Back On The Chain Gang

Album: Learning To Crawl (1982)
Charted: 17 5
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  • 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 would sometimes tear 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 two years before the album came out.

Comments: 31

  • Dahlis from Savannah GaCannot believe it’s been 40 years since Chain came out. We were all a lot younger and more vulnerable. But the song does not age - and neither do our memories. Still packs a wallop!
  • Arvand Elihu from Los AngelesThis is the story of a lost love where the main character was in a period of recovery from the break up, but a photo reminded her and took her back to the anguish of the break up and the process of having to get over the relationship again. Back on the chain gang is the metaphor for having to once again get over the break up. It’s very beautiful. Also she is blaming society, news, phone distractions and the outside world for her loss and curses them all “to fall to ruin one day for making us part”
  • John C from San DiegoI always found the tropes Chrissie does on "for making us part" to be among the most beautiful I ever heard.
  • Frank Jh Van Dijk from Best, The NetherlandsThe song was also released, early 1983, on the Soundtrack of the film 'King of Comedy'
  • Mark Barrus from Los AngelesThe wretched life of a lonely heart. James was absolutely one of the best guitar players to come out of the new wave scene in the late 70s. So much promise, and I'm so happy those first 2 Pretenders albums had some fantastic work put on vinyl. I saw them play the Santa Monica Civic auditorium on the drummer's birthday. After the show, the drummer had a really cool rented convertible with some longhorn bull horns on the front. The rest of the band hopped in except for James. James had his own limousine and just hopped in the back by himself, lost in his own mind and very lonely heart
  • Alice Mrdic from TexasBS Susan from Florida. Chrissie wrote it as a memorial to Honeyman-Scott and dedicated it to him but it is also about her relationship with Ray Davies, whose baby she was carrying at the time. To me it's about a lost love, an ex who you really loved.
  • Pete Blight from Melbourne AuThis song was written shortly after the death of Pretenders member James Honeyman-Scott. It deals with Chrissie Hynde's grief over his sudden early death and her extreme anger at journalists, record companies and possibly even her own manager for harrassing her relentlessly in her time of grief. The "chain gang" reference is the music biz, managers, touring companies and record companies all wanting their pound of flesh, all forcing her and the band to decide their future, hire new members and force them back into the studio or on the road almost immediately after the news of his death, when all she wants is to be left alone for a period of bereavement. These are the "powers that be that force us to live like we do", constantly hassling for a new song, album or tour, especially given the money The Pretenders were raking in at that time. The pressures of fame and the music biz are what Hynde blames Honeyman-Scott's overdose death on, and they will pay the price she says ("fall to ruin one day for making us part"). It's a tragic, emotional, brutal lyric. I hope she found some peace and catharsis through writing it.
  • Jeff Haas from Atlanta Falling in love is like escaping to freedom, but when it’s over we all have to return to the chain gang of our ordinary existence.
  • Susan from Florida For those who love this song. Needs to be vegan Chrissie Hyde is. This song is about Animals that living in Factory farms and Slaughtered. She is acted has both from the animals sees and feels. Like slaughter houses the CHAIN DON'T NOT STOP. So she says back on the chain gang. Put yourself in that spot you see it.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhChrissie 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'.
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaGreat 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..
  • Tim from Seattle, WaThis 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?
  • Keith from Bakersfield, CaThis 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.
  • Eduardo from San Jose, OtherI 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!)
  • Daniel from Nassau, OtherI recall from an article in the mid-eighties that much of the sonf was written prior to Honeyman-Scott's death.
  • Gregg from Middletown, CtThis 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.
  • Eb from Orlando Metro, FlI 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.
  • Vernon from Trinidad, Wi, OtherThe 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.
  • Ian from Cork, IrelandWhat about the revolutionary themes running all through this song? Any comments?
  • M Farah from Boston, MaCould 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!
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaMy grandfather just died and every time I hear this song I think of him.
  • William from Phoenix, AzI 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.
  • John from Boston, MaI love this song. The bridge, particularly, is really beautiful.
  • John from Boston, MaA sad, beautiful song. A favorite of mine for sure.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaUnfortunate, scutter. More people should comment here. Some songs have so many comments (Don't Fear The Reaper) that can't hang with this song.
  • Jack from Soperton, GaA 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.
  • Scutter from Harrisonburg, VaFlip 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.
  • Ali from Lahore, Pakistangreat 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.
  • Justin from Hong Kong, Hong KongIt'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.
  • Ramon Escobar from Los Angeles, CaThis song was covered in spanish by the late Selena, and los Dinos.
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