The success of their 1979 debut album created a great demand for more material from the fledgling band; however, a lack of songs precluded the quick release of a follow-up album. In the UK, the band released two hit singles in 1980 and early 1981, "Talk of the Town" followed by "Message of Love". In the US, where standalone singles had become rare, these tracks were combined with three others for a stopgap extended play release in March 1981 simply titled Extended Play. Pretenders II was released two months later to mixed critical reception arguably because many of the songs were viewed as overly similar to, (though not quite as groundbreaking as) the band's debut. Nevertheless, several of the album's songs became hits and the album has increased in critical stature with time.
As on their previous album, the band includes a song by Ray Davies of The Kinks, although in this case "I Go to Sleep", written by Davies in 1967, was not recorded by the group. Band leader Chrissie Hynde and Davies were in a relationship at the time of recording Pretenders II. It has been rumoured that the song "Talk of the Town" is about Davies. The couple were to have a daughter, Natalie Rae Hynde, in 1983.
The album also includes the sexually-forward tunes "Bad Boys Get Spanked" and "The Adultress", with perhaps the album's most ambitious track, "Day After Day" spinning a common second-album narrative of unaccustomed celebrity, with the band rushing from gig to gig, hotel to hotel, head-spun from the swiftness of it all. The single version of the song ends with a guitar solo that gradually fades out; the album edit ends suddenly, mid-guitar-solo, with the sound of a crashing fighter plane. The album's final track, "Louie, Louie", is an original composition and not a version of the identically titled and often covered song by Richard Berry.
Rhino released a re-mastered edition of Pretenders II in 2006, including a second disc of live tracks and outtakes. Most of the tracks on the bonus disc originally appeared as a Warner Bros. 1982 promotional live album, Pretenders Live at the Santa Monica Civic. Specialist label Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (known as MFSL or MoFi) released a re-mastered version in 2010. The track listing, however, reverted to that of the original release, without bonus tracks. A further 2015 reissue repeated the original album plus bonus disc of the 2006 version with two additional bonus tracks, this time including a DVD containing four promotional videos and two appearances by the band on Top of the Pops.