A couple of days ago, I found myself doing something I haven’t done (no exaggeration) in years: dancing. I dervished about the apartment all by myself, like a lunatic, with the cat looking on from the safety of the bed, wide-eyed with eminent peril. I could tell the poor puss was thinking, “What the devil is he doing?” So I cried, “Listening to The Pretenders, you hairy little fool! And dancing!”
I would not call The Pretenders a great band, per se. A very, very good band, sure. Chrissie Hynde is an excellent songwriter, and has one of the most distinctive voices in rock. Unfortunately, like Badfinger, The Pretenders are just as famous for their tragically high mortality rate as they are for their music. During the 2-year hiatus between 1981’s Pretenders II and 1983’s Learning to Crawl, Hynde saw two band mates, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, die drug-related deaths. Technically Farndon was no longer a Pretender—Hynde fired him shortly before he died—but still. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde on the subject of orphans, to lose one band member is bad luck—to lose two, sheer carelessness.
Hynde, an Akron, Ohio native, formed The Pretenders in 1978 in London, England, where she was working as a journo for NME and at SEX, the legendary fashion boutique of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. She received a record contract on the strength of a demo recorded with a three-piece band including Phil Taylor of Motörhead, then hired a permanent group including Honeyman-Scott, Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers. The Pretenders’ first two albums included several hits; unfortunately, while the band was making its bones musically, it members were dropping like flies. By 1983’s Learning to Crawl 50 percent of the original group was dead, leaving just Hynde (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and harmonica) and Chambers. But rather than throwing in the towel, Hynde hired Robbie McIntosh on lead guitar and backing vocals and Malcolm Foster on bass and backing vocals.