I’m something of a Morrissey apologist but this is not a great cover. Moz’s clunky guitar player doesn’t nail the fluidity of the Pretenders’ original lead guitar line. That part was created by Rockpile’s Billy Bremner, who Chrissie Hynde and producer Chris Thomas brought into the studio a month after James Honeyman-Scott died of a drug overdose. I had always assumed it was Honeyman-Scott playing on this single, but nope.
It still boggles my mind that Morrissey is so faithful to his thoroughly mediocre backing musicians. He’s stuck by guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias since 1991 and 2005, respectfully. Those guys might not be able to play Bremner’s lead guitar part properly, but I can think of somebody who could…
So it goes.
Morrissey told Rolling Stone: “I think the original can safely be counted as a pop classic, and as always with the Pretenders, of the brain as well as the loins. Chrissie is always ready to do something before anyone expects it, and for me that’s a well-developed artist. Chrissie is one of my longest and enduring friendships. I don’t have many. Chrissie is the funniest person in the world, yet she has absolutely no sense of humor. We have been in many absurd situations – all her fault, of course. I know she’d marry me tomorrow, but she’s already had 11 husbands and she’s always being spotted digging in the garden at midnight.”
And that’s why I still love this guy. On his curious decision to pose with a guitar he explained, “I wanted people to see that I can play as well as Jeff Beck. I wanted them to, but they never will!”
Last year, the folks at Merriam-Webster added a bunch of new words to the 2009 edition of their Collegiate Dictionary. One of those new entries is “mondegreen,” a word or phrase that “results from a mishearing of something said or sung.” An easier definition would be “‘Scuze me while I kiss this guy.”
It wasn’t until I used my unexpected Best Buy Rewards Zone coupon recently that I recalled my first memorable bout of mondegreen. It was an error that stayed with me for many years, and it was of the magnitude that only two people know about it—they play central roles during the revelation of the true song lyrics—and its secret has been kept private since that time.
To give you an idea of how great the Pretenders’ debut was/is, Chrissie Hynde has made a thirty-year career of it. Not to discount everything she’s released since then—I love II (review), Learning To Crawl, and parts of Last Of The Independents—but let’s be honest and acknowledge that it’s next to impossible to recreate the stars that aligned so perfectly on that first album.
It is a testament to Hynde’s strength and talent that we’re still referring to her latest incarnation of the Pretenders. And it is quite possible that we wouldn’t be speaking of her longevity had the original version of the Pretenders stayed alive and stayed the course. Thanks to unnecessary tragedy, they didn’t, but Hynde has tinkered with that original formula just enough to remain relevant and just enough to keep us from entirely writing her off.
When it was originally released in 1981, The Pretenders’ II was almost universally panned by critics as reticent follow-up to their stunning debut. When bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died after II‘s release, Chrissie Hynde regrouped with both grace and a creative spark that led to another acknowledged highpoint, Learning To Crawl.
Twenty-five years later, Rhino Records has re-issued the first two Pretenders efforts, with an additional disc for each that contain the obligatory bonus tracks. The debut really should need no introduction, but perhaps a re-introduction is needed for II, particularly since it would be the last album that featured the original line-up, back when The Pretenders were truly a band instead of a nomenclature for Chrissie Hynde.