Pretenders

Back on the Chain Gang

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Song Review by

After the drug-related deaths of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, many simply wrote off the Pretenders, but Chrissie Hynde never seemed to consider quitting. The late-1982 release of the reflective "Back on the Chain Gang" (as a stand-alone single, still a common practice in the U.K. at the time, but a rarity for a U.S. release) seemed to serve both as a resigned farewell to loved ones and a restatement of purpose. Temporarily drafting ex-Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner and Pete Townshend sideman Tony Butler (soon to join Big Country) as Honeyman-Scott and Farndon's replacements, Hynde wrote an achingly emotional set of lyrics set to an elegantly restrained melody that kept the sentiments from descending into mawkishness. The gloriously jangly guitars of the mature but still rocking arrangement also set the mood for the next phase of the Pretenders' career, the confessional Learning to Crawl album that was still over a year from completion. It should be noted that the hammer-swing grunts on the chorus clearly connect the song to Sam Cooke's 1962 hit "Chain Gang," and they sound just as gimmicky and slightly silly here as they did on Cooke's song.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Learning to Crawl 1984 Sire 3:44
The Singles 1987 Sire 3:52
Original Album Series 2010 Rhino Flashback / Warner Bros. 3:51
Born to Rock: 60 Tracks of Classic Rock
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Music 3:50