David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 292: Pretenders (Jealous Dogs)

October 19, 2023

Pity the deep track buried on Side Two of the album that everyone ignores.

I could write this about a couple of songs off of Pretenders II, an album routinely dismissed as sounding too much like Pretenders, representing, mostly, the end of the original Pretenders (given the dismissal of Pete Farndon and death of James Honeyman-Scott), all the more buried to time once Chrissie Hynde's new version of The Pretenders (with "The" consciously added) released Learning To Crawl.

If Pretenders II did suffer so much from being a carbon copy of the debut album, why did that have to be a problem? Pretenders especially shimmered over the stereo system when we dug into Side Two, the hits "Brass In Pocket" and "Kid" brief cuts surrounded by fantastic longer songs that were as much about atmosphere as they were about hooks. "Private Life" and "Lovers of Today" dabbled in mostly structure-less narrative, while "Mystery Achievement" pummeled (thanks to Martin Chambers), slashed (thanks to Honeyman-Scott), and Chrissied (thanks to layered vocals) to establish Side Two the better side of the album.

So why can't Pretenders II do the same thing? It's not like Side One was anything to sneer at, but Side Two, especially smack dab in the middle, offered three relentless tracks that lured the listener in via Hynde's lyrical story-telling, and mesmerized you with the edgy musicianship. In fact, for my Pretenders' offering to this series, I could easily write about any of these three songs, "Day After Day," "Jealous Dogs" and "The English Roses." And much like having to pick a favorite child (o.k., I only have one, so let's say favorite dog), I have to go with one. The dog one.

In many ways, "Jealous Dogs" feels like the centerpiece of Side Two, the deepest track on a record's side that for many releases was often the most obscure. "Jealous Dogs" features Farndon's fantastic bass line from the get-go, interspersed so well with Chambers' drumming, only to be punctuated by Hynde's and Honeyman-Scott's slashing guitars. O.k., so maybe it does sound a lot like parts of "Mystery Achievement" off of Pretenders at that point? What's so wrong with that?  Especially given that the history of most second albums throughout the 70s and 80s basically were imitations of the debut album that got the artist attention.

The instrumentation on those first two Pretenders' albums, before the radical re-make that came from the quartet suddenly become a pair, was all about an undercurrent of relentless mood, of creating aura and space out of which the Hynde vocals and lyrics could emerge. That uncompromising approach to the music particularly comes through during the verses. After all, why would you take the spotlight away from Hynde's sneering delivery of the vicious lyrics, which claw at us from the get-go?

Those jealous dogs, always on the alert/

Territorial rights/

They'll take your back and leave your shirt/

Like that jealous bitch always wanting more.

Meow! There you go, Chrissie. Tell us what you really think. Your enunciation of "bitch" jumping out, only to be tamped back down until the eventual half whispers of "jealous/jealous/jealous" as lead in to the soaring "doooooooooogs." Hynde’s vocals on "Jealous Dogs" are some of her best. No one can deliver "don't be a sucker all your life" better than Chrissie, let alone the repeated "evidence, evidence, evidence" rolling off the tongue first as taunt, then as plea.

With Hynde, the beauty of the vocals is often in what is not quite said: the incomplete thought of "you make me wanna" in "Precious," the innuendo of "I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for" on "Tattooed Love Boys," so it's no wonder that "Jealous Dogs" is remembered for Hynde's dog noises: "bow wow wow," "grr," "arf, arf," as well as the dog commands: "get down off the couch," "mind your leg/roll over and beg," and eventually "You're not allowed on the couch" in that tsk tsk manner of prissy pet owner.

In an introduction to the song for the German show Rockpalast, Hynde says the song is about divorce, about "your Mom and Dad," which certainly makes the thrown-out, almost ad-libbed final lines of the song all the more meaningful: "Merry Christmas/Happy Birthday." Hynde was married to Ray Davies of The Kinks at the time, and one certainly hopes this wasn't her birthday present to him at the time. Of course, almost the same time as Pretenders II was released, The Kinks were releasing Give The People What They Want, with Davies ode to his soon-divorced second wife, Yvonne, "Better Things," closing that album magnificently. Oh, the tanged webs of the famous.

As for the rest of us riff-raff, we just get back on the chain gang, but that would be the next version of the great Pretenders.

The Pretenders. "Jealous Dogs." Pretenders II. Sire, 1981. Link here.

Day 291: Four Tops "It's The Same Old Song"

Day 293: The Dixie Chicks "Goodbye Earl"

See complete list here.