I only picked up The Pretenders a couple of years ago but I’ve known and dug it for ever, great punk pop and Chrissie Hynde’s voice has always just done good things for me. So it was a bit of a sideways shunt to look at some of the lyrics today for these songs I’ve been singing along to for 30 years and realise that in most cases I just haven’t been listening to, or learned the words at all, I just knew them phonetically. Take ‘Phone Call’ for example, which has long been a real favourite of mine – those ‘phone effects, the growling riff and the taut vocals, it’s brilliant, but lyrically WTF?
This is a mercy mission
A voice you’ll never hear again from a southside call box
Winged demons are the hardest to outfox
Alternatively, take ‘Brass in Pocket’, which is one of my very favourite happy songs, perfect pop. I know every demi-quaver of it, beautiful playing, great aching vocal and all, but the words? well, a bit pants really when you look at them, as opposed to having Chrissie husk them at you:
Got motion restrained emotion
Been driving Detroit leaning
No reason just seems so pleasing
Get out of here with your crazy leaning driving technique you strange American! Okay, so I’m being a dick, this isn’t literature, these are lyrics designed, mostly to fill up the spaces between the music-y bits* but it is interesting to actually look at something you think you’ve known all your adult life and find you don’t really. Regardless, B.I.P is genius.
Which sort of gets me to the other thing I really noticed about The Pretenders these last few times around, if you can shuffle Chrissie Hynde into a mental corner**, difficult because she is such a wonderful dominating presence, is what a shit hot band they were. Perspective can be difficult because of the twin tragedies of Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, but the pair of them and drummer Martin Chambers^ were such a great band, seasoned players, rather than the usual punk kids, they had a lot of bite but could play it beautifully restrained and classy/classic at the drop of a hat; just listen to the Wings-esque ‘Kid’.
What I really like is that The Pretenders just didn’t sound like anyone else around, their nearest colloquy being Blondie I guess and not because of the iconic female singer thang, it was that ability to snap from punk-lite into beautifully realised pop, convincingly. Just listen to ‘Private Life’, the sense of space and calm they project is ineffable and the guitaring is wonderful and understated, classiness personified^*.
There are almost too many riches to deal with on The Pretenders, you certainly get your money’s worth – 47 minutes and never a duff moment. I love the bonkers freneticism of ‘Tattooed Love Boys’, the tender ‘Lovers of Today’, the sheer heartfelt class of ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, the go-go beat of ‘Mystery Achievement’ (great guitar, again!) and it’s a stone cold scientific fact that the guitar intro of ‘Up The Neck’ is better than most bands entire careers.
But who am I kidding by pretending to be all grown up? I’ve got my foibles out for you all enough times before. Basically I’m just a complete groupie for Chrissie Hynde circa 1980. Pity poor Madonna, Kylie, Christina et. al they’ll never truly understand what being sexy is, despite allegedly making careers out of it, for me it’s feminine strength pure and simple and boy does The Pretenders deliver on that. Chrissie Hynde’s just so strong, so mean, so tender, so tough, so sexy, so poised, so ‘Precious’ …
Pity that you bruised my hip,
’cause I’m precious.
You shouldn’t let your manners slip:
You’re too precious.
The fastest punker on the LP, ‘Precious’ is just more perfection on an LP that is hardly short of it. I remember hearing it for the first time when I was about 12, a friend of my dad’s had added to the end of an album he’d taped and it just cut right through everything, I’d never heard anything like it in my life. The ‘Fuck Off!‘ is I think the most meant, venomous swearing I can think of on LP and certainly the sexiest by far; it’s the aural equivalent of her lace gloves on the cover.
*stop me if I get too technical for you, I appreciate that most of you aren’t vastly acclaimed singer-songwriters like what I could be, if I wanted to. Easy. True story.
**I know, I know, no-one puts Chrissie in the corner.
^a link to Mott the Hoople, he’d played in Verden Allen’s pre-Hoople band and Dale Griffin loaned him his kit for his first ever live show and he drummed for Hoople’s 2009 reunion shows.
^*is it too sacrilegious to say I prefer Grace Jones’ dead-eyed version though? Hynde said Jones’ cover was one of the highlights of her whole career.