For broadness of appeal, consistency of effort and quality of material, Pretenders deserve more recognition than they usually get in rock histories: a band who were not too heavy but not too soft (and were therefore unlikely to be found objectionable by anyone), who balanced original material with sensibly selected cover versions, and who released a string of attractively packaged singles throughout the decade – in short, they never released a bad single, and produced the occasional classic along the way.
The first of those classics was Brass In Pocket, the first single to climb to #1 in the 1980s in the UK. The only member of the line-up on that track still in Pretenders ten years later was chief songwriter and singer Chrissie Hynde, who was ruthless in pursuit of the perfect team: she had fired both Pete Farndon and Martin Chambers by the middle of the decade. But regardless of the personnel on the records, it was the Hynde House of Hits that was the essence of Pretenders: another classic from her pen was 2000 Miles, a Christmas favourite since its release in 1983. She was also responsible for the memorable singles Back On The Chain Gang (1982) and Don’t Get Me Wrong (1986), very different songs which showcased the versatility of her writing. She could produce a good song when she co-wrote too, either inside or outside the group: Brass In Pocket was co-authored with Jim Honeyman-Scott (who died in 1982), and an original song for the Bond film ‘The Living Daylights’ which Hynde composed with John Barry (If There Was A Man) was released under the name The Pretenders For 007 in 1987.
She had an ear for other people’s tunes too. Her version of similarly-named group The Persuaders’ Thin Line Between Love And Hate, released as a single 31 years ago today, was one of several covers Pretenders recorded which were respectful to the originals but at the same time brought something of Hynde’s identity to them. Her most haunting and sensitive vocal performance to that date, it is still able to send shivers up the spine. A particular favourite writer of hers it seems was Ray Davies, whose Stop Your Sobbing was chosen to be the first Pretenders single in 1979, and whose I Go To Sleep they covered in 1981. (Perhaps her favourite singles band of the 1960s was The Kinks.) Two covers Hynde recorded under her own name with UB40 were also sizeable hits. Then in 1988, it was a Bacharach and David song, Windows Of The World, that Pretenders issued as a single from the soundtrack from the film ‘1969’.
Unfortunately, Hynde has only ever been as good as her next single. Windows Of The World flopped and it wasn’t the first time this had happened: a re-mix of their second single, Kid, released to promote the The Singles, a compilation album which celebrated their success as a singles band, was an ironically-timed failure. (For some reason the track was issued as a single again in 1995 but once again failed to improve on its original chart peak of #33.) Other singles, such as Middle of The Road also (undeservedly) fell short of the hit parade. Pretenders never achieved the sort of fanatically loyal audience who would go out and buy every single, just because it was them – and groups who turn up on lists of the ‘greatest singles bands’ do tend to have established this type of following.
NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 25
Nick HEYWARD Love All Day (Arista HEY6)
MADONNA Borderline (Sire W9260)
PRETENDERS Thin Line Between Love And Hate (Real ARE22)
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES (Siouxsie Sioux) Dazzle (Wonderland SHE7)
The SMITHS (Morrissey) Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (Rough Trade RT156)
ABC When Smokey Sings (Neutron NT111)