Monday, September 07, 2015

Hynde Sight

It's a working class holiday here in the USA, so what better way to celebrate than with a working class hero that just happens to be 64 today?
When I was 14 years old, there was simply no band I revered more than The Pretenders. OK, maybe DEVO. Is it strange that both these groups were born out of the Northeast Ohio zeitgeist of the 1970s? Cleveland rocks, but Akron was where the rubber hit the road back then.
Last night we were discussing what made and continues to make them so great, and we came to several conclusions. The rock solid reggae influence of the bass player, and the freedom of phrasing it allowed the guitar player. The massively manic and precise drumming accentuating the visceral. The punk-meets-pop-meets-The-Who melodic nexus. But really, there's a central reason for why almost 40 years later, this is still one of the most loved bands in the history of Rock. Those two words are Chrissie Hynde.
It couldn't have been a piece of cake, being a female bandleader in those days in the sausage fest of the music industry. My friend and I were talking about, what were the precedents for what Chrissie did? Were there any? The closest we could come up with would be the incredible funkstress Betty Davis; not musically necessarily, but at least for gauntlet-tossing, boundary shattering attitude.
Take the tune at the top of this page right now, The Adultress (my personal favorite Pretenders cut). There's precious few people that could pull off a Millie-Jackson-meets-The-Clash track like this without it sounding like a put-on. Perhaps Chrissie is the only person alive that could have hammered it home like this, with the sort of unapologetic, matter of fact sexual swagger and the hints of vulnerable femininity she stirs into it. There's nothing to understand. It's understood.
As a teenager, I was beyond hooked. I played their first two records and the Extended Play EP until the vinyl literally disintegrated and I had to get new copies or risk cartridge damage. I think my only regret is that I never saw them live, and still somehow haven't. I must surely be an idjit.
I won't go into too many biographical details here, because I want you to bust out some plastic right now and pre-order her story in her own, inimitable words, via her about-to-be-published memoir that will come out tomorrow. Suffice to say she was born in Ohio -- older brother Terry is also a top-drawer muso and longtime sax master for one of the most underrated bands in Earth history, 15:60:75 aka The Numbers Band -- and moved to London in the early 1970s.
In the UK she wrote for music magazines, joined infamous punk band The Moors Murderers, hung out with Mick Jones and Sid Vicious, and scuffled about with different groups until she was introduced to the three guys that would blow up the world as The Pretenders. Within three years of their advent, half the band would be dead from hard drugs.
A lesser light would surely have fallen apart, but "quitter" isn't a word I think anyone living or dead would associate with Chrissie Hynde. She assembled a new version of the group and proceeded to destroy the Billboard Hot 100 at an even more assiduous clip than the original one had done, scoring bat-flipping grand slam hits like Back On the Chain Gang, Middle of the Road and my personal favorite Christmas song of all time, 2000 Miles. 
She even managed to take a song about a return pilgrimage to Akron -- the ridiculously crafty My City Was Gone -- into the charts. Years later, an asshole "conservative" radio blowhard who shall remain nameless began using the unmistakable bass figure that begins it as his theme song. So Chrissie -- a vegetarian and perennially vocal supporter of animal rights -- let him do it and donated the not-insubstantial proceeds to PETA! If I had to pick one person -- not man, not woman, but person -- in Rock and Roll not to fuck around with, it'd be hard not to select Chrissie Hynde with whom to march into battle.
And she's still doing it. In addition to the autobiography that's days from dropping, last year she released her first solo album (Stockholm). She still tours with a revamped Pretenders lineup and I don't expect she'll stop doing what she does anytime soon. I sure hope not, anyway.
Which brings us to today's share, and a real monster it is. How this has gone unreleased (and not even rebroadcast since 1994) is so far beyond me as to be in a neighboring galaxy, but no worries cuz I got you. Here comes a PAL DVD, sourced from a master VHS made from the last time this was aired (a European satellite telecast from 21 years ago!), of the original Pretenders in full flight on the (OMG, seminal) German TV program Rockpalast, taped July 17, 1981 and featuring a complete, face-frying performance that shows exactly what brand of precision mayhem this gal and guys were capable of. It's from the tour supporting Pretenders II and they storm through a huge chunk of both that one and their first, considered by many to be the very best debut LP in the pantheon.
The Pretenders
Sartory Säle
Köln, Germany

01 announcement by Alan Bangs
02 The Wait
03 The Adultress
04 Message of Love
05 Louie Louie
06 Talk of the Town
07 English Roses
08 Birds of Paradise
09 Kid
10 Stop Your Sobbing
11 Private Life
12 Jealous Dogs
13 Day After Day
14 Up the Neck
15 Tattooed Love Boys
16 Bad Boys Get Spanked
17 Precious
18 Brass In Pocket
19 Mystery Achievement

Total time: 1:22:34

Chrissie Hynde - vocals, guitar
James Honeyman-Scott - guitar, keyboards, vocals
Pete Farndon - bass, vocals
Martin Chambers - drums, vocals

PAL DVD of a master VHS recorded from a 1994 satellite rebroadcast
This one's a real scorcher, so pull it down and let it induce some Labor Day contractions as you give birth to whatever you're grilling this day. As you do, please focus your thoughts on appreciation of this tremendous artist -- there's a word I know she hates, but with a track record such as hers there simply isn't a more appropriate sobriquet -- who's been at this stuff a real long time and whom has brought us so much enjoyment and so many killer songs. She's gotta have -- and manifestly deserves -- some of your attention!--J.

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