As I listen to more and more of The Pretenders’ stuff, I get further convinced that Chrissie Hynde was one of the greatest songwriters of the rock era. Not always perfect, but she wrote about a half-dozen of the catchiest, heartfelt and heartbreaking songs of the post-punk era, and never sounded like anything less than a rock star doing it. The craftsmanship on display in The Pretenders’ best work just stuns me, and there’s barely a single thing about the songs that I would change.
Which is why I find “Talk of the Town” so unbelievably frustrating. The song didn’t stand out to me too much the few times I’d heard it over the course of my life, until I listened to Pretenders II for the first time and it just blindsided me. Now I think it might be their second-best song (which, as was no doubt made clear by the first paragraph, is no small feat), a typically devestating tale of unrequited crushery complemented by James Honeyman-Scott’s gorgeous, breezy guitar lines and Farndon/Chambers’ tight rhythm playing, anchoring the song. For two and a half minutes, it’s about as sadly blissful as pop music gets.
And then, as the song gears up for chorus #2, it stops. Just stops. When I first heard it on XM, I thought the DJ had come in too early or missed a cue or something–there’s no way they’d just end the song like that, right as things were really getting good. Hardly the first pop song that I wish could’ve gone on longer–Dinosaur Jr.’s brilliant but abruptly over cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” comes to mind, as does my #88 song of all-time. But those guys always sort of felt like pranksters at heart, so it doesn’t seem quite so deceptive. The way Hynde sabotages her own mini-masterpiece, however, just feels like a betrayal.
I wasn’t optimistic about there being a 12″ version of this one, so instead I tried to see if I could just round it out myself. There’s nothing wrong with short pop songs, and I tend to really admire bands who can squeeze a great song into three minutes or less, but perfect pop songs need closure, and that’s what “Talk of the Town” lacks. So rather than make it into The Pretenders’ “Free Bird” or anything, my edits were very simple, and the finished product is only about a half-minute longer than the original song.
Basically, what I did is I took the song’s chorus-y part (“maybe tomorrow, maybe someday”), starting with “Like the talk of the town,” and pasted over Hynde’s final “who’s the talk of the town?” with it, giving the song the second chorus that it so richly deserves. Then I stole a little bit from the guitar riff that introduces the first verse, spliced it with the final bits of the original ending, and used that as a more fitting, less jarring way to close the song. I’m extremely proud of how the first (and biggest) edit turned out–I don’t think the change is even that noticeable, unless you’re intimately familiar with the original version–though I had a little trouble with the end part. You be the judge, I suppose.
It’s crazy to me that I even have the tools to make something like this (sort of) happen. Soon enough we won’t even need artists to sell us completed songs, we’ll just ask them for loose sketches and fill in the details as we see fit. Should be pretty awesome, I think.