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FUV Essentials: Corny O'Connell on the Pretenders

The cover of the Pretenders' 1980 debut album

The cover of the Pretenders' 1980 debut album


I was just getting my bearings at NYU film school when the Pretenders started to climb the charts in the U.S. and the U.K. The Village was a grittier place back then and it was still a music mecca. Neighborhood walls were plastered with posters for punk and rock band gigs. Newsstands overflowed with fanzines. It was a lot to take in for a teenager from the suburbs.

One of the bands that stood out was the Pretenders. Just enough of a punk edge, plus Chrissie Hynde's throaty, sneering voice, and I was smitten. Here was a band fronted by a guitar-slinging bad girl who looked like she could be the kid sister of one of the Rolling Stones.

And what was the deal with where they were from? I got the impression that they were a British band, but Hynde sang about going back to Ohio. I would later learn that she was indeed from Akron, but the rest of the band was from England. Hynde had moved there in her early twenties. She later fell in love with Ray Davies of the Kinks, which explains the covers of "Stop Your Sobbing" and "I Go to Sleep" on the first two albums.

The Pretenders' early releases filled the radio airwaves with hits like "Kid," "Brass in Pocket," "Mystery Achievement," "Talk of the Town," and "Message of Love." Was that a rock band quoting Oscar Wilde? Yes, it was. The third album sealed the deal for me and the rest of the country. Learning to Crawl became their highest-charting LP throwing off hits such as "Back on the Chain Gang," "My City Was Gone," and "Show Me."

It didn't matter what they did after that. The Pretenders had found a permanent place in my music collection. Maybe it was that one line about being in the gutter, but looking up at the stars. This band helped me understand that I could alter my perspective without being a pretender.