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10 Powerful Pretenders Songs Guaranteed to Have You Singing Along

From 'I'll Stand By You' to 'Don't Get Me Wrong' read about the inspiration and drama behind the songs!


For over 45 years, The Pretenders songs have stood the test of time with their unique melodies, powerful messages and ability to stir up all kinds of emotions. Formed in 1978, when punk ruled and the new wave style that would dominate the ’80s was on the rise, The Pretenders found success with their unique brand of gritty yet catchy tunes. In an era where rock largely favored macho swagger, frontwoman Chrissie Hynde, the band’s singer, songwriter and guitarist, was a breath of fresh air. With her signature shag haircut and dark eye makeup (both of which she still rocks now, at age 71), Hynde embodied the tough girl image, and her songs blend punk defiance with singer-songwriter introspection.

Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago, Illinois, May 24, 1982
Chrissie Hynde in 1982Getty

Hynde has been the only continuous member of The Pretenders since the band started — sadly, the original lead guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott, and the original bassist, Pete Farndon, both died in the early ’80s, and there have been many personnel changes since then.

But Hynde has kept the band going through all the ups and downs and now they have a new album, Relentless, out this month. In honor of their latest album, we’ve put together a list of 10 of the greatest Pretenders songs.

1. “Brass in Pocket” (1979)

“Brass in Pocket” is written from the perspective of a woman psyching herself up and using her feminine prowess in the hopes of attracting attention from a romantic interest. The mix of sass and vulnerability made the song one of The Pretenders’ most enduring hits, and the iconic music video, which featured Hynde as a waitress, was an MTV staple when the channel first launched. Surprisingly, Hynde admitted that she didn’t initially love how the song turned out. “I was kind of a new singer, and listening to my voice made me kind of cringe,” she’s said, but over the years, she’s come around to have a new appreciation of the tune.

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2. “Stop Your Sobbing” (1979) Pretenders songs

While most of The Pretenders’ songs were written by Hynde and her bandmates, they did do some covers, and their version of the 1964 Kinks song “Stop Your Sobbing” became just as well-known as the original. Hynde’s vocals brought a fresh take to a song that originally had a male perspective. She had long been a fan of The Kinks, and ended up having a relationship with the classic British rock band’s frontman, Ray Davies, in the early ’80s. Hynde and Davies had a daughter, Natalie, in 1984.

3. “Kid” (1979)

Less hard-edged than some of the other Pretenders songs, “Kid” is a tender ballad that’s said to be about a young boy discovering his mother is a prostitute. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott described “Kid” as being a result of “Chrissie start[ing] to like pop music,” but given the dark subject matter, the song was anything but an attempt at selling out.

4. “Talk of the Town” (1980) Pretenders songs

“Talk of the Town” is a song about how success can change people and make them more distant. While some have speculated that the song was inspired by Hynde’s relationship with Davies, in a 1999 TV appearance she revealed that she was inspired by a young fan who used to stand outside the band’s sound checks. While she never spoke to him, she hoped the song would one day reach him. As Rolling Stone described the complexity of the song in a contemporary review, “She’s the girl who got left behind, but she’s also the boy who’s changed his place in the world, and we understand them both.”

5. “Message of Love” (1981) Pretenders songs

Who can resist those driving guitar riffs? “Message of Love” mixes rock and literary references (the line “We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” comes from Oscar Wilde’s classic 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan) to an intoxicating effect. Unlike most of The Pretenders’ other tracks, the song was recorded without any prior rehearsal, which gives it an unmistakable sense of spontaneity.

6. “Back on the Chain Gang” (1982) Pretenders songs

A chain gang may seem like an unlikely subject for a hit, but Hynde made it work in a song as catchy as it was mournful. Hynde wrote “Back on the Chain Gang” shortly after Honeyman-Scott’s untimely death, and while the “ooh, ahh” backing vocals are fun to sing along with, lyrics about being forced apart and looking back on happier days speak to the tragic loss of a friend and collaborator and the difficult though necessary task of attempting to move on.

7. “My City Was Gone” (1982)

Hynde may have spent much of her time in London and had British bandmates, but her roots were in Akron, Ohio. In “My City Was Gone” she sings about returning to her hometown and finding it in decline. No matter where you’re from, the experience of going back home and seeing how much things have changed is a relatable one, and Hynde’s frustrations, soundtracked by a bold bass line, are both plainspoken and urgent.

8. “Middle of the Road” (1983) Pretenders songs

Ever felt like you were on the verge of great change? Then you can likely relate to “Middle of the Road,” with its lines about “standing in the middle of life with my plans behind me.” Following the death of her bandmate and the birth of her daughter, Hynde was in a transitional phase, and the song found her observing how far she’d come and where she’d go next.

9. “Don’t Get Me Wrong” (1986)

When you think of The Pretenders, tennis likely isn’t the first (or even the second, third or fourth…) thing that comes to mind. In an interview, Hynde revealed that she originally wrote “Don’t Get Me Wrong” for the tennis great John McEnroe. She and McEnroe were friends, and he hoped to start a music career. Hynde ended up keeping the song for herself, and it became one of her band’s biggest hits. The video, like the song’s origin story, was also unusual, as it featured Hynde in a tribute to the classic ’60s TV show The Avengers.

10. “I’ll Stand by You” (1994)

The Pretenders will always be most associated with the late ’70s and early ’80s, but the moving ballad “I’ll Stand by You” proved they were still an essential band for the ’90s and beyond. While Hynde acknowledged that the song had a more commercial sound than her earlier classics, the strength of her voice remains, and the song’s universal themes of love and faith in difficult times have led to it being covered by artists like Shakira and Carrie Underwood.

Pretenders power!

All of these Pretenders songs have serious staying power. The band has crafted many a rock anthem — in fact, it’s hard to scroll through this list without singing along! — and Chrissie Hynde’s swaggering yet sensitive persona never ceases to inspire.

Read on for more of our favorite ’80s music!

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