The Pretenders are a New Wave and rock band, known best for innovative songwriting and charismatic performances by bandleader, guitarist, and vocalist Chrissie Hynde. Along with Hynde, the original band consisted of James Honeyman-Scott, Pete Farndon and Martin Chambers.
Hynde was originally from Akron, Ohio, but moved to England and began writing for the British music publication New Musical Express, but quickly moved from writing to performing. The Pretenders formed during the peak of the British punk music movement in 1978; as the first punk/new wave band fronted by a woman the band quickly rose to critical attention and released a successful single, "Stop Your Sobbing" (written by Ray Davies), followed by "Kid" and "Brass in Pocket". The Pretenders, a self-titled album, came out in 1980 and was a success in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The Pretenders released their second album, Pretenders II, in 1981.
Hynde's "in your face" yet sophisticated sexuality was a ground-breaking event in the pop music scene. Hynde delivered blistering, sexually charged lyrics in songs like "Tattooed Love Boys", describing her involvement with the gay S&M scene, with what at the time was a shocking ferocity, but at the same time undeniable artistic validity. Lyrics like these: "I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for ... Well those love boys have got you where I used to lay - well, ha, ha, too bad. You know what they say - stop snivelin', you're gonna make some plastic surgeon a rich man.", took rock audiences to places they had never been before. Even artists on the extreme fringes of the scene, like Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics, owed their acceptance in part to the trail blazed by Hynde. However, few of the artists who followed in her footsteps, although many had higher shock value, matched the musical quality and lyrical sophistication of her first two albums.
Pete Farndon was kicked out of the group for drug abuse in 1982; ironically, Honeyman-Scott died of a heroin and cocaine overdose two days later. In 1983, Farndon also died of a drug overdose. Following those deaths, the band never regained its original intensity and edgy quality, although a number of releases followed. Clearly, Hynde's relationship with Ray Davies (leader of the sixties British Invasion band, The Kinks) and ensuing motherhood also had something to do with the change in the band's persona. Hynde became increasingly focused on political activism, vocally supporting environmental movement and vegetarianism. Her social and political views were woven into more than one of the band's successful releases.
In the song "My City Was Gone" Hynde expressed dismay at the devastation caused by industrial pollution and rampant commercial development in her home state. "Middle of the Road", a song that attempted to recapture some of the group's earlier hard-edged sound, dealt with, among other things, the indifference of wealthy nations to the plight of the world's poor and the apathy of the wealthy bourgeoisie, as in the lyric, "When you own a big chunk of the bloody third world, the babies just come with the scenery." Ironically, she also expressed her annoyance about the rigors of celebrity life just as her own celebrity was beginning to fade for good: "I can't get from the cab to the curb without some little jerk on my back".
Hynde reformed the Pretenders with guitarist Robbie McIntosh and Malcolm Foster. The band's first album with this lineup, Learning to Crawl was released to critical acclaim in 1984. Yet another new lineup including McIntosh, Hynde and a bevy of session musicians released Get Close in 1986, which returned them into the charts with "Don't Get Me Wrong". The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr joined the Pretenders for brief period after the Smiths's breakup in 1987.
There was a long hiatus in activity for Hynde from 1986 to 1994, when she released "Last of the Independents" with limited success. Touring behind the album with original drummer Martin Chambers in small venues around the US, she was given to interrupting shows with diatribes on her favorite pet causes, sometimes screaming insults at the audience, to the obvious chagrin of bandmates on-stage. "All you hamburger-eating motherfuckers are gonna die!", was the peak of one such rant, delivered in front of a Boston audience in 1995 and reported unfavorably in the local music reviews.
Viva el Amor was released in 1999, as was their collaboration with Tom Jones on the album Reload.
In 2005, the Pretenders will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.