Edgar Degas, Singer with a Glove, 1878

Singers and Voices

The mystery of melody, the thrill of a voice, from the horizon of silence, the sound: the miracle of song. Lonely, blue, fixin’ to die. Hark! The grain of a voice—intimate, immediate—bodies forth a presence: the singer is with me, restoring me to life… In this series I consider singers whose voice moves me this way.


Chrissie Hynde’s voice is her signature; there’s no song she’s written that she’d be embarrassed to sing today: true to herself, she is always herself. Her voice, her signature, marks her identity as surely as a fingerprint, one that signifies, among other things, a virile tenderness, a bravado wrapped in vulnerability (or is it the other way round?). It’s a voice of unmistakable timbre, and however acrobatic, it’s mission is always emotion. That tremolo—is there any other singer who employs it to such consistently excellent effect? None that I know.


The Guardian, 10 May 2009


‘When you walk up to the microphone and sing, your voice is just there and it’s just your emotional response. Singing is better than talking; it’s the purest form of music. But you don’t know if you can sing until you stand in front of a mic. The first time I did was traumatic. I was 16 and in a band called Sat Sun Mat. We played a few quirky covers, such as Traffic’s ‘Forty Thousand Headmen’, in a church hall. I wasn’t a natural-born show-off, at least not on stage, so I had to overcome that.

I had a long time to get the Pretenders together. By the time I did, I’d had so many different jobs—waitressing, framing pictures, selling handbags—and the fear of singing wasn’t enough to stop me because the fear of waitressing was always worse.’

Chrissie Hynde, 1981 | Photo: Steve Morley

‘I shut myself in a closet when I was learning to sing. I sang Jackie Moore and Candi Staton songs just to see if I could find the notes. It’s important to remember that the thing you find most embarrassing about your voice is probably the most unique. It’s natural to try to stamp it out because it’s too personal, but resist.

Sing, even if you just sing alone. Go to a karaoke night where everyone is too busy or drunk to notice what you’re singing. I went to one in Antwerp and loved it. I went up on stage and I was Marvin Gaye. And that’s the beauty of it: you can be anybody. Everyone has a go. Singing just feels right. I hadn’t sung much before I was in my band. I’m totally untrained, I’ve had no lessons, I don’t do any special vocal exercises and yet I’m a rock singer. Everyone has to sing—you just have to.’

Never Do That


Let me stay
One more day
It would mean so much to me
I won’t make a sound
I’ll just hang around
I’ll sit where the last one sat
But oh no
I’d never do that

Take my mouth as far as you can see
It stretches father than I care to think
Put me out of my misery
If I could keep it shut
I wouldn’t be in this rut
With less chance than a laboratory rat
Oh no
I’d never do that

You’re a master of illusion
You say you do – but you don’t
You think I will – I know I won’t

When I see you sitting there
It sends a shock right through me
I never thought an ordinary chair
Could have such poetry
I don’t deserve your time
I haven’t got the tact
I live above my means in fact
Oh no
I’d never do that

I’d never do that…

Look at me high upon the hill
You could say I’m on top of the world
Baby, I’m blue all because of you

I can see this city crumble all around me
Press me to your chest block out the view
Oh, whoa whoa whoa

You made me some kind of criminal
You put me out-law because I loved you

In my time one thing I’ve learned
If you play with fire you get burned
O baby, it’s true I got burned by you

I put everything I had into a bag
And trusted you to do what you didn’t do
Oh, whoa whoa whoa

You made me some kind of criminal
You put me out-law because l loved you

The first thing I think when I wake up
When can I see you?
The last thing I think when I’m drifting off
When will I see you?

Oh, look at me
I’m addicted still
At first I refused,
Now I just swallow the pill
Oh, baby, won’t you
Fix me like you used to?

I could spend my time in hell, I might as well
Cause hell is where I’m bound to dwell without you
Oh, whoa whoa whoa

You made me some kind of criminal
You put me out-law because I loved you

By Richard Jonathan | © Mara Marietta Culture Blog, 2022 | All rights reserved