Pretenders

Music review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Pretenders Music Poster Image
Powerful debut by enduring female vocalist.

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The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive messages

The positive message in the Pretenders' songs isn't necessarily in the songs themselves, it's more in the strength of their sound and in leader Chrissie Hynde's powerful delivery. Pretenders songs are in many ways all about confidence, and particularly about a woman's right to rock as much as any guy.

Positive role models & representations

Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde emerged fully formed on this 1980 album as a strong female singer, guitarist, and songwriter with a powerful delivery. There are a lot of great female singers in rock 'n' roll, but few with Hynde's total command of the stage and her career. Testament to this is the fact that whereas the Pretenders were a band when this album debuted, over time the name became more a vehicle for whatever group of musicians would be fronted by Hynde. She shows girls that a woman can be more than a diva or lead singer.

Violence

A couple of the songs on Pretenders mention bumps and bruises ("Precious" and "Tattooed Love Boys"). The song "Up the Neck" blurs the line between desire and anger, and includes some violent parts like "lust turns to anger / a kiss to a slug" and "my teeth sunk into my own flesh."

Sex

Pretenders generally has a swaggering sexuality about it, and a couple of the tunes are more overtly sexual. The first line of "Up the Neck" is "Anger and lust, my senses running amok," and that theme carries throughout the song; there's also the line "When my tongue lay inside his lip / Felt like the time in the womb." "Private Life" mentions "sex life complications." In the song "Tattooed Love Boys," Hynde famously sings, "I shot my mouth off, and he showed me what that hole was for."

Language

The opening track, "Precious," is the most profane on the record, including the lyrics "I was shitting bricks"  and "I'm too precious, I had to f--k off."

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

In the song "Up the Neck," the singer seems aching and confused, but it's not completely obvious that drugs or alcohol were involved.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the Pretenders' fabulous, groundbreaking first record has some tough, slightly violent lyrics and some overtly sexual lines, including a couple that came across as pretty shocking in 1980; for example: "I shot my mouth off, and he showed me what that hole was for" ("Tattooed Love Boys"). It's also one of the strongest rock 'n' roll debuts of all time, by a woman-led band, with original songs, powerful imagery and Chrissie Hynde's singular clear and sultry voice. Unfortunately, two of the bandmembers in the band's first incarnation -- bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott -- struggled with drug addiction. Farndon was fired early on, and Honeyman-Scott died of a heroin overdose after their second album's release. However, Hynde has continued to use the band name with different configurations of musicians and remains a strong female voice in rock.

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What's the story?

Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde moved from her hometown of Akron, OH, to London in the 1970s, and in the early days of punk formed The Pretenders with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Pete Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers. Hynde's superb voice and strong songs were supported by the unique sounds created by her bandmates and producer Chris Thomas; the Pretenders fused new wave pop with classic rock for a unique and accessible sound. The group's first album, PRETENDERS, was a smash, rising to No. 9 on Billboard's album chart.

Is it any good?

The Pretenders' eponymous first album endures as one of the most exciting, hard-rocking, original debut albums in rock 'n' roll. The guitars and rhythms have a unique quality that's still easily identifiable, and Chrissie Hynde was, and is, a very talented singer. Almost any song on the album could have been a hit single -- they're all so catchy and cool -- but "Brass in Pocket" was the biggest hit.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what made Chrissie Hynde different from other female singers of the '80s, or any time.

  • Pretenders has kind of a tough attitude, but not an angry one. Is this album "punk"?

  • What attitude does "Up the Neck" take toward the characters in this song, which blurs the line between desire and violence?

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