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

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


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With Hynde and McIntosh supported by studio pros, the recording went smoothly over the next six weeks. Hynde herself was extremely easy to record, according to Clearmountain. “You could have four vocal takes — we wouldn't really do any more than that — and you had a choice between one would be amazing, one would be fantastic, the third would be unbelievable and the last would be perfect,” he says.

Engineer Bruce Lampcov, a huge fan of both Hynde and The Pretenders, was thrilled to work on the album, and notes Hynde's personality with admiration. “I've worked with a lot of women in the industry,” he says. “Women have to be very tough to get their voice heard, literally, but also just their ideas because it's such a male-oriented industry. Chrissie's a tough person, and she just wouldn't let shit go down that wasn't the way she saw it. She's the boss — that's it.”

The recording eventually moved from London to New York because there were musicians there that the producers and Hynde wanted to use, according to Clearmountain. Lampcov recalls flying to the States on a Concorde overnight, touching down and heading straight into Power Station studio, still jet-lagged, to record “Don't Get Me Wrong.” Clearmountain came late to the session, and Lampcov remembers feeling a little intimidated setting up by himself. “I was a young guy. I was like, ‘Wow, I'm doing this on my own. This is scary.’ I mean, I'd done lots of records, but still — Chrissie was my idol.”

The song was recorded in Power Station's Studio A, using the studio's Neve 8068 desk. Clearmountain designed Power Station himself, with Tony Bongiovi; they sold the console in 1992, but Clearmountain Googled the model number a few years ago and ended up buying it off the owner. “That series of Neves all through the '70s were some of the best-sounding recording consoles on the planet,” he says. “They have the famous mic preamps, and they're very straightforward and easy to operate. I did a lot of big records on that particular console: Bryan Adams, Chic and Sister Sledge. It's very fast and sounds fantastic.”

Hynde's vocals were recorded in Studio B, probably with a Neumann U87 microphone and an LA-3A compressor. Clearmountain recalls that, despite her in-your-face personality, Hynde liked privacy and darkness when she did her vocals, and always asked to be partitioned off from the control room. In fact, Clearmountain wasn't actually in the room when she did her vocals that day. “She had done three or four vocal takes on ‘Don't Get Me Wrong,’” he says. “I think I had to take a phone call in the other room. I said I'd be right back. When I came back, she had done the perfect vocal take on the song. So sometimes it's just a matter of leaving to get an artist to perform.”

Lampcov miked Steve Jordan's drums with Sennheiser 421s on the toms, top and bottom, an AKG D12 on the bass drum, SM57s on the snare top and bottom, and some type of AKG mic on the cymbals. He used 1176 compressor/limiters on the snare drum for compression, and Pultec EQs on a lot of the drums. “It was 24 tracks, so there were a lot of mics, but I mixed it down to bass drum, snare, hat, overheads and room, with EQ and everything,” he says. “That was how you worked back then — you'd EQ everything to how you wanted to hear it.

“I remember Bob commenting on the drum sound because he probably wouldn't have gotten that sound himself; he would have done something different. I took it as, ‘Oh, no, did I screw it up?’ But I think he thought it was okay. Anyway, it's Steve Jordan's sound. And Bob's mixing, so whatever you do he makes it sound great.”

McIntosh's main rhythm guitar was a Strat going through a Roland Digital Delay. He borrowed a Gretsch guitar for the song's solo, and also played a Telecaster on it. The Eurythmics' bassist, Chucho Merchan, played on the session, but his part was later replaced by T.M. Stevens. In a testament to the skill of everyone involved, the entire song was recorded that day, including vocals.

The rest of the album was recorded primarily at Bearsville Studios near Woodstock, along with one song at Right Track in New York City. Lampcov remembers that it was challenging to make the album sound consistent, as he and Clearmountain didn't have their own equipment; they used whatever they found in each studio. “Having said that, back then all the studios had Neve consoles and then you'd use the EQs on the consoles,” he says. He also cites Clearmountain's mixing skills in keeping the album's sound unified. Clearmountain mixed Get Close at Bearsville on an SSL 4000 E Series desk, an earlier version of the console he usually mixes on now. (He uses the Neve 8068 to a lesser degree.)

When it hit the airwaves, the album was another success for The Pretenders, and “Don't Get Me Wrong” became the group's second Top 10 single in the U.S. It has proved to be a perennial favorite, as evidenced by a recent cover by British pop star Lily Allen. As a happy coda to the album, Chambers got his drumming chops back and rejoined The Pretenders, playing with them to this day. Other personnel changes have occurred, but Hynde has continued to tour and record with the band. Their recent album, Break Up the Concrete, proves that both her songwriting and vocals are still in great shape.

Lampcov and Clearmountain each remember their experience working with Hynde and The Pretenders on Get Close fondly. “It was fantastic,” Lampcov raves.

“The musicians were so good, and Chrissie was so good, it was just stunning,” Clearmountain says. “You just knew, this is everything we could ever want from a recording for a pop record.”

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