Hey Everybody, welcome back to Return to the 80s Music! As I mentioned previously, I will go through chronologically and cover as many 80s albums as I can. We’ll hear some classics, some hidden gems that not everybody may be familiar with, and maybe some nobody has heard of, which can be a great discovery, or something that will make you say What the HELL was that?!?!
I hope this is good and you all enjoy it. I hope we make some rad discoveries, and I know there will be songs that will bring us back to some great times! In either case, it is always awesome to Return to the 80s!
You can click on the song title to check out the YouTube video of the song. I’ll also include the Spotify playlist at the bottom of each article, if the album is on Spotify.
The 80s began with a lot of debut albums! Today will be The Pretender’s debut album, Pretenders. Technically, it was released in the U.S. on December 27, 1979, but it was released in the U.K. on January 11, 1980. In 1989, Rolling Stone ranked this the 20th best album of the 1980s.
All I had known about this album was “Brass in Pocket” and that Alec would not Leslie have this album in St. Elmo’s Fire. That’s his.
As part of my journey to run a 5k in all 50 states, in the summer of 2018 I went to Colorado to see family and run a race. The week I was in town, Def Leppard and Journey happened to be playing at Coors Field in Denver. Of course I had to get a ticket! It was already going to be an incredible show. Then I found out The Pretenders were the opening act, and I got psyched! And they did not disappoint! Chrissie Hynde sounded the same and looked incredible with a ton of energy. So, I was looking forward to reviewing this album to see if it was as great as it was hyped up to be, or if it’s a pretender.
The album was released on Sire Records in the U.S. on December 27, 1979 and on Real Records in the U.K. on January 11, 1980. It was produced by Chris Thomas, with the exception of “Stop Your Sobbing” which was produced by Nick Lowe.
The band members on this album are:
- Chrissie Hynde – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, backing vocals
- Martin Chambers – drums, percussion, backing vocals
- Pete Farndon – bass guitar, backing vocals
- James Honeyman-Scott – lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
Now let’s throw this on the turntable and check it out!
Great start! This is a punk rock song I was not expecting. It was written by Chrissie Hynde (who wrote most of the songs on this album). I love the aggressiveness this which is ironic given the title. This song was released as part of a medley along with “Brass in Pocket” and “Mystery Achievement,” which landed at #28 on the U.S. Dance charts.
2. “The Phone Call”
Another in-your-face punk rock song! I’m really digging this!
3. “Up the Neck“
Another great rock song! It is at a slower tempo than the last two songs, but it still rocks. The lyrics are a little racy too:
Lust turns to anger, a kiss to a slug
Something was sticky on your shag rug, look at the tile
I remember the way he groaned and moved with an animal skill
I rubbed my face in the sweat that ran down his chest
It was all very run of the mill
4. “Tattooed Love Boys“
Another great rocker! This has more of a New Wave feel to it. There is an actual music video for this song, and it is just the band playing. Very cool.
5. “Space Invader“
And now for something a little different. This is an instrumental written by bassist Pete Farndon and lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott. It was inspired by the arcade/video game Space Invaders, and you can hear sound effects from the game at the end.
6. “The Wait“
This one was written by Pete Farndon once again, along with Chrissie Hynde. This is another great rock song. I had no idea that they rocked so hard! I love it!
7. “Stop Your Sobbing“
This is a cover of The Kinks 1964 song, written by Ray Davies from their own debut album. The Pretenders cover of this song led to the relationship between Ray Davies and Chrissie Hynde which led to the birth of their daughter, Natalie.
This is a good song, and I like the Pretenders’ version more than the Kinks’. This was the debut single for The Pretenders reaching number 34 in the UK. However, it didn’t perform quite as well in the US, reaching number 65 on the Billboard Hot 100.
This was the second single released from the album. This song has more of a 60s pop sound than the punk rock sound from the songs on the first side of the album. Hynde wrote the song about a fictional boy discovering that his mother is a prostitute. Chrissie said, “It’s about a prostitute whose son finds out what she does for a living and this is her having a conversation with him. Not all songs are autobiographical.” It’s sad that she actually had to add that last sentence. I can imagine her getting a lot of stupid questions asking if it was about her.
9. “Private Life”
Chrissie Hynde wrote this song, and not only is it found here, but Grace Jones will be covering it in June 1980. Here is a quote from Hynde regarding this song:
Like all the other London punks, I wanted to do reggae, and I wrote “Private Life”. When I first heard Grace’s version I thought ‘Now that’s how it’s supposed to sound!’ In fact it was one of the high points of my career – what with Sly and Robbie being the masters, and Grace Jones with her scorching delivery. Someone told me it was Chris Blackwell’s idea – thanks Chris!
I can hear the reggae in this a little. This song is ok. I look forward to hearing the Grace Jones version.
10. “Brass in Pocket“
This was released as the band’s third single. It was their first big success, scoring number one on the UK Singles Chart for two weeks in January 1980 (making it the first new number-one single of the 1980s), number two in Australia during May 1980 (for three weeks), and number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.
This is about the narrator/singer about to have her first sexual encounter with a particular person, and is expressing her confidence that the experience will be successful.
The song originated as a guitar line that James Honeyman-Scott played for Chrissie Hynde. Hynde then recorded the part with a tape recorder and wrote the song’s lyrics. Musically, Hynde described the song as “trying to be a Motown song, but it didn’t quite get it.”
11. “Lovers of Today“
Slowing things down a bit now. This is a nice ballad. It is kind of sad.
Nobody wants to see
Lovers of today happy
So assumed they’re going to part
Nobody wants to be with someone
So afraid they’ll be left with
A broken heart
12. “Mystery Achievement“
We close out with another great song. This kind of reminds me of The Police.
This was like a tale of two albums. The first side was more punk rock, and the second side was more towards the pop side. I liked both sides, and thought this was a great debut.
Hidden Gems: I’ll go with the first and the final songs on the album – “Precious” and “Mystery Achievement”.
Here is my ratings scale
5 Classic – a must buy
4 Solid album – worth buying
3 Some good or great stuff, but also skippable songs
2 Meh – may have 2 or 3 good songs. Just buy the singles you like, if any
1 Sucks. Time I can’t get back
I’ll give this a solid 4. There were a couple of songs that I felt prevented this from being a perfect album for me. But, I still love it and will have to get this on vinyl. I wonder if Alec still has this one. Maybe I’ll “borrow” this one from him, along with The Stranger.
Let me know what you think of this album and band! I’d love to hear from you!
Feel free to comment below, or connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook. Or you can even email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 thoughts on “Return to the 80s Music: Pretenders”
Great job on this!!! In this stressful time, I appreciate the hard work you are putting in to these articles to help us Return to a better time, even as you are also juggling work and school at the same time. Please keep them coming!
Aw thanks so much, Jim!!! In the words of the immortal Tina Turner, “You’re simply the best!”