Song 140: The Pretenders, “Kid” (1980)

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I first heard “Kid” on the Pretenders’ The Isle of View, Chrissie Hynde’s contribution to the “unplugged” craze of the early-to-mid-nineties. Because the song is so dang pretty, it didn’t sound out of place on acoustic guitar, awash with strings. When I heard the studio recording years later, “Kid” sounded equally at home with jangly electric guitars and periodic distortion. That, in my opinion, sums up the appeal of the Pretenders.

Or rather, the appeal of Chrissie Hynde. Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers are the only consistent members of the Pretenders, a band with a history so tragic (two members died within two years of their debut) that it rivals that of Spinal Tap. You’d never know it, though: the band’s sound, equal parts punk and Beatlesesque pop, has changed very little over the years. Both those sounds appear during “Kid,” my favorite Pretenders song. The song’s greatest strength is that melody, so beautiful and sad, and the way it sounds backed by that happy-sounding arrangement. The acoustic version of the song, so slow and quiet, makes it sound like an intimate conversation in the wee hours, and the original sounds more like Chrissie Hynde reassuring you over a beer or two.

This song has yet another example of music perfectly mirroring lyrics. The bridge, which begins “all my sorrow, all my blues,” is paired with the relative minor chord of its key–that is, the minor chord that sounds least out of place when played in its corresponding major key. This is far from unusual in pop music, but when it works, it works; in “Kid,” the sudden shift to the relative minor (played with jarring distortion, no less) is like a quick acknowledgement that, yes, things can be rough. But it’ll be OK.

Chrissie Hynde doesn’t seem to be up to much lately, but I hope she gets back to the studio soon. She has one of the best voices in popular music, vocally and otherwise.

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