Like London Calling, Pretenders came out in the U.K. in 1979 and here in the U.S. in 1980. So while it’s technically a 1979 album, all of its impact — however you define that slippery term — came in 1980. Therefore, like London Calling, I really think of it as the first of the great albums of the 1980s, not the last of the great albums of the 1970s.
Which made sense: while both albums couldn’t have existed without punk rock, both albums were also signposts towards what was going to happen after punk rock, as punk rock became just one more bit of musical history upon which to draw upon when creating a sound.
Which is a thing that I don’t think I quite understood in 1980; I still wanted everything to be rrooaaaaaar, thus my initial underrating of both London Calling and side two of Pretenders. Well, except for the final track on the album, “Mystery Achievement,” which has always battled with “The Wait” as my favorite track on the album.
Kicking off with a simple, unstoppable double-time backbeat by Martin Chambers and a Pete Farndon bassline that was its own instant hook, “Mystery Achievement” was hooky, dancey and fun as all hell, as Chrissie Hynde slashed on her rhythm guitar and accessed her happy voice while singing about her happy place. After a series of breathy “ooooooooohhsss,” she launches in the first verse.
Don’t breathe down my neck no
I got no trophies on display
I sign them away
I mean what the heck
All of your promises
Don’t fill me with pride, no
I just wanna get out on the floor
And do the Cuban slide, slide, slide, slide
And then, with the support of a gang of overdubbed Chrissies echoing every word, they Cuban slide directly into the chorus, everybody exactly where they’re supposed to be.
But every day, every nighttime I find
You’re on my mind (on my mind)
On my mind
And every day, every nighttime I feel
Mystery achievement you’re so unreal
Almost James Honeyman-Scott slides in with a quick chordal solo, which really is just quick intake of breath so that Hynde is ready to sing the second verse.
Where’s my sandy beach? Yeah
I had my dreams like everybody else
But they’re out of reach
I said right out of reach
I could ignore you
Your demands are unending
I got no tears on my ice cream but you know me
I love pretending
It’s after the second chorus where Honeyman-Scott — with a little assist from Chambers, who never relents for even a single second — takes “Mystery Achievement” from “great” to “all time classic.” First he does a bit of a duel with Chambers: playing some notes, and stops while Chambers responds with some fills.
But he soon gets bored, and just takes off sideways, burning and slashing notes over under sideways down every which way against the song, trying to figure out a way to break the unbreakable beat Farndon & Chambers are putting down. But even as he finds a lick and tries to use it over and over and over to get through them, the best he can do is force them to build into one final glorious chorus.
After that, one last solo from Honeyman-Scott, shorter and ferocious than the last one, because he’s running out of time, the song is ending, Hynde is moaning some last orgasmic “oooooooooohs” and it finally comes crashing to a halt.
Gang, this fucking song totally and utterly stunned me back in 1980. What a way to end an album! Even almost 40 years later, it just completely kills me. And the great thing was, they were just getting going.
“Mystery Achievement” live in Germany, 1981
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