The Story Behind “Don’t Get Me Wrong” by The Pretenders and How It Was Written for a Tennis Great with the Help of an Airline Jingle

Rock ‘n’ roll has a long history of tragic death. Metallica lost bassist Cliff Burton. AC/DC lost vocalist Bon Scott. The Who lost drummer Keith Moon. Lynyrd Skynyrd lost guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. The Red Hot Chili Peppers lost guitarist Hillel Slovak. The Pretenders lost guitarist James Honeyman-Scott.

Videos by American Songwriter

All of these groups continued with new members and achieved success. Band chemistry is a tricky thing. Losing one member can cause the whole thing to fall apart. Finding a suitable replacement is vital to continued record sales. The Pretenders’ lead singer/songwriter Chrissie Hynde reconstructed her entire band before recording the 1986 album Get Close. Let’s take a look at the story behind a song from that album, “Don’t Get Me Wrong” by The Pretenders.

Birth of the Band

When The Pretenders burst onto the scene in 1978, Chrissie Hynde’s songs were the band’s centerpiece. She had been involved in London’s punk scene since its inception, playing with future members of the Clash, Sex Pistols, and Damned. Hynde eventually gathered bassist Pete Farndon, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, and drummer Martin Chambers, and recorded an album for Real Records. Many regard the self-titled record by The Pretenders as one of the best debut albums of all time. Heavy rotation on MTV boosted their follow-up album, Pretenders II.

Don’t get me wrong
If I’m looking kind of dazzled
I see neon lights
Whenever you walk by

Cocaine and Heroin

Drug use in the band began, causing strained relations between members. After a meeting, they dismissed Farndon from the band. Two days later, Honeyman-Scott, who threatened to quit if Farndon was not fired, died from an overdose of cocaine. Hynde and Chambers began searching for a new guitarist and bass player when Farndon died in his bathtub after taking heroin. 

Don’t get me wrong
If you say, “Hello,” and I take a ride
Upon a sea where the mystic moon
Is playing havoc with the tide
Don’t get me wrong

A Change of Drummers

Hynde and Chambers enlisted studio musicians to begin their next album. Learning to Crawl featured the band’s biggest hit yet, “Back on the Chain Gang.” Guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster became permanent members, but when the next album was recorded, Hynde declared Chambers was no longer up to the task. In 2010, she told journalist Chris Wade, “Martin was playing crap. Martin just f–king lost it, and to think about it, why shouldn’t he have lost it? He’d just lost his two best friends. I was insane. I was traumatized. But you don’t know it at the time. I was trying to keep my s–t together. To be honest, Martin was playing crap, and I knew musically I was losing my inspiration. But I’d tried too hard and come too far to let it all go, so Martin went instead.”

Don’t get me wrong
If I’m acting so distracted
I’m thinking about the fireworks
That go off when you smile

Hynde brought in drummer Steve Jordan and used both T.M. Stevens and Chucho Merchán on bass. “Wix” Wickens played keyboards on “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” along with McIntosh on guitar. Hynde’s vocal is the star of the song as she utilizes weather references in the lyrics, comparing her behavior to the rapidly changing events of nature.

Don’t get me wrong
If I split like light refracted
I’m only off to wander
Across a moonlit mile

A Tennis Star

Hynde composed part of the song on an airplane. She wanted to write a song for her friend, tennis great John McEnroe. She told Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show: “I wanted to write a song for John because I’ve known him for a long time, and he’s always getting in trouble—so I heard. Because I never watched him play tennis particularly, because I’m not really a tennis fan. I hate to admit it because I don’t think he likes that very much. He used to say, ‘Can’t you just pretend you’re into athletics when you’re with me?’ He loved playing guitar. He’s a big music person, which is how I knew him because he used to come to our shows, and he was friendly with the band and stuff. I had in mind that I was going to write this song for him to do.”

Once in a while, two people meet
Seemingly for no reason
They just pass on the street
Suddenly, thunder showers everywhere
Who can explain the thunder and rain?
But there’s something in the air


Years later, when Hynde was on another British Airlines flight, she heard an announcement come over the loudspeaker, followed by four-note, attention-grabbing tones, and it occurred to her that those notes may have influenced her melody. She continued in the same interview, “I think I nicked one of the top-line melodies from the overhead announcement: ‘Dong-dong-dong-dong … Welcome to British Airways.'”

Don’t get me wrong
If I come and go like fashion
I might be great tomorrow
But hopeless yesterday

The One Constant

“Don’t Get Me Wrong” peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the second-biggest hit of their career. The Pretenders continued with constant lineup changes, but chart successes were few and far between. When Chambers returned to the fold in 1994, it brought about a return to the Top 20 with “I’ll Stand By You.” Through the years, The Pretenders’ musical style has evolved and moved with the times, as well as the different musicians’ contributions, but the one constant has always been Hynde’s vocals and sharp wit.

Don’t get me wrong
If I fall in the mode of fashion
It might be unbelievable
But let’s not say, “So long”
It might just be fantastic
Don’t get me wrong

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Stevie Nicks

4 of the Best Folk Breakup Songs of All Time

Morgan Wallen Wins This Round Against Taylor Swift

Morgan Wallen Makes Music History Again, This Time Surpassing Taylor Swift