Song You Need to Know: Chrissie Hynde, ‘Caroline, No’
Born in 1951, attending college at Kent State in the early Seventies (where she lost close friends at the 1970 Kent State massacre), clocking time in London at the height of punk (where she wrote rock criticism and worked at Vivienne Westwood’s legendary SEX shop among other adventures), Chrissie Hynde had already lived a counter-cultural rock and roll lifetime before the Pretenders released their classic debut LP in 1980. That may have been one reason why her singing always had the stately gravitas of an old-soul, even when she was telling you to “fuck off” on The Pretenders‘ classic opening track “Precious,” and especially when she turned her voice to cover songs like the Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” or the Persuaders’ “It’s a Thin Line Between Love and Hate.” Hynde’s new solo album Valve Bone Woe is all covers, from faithful readings of jazz standards like “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Expect Sometimes)” and “I’m A Fool to Want You,” to tunes by Nick Drake, Ray Davies, David Bowie and others, which she transforms into Sinatra-esque torch songs.
Hynde traces her love of jazz back to her brother Terry Hynde, a saxophonist who is a member of longstanding Ohio post-punks the Numbers Band. “Jazz is something I grew up around (thanks to my bro) ,” Hynde says, “I’ve always had a soft spot for it. I often bemoan what I regard as a decline in melody in popular music and I wanted to sing melodies. Plus, I have a penchant for cover songs, it’s the surprise of singing something that I didn’t think of writing myself that turns me on.”
One of the album’s most arresting moments is her version of “Caroline, No,” a forlorn classic from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds that stands as one of the most soulful songs in the Brian Wilson canon (right down to its similarity to R&B singer Freddie Scott’s 1963 ballad “Hey Girl”). On the surface, “Caroline, No” is a song about seeing a girl you used to know and being bummed out by the way her new haircut reflects her changing life and your own sense that nothing stays the same, turning a small moment into a real-time depiction of the subtle traumas that shape us as we move from high school innocence to young-adult reality. Hynde’s autumnal piano version locks into that sense of change and loss, delivering Wilson’s beautiful lyric with a casual intimacy while adding a tender layer of motherly empathy. In a clever twist, a tasteful splash of dub reggae production gives the original’s feeling of loss and drift an extra level of dreamy displacement.
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