This song is about the sexual assault committed by a biker gang against Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde. While hanging out with a friend, she was asked to go to a "party" with some guys from a local biker gang. Her friend declined, but Hynde went along with the bikers.
She takes full accountability for the attack. In her book Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, she wrote: "Now let me assure you that, technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can't f--k around with people, especially people who wear 'I heart rape' and 'On Your Knees' badges."
While she was being attacked, one of the assailants said, "Shut up or you're going to make some plastic surgeon rich!" She paraphrases that threat in the lyrics:
You know what they say: "Stop snivellin', you're gonna make some plastic surgeon a rich man >>
Suggestion credit: Andy - Berkley, MA, for above 2
This frantic track makes a sudden stop at the 1:22 mark before going into a wild instrumental breakdown, then ending at a hard 2:59 with a cold ending when Hynde sings, "You are that."
Like most Pretenders songs, Hynde wrote "Tattooed Love Boys" on her own and worked it out with the band, doing it by feel. Without much structure, it made for some unorthodox musical moments like the false ending. She developed a kind of telepathy with her drummer, Martin Chambers, who was able to follow along.
"I can understand her way of doing it," he told Sounds in 1980. "Take 'Tattooed Love Boys' where there's a gap. Normally you'd count the beat through the silence so you can all come back in together. But not with Chrissie. No count, no way. It lasts as long as she wants it to last."
There is no chorus in this song, and the title is mentioned just twice in the lyric. That's not the formula for a hit, but it is classic Pretenders. The song has appeared off and on in their setlists throughout their career.
This was part of the first Pretenders album, which many count among the greatest debuts in rock. It was most successful in the UK, where Hynde formed the band after moving there from America in 1973. The big hit from the album was "Brass In Pocket," which went to #1 in the UK and became a mainstay in America, thanks in large part to the video. The album also hit #1 in the UK.
Chrissie Hynde waited until 2016 to explain this song, which is understandable considering the subject matter. She typically stayed away from interpreting her lyrics, leaving that task to the listener (she also wanted to limit inquiries into her personal life). This song proved especially vexing, especially the line, "I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for."
This first appeared in June 1979 on the B-side of "Kid," which was the second Pretenders single in the UK. The album was released in January 1980.