Classic Tracks: The Pretenders "Don't Get Me Wrong"

Feb 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Gaby Alter


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The cover of The Pretenders, the band's first album, reveals the mix of qualities that makes lead singer and songwriter Chrissie Hynde so compelling. With her heavy black eyeliner, tightly zipped red pleather jacket and thousand-yard stare, there's no question that Hynde is every bit as tough as her all-male band; probably more so. Yet there's no doubting her femininity, as evidenced by her long hair and lace gloves. The image captured Hynde's persona: She has a swagger that stands up to that of rock's cockiest frontmen and a vulnerability that gives her songs depth and emotional range. That combination paralleled The Pretenders' sound, which mixed the back-to-basics, aggressive energy of punk with Hynde's strong melodic sense and a wide stylistic palette that covered ground from rock 'n' roll to pop.

Both the sound and Hynde's persona are still in evidence on the group's 1986 hit “Don't Get Me Wrong.” The song is a confession of infatuation, but as Hynde sings about being swept away by passion, she sounds supremely confident: The confession doubles as a come-on. Under her supremely catchy melody, Robbie McIntosh's shuffling guitar line contrasts with Steve Jordan's straight-ahead beat to create a groove as propulsive as a train engine. And Paul “Wix” Wicken's synth flourishes add appropriate touches of pop grandeur.


"Don't Get Me Wrong" MP3

Though The Pretenders formed in London, Hynde herself was an ex-pat from Akron, Ohio. She attended Kent State University in the early '70s, where she played in a college band with Devo frontman (and fellow Akronite) Mark Mothersbaugh, and witnessed the infamous Kent State killings. In 1973 she left the country to immerse herself in the London music scene as both a singer and a critic. She socialized with the Sex Pistols and played in several bands, including one with future members of The Clash, before forming The Pretenders in 1978.

Their 1980 debut, The Pretenders, charted at Number One in the UK and went Platinum in the United States, and its follow-up, Pretenders II, was certified Gold in the U.S. Soon after, however, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon both died of drug overdoses. Despite these devastating losses, Hynde continued forward with the band, keeping original drummer Martin Chambers and adding guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster. The result was another hit record, aptly titled Learning to Crawl.

But more personnel changes were to come. As they were rehearsing for their next record, Get Close, Bob Clearmountain recalls the band sounding “raggedy.” At first, Clearmountain (who co-produced the record with Jimmy Iovine) chalked it up to poor acoustics in the rehearsal hall, making it difficult for the musicians to hear each other. But once they began tracking in London's AIR Studios, it became clear that acoustics weren't the issue. As they were setting up the drums, Chambers mentioned that he'd gotten into programming on a drum machine and hadn't touched a real kit in well over a year.

Co-producer Bob Clearmountain

Co-producer Bob Clearmountain

“I was like, ‘Oh, really? How's this gonna work?’” Clearmountain remembers thinking. “Sure enough, he just didn't have the chops — he hadn't practiced enough. Even though this guy is an amazing drummer, you take away the drums from any drummer for a year, and it's gonna be tough to get that back, you know?”

As a result, both Chambers and Foster (whom Hynde and the producers felt was also not playing well) were asked to leave the group before recording began. Clearmountain describes the process as heartbreaking, but says that they couldn't have made the recording if they hadn't done it. On the upside, the situation left Hynde with a lot of options. “I think she was sort of at that Springsteen stage anyway, where she had played with the same band for a while and she just wanted to try some other players, just to break it up and make it interesting, besides the fact that Martin wasn't really cutting it,” Clearmountain says.

The band began sessions at AIR Studios with drummer Mel Gaynor of Simple Minds. Hynde was married at the time to Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr, and Clearmountain and Iovine had produced their last record, which was how they met Hynde and ended up working on Get Close. Many other crack studio musicians ended up on the album, as well, including drummer Simon Phillips, who was performing and recording with Pete Townshend at the time; Bernie Worrell, keyboardist for Parliament Funkadelic; and Steve Jordan, a drummer/producer and friend of Hynde's. (Jordan currently plays with and produces John Mayer's band.) Ultimately, Blair Cunningham played most of the drum tracks, T.M. Stevens recorded most of the bass tracks and Paul “Wix” Wickens did the lion's share of keyboards.

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