Punk ultimately failed in its quest to turn the music industry on its head, but it did begin the process of balancing rock’n’roll’s gender-equality scales. Thanks to the scene’s liberating “Year Zero” approach, charismatic female artists such as Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde all stamped their authority on the late 70s and released records which still resonate today. Indeed, Pretenders’ sparkling, self-titled debut album remains one of the post-punk era’s most mandatory titles, and it’s to Chrissie Hynde’s eternal credit that she hustled with such vigour to make it happen.
Listen to Pretenders’ debut album
“She didn’t take any shit from anybody”
Born in industrial Akron, Ohio, Hyde fell in love with the 60s British Invasion as a child, absorbed the minutiae of rock’n’roll history and was convinced music was all that really mattered when she emigrated to London in 1973.
Inspired by the likes of The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, Hynde initially wrote for UK weekly NME and worked at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s ever-evolving clothing emporium on London’s King’s Road (before it became known as Sex). Her true calling, however, was to form her own band.
It took a while to fall into place. Hynde led a nomadic lifestyle over the next couple of years, cutting her teeth with a series of embryonic outfits during spells in Paris and back in the US, before she again pitched up in London when punk was germinating in 1976.
“She had a tough but vulnerable sound”
Hynde was stockpiling self-written songs, but while she encouraged friends on the London scene who later ended up in influential outfits such as The Clash, The Slits and The Damned, the musical collaborators she required for her own outfit remained elusive until Motörhead frontman Lemmy recommended a drummer called Gas Wild. Said skinsman didn’t last but, before he left, he drafted in a new bassist from Hereford, Pete Farndon, who stuck around and brought fellow Hereford native, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, into the fold.
Christened Pretenders, the fledgling group’s initial demo – featuring several Hynde originals and a cover of The Kinks’ Stop Your Sobbing – scored them a deal with Real Records, for whom Pretenders re-recorded Stop Your Sobbing as their debut single, with Nick Lowe in the producer’s chair. Having released Stiff Records’ first single, So It Goes, and overseen The Damned’s debut album, Lowe was well-respected and he was already aware of Chrissie Hynde’s burgeoning songwriting talent.