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I Play Records – Vol 7: THE PRETENDERS first LP

I Play Records – Vol 7: THE PRETENDERS first LP

| On 12, Jun 2013

I was just in my local record emporium, Eastside Records in Tempe, AZ, with a friend, and Michael, the energetic owner, said he was copying some music to work out to. Lo and behold, he was playing the Pretenders first LP, a verified classic that I still listen to and play songs from when I play out. I told my friend if she didn’t have that LP, she should buy it straightaway, and she’d thank me for it later. It was $2.99 – the record isn’t really rare, but it’s essential.

Along with the Supertramp, Earth, Wind and Fire, Chic, J. Geils Band, Styx, Molly Hatchet, Rod Stewart, and Kingfishers records, my older brothers and sister also had the first Pretenders record. I was a lucky kid – my oldest brother worked the door at one of Seattle’s first punk clubs, Wrex, and he turned me on to the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Specials, and other early punk and other music. Although the first record I bought[1] was the Rolling Stones Emotional Rescue – it was 1980, I was 11 at the time, and I loved Some Girls and Big Hits – High Tide and Green Grass so I thought it wasn’t much of a gamble – before then I relied on what my siblings had at home, and I played these records on my dad’s home hi-fi (that included a reel-to-reel). I don’t own any of those records (except the Earth, Wind and Fire), and although I saw the reissue of the Supertramp at Eastside recently and imagined myself listening to it, I wasn’t drawn to it enough to buy it. The Pretenders, however, are a completely different story

Being 10 or 11 and hearing the Pretenders was a little mind blowing. Sure, the song Precious had the lyric “But not me baby, I’m too precious – fuck off!” that I waited for each time in the hopes of hearing someone swear (and also hoping my dad didn’t hear it and try to stop me from listening to the record), but it was more than that. Chrissie Hynde exuded sex appeal. She was fucking amazing. I didn’t know much about what sex was, but I imagine Chrissie Hynde was the first woman I ever wanted to try it out with; I was deeply crushed out on her.[2]

Sure, others paved the way for her (from Wanda Jackson to the Runaways) and she had some amazingly sexy contemporaries (Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, those girls from the B-52s) but goddam, look at the front and back cover of their first LP. Stylish motorcycle jacket and tightly dressed dudes surround Chrissie, resplendent in her red leather jacket, tight black pants, lace gloves, scruffy hair,[3] dark mascara, pouting into the camera as guitarist James Honeyman-Scott peers at her from under his shades, unable to resist. Flip the record over, and she’s bending over to fiddle with bass player Pete Farndon’s shoe as drummer Martin Chambers looks on, smiling. And you can see her red boots. She is all sex, but completely in control.

Chrissie Hynde ignited in me an appreciation for women who could dress sexy but who were also insistent that they got what they wanted. She may have been viewed by some as an object, but it was clear that she was seeking gratification on her own terms.

Put the needle on the A-side, song 1. A little studio noise, and Chrissie’s voice in the background as the drumsticks count off the beat, then the drums and rhythm guitar come in, lo fi but quick. And then lead guitar, quick and choppy. Finally, Chrissie breathes into the microphone as her band mates moan “precious’ in the background. The lyric “bruised hips” made me think about rough sex – what else could it mean? “Do it on the pavement,” “maybe I’m gonna have a baby,” “do it all night,” – my preteen hormones were in a frenzy. The next song, The Phone Call is chaotic as they come, Up the Neck starts loud but gets sexy as Chrissie moans through it, singing about bulging veins “…on his brow.” Tattooed Love Boys is another speedy number, and still all about sex – “little tease, but I didn’t mean it,” “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for.” Space Invaders – a song about a video game? In 1979? – segues into The Wait and the sex oozes off the vinyl. The A-side ends with Stop Your Sobbing. I don’t know when I found out it was a Kinks later but it was certainly years later. I just played the Kinks’ version and a friend asked who was doing the Pretenders cover. Hynde owned that song.

The B-side is equally as amazing, driving, sexy. In thinking about it, it seems like the whole LP is essentially a manual for (sometimes rough) sex.

Chrissie Hynde was from Ohio (she sings about it in a few of her songs), witnessed the Kent State Shootings in 1970 (WTF!), played in a band with Mark Mothersbaugh, later of Devo (WTF!!) and then moved to London in 1973. She worked at NME and Malcolm McLaren’s store Sex, and tried to get Sid Vicious to marry her so she could get a work permit (WTF!!!). She tried out for 999, and played in bands with musicians from Motorhead, the Clash, the Damned (she sang with them right before they became the Damned (WTF!!!!)), Johnny Moped (WTF!!!!!), and then finally formed the Pretenders in 1978. She is officially one of my heroes.

The other guys in the band were British, and it was in England where they were signed and took off. Their first single (Stop Your Sobbing/The Wait)[4] did well (top 30 in the UK charts), and then their LP took off both in the UK and stateside, based on the airplay of Brass in Pocket – it was #1 in the UK for four weeks. The LP makes all kinds of top-whatever lists, and it was among the first punk-edged records to do really well in the US and sort of crossover into the mainstream. There are a few videos for the songs off of these records and they show the their minimalist, black and white aesthetic as well as the sex appeal of Chrissie Hynde and the other guys. There are tons of live concert videos from this era as well, but watch the official videos first.

The original line up released two more records –  Extended Play and Pretenders II – before Honeyman-Scott and Farndon died within two days of each other, unrelated, but both due to drugs.  Both of those records are great as well, and the band experimented with some different and slightly softer sounds – and recorded another Kink’s cover, I Go to Sleep (Hynde was seeing Ray Davies at the time). After the deaths, the band continued with replacements, and had a few more hits (Back on the Chain Gang on their next LP, Don’t Get Me Wrong on the next), and a few more LPs.

I saw the Pretenders in 1984, at the age of 15, with my sister at the Seattle Center Arena. It was in support of their Learning to Crawl LP, the first after the new line-up, and as Back on the Chain Gang was getting popular. I bought a ¾-sleeve concert t-shirt that was so thin and flimsy it fell apart in weeks. I was, however, completely blown away. The band was nothing short of amazing. And as I am sitting here typing this, I’m psyched that I realized that I was once in the same room as Chrissie Hynde, never mind that there were a few thousand other people there too.

[1] I should add that I bought a Doors Greatest Hits 8-track before that.

[2] From past experience, I know I have to be careful because my wife is reading. I love you, baby! Don’t get jealous! I have married friends who have an arrangement that they could choose one person and if they ever got the chance to fuck him or her, it would be OK. I can’t remember who he chose, but she chose Johnny Depp. Maybe Chrissie Hynde would be it for me – I still think she’s sexy as hell – but don’t worry, wifey, you’re the only one for me!

[3] Vogue ruled Chrissie Hynde’s hair 55th of the 100 most definitive hairstyles, whatever the fuck that means.

[4] This single is damn great, with different versions of the same songs on their first LP, faster, and produced by Nick Lowe.

Wez Lundry is a professor, a reverend, a doctor, a DJ and a staff writer for Thrasher skateboarding magazine. When he is not poking fun at “the kids” you can find him sipping cappuccino and admiring art. His claim to fame is working at Seattle’s Fallout Records for a decade before, during, and after the glory days of grunge music, an entirely made up genre that seems to be enjoying a comeback. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and when he is not actively trying to get out of Phoenix with his lovely wife Meg, he is busy skating the empty pools of the great financial collapse. 

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