Retro spin: Pretenders’ self-titled album rocks and makes new waves

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Hearing a good song in unexpected places is like unearthing a treasure when you hadn’t meant to dig, or something like that.  Case in point, “Mystery Achievement” by The Pretenders. The song is from the band’s 1980 album, “Pretenders.” Hearing “Mystery Achievement” playing at the end of the final episode of HBO’s “The Deuce” is like finding a musical treasure. The song has a stomping beat coupled with lead singer Chrissie Hynde’ s distinctive, low-register vocals that help make it memorable. The song is just one of a few on the album that help define The Pretenders’ sound.

The Pretenders and early 1980s sound

Stripped down, synth-less bands were popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. College rock radio helped to take arguably discerning listeners from punk to post-punk. A number of bands featured punk-style drumming, jangly or effects-filled guitar work. More important in some cases, was the lyrical content.

Even though British-American rock band The Pretenders’ roots are essentially linked to America’s post-punk scene, the group managed to have hits that appealed to alternative and mainstream music fans. Songs such as “Mystery Achievement, “Brass In Pocket” and Precious” prove that The Pretenders’ classic sound is unique and illustrates the band’s universal appeal.

Before a premium cable television show used “Mystery Achievement” in its final episode, The Pretenders had already proven their rock sensibility. The song “Brass in Pocket” tells a straightforward story about a female narrator angling for the object of her desire. Brass in pocket seems to refer to the nerve it takes to aim for what a person wants, even if that “what” is another person. The video for the song is low-key and set in a diner. The humor used to underscore the song’s famous line “I’m  special” is particularly memorable.

“Brass in Pocket” is played on both classic rock and alternative stations, although “Mystery Achievement ” is sometimes played more frequently on alternative stations.

The debut album, “The Pretenders,” is well-regarded by critics and in terms of chart-placing, peaked at No. 28. “Brass In Pocket” is the most successful single, since it peaked at No. 14.

While both “Brass In Pocket” and “Mystery Achievement ” represent variance in The Pretenders’ sound, as far as the debut album goes, the song “Precious” varies in terms of lyrical tone, vocal approaches used and guitar work employed.

“Precious” seems to be a critique of Hynde’s hometown of Akron, Ohio. Hynde growls, scats, raps her way through the song. The title, as some might have guessed, is sarcastic. Unlike the other singles mentioned here, “Precious” is more punk-oriented than pop or even straightforward rock.

  • While The Pretenders’ self-titled debut was officially released in 1980, a few of the singles were released as early as 1979. Even so, with a mix of styles, and a dedication to form, The Pretenders’ debut album became one of the most unique albums of the 1980s.

 

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