The Pretenders Biography

Chrissie Hynde (17 September 1951, Akron, Ohio, USA) came to England to seek her fortune in 1973. After meeting with New Musical Express writer and future boyfriend Nick Kent, she joined the paper and gained entrance into the world of rock. During her pre-Pretenders days she worked at Malcolm McLaren’s shop, SEX, played with Chris Spedding in France, and moved back to America where she formed a band called Jack Rabbit. She returned to punk-era London in 1976, forming the short-lived Berk Brothers and achieving a brief period of tabloid notoriety as part of the Moors Murderers, a non-existent band set up as a publicity stunt by the notorious punk icon Steve Strange. By the time she assembled the Pretenders in 1978, Hynde had gained a great deal of experience. The classic Pretenders line-up comprised Pete Farndon (b. 2 June 1952, Hereford, England, d. 14 April 1983; bass), James Honeyman-Scott (b. 4 November 1956, Hereford, England, d. 16 June 1982, London, England; guitar) and Martin Chambers (b. 4 September 1951, Hereford, England; drums, who replaced Gerry Mackleduff). They were signed to Dave Hill’s Real Records, which was soon co-opted by Sire Records. Their debut single was a Nick Lowe -produced cover version of the Kinks’ ‘Stop Your Sobbing’. It scraped into the UK Top 40 in February 1979, having received critical praise and much interest. ‘Kid’ and the superb ‘Brass In Pocket’ followed. The latter was accompanied by a black-and-white video with Hynde portrayed as a waitress, and reached the number 1 position in the UK in November. It was their chart-topping debut album that eventually put them on the road to becoming one of the decade’s most important bands. Pretenders, a tour de force of articulate pop, remains their finest work. In addition to their previous singles, the album included the reggae-styled ‘Private Life’ (later recorded by Grace Jones), the frenetic ‘Precious’, the Byrds -like ‘Talk Of The Town’ (a UK Top 10 single) and the beautiful ballad ‘Lovers Of Today’.

Throughout 1980, the band became a major stadium attraction in the USA, and it was in America that Hynde met and fell in love with her musical idol, the Kinks’ Ray Davies. Pretenders II was released in 1982. It was another collection of melodious rock played with new wave enthusiasm. Standout tracks were ‘Message Of Love’, the brilliantly confessional ‘The Adulteress’, and another Davies chestnut, ‘I Go To Sleep’ (a UK number 7 single the previous November), first recorded by the Applejacks in 1964. During the turbulent month of June, Pete Farndon, whose drug abuse had been a problem for some time, was fired. Two days later Honeyman-Scott was found dead from a deadly concoction of heroin and cocaine. Nine months later Hynde gave birth to a daughter by Ray Davies. Two months after this happy event, tragedy struck again. Pete Farndon was found dead in his bath from a drug overdose.

The new full-time Pretenders featured Robbie McIntosh on lead guitar, and bass player Malcolm Foster. They set about recording a third album and the band ended the year with another UK Top 20 hit single, the Christmassy ‘2000 Miles’. Learning To Crawl was released at the beginning of another successful year, and climbed to number 5 on the US album chart. The album was erratic, but it did contain some gems, notably the epic ‘Thin Line Between Love And Hate’, the powerful ‘Middle Of The Road’ and the melodic, yet poignant tribute to Honeyman-Scott, ‘Back On The Chain Gang’ (the band’s first US Top 10 single). The band embarked on another US tour, but Hynde refused to be parted from her baby daughter who accompanied her, while Davies and his band were touring elsewhere. In May 1984, following a whirlwind affair, Hynde married Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. Back with the Pretenders she appeared at Live Aid at the JFK stadium in Philadelphia, and would enjoy success in August 1985 under her own name duetting with UB40 on the UK chart-topping reggae remake of Sonny And Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’. Following the birth of another daughter (Jim Kerr was the father this time), Hynde dismantled the band for a period. A number of musicians were used to record Get Close, including a soon to depart Chambers, McIntosh, bass player T.M. Stevens, keyboard player Bernie Worrell, and drummer Blair Cunningham (ex-Haircut 100). The Jimmy Iovine -produced album was released at the end of 1987 but received a mixed reception. Two tracks, ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ and ‘Hymn To Her’, had already charted in the UK Top 10 the previous year.

A troubled tour of America saw Worrell and Stevens sacked, McIntosh quitting, and Foster and keyboard player Rupert Black reinstated. ex-Smiths member Johnny Marr also played several dates, but subsequent attempts by Hynde to record with the mercurial guitarist foundered. In 1988 a solo Hynde performed with UB40 at the Nelson Mandela Concert and the subsequent duet, ‘Breakfast In Bed’, was a UK Top 10 hit in June. Hynde’s marriage to Kerr collapsed before 1990’s Packed!, recorded with drummer Cunningham, bass player John McKenzie, and guitarists Billy Bremner and Dominic Miller. The album proved to be another critical and commercial success, demonstrating her natural gift for writing tight, melodic rock songs.

Hynde subsequently spent much of her time campaigning for animal rights and environmental issues, before returning with a new album in 1994. Last Of The Independents saw Hynde reunited with drummer Martin Chambers, alongside Adam Seymour (guitar) and Andy Hobson (bass). In March 1995, in the company of Cher, Neneh Cherry and Eric Clapton, Hynde topped the UK charts with the charity single ‘Love Can Build A Bridge’. The same year’s The Isle Of View saw Hynde performing an acoustic set of Pretenders material backed by a string quartet. She returned to the band format with 1999’s ¡Viva El Amor!, a passionate record that spoke volumes about Hynde’s undying commitment to rock music. The 2002 follow-up, the much-delayed Loose Screw, was the Pretenders’ first album after their departure from Warners. In March 2005, Hynde and Chambers attended the ceremony in New York at which the Pretenders were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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