How many women out there can say they have married both a Kink (Ray Davies) and a Simple Mind (Jim Kerr)?
Chrissie Hynde can. She's arguably the most badass alto of all time, and I'd certainly hate to ask her, "How does it feel to know almost all of your best songs were on the first three Pretenders records?"
Hynde is synonymous with the Pretenders, who formed in England in 1978. The Ohio native and Kent State University alumna was in an early band with Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh before moving to the UK in 1973 and has been a constant in the global rock scene.
Consider the sheer amount of great songs Hynde and her revolving door of Pretenders bandmates have cranked out over the years, especially on the first four releases (if you include the 1981 EP Extended Play). Would it really be an insult to ask her why there haven't been the same amount of great songs since 1984's Learning to Crawl? Sure there have been some high moments, but not like in those first six years. Much like Nigel Tufnel's (Spinal Tap) famous amp, the following list goes to 11 because choosing the 10 best Pretenders songs is just not good enough. The chosen few are from a chronological standpoint, and not in order of importance.
From Pretenders, the 1979 debut album, you have to go with "Tattooed Love Boys," "The Wait," "Brass in Pocket," and "Kid" in that order. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott's infectious three-note hook over the straightforward rhythm guitar of Hynde and shuffle beat from Martini Chambers in "Tattooed Love Boys" squeezes your cerebral cortex like a sexy hand trying to choke the boredom from your soul. Hynde's sultry bravado, which won over millions of fans, is in full control on this great track. "The Wait" features one of the coolest chord progressions ever, which has probably stymied even some of the best bedroom guitar heroes with its stuttered down strokes that filter into a great bass run by the late Pete Farndon. "Brass in Pocket" and "Kid" are both simply brilliant. The image of Hynde in her waitress uniform (from the original video for the former) will forever be etched in my teenage brain.
In March 1981, the Pretenders released their only EP, cheekily titled, Extended Play. From this, "The Message of Love" shines, for the immediate hook of the opening riff and the killer bass line steering the song into its full potential at the 1:25 mark.
After Honeyman-Scott's untimely 1982 death, the Pretenders released Learning to Crawl in 1984, which made it to number 5 on the Billboard charts. One of the best records to come out in the '80s, let alone 1984, there is so much to celebrate here. From the Elvis-esque rock 'n' roll of "Thumbelina" to the killer riffage of "Time the Avenger" to radio classics like "Middle of the Road" and "Back on the Chain Gang," there is no shortage of great moments on the album.
Personally, I have always loved the quirkiness of "Thumbelina" and the sneaky aggressiveness of "Time the Avenger," but the one song off Learning to Crawl that still makes the little hairs stand up on the backs of necks nationwide is "My City Was Gone." Full of invective, and a bass player's wet dream, "My City Was Gone" ruffled feathers in Ohio in its day, but is still relevant and could be about any state in the union.
Finally, in 1990, they released Packed, and on it was an excellent song featuring Johnny Marr called "When Will I See You." Perhaps I'm a sucker for all things Smiths, but I really dig this passionate song.
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