Aside from frontwoman Chrissie Hynde, Martin Chambers has been the most constant member of the Pretenders. The understated (and underrated) drummer has displayed a rhythmic range that spans punky drive to country shuffle to funky groove. Even though he and Hynde went their separate ways in the mid-’80s, they reunited less than a decade later, just in time for the Pretenders’ ’90s comeback. Chambers’ excellent skills sometimes go unnoticed when compared to Hynde’s charisma and the deaths of the band’s other two founders, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bass player Pete Farndon. But the sound of the band can be found in the tension between Chambers' pulled-back drumming and Hynde's stabbing rhythm guitar -- which is evident throughout our list of the Top 10 Martin Chambers Pretenders Songs.
‘Brass in Pocket’ From: ‘Pretenders’ (1980)
Chambers leans back on the beat to help create the simple groove that makes "Brass in Pocket" so seductive. If he were any more relaxed, he might be asleep. The beat is weighty but soft, and it allows plenty of room for Chrissie Hynde to side-step her way through the single -- the Pretenders’ first huge hit, which put a bit of brass in the band’s pockets.
‘Room Full of Mirrors’ From: ‘Get Close’ (1986)
Chrissie Hynde fired Chambers before recording the bulk of 1986's Get Close because she felt that his drumming had deteriorated (he later admitted to being compromised by the mounting grief surrounding his late mates). But the album’s final track – a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Room Full of Mirrors" – was recorded with Chambers and the Learning to Crawl band. And it’s a strange mix of retro psychedelia and ’80s production. But it gives the drummer lots of room to run. His frequent rat-a-tat fills keep the song hurtling forward.
‘Day After Day’ From: ‘Pretenders II’ (1981)
"Day After Day" features an off-kilter beat similar to another song from 1981 – the Who’s "You Better You Bet." The way Chambers creates space between the snare and tom hits perfectly suits a weary song about life on the road. He hits hard and just often enough to keep the band aloft … until the crashing finale.
‘Precious’ From: ‘Pretenders’ (1980)
If you've heard only the band’s biggest hits, you’d never guess that the Pretenders came out of the London punk scene. But on this lead-off track from the band’s debut, all the pieces are here. Chambers’ rampant pounding is as strong as Chrissie Hynde’s will and as sharp as her tongue. His restrained power lays down the perfect foundation for Hynde to jackhammer. That woman can break up the concrete.
‘Fast or Slow (The Law’s the Law)’ From: 1983 Single
This B-side to "2000 Miles" is the only Pretenders song to feature lead vocals from Chambers, who also wrote "Fast or Slow (The Law's the Law)." As you’d expect, Chambers penned a tune with a great, bouncy rhythm, which gives everything a kinetic energy.
‘Kid’ From: ‘Pretenders’ (1980)
When Chambers returned to the Pretenders in time for 1994’s comeback album Last of the Independents, Chrissie Hynde praised their reconciliation because of his expert handling of the band’s mid-tempo classics. "Show Me" and "Talk of the Town" come to mind, but "Kid" shows how effortlessly Chambers can swing. He just soars to the bridge, where he gets to flash a little muscle. And then he steals a few stutter beats from the Ronettes to let "Kid" wander down girl-group lane.
‘My City Was Gone’ From: ‘Learning to Crawl’ (1984)
There’s nothing fancy about this beat. It's so simple, so stark, so basic – it’s brilliant. How many lesser drummers would have tried to muck it up with superfluous, showy fills? Chambers obviously understands soul music, where the drummer’s responsibility is to the song and groove. The echo effect only adds to his steady power, as if Chambers is pounding his way through the apocalyptic Ohio Chrissie Hynde sings about.
‘Message of Love’ From: ‘Pretenders II’ (1981)
You can almost hear Chambers getting air time off his drum stool as he wallops his way through "Message of Love." He gets to swing and slam on this monstrous Pretenders song; he might as well be playing a lead instrument. His snare takes most of the abuse, although the bass drum gets its share of attention down the stretch, as Chambers complicates the beat while never hindering its thunderous force.
‘Tattooed Love Boys’ From: ‘Pretenders’ (1980)
On the Pretenders’ debut, Chrissie Hynde seemed infatuated with writing songs in irregular time signatures. Chief among them is "Tattooed Love Boys," which switches between 7/4 and 4/4 time. Chambers churns out the beat like it’s nothing -- whether the song is starting and stopping (like an engine that won’t quite turn over) or charging ahead on the buzz of its own nervy energy.
‘Middle of the Road’ From: ‘Learning to Crawl’ (1984)
With a crashing drum lick, Chambers heralds the arrival of the revamped Pretenders. From the beginning of "Middle of the Road," he gets to do a little bit of everything: swing for the fences on the danceable beat, wake Chrissie Hynde from her daydream with a pair of lightning quick snare hits and keep pushing, pulling and racing to the song’s harmonica-drenched conclusion. Phew!