The Pretenders’ take on The Kinks’ Stop Your Sobbing is far from being the only cover to be praised by the person who wrote the original. But it’s possibly the only one that led to a romantic relationship between people involved in each version.
Buried towards the back of their 1964 debut album Kinks, Stop Your Sobbing swapped the feral proto-metal roar of their You Really Got Me for sunny beat-pop. But as with so many great Ray Davies songs, there was an undercurrent of melancholy to it. In his offbeat, semi-fictionalised autobiography X-Ray, Davies suggested the song was inspired by a tearful girlfriend. “Her sobbing was making me feel guilty and I told her to stop…” he wrote.
Chrissie Hynde was a teenager growing up in Akron, Ohio in the early 60s when she fell hard for the British Invasion bands. In 1973 she relocated to London, and spent the next few years working for the NME and slumming around the capitol’s squats.
By ’78 she was trying to get her own group, The Pretenders, off the ground. A formative incarnation of the band recorded six tracks as bait to get producers and labels interested. One of the songs was Stop Your Sobbing, a track she loved from the first Kinks album.
“I pulled it out of the air when we were in rehearsals, surprised that no one had heard it before,” Hynde later said. It was the demo of that song that convinced Nick Lowe to produce it as their debut single, released in January 1979.
The Pretenders may have risen from the punk scene, but their version of Stop Your Sobbing had a distinctly modern-retro feel, albeit one that owed more to the pre-punk melodicism of The Byrds and the cavernous kick of 60s girl groups than it did to the Kinks’ sparser original. And while Hynde didn’t explicitly swap the gender of the song’s protagonist, her warm vocals offered more empathy than Ray Davies ever did.
The Pretenders’ version reached the lower end of the UK Top 40, but it caught the attention one significant person: Ray Davies himself. Hynde had favourably reviewed The Kinks’ 1974 single Mirror Of Love for NME, and in subsequent years had tried to arrange a meeting with Davies.
“I avoided it,” Davies told author Johnny Rogan. “I’d heard she’d said nice things about me. I thought: ‘Oh God, when she meets the real person and sees what a conner I am.’”
Eventually they did get together, at a club in New York in 1980, and subsequently embarked on a relationship that produced a daughter, Natalie, in 1983, before crashing and burning the following year (although not before The Pretenders had covered another Davies song, I Go To Sleep, on their second album Pretenders II).
Any tensions between the two of them were purely personal rather than musical, with Hynde paying later tribute to the man who inadvertently helped give her band their first big break: “Ray Davies is a million times better songwriter than I am.”