The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we’ll peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time your rockin’ reviewer reflects upon an album by oneof the first big bands he ever saw–The Pretenders’ Pretenders.
But first, for those not up on their music history, The Pretenders are a Brit band founded in England in 1978. The founding members included the main songwriter Chrissie Hynde (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals and keyboards), Pete Farndon (bass guitar and backing vocals), and Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals and percussion). The following year the band would step into a recording studio to record their debut disc. They would be backed by an assortment of additional musicians: Geoff Bryant (horn), Henry Lowther (trumpet), Chris Mercer (saxophone), Jim Wilson (trumpet) and producer Chris Thomas (keyboards and sound effects).
Side one of the 12-track platter opens on “Precious” (which would quickly become a fan favorite). This also introduces us to Hynde’s songwriting abilities. “The Phone Call” is the second sampling of her writing talents.
“Up the Neck” is one of her lesser-known and perhaps even under-appreciated songs. It is quickly overshadowed by the slightly more interesting track “Tattooed Love Boys”. Both were Hynde compositions.
The next number is “Space Invader”. This was one of the few songs not written by Hynde. This one was written by Farndon and Honeyman-Scott.
That was not the only tuneful team-up on this platter though. “The Wait” (which went on to be a classic in its own right) was the product of a partnership between Hynde and Farndon. This, too, is all too soon forgotten once listeners hear “Stop Your Sobbing” which featured Gerry Mackelduff on drums and was written by Ray Davies of The Kinks. It would be their first single and was produced by Nick Lowe who pulled out of the project after working on this one track.
The band returns to playing Hynde songs as the flip side opens on “Kid”. “Private Life” overshadows it a bit. This one was Hynde’s attempt to write something reggae.
One of the best cuts here is “Brass in Pocket”. This was the result of collaboration between Honeyman-Scott and Hynde. Hynde was initially upset about the track and wanted it off the LP. She was persuaded otherwise however before the song list was finalized. (It would climb to number 14 when released as a single in 1980.)
“Lovers of Today” returns listeners to Hynde songs once again. The closing cut, “Mystery Achievement”, is also a Hynde composition and efficiently ends the album. With a running time of over 47 minutes, Pretenders, was released two days after Christmas 1979 on the Sire Records label in the US.
An effective blend of rock, new wave, pop and punk, it topped the UK charts in its first week and climbed into the top 10 on the Billboard 200 . It went gold in 1980 and platinum in 1982. In 1989, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the 20th best platter of 1980s.
It would not be forgotten in the new millennium either. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the recording at number 155 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2006 it was remastered and re-released. It included a bonus disc featuring the B-sides “Cuban Slide”, “Porcelain”, “Swinging London” and “Nervous But Shy”.
It also included demos of “Stop Your Sobbing”, “The Wait”, “I Can’t Control Myself”, “Brass in Pocket”, “Kid”, “Tequila” and “The Phone Call” featuring Fred Berk on bass and Nigel Pegrum on drums. The second disc also contains live versions of “I Need Somebody”, “Mystery Achievement”, “Precious”, “Tattooed Love Boys” and “Sabre Dance”.
2009 would witness another reissue of Pretenders. This time it was a limited edition gold CD using the master tapes. There were no bonus tracks included. More recently, Slant magazine slotted in the album at number 64 on its “Best Albums of the 1980s” list. Hynde’s distinctive vocals and songwriting as well as the band’s aggressive, unique style marks The Pretenders’ Pretenders/Sire as an indispensable part of any truly comprehensive record collection.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.