The Pretenders are one of my favorite rock bands. They carry a daring, punkish kind of vibe, the kind of music that goes above and beyond, creating memorable songs and fun lyrics to go with it.
“Precious” was my introduction to them, and given the content of the song, it was quite an impression. My mom had a “Greatest Hits” CD, and the more songs I listened to, the more of a fan I became.
Track 1: “Precious”
I’ve always considered “Precious” to be among the more racy songs the band produced, but it’s still a classic nonetheless. It was a stark contrast to the time period, and I think it portrays the shift in music at the time, given “Precious” was released on The Pretenders’ self-titled album in 1980. Disco music was out, music like “Precious” was totally in.
The way the lyrics were geared, most ending with “precious” is both clever and innovative. It makes the song flow better, in my opinion, and the fast-paced music throughout matches the tone of the song in its entirety.
Track 2: “Don’t Get Me Wrong”
I have to be honest—this is my favorite Pretenders song. The music, the lyrics, and the music video; I just love them all. I love creative lyrics, one of my favorites in this song being “Don’t get me wrong/If I split like light refracted/I’m only off to wander/Across a moonlit mile…”
Despite being a writer, it’s the music that draws me in first, and later the lyrics. If the lyrics happen to be intricately woven into the music the way “Don’t Get Me Wrong” is, it just makes that song appear higher up on my playlist.
Track 3: “Brass in Pocket”
“Brass in Pocket” is another Pretenders classic. One of the things that comes to mind is my mother’s recollection of this song being played in a school dance or two, so I suppose that’s the setting that comes to mind when I listen to the song.
I also see it in a teen movie; Chrissie Hynde is basically singing about how she’s going to demand the attention of the person she’s interested in, no matter what. It reminds me of that teenage angst when you love someone but they don’t even know you exist—something along the lines of the way things were with Samantha Baker and Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles initially.
Track 4: “Back on the Chain Gang”
I read in this New York Times article that “Back on the Chain Gang” was Chrissie’s way of saying goodbye to a friend—specifically, one of The Pretenders’ original band members, James Honeyman-Scott, who passed away of a drug overdose. Given the lyrics “The powers that be/That force us to live like we do/Bring me to my knees/When I see what they’ve done to you”, it makes sense to view those lyrics as a heartfelt goodbye.
Songs like this stand out to me because they contain something personal about the band members themselves. Unless you read about it in interviews or hear the band’s trivia on the radio or something, you never know what a song may really mean.
Track 5: “Message of Love”
I saw this as one of the band’s more upbeat songs about relationships. I primarily love the music of the song, but one lyric has always stood out to me in particular, that being “We are all of us in the gutter/But some of us are looking at the stars.” That lyric meant something to me; it’s actually a quote from Oscar Wilde. I interpreted it as humanity being in the same boat, but some chose to remain where they were, and others looked beyond their circumstances.
“Don’t Get Me Wrong” is my top Pretenders song, but “Message of Love” is second on the list.
Track 6: “Middle of the Road”
“Middle of the Road” is a song I consider to be about life itself. Putting yourself out there, experiencing the world for yourself. The opening lyrics stand out to me in particular, those being “The middle of the road is trying to find me/I’m standing in the middle of life with my plans behind me/Well I got a smile for everyone I meet/As long as you don’t try dragging my bay/Or dropping the bomb on my street.”
It feels like a point where you’ve fulfilled some of your plans, and you’re not sure what’s next. You just keep making your way, showing kindness to all you meet, but not standing for their “bombs” so to speak, in which they try to manipulate you or otherwise treat you dreadfully.
Track 7: “Kid”
“Kid” appeared on The Pretenders’ 1980 debut album, and it’s an interesting song. According to this article from the Tampa Bay Times, “Kid” is a song about a child whose mother is a prostitute. It’s a very different tone and contrast to the music video, which takes place in an amusement park. It’s about a very different kind of childhood. The mother obviously loves her child significantly, emphasized by this lyric: “You’ve gone all sad so I feel sad too.” The mother commiserates with her child, and I get the feeling she longs to take their pain away.
Songs with premises are intriguing to me. It offers a deeper meaning. It could mean a chance to teach a valuable lesson or to gain new insight. The possibilities are limitless.
Track 8: “Tattooed Love Boys”
My first Pretenders song was “Precious”; my second was “Tattooed Love Boys.” It’ a fun song with a mischievous tone, about exploring sexuality no less. It makes a serious thing a little more lighthearted in nature. To be honest, I’ve never paid close attention to the lyrics. For this particular song, it was the music I loved most.
“Tattooed Love Boys” was also a part of the band’s debut album. That particular album was a daring debut, filled with some edgy content that made for a lasting impression and was no doubt a part of The Pretenders’ overall success.
Track 9: “The Night in My Veins”
This song struck me as a “heat in the moment” kind of thing, taking life by the reins and living in that moment, the excitement amplified by the nightlife. It seems like the lyrics are geared towards acting on attraction without thinking, and just seeing where it goes.
“The Night in My Veins” was released in 1994, The Pretenders still going strong, albeit with a few different band members. The album was called “Last of the Independents.”
Track 10: “2000 Miles”
What I love about “2000 Miles” is how much Chrissie Hynde loves and misses her significant other. Though far away, she still thinks about him, hence “I’ll think of you/Wherever you go.” It’s hard to be apart, but the love is still there, present, waiting until they are together once again.
Because of the snow, and the lyrics, it strikes me as a Christmas-y kind of song too, and it’ll definitely be a part my Christmas playlist. “2000 Miles” was released as a single, before the release of the band’s 1984 album, Learning to Crawl.