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Top 10 Pretenders Songs of the '80s

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Few rock musicians of either gender have proved as resilient as Chrissie Hynde, a songwriter and performer of the highest order who persevered through great personal and professional tragedy to become one of the most important and influential artists of the '80s. Directed by her considerable talent and drive, the Pretenders released an assortment of fine tracks throughout the decade, taking early punk rock influences into a pop music-savvy roots rock direction that always transcended new wave. Here's a chronological look at 10 of the band's most memorable rockers and mid-tempo gems.

1. "Precious"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Warner Bros.

Hynde announces her arrival quite appropriately with this lead-off track from the band's self-titled, critically lauded 1980 debut. The title and gist of the song function as a knowing play on the singer's tough but sexy persona. Of all the adjectives to apply to Chrissie Hynde, "precious" trails perhaps only "cute" as the least appropriate. Through its raw, driving beat, the band delivers a suggestive, spirited introduction to a multitude of great music to come. Hynde herself immediately emerges as one of rock's ballsiest frontwomen not only through her fearless lyrics but also her firm, organic leadership of a great band.

2. "Tattooed Love Boys"

Perhaps no song coming out of the immediately post-punk era had a way of simultaneously capturing and transcending the form as much as this unique rocker does. Boasting an odd time signature that no pure punker would have ever dreamed of attempting, the song gallops along and keeps the listener off-balance, allowing Hynde to spit out biting and shocking lyrics as the perfect accompaniment. The tune's abrupt ending creates an unnerving but exhilarating effect that lingers wonderfully.

3. "Kid"

This underrated gem from The Pretenders foreshadows the melodic, arpeggiated sound that would come to the forefront in the band's later years, after Hynde became the lone permanent member. And the melody is a lovely one, showcasing Hynde's signature plaintive vocal style. It all makes for an atmospheric impact, fitting perfectly with the hopeful yet sad lyrics supplied by Hynde. This deliberate delivery allows the band to fill in the gaps with plenty of fine musicianship.

4. "Brass in Pocket"

I felt a temptation to skip over this heavily played essential but quickly realized not only that I couldn't do so in good conscience but that the multi-layered nature of the track makes it a continually enjoyable listening experience. Hynde's lyrics communicate a unique and effective sense of longing, and James Honeyman-Scott keeps things moving gracefully with his nuanced guitar work. As always, Hynde's persona is suggestively sexy but never sleazy, resting on a foundation of strength.

5. "Message of Love"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Warner Bros.
Infectious riffing helps fuel this memorable track from The Pretenders II, a song that became an early MTV favorite in 1981. As always, Hynde's commanding vocals take precedence, but somehow that doesn't detract from the rest of the band's vibrancy or sense of freedom. For example, Pete Farndon brings a churning bass line to the top of what is a furious musical display. This may be Chrissie Hynde at her most optimistic, but that doesn't mean the tune lacks any of the typical Pretenders edge.

6. "Talk of the Town"

Sophistication of the best variety envelops and emanates from this unrequited love song of great emotional depth. Hynde's wistful expression of longing matches perfectly the fantastic, emotional playing of Honeyman-Scott, and the chord progression is a marvel. As for the chorus, well, there are few things more lovely in '80s music or rock music in general than Hynde's voice repeating this chorus in a heartbreakingly quivering, deliberate fashion: "Maybe tomorrow, maybe someday."

7. "Show Me"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Warner Bros.
By the time 1984's Learning to Crawl was released, Hynde had long taken over the reins fully on the band she founded with three acquaintances she encountered in England. And now that two of them were gone, both victims of drug overdoses, her vision became even more dominant. This does not hurt the songwriting, as Hynde was always the primary voice in that sense. But this tune certainly amps up the moving melodic sense, with beautiful, arpeggiated, chiming guitars intact. An overlooked classic.

8. "2000 Miles"

Here's a haunting but somehow comforting rock and roll Christmas carol, delivered through an appropriately heartfelt vocal performance from Hynde. The chiming guitars may lack the edge of the original Pretenders, but the peacefully atmospheric sound they create holds plenty of emotion nonetheless. Hynde has always been a master of songs about longing, but coupling that contemplative feeling with Christmas, a season of stillness, proves to be a solid choice here.

9. "My Baby"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Warner Bros.
The acoustic guitar opening to this gentle tune signals Hynde's increasing maturation. Never did the singer sound more domesticated than on the Pretenders' final album of the '80s, Get Close, from 1986. Still, that's not negative criticism, as her celebrations of love and tenderness maintain a strident, lived-in toughness that helps her sound retain individuality and originality. Musically, the tune delivers the expected amount of chiming guitars and thus remains a fine listen.

10. "Don't Get Me Wrong"

The theme of romantic celebration continues on this tune, what I believe to be one of the finest pop/rock singles ever released. It is extremely rare to find all components of a song to be equally inspiring and overflowing with warm, passionate sparks, but for me that's definitely the case here. Compositionally, the song features much activity, and the galloping rhythm particularly sets the tone for the favorable kind of heartache this track provokes. Even without her tragically departed and immensely talented former bandmates, Hynde is at the top of her game here.

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