The Pretenders – The Pretenders (1980)
I’m beginning a new and hopefully recurring feature on Consolation Champs. It’s called Great Albums. Does anyone remember what an album was? Do they still call a music “release” an album anymore? Well, back in 1980, when a band released an album, you bought an album, a piece of vinyl inside a paper sleeve slipped into a cardboard sleeve. I think I might have paid about $8 for this record when it came out in 1980. I was 15 years old. A bit of background may be in order.
My family came to Canada from Ireland when I was two. I grew up in a series of apartments even though my dad held a white-collar job. Part of the reason for that was that my mum didn’t work. She had dropped out of school when she was 13 to go to work to support her grandmother, and when she got married, she figured she didn’t want to work anymore. So, our one-income family lived among a lot of two-income blue-collar families. It gave me a unique perspective on things sometimes. Some of my friends didn’t finish high school. Most didn’t go beyond it.
Growing up in the 70s in that environment almost guaranteed that I’d be a rocker. In Canada, we’d say I was a bit of a hoser. From 1975 until about 1979, I wore my jeans tucked into unlaced construction boots and a jean jacket and carried my stuff to school in an Adidas gym bag. Hoser couture at the time. So my first musical forays were into stuff like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, and Rush. But I was a bit different, too. Among my hoser friends, I was the first (and maybe only) one to get into punk and then new wave. I didn’t want to grow my hair long and wear a lumber jacket. By 1980, I’d gotten into the Sex Pistols and the Clash, Gary Numan and Devo. And then The Pretenders came along. Or more immediately, Chrissie Hynde came along.
Like most 15 year-old boys, I was an awkward and volatile blend of hormones and energy, and Chrissie Hynde grabbed my attention right away. Just look at her on the album cover photo. A red leather jacket! She appealed to my rocker roots. And she sang like both a tough chick and a vulnerable older woman. Plus, the band rocked, but in a very English new-wavey way. Picking this up was a no-brainer, even if I wasn’t that keen on the radio’s choice of a single, the almost unintelligible “Brass In Pocket”.
The truth is, this is a great album from start to finish. Since it was their debut, it contained all the pent-up energy of a band waiting to explode, and almost every song sounded fresh. In my now 40 year-old opinion, they still do. Chrissie’s voice grabs your attention right away in “Precious”; it was the first time (alas, but not the last) I’d hear a woman say “Fuck off” (and “shitting bricks”!). This woman was tough! On “Up The Neck,” she just oozes sex, and she coyly plays with the lyrics, drawing out such double entendres as “the veins bulged on his…brow”. She continues to talk dirty on “Tattooed Love Boys” and her heavy breathing on “The Wait” still gives me chills.
But it wasn’t just Chrissie Hynde that made this album so great for me. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott was an innovator and his guitar work has remained very influential over the years. I love the way the end of “Space Invader” runs into the galloping opening of “The Wait”. I love that they actually have a song called “Space Invader” (the console game was HUGE around this time). The Ray Davies’ cover “Stop Your Sobbing” may have been influential in Hynde’s later romance with Ray himself. They even had a child together. And “Mystery Achievement” may be the best last track on any album. Truth be told, “Brass in Pocket” may be one of the weaker tracks on the album. But it’s the poppiest and least threatening, so you still hear it on the radio now and then.
Tragically, within three years, both Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon were dead of drug overdoses, and although Hynde soldiered on, the punch and guts of the band had gone. But twenty-five years on, this is still a thrilling listen. Go on, geezers, dig it out of your crates of vinyl. And you kids, track it down on your favourite file-sharing service. You’ll feel 15 again. Or just 15, I guess.
- The Phone Call
- Up the Neck
- Tattooed Love Boys
- Space Invader
- The Wait
- Stop Your Sobbing
- Private Life
- Brass In Pocket
- Lovers of Today
- Mystery Achievement
Great Albums is an occasional feature on Consolation Champs where I relate some personal stories about life-changing music in lieu of any proper music criticism. You’ll probably learn more about me than about music, so consider that fair warning. For more, click the Great Albums category tag.