Chrissie Hynde is one of the most enduring musical voices in rock. Since topping the charts with her band The Pretenders in the 1980s, she’s made her own path to success.
But after more than 40 years on stage, does she still perform?
Today, we’re looking at the ringleader of one of new wave’s most influential bands.
The Story of Christine Ellen Hynde
Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1951, Hynde fell in love with music in her early teens. The British Invasion washed over the country and swept her up in the flood. However, it wasn’t until her college days at Kent State that she started performing.
One of her first explorations included another famous name, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame. Their band Sat. Sun. Mat. didn’t last, but her love of music continued. In 1973, she made her first trip overseas to London, where she cemented her connection to England. Her new acquaintance, Nick Kent, connected her with the influential magazine NME.
Through her writing job, she met Vivienne Westwood, known as the woman who dressed punk rockers. Chrissie began working at SEX, the clothing boutique that defined the ragged look that influencers of the time sported. She left just before the genre took off and sojourned to France before heading home.
After less than a year, she returned to London to try to start a band. Several disappointing groups left her looking for something she could call her own.
Discover more of The Greatest Women of Punk Rock.
The Pretenders Take Shape
Along with James Honeyman-Scott, Pete Farndon, and Martin Chambers, she formed The Pretenders in 1978. By the following year, they had their first single climbing the UK charts with Stop Your Sobbing. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1980, and things were looking up.
Chrissie Hynde was the undisputed leader. She fired Farndon in 1982 because of drug problems and lost another bandmate shortly after. Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure, also caused by narcotic addiction.
The Pretenders brought on new members and continued to write and release records. Their 1986 effort, Get Close, featured their first chart-topper, Don’t Get Me Wrong.
While the group kept going through the early 2000s, Hynde branched out. She played with her boyfriend, JP Jones, on their 2010 album, Fidelity! Then, she collaborated with Swedish songwriter Björn Yttling on Stockholm in 2014.
Despite her experimentation and success, she felt that The Pretenders had more work to do. Along with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, they released Alone in 2016.
Hynde’s homage to jazz came through Valve Bone Woe in 2019. Most recently, she worked with guitarist James Walbourne on a collection of cover songs called Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan.
Discover another amazing woman of rock: Whatever Happened to PJ Harvey?
Chrissie Hynde’s Best-Known Songs
As the primary songwriter for The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde’s unique perspective shaped their music. Some of her best-known tunes straddle the Atlantic with a distinct blend of British and American influences.
Brass in Pocket
Brass in Pocket is a perfect example of her international flair. It’s a song about a young woman trying to get the man she wants. It was The Pretenders’ first hit in the UK and uses Cockney rhyming slang in the lyrics.
It might sound like nonsense to American audiences, but they knew exactly what she meant in England. “Brass in pocket” is a reference to money, “skank” and “reet” refer to good marijuana, and “got bottle” talks of courage.
Hynde never liked it but accepted that it was popular with listeners. The music video was one of the first shown on MTV, and it’s ranked as one of the top 100 rock songs.
I’ll Stand by You
Released in 1994, I’ll Stand by You was the lead single off The Pretenders’ Last of the Independents. The song charted in several countries, and artists like Girls Aloud, Carrie Underwood, and Shakira covered it.
Essentially a power ballad, the singer explores more tender emotions than she expressed in Brass in Pocket. Instead of swagger, the overwhelming feeling conveyed is of support and love. She vows to defend her lover and protect them from outsiders who wish them harm.
Back on the Chain Gang
Chorus-soaked electric guitars were everywhere in the 1980s, and The Pretenders embraced them too. Hynde wrote Back on the Chain Gang to memorialize Honeyman-Scott, who passed away in 1982. For such a sad moment, the band created an upbeat celebration of life.
Because they’d just lost two members, the recording features several prominent names in the liner notes. Billy Bremmer from Rockpile, session guitarist Robbie McIntosh, and Tony Butler of Big Country sat in.
Critics loved the song, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983.
Is Chrissie Hynde Still With the Pretenders?
After a hiatus between 2008 and 2012, the band got back together to release Hate for Sale. In 2016, Alone came out under The Pretenders moniker, but Hynde was the only original member.
They canceled a 2020 tour with Journey due to world events.
Dave Grohl invited the band to play at the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in 2022. Chrissie Hynde performed with Grohl on bass, recalling her tragic history with loss.
It seems there’s no stopping the bad, as they released their latest record, Relentless, in 2023 and kicked off a tour in August.
Are the Pretenders Touring With Guns N’ Roses?
If you’re an 80s music fan, get ready because there’s some big news. Guns N’ Roses and The Pretenders will soon tour together. Seven dates are on the calendar for the fall 2023 season. In August, Hynde even joined the band on stage for a harmonica solo on Use Your Illusion.
Once they’ve wrapped those dates, you can catch the group playing more intimate sets. Outside the stadium, you’re treated to an up-close and personal show led by Chrissie Hynde and her latest bandmates.
The ensemble features original drummer Martin Chambers with newer members Nick Wilkinson on bass and James Walbourne on lead guitar. Pedal steel guitarist Eric Heywood and Carwyn Ellis on keys fill out the roster.
In 2024, they’ll also be joining the Foo Fighters at some of their tour stops.
What Is Chrissie Hynde Doing Now?
After a lifetime in the spotlight, Chrissie Hynde shows no signs of slowing down. She’s written an autobiography, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, and even opened a vegan restaurant in her hometown. While you can still get her book, the restaurant closed in 2011.
These days, you’re more likely to see her in London, where she’s lived for the last decade. She spends most of her time championing environmental causes, plus painting and writing. A book of 200 of her paintings, Adding the Blue, came out in 2018.
But her newfound interests don’t mean she’s leaving the stage for good. In fact, you might be able to catch The Pretenders opening for the Foo Fighters on their 2024 Everything or Nothing At All stadium tour.
Deep Dive: Reckless: My Life as a Pretender.
The Show Goes On for Chrissie Hynde
As one of the most influential voices in rock music over the last fifty years, Chrissie Hynde is a powerhouse. She emerged during the industry’s upheaval and still found a way to shine. Her band, The Pretenders, infused popular culture with their tunes, and they’re not done yet.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Hynde has hung up her hat. She’s a force of nature, and she’s not calling it quits anytime soon!