And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about. -Luke 4:37
You arrived like a day
And passed like a cloud
I made a wish, I said it out loud
Out loud in a crowd
’twas the talk of the town.
Fame is fleeting, so they say. But we’re all supposed to get our 15 minutes worth, right? And isn’t it funny how some bask in the limelight and others shy away from it.
With good reason, some might say. At what price is fame? I know that every move Christ made during his time on this earth was constantly and steadfastly directed towards the cross; His true mission. Certainly, Jesus knew this new-found fame was gained at his own peril. Turns out, It was all just a part of the plan.
And so it is for many of our musical stars, as well. The very fires that burn so bright are sometimes the first to burn out. The Pretenders came on in a flash of blinding light …white hot out of the gate.
It’s not my place to know what you feel
I’d like to know but why should i?
Who were you then, who are you now?
Common laborer by night, by day highbrow
I remember their first LP coming out (The Pretenders) just in time for the new year in late December 1979. Country-rock, southern boogie and disco had all gone by the wayside, punk had lost it’s swagger and the music world was wide open for something to fill the void. Enter the New Wave.
If Elvis Costello was New Wave’s founding father, then certainly Chrissy Hynde was it’s mother superior.
If you ask me, New Wave was really just the back-side bookend to the First Wave…the 1960’s British Invasion. And the best of the new sound was definitely coming from the UK. Chrissy was from Akron, Ohio, but moved to London in 1973 to seek out the music scene there. She cut her teeth with early punk rockers, including brief stints with The Clash and The Damned before putting The Pretenders together in early 1978.
Oh but it’s hard to live by the rules
I never could and still never do
The rules and such never bothered you
You call the shots and they follow
“Talk Of The Town”, one of my favorite early cuts, was not on their debut album, which contained hits like “Kid”, “Stop Your Sobbing” and “Brass In Pocket”. TOTT was from the soundtrack for the movie Times Square and was included on the Pretenders EP (aptly titled Extended Play) released in March 1981. The first time I heard it was in the theater, watching the movie. Being “in the music biz” back then, it was prerequisite for me to attend ANY movie with industry (soundtrack) implications.
When I first saw the band perform it on MTV, that retro- cool, “Beatle-sque” look and sound (check out the video link below) transported me back immediately to the sixties.
I watch you still from a distance then go
Back to my room, you never know
I want you, I want you but now
Who’s the talk of the town?
The Pretenders were a huge success both in the UK and US. Their debut album was named one of the best of all time by both VH1 and Rolling Stone magazine. But at what price this fame? Within two years, both bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott were dead from drug related incidents. Chrissy hung on and persevered throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and through multiple band member changes. In 2005, The Pretenders landed in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
During her induction speech, Chrissy thanked all the replacement band members and said: “I know the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years … we’re paying tribute to James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn’t be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here, but that’s the way it works in rock ‘n’ roll.”
Just two weeks after the death of Honeyman-Scott in July 1992, Chrissy regrouped and pulled together a stellar team including original drummer Martin Chambers, Rockpile (Nick Lowe’s band) guitarist Billy Bremmer and Big Country bassist, Tony Butler, to record “Back On The Chain Gang”, in his memory. Somewhat ironically, I think there are a lot of similarities in sound and structure between these two songs.
Maybe tomorrow, maybe someday
You’ve changed your place in this world
At the dawn of the New Wave, The Pretenders were most definitely “the talk of the town”.