Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Pretenders - "Back On the Chain Gang"

Back On the Chain Gang - The Singles

(Debuted December 11, 1982, Peaked #5, 23 Weeks on the Chart)

"Back On the Chain Gang" was really supposed to be about Kinks leader Ray Davies, who was part of a couple with Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde and had a child with her. However, the song became an epitaph of sorts for band member James Honeyman-Scott when he died in July 1982 after battling heroin addiction. The group was understandably devastated, with the death coming just two days after bassist Pete Farndon was fired from the band after his own addiction to the drug (he would die soon afterward, in April 1983).

Undaunted, Hynde finished writing the song and recorded it with a revamped Pretenders lineup that now featured her, drummer Martin Chambers, former Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner and future Big Country bassist Tony Butler. Beginning with a Byrds-inspired 12-string guitar and using similar grunting sound effects that linked it to Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang," the song was a recap of what happened with Honeyman-Scott but also a restatement that the band could carry on despite what happened to him. Released on a single with "My City Was Gone" (another great song in its own right), it didn't see an official album release until Learning To Crawl came out at the beginning of 1984.

By that time, Hynde had revamped The Pretenders' lineup again and continued the process of moving on, just as she promised to do in "Back On the Chain Gang." It ended up being their biggest U.S. hit.

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