie Hynde. Two of the bandmates, Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott, died of drug overdoses, and Hynde canned Chambers some years later. Though Hynde is pushing sixty she's still making the same kind of ballsy, straight-ahead rock and roll.

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