Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Pretenders- an appreciation

I am a big fan of Chrissie Hynde. Anyone who can make music that still sounds fresh and relevant after 35 years in the business must have something going for her. When she burst on the scene with her band The Pretenders in the late 70s she was already "too old" to make it, according to today's pop music wisdom .
She was also smart and nobody's fool. I can't imagine Simon Cowell or Simon Fuller wanting to take her on today.
Born in Akron, Ohio, she is one of those people who was there or thereabouts during many of the events that shaped rock music history. For example, she was at Kent University in 1970 when the National Guard opened fire on the students (which inspired the CSNY song "Ohio"). Later in the decade she worked at Mclaren & Westwood's shop "Sex" and auditioned for many of the early punk bands. She was very much an intergal part of the early punk rock scene.
When she finally formed her band "The Pretenders" it was far more than just a punk band. For a start, she wrote great songs, the band were great musicians and she had a style all her own, even if she sometimes reminded me of a cross between 60s singers like Francoise Hardy, and Cathy McGowan with the backcombed hair and eye makeup.

Her first single was a cover of a Kinks song "Sobbing". I must admit I heard it and wasn't that impressed, dismissing her as just another wannabee one hit wonder. I was wrong. Two things happened to change my opinion. Firstly, our drummer's sister Karla started singing with a local teenage band, and aged 16 auditioned and joined our band as keyboard/vocalist. We started playing Pretenders songs.
Secondly, The Pretenders released their first album and had a smash hit with "Brass in Pocket". Everybody started to cover her songs. Grace Jones did a stunning version of "Private Lives".
It's one thing to write hit songs for your own band, but when other artistes start covering your songs, then you are something special.
I was lead guitarist in our band Conspiracy, and I had to learn how to play the many and various hit singles that the Pretenders had in the late 70s/early 80s.
They were very clever and well put together songs. I particularly like this song "Kid"

I love that guitar solo. I'll come back to this song later.
The original band consisted of Martin Chambers on drums (who left for a while and is back again), plus Pete Farndon on bass, and James Honeyman-Scott on lead guitar, with Chrissie taking lead vocals and rhythm guitar. Boy could they rock. Here's some footage from an ABC tv show "Fridays" where they played live in the studio, and boy, they looked great and could really kick ass.

No lipsynch to backing tracks for Chrissie and her band!

I saw the Pretenders play live at the DeMontfort Hall, Leicester in the early 80s. At around this time she was involved with Kinks songwriter Ray Davies, and had a huge hit with his song "I go to sleep" (yet another song I had to learn how to play- by lifting the stylus on and off the record and playing each phrase over and over.)
This tour would be the final tour for this lineup of the band. Two members, Pete (bass) and James (guitar) had serious drug habits and Pete was sacked from the band in 1982. Two days later James died of heart failure associated with cocaine use.
Here's a radio broadcast of a live performance of "I go to sleep" recorded in LA in 1984

Thirty years on,and Chrissie and the Pretenders are still going strong. She'll be 60 next year, and she still rocks. She is one hell of a talented lady, fronting her band through highs and lows, and writing some great tunes. Here's the song she released soon after James Honeyman-Scott's death (and just a few months before Pete Farndon od'd on heroin and drowned in his bath)

Back on the chain gang. Keep on rocking Chrissie!

There's a score of great songs I could have included, and there's some great video of the band out there, so why not check her out for yourself? As she once sang
"I'm special, so special, I'm gonna have some of your attention baby, give it to me!"

In closing, I believe that the mark of a truly great song is whether it be played with minimal instruments.
Here's Chrissie and her guitarist playing "Kid" on acoustic guitars a couple of years. This is a great song, a great performance by a great artist.

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