More than Debbie Harry (too cold), Kate Bush (too weird), or even Patti Smith (too early and far off the charts), the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde owns the heart of alternative, as the punk-rock mother of us all. Partly, it's her story: self-defined scabby nobody escapes the classic-rock Midwest for mod England just before the scene explodes, buys a red leather jacket, and forms a band. Then she reconquers America on her own terms--with songs about sexual adventure and everyday survival, chronicling a girl's fight to make herself special when no one else thinks she can be. Who Hynde was and what she sang about was inseparable from the way the Pretenders sounded. They sounded common, from Martin Chambers' hit-you-on-the-head drumming to Pete Fardon's hardworking basslines to James Honeyman-Scott's flashy-bloke guitar. And most common of all was Hynde's, a strong, supple alto with vibrato that sounds like tears falling, used in the service of empathy. On Pretenders, she speaks from the rough-and-tumble heart of a yong woman vying with an urban milieu full of brutal motorbike boys who fuck and don't call back; but in classic songs like "Brass in Pocket" and "Mystery Achievement", Hynde plays neither victim nor supergirl, instead claiming the voice of a hardheaded but softhearted survivor. In the way that The Catcher in the Rye gave generations of undergrads a way to make sense of their own alienation, or Fear of Flying taught secretaries and schoolteachers how they might articulate desire, Pretenders pinpointed the thrills and frustration felt by the women musicians, record store clerks, band manrgers, scenesters, and fans living in the shadow of a male-dominated rock'n'roll--but also daring the rebel moves it seemed to make possible.