Up The NeckPretenders
Brass In PocketPretenders
The English RosesPretenders II
Back On The Chain GangLearning To Crawl
How Much Did You Get For Your Soul?Get Close
Sense Of PurposePacked!
Every Mother's SonLast Of The Independents
KidThe Isle Of View
Nails In The RoadViva El Amor
One Thing Never ChangedBreak Up The Concrete


Pretenders playlist



Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

While my friends were lusting after Debbie Harry, I was in love with Chrissie Hynde. The music was more interesting, mainly because I preferred the guitar led sound of Pretenders (and not The Pretenders) and, wow, she was gorgeous!

Having set the tone for this post shall we give a bit of background?

Pretenders formed in Hereford in March 1978. The original band comprised Chrissie Hynde (lead vocals, rhythm guitar and main songwriter), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards), Pete Farndon (bass guitar, backing vocals), Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals, percussion). This was the line-up for the first four years.

Following the deaths of Honeyman-Scott and Farndon, the band experienced numerous subsequent personnel changes, with Hynde as the only constant member. Chambers returned to the band after an absence of several years. At some points Pretenders has been Chrissie Hynde with a selection of session musicians.

Chrissie Hynde is originally from Akron, Ohio and moved to London in 1973, working both at the NME and at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s clothes store. She was involved with early versions of The Clash and The Damned and played in other more short-lived bands. Pretenders formed in 1978 after Dave Hill at Anchor Records heard some demos of Hynde’s music. He arranged a rehearsal studio in Denmark Street where a 3-piece band played a selection of Hynde’s original songs. Hill was impressed and arranged a day at Studio 51 to record another demo. Although it was rough, he felt he had seen and heard enough ‘star potential’ to suggest that Hynde form a more permanent band to record for his new label, Real Records. Hynde then formed a band comprised of Farndon on bass, Honeyman-Scott on guitar, and Gerry Mcilduff on drums. This band, then without a name, recorded five tracks at Regents Park Studio in July 1978, including a version of Ray Davies’ Stop Your Sobbing. Shortly thereafter, Mcilduff was replaced on drums by Chambers, and Hynde named the band Pretenders after the Platters song The Great Pretender.

Hynde was a big fan of The Kinks (see Toppermost #188) and recorded a number of Kinks’songs; indeed the first single was their cover of Stop Your Sobbing. Hynde was later romantically linked with Davies and they have a daughter together.

Pretenders released nine studio and two live albums between 1979 and 2008. The band had only four top 10 singles and Brass In Pocket was the only chart topper. I have excluded covers in favour of original compositions in the compilation of this ten and while not totally steering away from the singles, there are some lesser known album tracks that deserve to be highlighted.

Pretenders’ eponymous first album was released in January 1980 and went straight to #1 in the UK album charts. Nick Lowe produced Stop Your Sobbing but did not think the band were going anywhere, the rest of the album was produced by Chris Thomas. Up The Neck is a fine track that illustrates the combination of pop/rock the band was producing and also that earthy lyrics are not the sole preserve of male songwriters. The lead single Brass In Pocket gave the band its only No.1 hit single. The former Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry (now Coventry University) had forward booked a number of bands to play the Student Union and Pretenders had been booked to play in January 1980 continuing a sequence of bands hitting No.1 in either the album or singles chart prior to the weekend they were due to perform. Better people than I could probably give the whole list of bands that made up that sequence.

Pretenders II suffered second album syndrome and was probably rushed to capitalise on the success of the first album. The singles, Talk Of The Town and Message Of Love, that had already been released were included on the album. The outstanding track, however, is the magnificent The English Roses. Mention should also be made of the cover of Ray Davies’ I Go To Sleep which is given added poignancy when sung by a female voice.

There was a three year gap to the next album during which time James Honeyman-Scott had died from a drug overdose and Pete Farndon (who also subsequently died of an overdose) had been sacked. Hynde therefore recruited a number of session musicians to play on the album before Robbie McIntosh (guitar) and Malcolm Foster (bass) formally joined the band. It is said that 2000 Miles was written by Hynde in reaction to Honeyman-Scott’s death. Learning To Crawl was a difficult album but Back On The Chain Gang is as fine a single as you could want from Pretenders. In an interview with Guitar Player magazine in 1992, George Harrison claimed that Back On The Chain Gang utilised a chord that he had ‘invented’ and incorporated into the Beatles’ song I Want To Tell You. “That’s an E7 with an F on top and I’m really proud of that because I invented that chord … There’s only been one other song, to my knowledge, where somebody copied that chord – Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders on Back On The Chain Gang.”

Get Close in 1986 spawned the single Don’t Get Me wrong but I’m taking How Much Did You Get For Your Soul? as an example of Hynde’s ability to inject anger into her voice. The album also includes the spectacular version of Meg Keene’s Hymn To Her. The core of the band is the four piece of two guitars, bass and drums but the additional musicians reads like a cast of thousands, including the return of Martin Chambers. By the time Packed! was released in 1990, the hiatus was complete. This was a Chrissie Hynde solo album branded as Pretenders for contractual reasons with Hynde accompanied by a retinue of session musicians. The album has its merits with Sense Of Purpose a fine song and an unsuccessful single.

With a certain irony, the next album was called Last Of The Independents but Pretenders were a band again. Every Mother’s Son is Hynde showing her more gentle side. The Isle Of View (say it quickly, you’ll get the pun) is a predominantly acoustic live album recorded at London’s Jacob Street Studios with the band accompanied by a string quartet; this version of Kid is amongst the best tracks in Pretenders canon. The band that recorded Viva El Amor is the same as that which recorded Last Of The Independents. It opens with the two singles, Popstar and Human, but there is the simple love song, Nails In The Road, that gets me every time.

So I have two albums to represent and only one space. Loose Screw (2002) has the same band as its two studio predecessors and The Isle Of View; Chrissie Hynde, Martin Chambers, Andy Hobson and Adam Seymour. But my final choice comes from the band’s final non-compilation album, Break Up The Concrete (2008) which was released as a number of ‘exclusive editions’. The original 11 tracks comprise ten Chrssie Hynde originals and a version of Robert Kidney’s Rosalee. The whole album has a Country feel to it, Jim Keltner plays drums and Eric Heywood, pedal steel. One Thing Never Changed is another Chrissie Hynde love song that gives full range to the gentle emotion that was always there even when she was giving the song full throttle.

It would be easy to suggest a Pretenders ten made up solely of the singles, so here is my alternative that doesn’t include the three singles in my original list and, unlike the topper-ten, does include a few covers:

Stop Your Sobbing
Talk Of The Town
I Go To Sleep
Message Of Love
Day After Day
Thin Line Between Love And Hate
2000 Miles
Hymn To Her
Night In My Veins

A final footnote is that for the soundtrack of the 1993 film Indecent Proposal, Pretenders recorded 10cc’s I’m Not In Love produced by Trevor Horn in true Pretenders style.




Chrissie Hynde website

Pretenders biography (Apple Music)

TopperPost #252


  1. Peter Viney
    Apr 13, 2014

    I don’t know, Ian … Chrissie Hynde over Debbie Harry? I’ve been thinking that through the last hour. No, still can’t see the reasoning, but love, especially as a youth, is blind. Musically, I’d give them equal points, but on looks there’s not a question. I would have to have Don’t Get Me Wrong, but that may be because I had a Glaswegian colleague when I was teaching who started every sentence with ‘Don’t get me wrong, but …’ He later became a local politician and after a while began to suss why so many people around him used to hum the song. They’re also a band where their album “The Singles” is pretty well perfect … click click click, not a dud track. So much so that apart from Pretenders II, which I suspect was the best seller because there are so many copies about, I never got into the albums. I have ‘Packed’ but gazing at it without any tune springing out, it seems one of those albums that gathered dust after the first few weeks. That will be corrected today. Thanks!

  2. Jerry Tenenbaum
    Apr 13, 2014

    ‘My City Was Gone’. I have a special place for the feel and sentiment of that song. The 1982 B-side of ‘Back On The Chain Gang”, it was critical of state government and establish Hynde for me as a musical force to be reckoned with. 1984 saw its album release on “Learning To Crawl”. The dripping sarcasm of ‘way to go, Ohio’ was as strong a statement as ‘they took paradise….parking lot”.

  3. Keith Shackleton
    Apr 13, 2014

    I would have to include Mystery Achievement, the brilliant album closer, and also Kid from the debut too – a tip of the hat to James Honeyman-Scott for the guitar break on that, one of the most perfectly constructed solos in rock music.
    I’m not up to date with Pretenders after Get Close, I should really dip into the later albums. I’m a huge fan of James Walbourne, chiefly because of his work with Peter Bruntnell, so maybe it’s the latest album I should be starting with.
    Chrissie of course has a new solo album out soon, and if you’ve not heard the lead track, here it is. Sounding good.

    • Esther
      Apr 13, 2014

      Keith you’ve named two of the Pretenders’s best tracks, thanks for acknowledging them. I love covers and instrumentals so I’ll include Stop Your Sobbing and Space Invaders as great tracks as well. Their first album is one of my all-time favorites and count myself lucky to have seen them live back in ’82. Thanks for the post on them Ian.

  4. Andrew Shields
    Apr 13, 2014

    Great list… I would have to have both ‘Kid’ and ‘I Go To Sleep’ in my top ten, though… I saw James Walbourne here in Sydney recently when he played with Edwyn Collins (a great gig) – Walbourne and Carwyn Ellis did a short set together before Collins did his… They have made an album together as London Mississippi, but am not sure if it is released yet.

  5. Glenn Smith
    Apr 22, 2014

    I clearly remember seeing the Brass in Pocket video, the one where she is in a Brighton caff serving the band. The song I’ll come on to in a sec, but first let me say that I too in that moment moved on from Debbie Harry and became fixated with Chrissie, but I’ll leave it at that as Ian has so nicely covered that territory with his fantastic essay. The first time I heard it I was sure I’d heard Brass before, I thought it must have been a cover it was that good. One listen and you knew it, those lyrics, and yeah she is special. Sofia Coppola knew it too when she slipped it into the Karaoke scene in Lost in Translation. I note you’ve put 2000 miles and her cover of I Go to Sleep into your singles list, both favourites of mine after Brass. This is a great toppermost.

  6. Keith Shackleton
    May 7, 2014

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