Chrissie Hynde – circa 1986
“’Cos I’m gonna make you see / There’s nobody else here / No one like me / I’m special / So special / I gotta have some of your attention / Give it to me!” – ‘Brass In Pocket’ (Chrissie Hynde, James Honeyman-Scott)
In 1973 Chrissie Hynde changes her life. She travels from her native America to England. This decisive step allows her to go from a discontented non-entity to a rock star. It doesn’t happen straight away, but it may not have happened at all without her making a change in residence. “I didn’t like living in America, so I moved to England,” is how Chrissie Hynde bluntly expresses it. The Pretenders loom in her future.
Christine Ellen Hynde is born 7 September 1951 in Akron, Ohio, U.S.A. She is the daughter of Mel Hynde, a manager of ‘The Yellow Pages’ phone directory for businesses, and his wife, Dolores, a part-time secretary. “I came from a very colourless, suburban medium nothing,” Chrissie later claims. She graduates from Firestone High School in 1969.
Chrissie Hynde attends Kent State University in Ohio, but drops out to play in a band called Jack Rabbit. This is described as a ‘rhythm and blues group.’ Jack Rabbit is not Chrissie’s ticket to fame and fortune. She finds herself working as a waitress to earn a living.
In 1973 Chrissie Hynde is 21 when she moves to London, England. “I knew nobody when I got here,” she blandly admits. “I didn’t try to get a band together for quite a few years after I left America,” Chrissie points out. “I just was leaving [the U.S.] because I wanted to move.” She makes the acquaintance of Nick Kent, a journalist for the British rock music newspaper ‘New Musical Express’. Kent gets her a job on the newspaper and becomes her boyfriend. “The journalist thing just came along as an accident. I didn’t go [to England] to write. In fact I wasn’t good at writing.” During her time at ‘New Musical Express’ Hynde interviews the likes of art rock doyen Brian Eno and leather-clad lady rocker Suzi Quatro. In 1974 Chrissie Hynde quits the newspaper: “It wasn’t something I wanted to pursue.” Her relationship with Nick Kent continues until around 1976.
Restless, Chrissie Hynde moves on to France to sing with a band there. This project, The Frenchies, ‘flops’ and she returns to England.
Chris Spedding, a well-known British guitarist who played many recording sessions for other artists, gets a fleeting shot at glory with his single ‘Motorbikin’’ in 1975. Chrissie Hynde briefly works with him. She then goes on to The Berk Brothers.
Chrissie Hynde gets a job as a shop assistant at Sex, the clothing boutique owned by Malcolm McLaren. The manager of punk rock band, The Sex Pistols (who are only in embryonic form), McLaren puts a stop to Hynde teaching Sex Pistols vocalist Johnny Rotten how to play guitar in case she spoils his non-musical credentials. Chrissie Hynde plays a few gigs with Masters Of The Backside, the outfit that will become The Damned, the first punk act to record an album. During the mid-1970s punk takes off, but quickly morphs into new wave. Chrissie Hynde’s next endeavour is a ‘tasteless, unreleased single’ as The Moors Murderers in 1977.
Stiff Records, one of the leading purveyors of punk / new wave music, hires Chrissie Hynde as a back-up singer for a national tour by that label’s artists. This tour brings her to the attention of the bosses of a smaller label, Real Records. They introduce Chrissie Hynde to a group of musicians and begin grooming them collectively as The Pretenders in 1978.
The Pretenders line-up is: Chrissie Hynde (vocals, guitar), James Honeyman-Scott (guitar) (4 November 1956 – 16 June 1982), Pete Farndon (bass) (12 June 1952 – 14 April 1983) and Martin Chambers (drums) (born 4 September 1951). All the boys come from Hereford. Pete Farndon recently returned from Australia where he played in The Bushwackers (a ‘bush band’, a sort of Australian traditional folk music act). Although it is kept fairly low-key, Pete Farndon also becomes Chrissie Hynde’s new boyfriend.
The Pretenders are normally thought of as a new wave band. They arrive too late for punk. Although they share the desire to reduce rock to its basic elements common to both punk and new wave, The Pretenders have more of an ear for the formal structures of pop music from prior times. This allows them to enjoy greater crossover success with a wider audience than some more purist new wave acts. The key to The Pretenders’ sound is guitarist James Honeyman-Scott. His contribution to the band should not be underrated. An inventive player who is not shy of making use of effects, he bridges a jangling 1960s folk rock sound and the sharper new wave style with seeming ease. It is this embrace of rock’s past as well as present that is The Pretenders’ sonic hallmark.
Initially, The Pretenders are very definitely a band of, if not equals, at least solid contributors. The quartet meshes in fine style. Yet undeniably, Chrissie Hynde is the focus of the act. Increasingly, as the years go by, The Pretenders becomes just a brand name applied to Hynde’s latest work.
Chrissie Hynde writes nearly all of The Pretenders songs. The act is shaped by her vision. She is the undisputed frontperson and heart of the group.
“When I hear myself singing, I hear Iggy Pop and Jimi Hendrix,” Chrissie Hynde claims. This is not readily apparent to the rest of the world. She also cites Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones as an influence. What all of these artists have in common is an attitude, a sort of studied, casual, arrogance. They may not believe they are better than anyone else, but they are sol self-assured in their individuality that such notions fade into irrelevance.
As a vocalist, Chrissie Hynde often enunciates words rather than sings notes. As a fellow native of the Midwestern U.S.A., this may be where she hears Iggy Pop’s influence in the flat vowel sounds. However, for all her hard-nosed attitude, Hynde’s singing is decidedly feminine. It sometimes seems endearingly like a teenage girl trying to affect a Parisian approach in the belief that it makes her sound more sophisticated. This may be a legacy of Chrissie Hynde’s brief stint with The Frenchies. The most distinctive trait in Chrissie Hynde’s vocals is an aching, slow vibrato. This tendency to enhance a phrase’s emotional impact by ‘trembling’ the note lends The Pretenders an entrancing vulnerability.
“I have primitive skills. My guitar playing hasn’t improved,” claims Chrissie Hynde with disarming humility. Although James Honeyman-Scott is doubtlessly a more technically accomplished guitarist, Hynde is undervaluing her contribution as a musician. She cites folk musician Joni Mitchell’s surprisingly aggressive guitar work as an influence, but given The Pretenders are primarily electric, rather than acoustic, it is difficult to see any resemblance. A more apparent influence on Hynde’s gutsy rhythm guitar style is Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Occasionally, Chrissie Hynde just sings, but normally she plays guitar as well as sings.
Chrissie Hynde’s sex appeal is an important factor in The Pretenders’ image. However, she does not expose large areas of bare flesh or overtly flaunt her charms. Indeed, if The Pretenders are squinted at, Chrissie can be mistaken for one of the boys. She does have a lynx-like sashay to her stage movements and her kohl-rimmed eyes peer out from beneath her ever-present long fringe in a tantalising manner. What really makes her sexy though is the sound of her voice, the pouting lips, and, especially, the often erotically-charged words of her songs.
The Pretenders cut their first single in early 1979 for Real Records. ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ (UK no. 34, US no. 65) is a cover version of a song recorded by The Kinks in 1964 and written by that act’s leader, Ray Davies. The Pretenders jangling take on the song is produced by noted new wave producer Nick Lowe.
“We didn’t really have a following before we started recording,” observes Chrissie Hynde. “We recorded our first single, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, even before we’d started doing gigs. We didn’t have a following around town who resented us having some success because we weren’t a little cult band. It didn’t work like that.”
The aching, tremulous ‘Kid’ (UK no. 33) in 1979 is the second single by The Pretenders. In this Chrissie Hynde original, she asks, “Kid / What changed your mood? / You’ve gone all sad / So I feel sad too.” ‘Kid’ is produced by Chris Thomas, whose strong, yet clear, approach is applied to the first three albums by The Pretenders.
The Pretenders’ third single, ‘Brass In Pocket’ (UK no. 1, US no. 14, AUS no. 2), is their all-time best. Its genesis lies in a backstage incident as the group begins to tour. At a U.K. gig, they share a dressing room with a British act called The Strangeways. Chrissie Hynde spots a pair of discarded trousers in the dressing room and asks who they belong to. Ada Wilson of The Strangeways quips, “I’ll have them if there’s any brass in the pockets.” The American-born Hynde is uncomprehending, not realising that ‘brass’ is a Northern England colloquialism for coins or money. Once it is explained to Chrissie, she falls in love with the phrase. James Honeyman-Scott co-writes ‘Brass In Pocket’ with Hynde, probably sketching out the sparkling guitar patterns. ‘Brass In Pocket’ is definitive because it crystallises The Pretenders’ (and Chrissie Hynde’s) trademark mix of confident bravado and uncertainty. That sounds contradictory, but it’s accurate. “Gonna use my arms / Gonna use my legs / Gonna use my style / Gonna use my sidestep / Gonna use my fingers / Gonna use my, my, my imagination,” threatens Chrissie in the lyrics, boasting of her charms, but slipping into desperation. “Got something / I’m winking at you,” she declares. In the video for ‘Brass In Pocket’, Chrissie Hynde plays the part of a waitress, her one-time occupation in real life. “When we recorded the song I wasn’t very happy with it,” Hynde admits. “So I remember feeling a bit sheepish when it went to no. 1.” More than that, “I was embarrassed by it. I hated it so much that if I was in Woolworths and they started playing it, I’d have to run out of the store.”
In December the debut album, ‘The Pretenders’ (1979) (UK no. 1, US no. 9, AUS no. 6), is released. In England, the disc is issued by Real Records in association with WEA, but in the U.S.A. it comes out on Sire Records. Many British new wave acts struggle to find an audience in the U.S., but The Pretenders are immediately embraced in America as well. Having an Ohio-born vocalist may have helped them gain acceptance in the U.S. ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, ‘Kid’ and ‘Brass In Pocket’ are all included on The Pretenders’ first – and greatest – album. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott co-writes the video-game instrumental ‘Space Invaders’ with bassist Pete Farndon. Aside from the aforementioned Kinks cover, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, and Honeyman-Scott’s co-credit on ‘Brass In Pocket’, the rest of the album is written by Chrissie Hynde. The first side bristles with punkish energy, while side two is more expansive, stretching to the cool reggae of ‘Private Life’. The overriding characteristic is the erotic intimacy of Chrissie Hynde’s lyrics. Consider these examples: “I had my eye on your imperial” (‘Precious’); “The veins bulged on his…brow” (‘Up The Neck’); “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for” (‘Tattooed Love Boys’); “Yes your marriage is a tragedy but It’s not my concern” (‘Private Life’); and “Every day, every night time I find / Mystery achievement is on my mind” (‘Mystery Achievement’). ‘The Pretenders’ is an album ‘chockful of punky pop gems’ and ‘no-nonsense new wave rock.’
While touring America in 1980 Chrissie Hynde meets Ray Davies of The Kinks, the author of ‘Stop Your Sobbing’. He transitions from being one of her idols to being her lover in June 1980, as Chrissie breaks up with Pete Farndon. Ray Davies is still married at that time so the love affair leads to Chrissie being cited in the 1980 divorce proceedings of Davies.
‘Talk Of The Town’ (UK no. 8, AUS no. 55) is released as a single in 1980. James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar chords slowly fade like a painted watercolour. Chrissie Hynde serves up perhaps her most affected French-accented vocal: “I made a ‘weesh’ / I said it out loud.”
More forthright is ‘Message Of Love’ (UK no. 11, AUS no. 16) in 1981. This track features guitars riffing in unison and pounding drums. “Now the reason we’re here / As man and woman / Is to love each other / Take care of each other,” Chrissie Hynde preaches, going on to name drop French sex symbol Bridgette Bardot. She also quotes famed British author Oscar Wilde: “We are all of us in the gutter / But some of us are looking at the stars” (from Wilde’s stage play ‘Lady Windemere’s Fan’ (1893)).
On 30 March 1981 the ‘Extended Play’ EP (US no. 27) is released for the U.S. market only. The five tracks on the ‘mini-album’ are: ‘Message Of Love’, ‘Talk Of The Town’, two Hynde/Honeyman-Scott collaborations, ‘Porcelain’ and ‘Cuban Slide’, and a live recording of ‘Precious’.
On 12 April 1981 James Honeyman-Scott marries Peggy Sue Fender in London. Just over a month later, on 16 May 1981, Martin Chambers weds Tracy Atkinson.
‘Pretenders II’ (1981) (UK no. 7, US no. 10, AUS no. 18) is released in August. It is decried as ‘a weak follow-up’ but this assessment is only possible in comparison to the substantial accomplishment of the band’s debut. In retrospect, the second album is much underrated. ‘Talk Of The Town’ and ‘Message Of Love’ are both included on this set. The Ray Davies song ‘I Go To Sleep’ (UK no. 7) is an obscurity originally recorded not by The Kinks, but by The Applejacks in 1964. The Pretenders version becomes another single. James Honeyman-Scott co-writes ‘Day After Day’ (UK no. 45), an account of life on the road, and contributes a lyrical guitar solo. The other track on which he shares credit with Chrissie Hynde is the trouncing put down ‘Pack It Up’ in which Hynde slams a lover she is leaving for “Your insipid record collection” and “The usual pornography”, but is also witty and self-aware enough to additionally criticise “Your appalling taste in women.” The rest of the album is written by Chrissie Hynde alone. She deals with the consequences of her relationship with Ray Davies in the rough-edged ‘The Adultress’ (“I stand accused of the worst crime in history”), deals out some harshness of her own in the whip-cracking ‘Bad Boys Get Spanked’, but feels the bite of ‘Jealous Dogs’. ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ is authoritative reggae while ‘Birds Of Paradise’ is evocatively nostalgic.
On 14 June 1982 Pete Farndon is ‘kicked out of the band, due to his drug abuse.’ Yet, on 16 June 1982 (two days later), it is James Honeyman-Scott who dies of heart failure due to cocaine intolerance. Ironically, the guitarist was detoxifying himself from cocaine addiction, but a lapse at a party resulted in him taking a dose of cocaine that was just too strong for him. He dies in his sleep, aged 25.
“We had a balance, the four of us,” Chrissie Hynde reflects. “Once Pete and Jimmy were gone…I had to kind of reassess everything.”
A new single, ‘Back On The Chain Gang’ (UK no. 17, US no. 5, AUS no. 11), is released in 1982. For this track, Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers are joined in a one-time deal by Billy Bremner (guitar) (born 1948) and Tony Butler (bass) (born 13 February 1957). Bremner’s stinging guitar is offset by a reassuring rhythm. Chrissie Hynde kicks against destiny, grinding her teeth that, “The powers that be / That force us to live like we do / Bring me to my knees / When I see what they’ve done to you.”
The Pretenders are rebuilt with the additions in 1982 of Robbie McIntosh (guitar) (born 25 October 1957) and Malcolm Foster (bass) (born 1956).
Chrissie Hynde gives birth to a daughter, Natalie (born January 1983), by Ray Davies.
On 14 April 1983, former member of The Pretenders, Pete Farndon passes out and drowns in the bathtub after an overdose of heroin. He was 30. Before his demise Farndon was attempting to put together a band with Rob Stoner (guitar) and former member of The Clash, Topper Headon (drums). Stoner claims it didn’t eventuate due to ‘drug abuse.’ Pete Farndon is survived by his wife, Conover, a U.S. model. Asked about the deaths of half her band, Chrissie Hynde replies (without apparent irony), “Sad? Yeah, but that’s life.”
In 1983 The Pretenders issue the single ‘Middle Of The Road’ (UK no. 81, US no. 19, AUS no. 52). A tough and knotty track, Hynde uses it as a virtual state of the union address. “I’m standing in the middle of life / With my pains behind me,” she proclaims. Later in the song, Hynde adds, “I’m not the kind I used to be / I’ve gotta kid, I’m 33.” [Actually she is 32 at the time.]
The Pretenders close out the year with the Christmas-themed ‘2000 Miles’ (UK no. 15, AUS no. 30) where the guitar notes fall as lightly as snowflakes.
‘Learning To Crawl’ (1984) (UK no. 11, US no. 5, AUS no. 18) in January is The Pretenders’ third album. The title could refer to both Chrissie Hynde’s infant daughter and the still relatively inexperienced new Pretenders line-up. ‘Back On The Chain Gang’, ‘Middle Of The Road’ and ‘2000 Miles’ are all present here. ‘Thumbelina’ seems to deal with Hynde’s new mother status as does ‘Show Me’ (US no. 28): “Welcome to the human race…You with your innocence and grace.” A cover version of ‘Thin Line Between Love And Hate’ (UK no. 49, US no. 83), originally recorded by The Persuaders in 1971, is also present.
Chrissie Hynde’s relationship with Ray Davies falls apart in 1984. They never married. On 5 May 1984, ‘following a whirlwind affair’, Chrissie Hynde marries Jim Kerr, vocalist of Scots band Simple Minds. The couple go on to have a daughter, Yasmin (born 25 March 1985). In 1984 Chrissie Hynde provides low-key backing vocals for Irish band U2’s ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’. She is credited under her married name of Christine Kerr.
In 1985 Chrissie Hynde duets with British reggae band UB40 on a cover version of Sonny And Cher’s 1965 hit ‘I Got You Babe’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1).
1985 also brings a reassessment of The Pretenders line-up. “Martin wasn’t playing well,” Chrissie Hynde claims, justifying the dismissal of the only other original member of The Pretenders, drummer Martin Chambers. Bassist Malcolm Foster is also a victim of the purge. Hynde and guitarist Robbie McIntosh are joined by T.M. Stevens (bass) (born 1951) and Blair Cunningham (drums) (born 11 October 1957).
The revised Pretenders line-up debuts on ‘Get Close’ (1986) (UK no. 6, US no. 25, AUS no. 12), produced by Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine. Sketchy music hall guitar and knockabout drums are featured on ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ (UK no. 10, US no. 10, AUS no. 8), “If I’m looking kinda dazzled / I see neon lights whenever you walk by.” If this song may be about new husband, Jim Kerr, ‘My Baby’ (UK no. 84, US no. 64, AUS no. 16) seems an even clearer dedication as Chrissie croons “You write the beautiful songs” while The Pretenders do their best to imitate the kind of wide canvas pop that is the metier of Simple Minds. Hynde gets to work out her Jimi Hendrix fixation with a cover version of an obscure song by him, ‘Room Full Of Mirrors’. ‘Hymn To Her’ (UK no. 8, AUS no. 7), a song in praise of women, is penned by Meg Keene.
On tour to support ‘Get Close’, The Pretenders are joined by guest keyboardist Bernie Worrell. With new boys Stevens and Cunningham, this makes The Pretenders a predominantly black outfit. As Chrissie Hynde puts it, “It was only when the houselights went down and we got on stage, I looked around and realised that the flavour of the English pop group wasn’t there any more.”
Chrissie Hynde shuts down The Pretenders in 1986. Johnny Marr (born 31 October 1963) from The Smiths tentatively replaces Robbie McIntosh on guitar in 1987, but nothing comes from this. The band goes on hiatus from 1987 to 1990.
Another duet with UB40, a cover of Dusty Springfield’s song from 1969, ‘Breakfast In Bed’ (UK no. 6), is next for Chrissie Hynde. This is released in 1988.
“Kids don’t need to see their mother on stage in front of a whole lot of people,” observes Chrissie Hynde. “The kids just want you there with them. The world doesn’t have to have The Pretenders. It doesn’t have to have a Pretenders tour or Pretenders record. But my kids need me.” While it’s hard to fault her maternal instincts, it doesn’t do much for The Pretenders’ career.
‘Packed’ (1990) (UK no. 19, US no. 48, AUS no. 61) is a Pretenders album in name only. Chrissie Hynde records this set with the help of session musicians. ‘Sense Of Purpose’ is perhaps the highlight of the album, though the caustic ‘Millionaires’ is also interesting. ‘Packed’ also includes ‘Never Do That’ (UK no. 81), ‘Hold A Candle To This’, and another Jimi Hendrix cover version, ‘Waterfall’ (a.k.a. ‘May This Be Love’) from 1967.
Chrissie Hynde’s marriage to Jim Kerr ends in divorce in 1990. “You just never saw each other,” she explains. “He was always off with his band.”
When she returns to the recording studio in 1993, Chrissie Hynde works with Adam Seymour (guitar), Andy Rourke (bass) (born 17 January 1964) and a variety of session drummers. However, before the resulting album is released, Andy Hobson takes over on bass and Martin Chambers re-joins as The Pretenders drummer in 1993. ‘Last Of The Independents’ (1994) (UK no. 8, US no. 41, AUS no. 22) is also the Pretenders last album for WEA/Sire. ‘I’ll Stand By You’ (UK no. 10, US no. 16, AUS no. 8) comes from this set. “A ballad once in a while doesn’t go amiss,” Chrissie Hynde sagely notes.
In 1994 Chrissie Hynde is briefly linked with tennis champion John McEnroe.
The live album, ‘Isle Of View’ (1995) (UK no. 23, US no. 100), is The Pretenders first outing for Warner Brothers.
On 10 July 1997 Chrissie Hynde marries sculptor Lucho Brieva. They have a son.
‘Viva El Amor’ (1999) (UK no. 32, US no. 158) concludes The Pretenders brief stay at Warner Brothers.
Chrissie Hynde’s marriage to Lucho Brieva comes to an end in September 2002.
‘Loose Screw’ (2002) (UK no. 55, US no. 179) in November is released on the Artemis label and is described as ‘reggae tinged.’
Nick Wilkinson replaces Andy Hobson as bassist for The Pretenders in 2006.
‘Break Up The Concrete’ (2008) (UK no. 35, US no. 32) is released by Shangri-La Music / Rhino Records. At this time, The Pretenders undergo another line-up shuffle. The band now consists of: Chrissie Hynde (vocal, guitar), James Walbourne (guitar), Eric Heywood (pedal steel guitar), Nick Wilkinson (bass) and Martin Chambers (drums). It is reasonable to wonder why Chrissie Hynde persists with The Pretenders instead of just becoming a solo artist. “I’m nothing without a band,” is her blunt response. “I just want to play guitar and be in a band. Same as I always did.”
In October 2010 it is reported that Chrissie Hynde has a new man in her life. Her beau, J.P. Jones, is the lead singer of a band called The Fairground Boys. He is also twenty-eight years younger than Chrissie Hynde.
Chrissie Hynde releases a solo album, ‘Stockholm’ (2014) (UK no. 22, US no. 36), co-writing the album’s songs with the disc’s producer, Bjorn Yttling.
‘Alone’ (2016) (UK no. 40, US no. 150), contrary to the title, is credited to The Pretenders. In truth, it was recorded as a second Chrissie Hynde solo album but is ultimately issued under the brand of The Pretenders. The disc is produced by Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) and is hailed as ‘a fine return’ to form. In order to promote the album, the 2008 incarnation of The Pretenders is reactivated to go on tour.
Chrissie Hynde changed her life in 1973 when she left the U.S.A. for England. When she formed The Pretenders in 1978 more lives were changed. The three ‘country bumpkins’ (to borrow Pete Farndon’s description) from Hereford that joined her were the definitive Pretenders configuration. The two albums these four people recorded together stand as The Pretenders’ best work. The deaths of James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon were tragedies. Full marks to Chrissie Hynde (and, for most of the subsequent years, Martin Chambers) for carrying on. They recorded many worthwhile songs after 1982. After all her songs, it has to be admitted that Chrissie Hynde was right; she is special, so special. The Pretenders ‘crossed the bridge between punk / new wave and top forty pop more than any other band, recording a series of hard, spiky singles that were also melodic and immediately accessible.’ They benefited from Chrissie ‘Hynde’s incandescent vocals, sturdy rhythm guitar playing and fierce self-determination.’
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- VH1 Legends: The Pretenders Pt. # 4 (U.S. Cable Network VH1) (1990?)
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- brainyquote.com as at 21 November 2013
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- ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – review of ‘Alone’ by Cameron Adams (30 October 2016) p. 38
Song lyrics copyright Hynde House of Hits / Clive Banks Music Ltd.
Last revised 12 January 2017