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Nick Lowe produced the Pretenders' first single, "Stop Your Sobbing", but decided not to work with them again as he thought the band was "not going anywhere".Chris Thomas took over on the subsequent recording sessions.
Pretenders debuted at number 1 on the UK Albums Chart in the week of its release and stayed there for four consecutive weeks. It also made the top 10 on the Billboard 200 and was certified Platinum during 1982 by the RIAA. Pretenders has been named one of the best albums of all time by VH1 (#52). In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked the album number 155 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and in 1989, ranked it the 20th best album of the 1980s. In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at #64 on its "Best Albums of the 1980s".
Pretenders was remastered and re-released in 2006 and included a bonus disc of demos, B-sides and live cuts, many previously unreleased. "Cuban Slide" and "Porcelain" originally appeared as B-sides to "Talk of the Town" and "Message of Love", while "Swinging London" and "Nervous But Shy" both appeared on the flip side of "Brass in Pocket". The Regents Park demo of "Stop Your Sobbing" was included initially as a flexi-single in the May 1981 edition of Flexipop magazine. The tracks "Message of Love", "Talk of the Town", "Porcelain" and "Cuban Slide" alongside a live version of the album's opening track, "Precious", were released on a follow-up EP entitled Extended Play soon after.
Pretenders was also reissued in 2009 by Audio Fidelity as a limited-edition audiophile gold CD, using the original master tapes. However, this remaster suffered from unauthorized, heavy limiting supposedly applied after engineer Steve Hoffman's digital master was created and approved for CD manufacturing. The song "The Phone Call" is missing some of the telephone effects on this release because the effects were "flown in" after the master was completed for the song and, as a result, weren't on the original master tape. There were no bonus tracks included.
"This is one of the most astonishing debut albums in the history of music," enthused author Michael Chabon. "On songs like 'Tattooed Love Boys', you're wondering, Who is Chrissie singing about when she says, 'I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for?' That was just one of those obsessive-listening records for me." "Tattooed Love Boys" is a playable track in the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 video game Guitar Hero II. Its guitar solo is a homage to James Honeyman-Scott's heroes. "I liked the guitar solo in 'Tattooed Love Boys'," Hynde recalled. "I love Jimmy Scott's playing."
"Space Invader" is an instrumental containing sound effects from the video game Space Invaders. It also appeared in the hit television series The Sopranos.