How ‘Back on the Chain Band’ gave purpose to grieving pretenders

There is an understandable weariness about it Pretenders‘ largest Billboard here, which Chrissie Hynde returns to the rock ‘n’ roll grind with “Back on the Chain Band” after suffering an unspeakable loss.

The band had quickly established itself two early albums and a platinum-selling EP combining her all-attitude contralto with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott’s signature suspended-chord phrasing. Next, Hynde was to have a baby with her boyfriend Ray Daviesand she thought she had it all figured out.

Hynde, drummer Martin Chambers, bassist Pete Farndon and Honeyman-Scott would engineer their third album during her pregnancy, and then she would take some time off after giving birth in early 1983. But “life”, as Hynde sadly told Rolling stones in 1984, “is never what you think it will be.”

Instead, she was forced to have a very difficult conversation in the summer of 1982 with the heroin-addicted Farndon. “For me, the hardest part of the last few years was deciding to fire Pete. It was so bloody sad that it had come to that,” Hynde added. “He was in some kind of reduced mental state because he was stoned a lot. He couldn’t handle drugs very well. Nobody can handle that drug very well.”

Two days later, Honeyman-Scott died after suffering cocaine-related heart failure. “It was incredibly hard,” Chambers said Mercury in 2009. “I lost my best friend [in Honeyman-Scott]and my second best friend in Pete.”

Watch the video for Pretenders’ ‘Back on the Chain Band’

Hynde put on a stoic front. “I don’t look back on these events as a difficulty,” she said Rolling stones in 1984. “It’s just real life. People die – it’s part of life.” They were back in the studio a month later, quickly adding Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner and Big Country bassist Tony Butler. A basic outline for “Back on the Chain Band” awaited them.

“We had practiced it a lot with Jimmy and thought it would make a pretty good single,” Chambers shared Creme in 1983. “So after his funeral and everything was settled, we thought, “Let’s get on with it.” There was never any real thought of wrapping it up or anything. We decided to have some people work at us for now.”

They spent a week rehearsing with Bremner and Butler before recording began, eventually bringing in Honeyman-Scott’s friend Robbie McIntosh for an extra guitar. The lyrics – “I found a picture of you” pillow singswell, it hijacked my world at night, to a place in the past where we have been cast out” — became a personal recollection, something more emotional than anything she might say out loud about Honeyman-Scott.

“He did what I had sounded good and I got him out of Hereford and out of the music store where he worked and put him on stage and in the studio,” Hynde said Curve magazine in 2020. “So we offered each other what we both needed. I mean, I loved Martin and Pete as well — and they were absolutely integral to the band’s sound — but honestly, a band is about electric guitar. That’s my opinion .

“I had my little melodies and my little guitar parts,” she added, “but Jimmy Scott made them sound so much better and he invented the Pretenders sound with [the] very simple effects he had and the way he played.”

Hynde ran off, as was her habit, to record the lyrics all by herself. “When it came to her vocals, Chrissie was great as long as there wasn’t anyone else in the room,” Pretenders engineer Steve Churchyard later told me. Sound on sound. “The band, everybody got kicked out. They all went upstairs and played pool and nobody was allowed to come back down until we got them.”

Watch the Pretenders perform ‘Back on the Chain Band’ at Live Aid

On some level, this quick return to work served as a coping mechanism. “What else were we supposed to do?” Hynde asked Rolling stones. “Stay home and be miserable, or go into the studio and do what we dig and be miserable?” Pressed, she finally admitted, “Well, it wasn’t exactly a barrel of monkeys.”

Chambers was typically more accommodating. “It was a very strange time, very hard for Chrissie and me, without Jimmy or Pete,” he shared. Creme. “But we just shook our fists at the sky and moved on. With ‘Chain Gang,’ we thought ourselves into it to a point. There was a real sense of hopelessness, really like, ‘Can we do this?’ Not that it dawned on us that we couldn’t – but you’re really questioning yourself.”

In fact, Hynde briefly considered changing the band’s name. Sessions, who produced their No. 5 comeback hit, convinced her otherwise. “I finally thought it was still more Pretenders than it wasn’t. To me, ‘Back on the Chain Band’ sounded like a Pretenders song,” Hynde shared Rolling stones. “It was kind of like Ken Kesey: You’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus, and I felt like Martin and I were still on the bus – even though the other guys had gotten off.”

Released on Sept. 17, 1982, “Back on the Chain Band” was paired as a single with “My City Was Gone,” which again became a rock radio hit. But Bremner and Butler would not last. As a stoppage of work on the album that would go platinum in 1984 Learn to crawl continued for nearly a year, a new lineup coalescing around McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster.

One day during the sessions, someone brought in an earlier Pretenders album – just for the sake of a musical comparison. “I haven’t listened to any of it since we used to play it,” Hynde said Stiletto magazine in 1984. “While it was going on, I found it very difficult to look at the other guys. I had to leave the room.”

By then she had also lost Farndon. He died before Learn to crawl arrived, drowned in his own bath afterwards heroin overdose.

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