One of the most popular songs in the world this week is an oldie performed by the incomparable Kate Bush. It’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” originally released back in the summer of Live Aid. If you’re one of the song’s young fans, properly obsessed with it from its placement in the Netflix series Stranger Things, feel free to also check out Live Aid if you’ve never heard of it. It was a pretty rad event.
While Bush’s song was making its climb up Billboard’s charts, better appreciated by a new generation of fans who TikTok-ked it to the top, the limited TV series Pistol debuted. Danny Boyle’s serialized history of the seminal punk band Sex Pistols featured even older songs and one of them shot to the top of the British streaming charts. The Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” resurged some 45 years from its original release, spurred in part by Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. Even Kenny Loggins’ 1986 hit “Danger Zone” is getting attention again, thanks to the new Top Gun film, with ink in stories by the Los Angeles Times and Houston Press.
Since life cycles and music cycles are Venn diagramming in this fashion, may we please loop Pretenders into the graph? The band’s founder and front woman Chrissie Hynde is prominently featured in Pistol. Based on the memoir of Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones, the highly entertaining series recounts how the English punk band — some say the first — shocked the U.K. from its societal sleepwalk and made music history. The annals of their brief run include a hellish U.S. tour, a murder and a single studio album that remains one of rock’s most influential records. Never mind the genre, serious music fans should take a few hours to stare down the series’ barrel, loaded as it is with so many larger than life, real life characters.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with blokes called Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious is Hynde, the American abroad in London when Sex Pistols broke in the late ‘70s. She worked in the fashion boutique run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, two artists/agitators inextricably linked to the band and its snarling, mutinous ethos. According to Pistol, Hynde’s relationship with Jones and proximity to the band made her a central figure in the band’s history. The story goes Hynde was looking to form a band or be included in one, including Sex Pistols, before she formed her own outfit, the Pretenders.
Hynde’s role in actual events maybe was embellished a bit for the series. Jones told Rolling Stone recently she was “shocked” when she saw Pistol and how pivotal she is in its chronicles. In the series, Jones and others dissuade her attempts to join the band by reminding her she’s too good a musician to join Sex Pistols' famously chaotic ranks. Hynde formed Pretenders in 1978, right about the time Sex Pistols was imploding, and her band created some of the best rock music of the 1980s and '90s, songs like "Back on the Chain Gang," "I'll Stand by You," "Don't Get Me Wrong," "Middle of the Road" and "Message of Love."
Only a little of Hynde's music is featured in the miniseries, but there’s enough to spark a resurgence. You don’t hear an actual Pretenders song in the series until the penultimate episode and it’s “Kid” from the band’s 1980 debut album Pretenders. Later, the series depicts the band recording its breakthrough single “Brass in Pocket.” The former is about shattered innocence and the latter is a groovy pep talk. We don’t care which of these songs listeners return to prominence, let’s just do it already.
By the time you get to “Kid” you’re emotionally invested in Hynde thanks to Sydney Chandler, the actress portraying her in Pistol. Chandler seems to capture the essence of a young Hynde, whose allure was all the mystery around her. Guarded by a veil of bangs and red leather, she seemed too “precious” to be bothered with so “fuck off!” She possessed a seductive danger for we who’d grown bored of the safety of Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John. Was she from the U.S. or was she British? How did she learn to play guitar like that? Daaaang, she said the ‘F’ word! Could she kick my ass in a fight?
Chandler’s performance has drawn almost unanimous praise and for good reason. She plays Hynde with cool detachment, a rugged vibe that must have been necessary for Hynde to break through a boys’ club of rock music. But Chandler’s performance is also smart and driven, words we clearly associate with one of rock’s prominent women. At times, it’s also tender, not exactly a sentiment which springs to mind when discussing Sex Pistols. Chandler’s take on Hynde gives the whole enterprise a bit of humanity set next to the living caricatures the Sex Pistols were. There’s even a scene where she sheds a tear. Can you imagine Chrissie Hynde crying? This is the badass who told her man you’ve gotta stop sobbing. Bad, tattooed love boys get spanked but rock goddesses don’t cry.
Hynde doesn't really need a No. 1 hit in 2022, but since she's got a bit of the spotlight from Pistol, why not widen it? She's gotten her due in her career. She sold all those records, is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, had a song covered by Selena and has been cited as an influence by no less than Madonna. She may not care that a back catalog song could be reincarnated via a TV series or the Doctor Frankenstein that is TikTok, but one could surely once again be alive,…alive! From the series, “Brass in Pocket” makes most sense to rejuvenate, imbued as it is with posi self-affirmations and lyrics that seem practically blueprinted for one of TikTok's dance crazes. Imagine some kid and then everyone you know doing the same viral dance to, “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.”
In the end, maybe I’m just an old man/fan boy making a case for one of his favorite artists to have another big moment, one she deserves as much as Kate Bush or Sex Pistols, and you can take or leave my words. It’s better anyway to just listen to Hynde on “Brass in Pocket,” where she makes the case better than I ever could.
“I’m special, so special,” she sings. “I’ve gotta have some of your attention, give it to me.”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.