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Back On The Chain Gang by Pretenders

Album: Learning To CrawlReleased: 1982Charted:
  • This is a tribute to James Honeyman-Scott, the Pretenders guitarist who died of a drug overdose in 1982 at age 26. Scott's death was followed by bass player Pete Farndon's 10 months later. Farndon had been kicked out of the band because of his drug problems and died of an overdose.
  • The "picture of you" Chrissie Hynde sings about is a picture she found in her wallet of Ray Davies, leader of the band The Kinks. Hynde and Davies were a couple and had a daughter together. This song started off about him, but the meaning changed when Honeyman-Scott died.
  • This is a very emotional song. Chrissie Hynde sometimes tears up when performing it.
  • A Chain Gang is a group of convicts who are chained together while they do manual labor, usually outside.
  • This was the first Pretenders single featuring Billy Bremner and Tony Butler, who replaced Farndon and Honeyman-Scott.
  • This was released as a single almost 2 years before the album came out.
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Comments: 22

On December 5th 1982, "Back On the Chain Gang" by the Pretenders entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #88; and fourteen weeks later on March 13th, 1983 it peaked at #5 {for 3 weeks} and spent almost a half-year on the Top 100 {24 weeks}...
It also reached #5 on the Canadian RPM 100 singles chart...
Between 1979 and 1994 the British* quartet had ten Top 100 records; with two making the Top 10, their other Top 10 record was "Don't Get Me Wrong" at #10 in 1986...
* Though they were a British band, they were led by Chrissie Hynde from Akron, Ohio.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Chrissie Hynde's voice lends itself to a melancholy tone well suited to the lyrics of this song. It is only in reading the words to the tune here that I know what they say; most of them are hard to discern by just listening to them on the radio. Still, Hynde's voice alone conveys the sadness. The sweet, high pitched guitar adds to poignancy. The chain gang, I guess, is the rat race, and the "ooo...ah! ooo...ah!" shows that you just gotta power through and keep moving forward which takes quite a bit effort to do and the going is slow. Perhaps it was in the relationship that one felt free from the chains that bound them, and without it, one is 'back in the chain-gang'.Camille - Toronto, Oh
Great song. You could hear the passion in Chrissie's input to this song. To me it about the fallen bandmates and moving on from these tragic events..Jim - Long Beach, Ca
This discussion is a little disappointing. The chain gang is clearly a metaphor for something, I'm just not sure what. The human condition? The rat race? Some sort of prison metaphor? How does the media reference fit into the construction of the chain gang metaphor?Tim - Seattle, Wa
This song tells the story of my lost love, and soul-mate.In our case the t.v. and the news of the world" was drugs. I have to say my favorite line is "I found a picture of you,those where the happiest days of my life" Oh to be 17 again. I think Robbie McCintosh's guitar work is very close to "Honeymoon Scotts" This song never gets old.Keith - Bakersfield, Ca
I loved this song the minute I heard and saw it on MTV, in 1983. Like so many of you, this song reminds me of my late father, who died in 1970 in a car crash when I was 5 (I was in that car!)Eduardo - San Jose, Other
I recall from an article in the mid-eighties that much of the sonf was written prior to Honeyman-Scott's death.Daniel - Nassau, Other
This song is about confronting life in the wake of the forced loss of a loved one (or, in Ms. Hynde's case, three loved ones within one year). You can literally hear the grief in her wails. One of those all-to-rare songs that can actually touch your soul, if you let it. As to "revolutionary themes", Ms. Hynde has never been exactly demure about her thoughts or causes, but this particular song? I guess if you're predisposed to find revolutionary themes, you'll find them anywhere - but this is a song about the universal themes of loss and remorse. Please take the political rhetoric elsewhere.Gregg - Middletown, Ct
I was a fan of this song as an adolescent when it first came out. When my father died unexpectedly, in rather sad circumstances several years ago, the first time I heard this song it made me weep. It rang so true. Reading through the comments, I see I'm not alone in such sentiment. I like the theme of going on, even through the sadness & tragedy.
Eb - Orlando Metro, Fl
The facts say this was a single almost 2 years before the album came out, but it was released (first) in the UK in September '82 and then in December '82 in the US and the album, "Learning To Crawl" came out by the end of '83, a little over a year later.Vernon - Trinidad, Wi, Other
What about the revolutionary themes running all through this song? Any comments?Ian - Cork, Ireland
Could a song be sweeter and sadder, this song is ultimate heart wrencher and all time clasic. Some of the lines are hard to figure though, it is poetically worded...what a song!M Farah - Boston, Ma
My grandfather just died and every time I hear this song I think of him.Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
I love this song. but it's a heart wrencher, surely.
ouch!! which guy was the new guitar player? I love that tone from what has to be a stock tele. sad about the guys who OD'd. stuff like that happens. I also had no idea Chrissey and Ray were an item. is that still the case? anyway, a beatiful sad song.
William - Phoenix, Az
I love this song. The bridge, particularly, is really beautiful.John - Boston, Ma
A sad, beautiful song. A favorite of mine for sure.John - Boston, Ma
Unfortunate, scutter. More people should comment here. Some songs have so many comments (Don't Fear The Reaper) that can't hang with this song.Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
A beautiful song that was made for radio. For years I didn't realize the song was about a fallen band member; thought it was about depression that follows a break-up. Anyway, it was one of those songs thats iconic for 1982.Jack - Soperton, Ga
Flip side of the single was "My City Was Gone" (Back To Ohio). Hynde is a fervent animal rights activist....Rush Limbaugh, who opposes Animal Rights, (and is a Big Fat Idiot as well if you read Al Franken) uses "My City Was Gone" intro as his main theme. Isn't it ironic ? (don't you think?) or is it unfortunate.Scutter - Harrisonburg, Va
great song indeed, video is amazing u see those prisoners in suits working in a jail, typical british mid 80's and u see Chrisse Hynde on fire.Ali - Lahore, Pakistan
It's also a nod to Sam Cooke's song, "Chain Gang," particularly the "Hooh! aah" chant which was lifted virtually intact from Cooke's song.Justin - Hong Kong, Hong Kong
This song was covered in spanish by the late Selena, and los Dinos.Ramon Escobar - Los Angeles, Ca
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