80. The Pretenders

The Pretenders are a rock band from Hereford, England. Chrissie Hynde first came to London as a rock journalist before successfully forming The Pretenders in the mid-seventies. The original band consisted of Hynde, Pete Farndon, James Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers. They released two excellent albums before tragedy struck. Honeyman-Scott died of a cocaine overdose. Farndon was fired from the band, and died shortly thereafter in a heroin-related incident. The Pretenders regrouped wth Robbie McIntosh and Malcolm Foster, and released the outstanding Learning To Crawl in early 1984. This simplifies the many personnel changes the band experienced throughout the years. Hynde continued to perform as The Pretenders until recently.

Wikipedia Biography of The Pretenders

Chrissie Hynde (b. 1951), singer, songwriter, guitar
James Honeyman-Scott (1956-1982), lead guitar, vocals, songwriter, keyboards
Pete Farndon (1952-1983), bass
Martin Chambers (b. 1951), drums, percussion, vocals

Key Personnel After Honeyman-Scott And Farndon Passed Away

Robbie McIntosh (b. 1957), lead guitar
Billy Bremner (b. 1946), lead guitar
Malcolm Foster, bass, vocals
Tony Butler (b. 1957), bass

Excerpts From “The All Music Guide To Rock”

Steven Thomas Erlewine wrote fine summaries for The Pretenders’ first three albums in The All Music Guide to Rock. I will share excerpts of his writing here; he describes what makes The Pretenders special:

Over the years, The Pretenders have become a vehicle for guitarist/vocalist Chrissie Hynde’s songwriting, yet it was a full-fledged band when it was formed in the late 1970s. With their initial records, the group crossed the bridge between punk/new wave and Top 40 pop more than any other band, recording a series of hard, spiky singles that were also melodic and immediately accessible. Hynde was an invigorating, sexy singer who bent the traditional male roles of rock & roll to her own liking, while guitarist James Honeyman-Scott created a sonic palate filled with suspended chords, effects pedals, and syncopated rhythms that proved remarkably influential over the next two decades.

Few rock & roll records rock as hard or with as much originality as the Pretenders’ eponymous debut album. A sleek, stylish fusion of Stonesy rock & roll, new wave pop, and pure punk aggression, Pretenders is teeming with sharp hooks and a viciously cool attitude. Although Chrissie Hynde establishes herself as a forceful and distinctively feminine songwriter, the record isn’t a singer/songwriter’s tour de force – it’s a rock & roll album, powered by a unique and aggressive band…Hynde doesn’t fit into any conventional female rock stereotype, and neither do her songs, alternately displaying a steely exterior or a disarming emotional vulnerability. It’s a deep, rewarding record, whose primary virtue is its sheer energy.

Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers reassembled The Pretenders in 1982, following the death of James Honeyman-Scott and the departure of bassist Pete Farndon. Learning To Crawl, appropriately is the sound of a band coming to grips with loss and the responsibilities that come with maturity. Even though the subject matter is undeniably serious, the Pretenders rock with a vigorous energy that was missing on Pretenders II. It helps that Hynde’s songs are among her best, of course. “Middle Of The Road” encapsulates the contradictions in the album’s main themes; “”Back On The Chain Gang” is a moving tribute to Scott; “My City Was Gone” is a vicious attack on Reagan-era economic devastation; and the beautiful, ringing “2000 Miles” is one of the few rock & roll songs about Christmas to actually work.

— Steven Thomas Erlewine

Chrissie Hynde does tender with tough as well as anybody.

Amazon.com Link to “The All Music Guide to Rock”.

Like many bands, their best work comes early in their career. The All Music Guide ranks their debut album Pretenders as their best record, and one of the greatest rock & roll records ever. They also recommend Learning To Crawl highly. I prefer Learning To Crawl, still my favorite album of the eighties. The album has aged well, from an era when few records managed to do so.

My City Was Gone

“I went back to Ohio,
But my pretty countryside,
Had been paved down the middle,
By a government that had no pride.

The farms of Ohio,
had been replaced by shopping malls,
And Muzak filled the air,
From Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls.

Said hey, ho, way to go, Ohio.”

— Chrissie Hynde, “My City Was Gone”

From Wikipedia:

The distinctive riff from this song has been used as theme music for Rush Limbaugh’s popular American talk radio program since 1984, during his days at KFBK in Sacramento, CA. In 1999, Rolling Stone magazine reported that, according to Hynde’s manager, Limbaugh had neither licensed the song nor asked permission to use it, although this charge has been denied. According to Rolling Stone, Hynde took action after Limbaugh told a pair of reporters in 1997 that “it was icing on the cake that it was [written by] an environmentalist, animal rights wacko and was an anti-conservative song. It is anti-development, anti-capitalist, and here I am going to take a liberal song and make fun of [liberals] at the same time.” This led Hynde to demand that Limbaugh stop using the song, which he did. However, Hynde did an about face and offered Limbaugh the use of her song in exchange for his donating of $100,000 to PETA. She later wrote to the organization saying, “In light of Rush Limbaugh’s vocal support of PETA’s campaign against the Environmental Protection Agency’s foolish plan to test some 3,000 chemicals on animals, I have decided to allow him to keep my song, ‘My City Was Gone,’ as his signature tune…”.

After the 2004 presidential election, in which the state of Ohio put George W. Bush over the top in electoral votes, Limbaugh played the entire song, accenting the “hey, ho, way to go Ohio” lyrics.

I have few songs in my collection that qualify as punk rock. The Pretenders were a part of the British punk rock movement of the late seventies, which deconstructed rock & roll into a rudimentary rebellion against societal norms. I don’t object to punk rock, but I often find it indecipherable. If there is a common element among my favorite artists, it is their ability to write interesting songs and sing them with diction and feeling. The best singers don’t have the best or most powerful voices. They have something to say and they say it so you can feel it and understand it. This separates Chrissie Hynde from many punk rockers.

“Brass In Pocket” comes alive in concert:

An Undisciplined Upbringing

My parents were very permissive. They agreed that the way to raise children was to give plenty of love and attention, but not to discipline or establish an extensive set of rules. They were both smart and successful adults, and tried to lead by example. The results of their child rearing strategy were mixed. Though bound by an intrinsic narrow-minded attention to a few pursuits, I grew up kind and loving, open minded with little prejudice. On the other hand, I was almost completely without discipline, managing to graduate from U.C. Davis with an electrical engineering degree on about an hour, maybe two hours of studying per day. I was blessed with a calculating mind and an innate drive to compete and be noticed.

It took me three months after graduating to find a job. I chose electrical engineering because it was a good major, one that assured me of a good paycheck. My father worked for a physics lab, and suggested that a life in a technical field would be more gratifying than a life in sales or business, and I took his word to heart. I scored well on the math SAT, and was notoriously quick with numbers. After excelling in the undergraduate circuits class, I decided to go with the electrical side of engineering. But I had very little interest in the subject.

After graduation, I had one bright idea. I loved trains since I was a kid, so I sent a resume to the Southern Pacific Railroad offering my services. They never responded; they may have had financial problems at that time. Looking back, I should have driven to San Francisco and banged on the door of the local offices and begged them for something, anything to do with the railway. It was something I loved, and I would have found a way to make a difference somehow. Other than that, I had one disastrous interview with Hewlett-Packard, where they asked me to explain how a capacitor would work in a certain integrated circuit which I totally botched, and a second interview with Ford Aerospace, who hired me for twenty two thousand dollars a year on October 26th, 1981.

A subsidiary of Ford Motor Company, I worked for a group that serviced and modified an Air Force satellite communications system. I should have thrived there. Lots of nice people, a very social environment with plenty of good athletes and music buffs. Pretty secretaries, too. The work was only modestly challenging; technically, I could handle it. But I was using drugs regularly. I had no passion for the work, and I was undisciplined, only working to support my outside life. Nevertheless, after two and a half years I was promoted to a systems engineering group, a move that ambitious engineers typically made in twelve to eighteen months.

This Post Is Dedicated To Mike Dyer

I was excited about the promotion, and looked forward to the new work. I liked my new boss, and had already made friends with many people in my new group. One of my favorites was Mike Dyer. Mike was about my age and had run track & field for U.C. Berkeley. We were both jocks who loved music, and we became friendly. Mike loved The Pretenders. He is the one who piqued my interest in the band, and a primary reason I purchased Learning To Crawl. He did not graduate with an engineering degree, which I thought made him less qualified than me, and I had no understanding that production and hard work would make a good employee and a great engineer. My parents did not emphasize that, or really much of anything else.

I joined the systems engineering group during a pretty dismal part of my life. I was using drugs and alcohol regularly, and I was focused on my beautiful young girl friend, and my beloved night time basketball games. My work output was modest. My attendance was spotty, with twice as many sick days as the next sickest person. Fellow workers began to avoid me.

Meanwhile, Mike Dyer was a force of nature, showing up and working hard every day. He became cube mates with Ted Blanchard, another ambitious young engineer from Chico State University. Naturally, I thought I was smarter than Ted, since he went to a “lesser” university. Of course, he produced about twice or three times as much as me. And of course, they were both promoted quickly.

My cocaine and alcohol abuse was significant, and in May of 1985, I approached my boss, admitted my problem, and left work to attended a twenty-eight day outpatient clinic for drug rehabilitation. When I returned, the mood around me had changed. Co-workers, including Mike Dyer, had to carry the additional workload in my absence. After a few months, I noticed that both Dyer and Blanchard weren’t recognizing my presence as I walked by. One day, after each returning from our lunch time run, we were cooling down on the outside patio and I asked him if something was wrong. His voice and expression became pained and stern, as he explained that I had put him and others in a bind, that I did not carry my weight, and that, as far as he was concerned, was bullshit.

I relapsed again several months later, and did further damage to my reputation as I struggled with drugs for another couple of years before sobering up for the final six years of my engineering career. I transferred out of the systems engineering group in 1988, and sobriety helped to turn my career around. I found a niche where I was valuable, acting as a librarian of sorts, a go-to person for information about the network and its many ongoing modifications. My new bosses liked and respected me.

Mike Dyer, my former friend, despised me so much he never talked to me again. Perhaps the hardest working, best liked, most successful man in my former group, who received constant accolades and promotions, never acknowledged my presence. I would pass him the hallway, sometimes offer a “hello” or a “good morning”. Nothing. I would pass by him running on the levees…nothing. I was so jealous of his success, and I was so hurt by him refusing even the simplest act of kindness in my direction.

Sayonara

I married Cheryl in January of 1992. By that summer I jumped at the opportunity to move to Oregon to begin a new life. I couldn’t leave soon enough. My last day of work was February 28, 1993. In the morning, Mike Dyer greeted me in the hallway. He motioned me into the cafeteria, where we sat down and chatted for the first time in at least five years. He told me that he was proud of me, how I had turned my life around to become a productive contributor. I thanked him and wished him the best. Later that day, while saying goodbye to Jenny Bailey, a co-worker I had known and confided in for years, I told her I was overjoyed to be leaving, and that Dyer and Blanchard could suck my dick, a remark that caused her to audibly gasp in horror. I left the office shortly thereafter, and never worked another day in my life. I’m certain that both of these men went on to successful engineering careers, while I proceeded to become the clever dilettante my parents raised me to be.

The working life served me well. It was a happy time in my life, especially the sober years. I had somewhere to go and things to do every day, plus a large network of friends. Early in our courtship, my wife and I connected over the concept of working to support our outside life, not the other way around. In marriage, we buckled down and lived frugally for several years to free ourselves from traditional work, and with great luck on our side, succeeded within ten years. But finding my niche, finding those things in life that motivate me has not been easy. Today, I have my music blog and my golf course book (on hold because I’m work on this blog every day), but it took years of flailing around, trying to find a passion. This blog may never have popular or critical success, but I believe in it, and I’m going to keep working at it.

Think twice before selecting the practical over the passionate. In life we must take practical concerns into account, and if you can handle the rigors of engineering or another scientific field of study, chances are you’ll find a way to use that knowledge to pursue a passion. My mistake was not waiting for the right opportunity to use my skills. I should have pestered the railroad until they found something for me.

I saw Mike Dyer one more time, by chance, several years later. I had taken my friend Peppy to lunch during a visit to the Bay Area. He was walking through the parking lot as I was on my way back to my car. I said hello, and we chatted for ten or fifteen minutes. He was unguarded and cordial. We shared about our lives in the time that had passed. He did not seem surprised that I no longer worked, and that we were financially secure. He is a fine man, and a great teammate to those who work with him.

I still remember walking by Mike’s cubicle and hearing “Middle Of The Road” blasting through his headphones.

The Pretenders Song Notes:

1. “Precious (Demo)” and “Creep (Live)” can be found on Pirate Radio (Soundtrack).

2. “I Hurt You (Demo)” can be found on Learning To Crawl (Remastered).

The Pretenders Songs:

Mystery Achievement, The Pretenders ✭✭✭✭
Middle Of The Road, The Pretenders ✭✭✭✭
My City Was Gone, The Pretenders ✭✭✭✭
2000 Miles, The Pretenders ✭✭✭✭

2000 Miles (Live), The Pretenders ✭✭✭
Back On The Chain Gang, The Pretenders ✭✭✭
Show Me, The Pretenders ✭✭✭

I Hurt You, The Pretenders ✭✭
I Hurt You (Demo), The Pretenders ✭✭
Thin Line Between Love And Hate, The Pretenders ✭✭
Brass In Pocket, The Pretenders ✭✭
Tattooed Love Boys, The Pretenders ✭✭
Thumbelina, The Pretenders ✭✭
Precious (Demo), The Pretenders ✭✭
Back On The Chain Gang (Live), The Pretenders ✭✭
Boots Of Chinese Plastic, The Pretenders ✭✭

Precious, The Pretenders
The Wait, The Pretenders
Stop Your Sobbing, The Pretenders
Message Of Love, The Pretenders
Creep (Live), The Pretenders

Related Songs:

Thin Line Between Love And Hate, The Persuasions ✭✭✭✭

Stop Your Sobbing, The Kinks

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