"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Music Tuesday: “Back on the Chain Gang” by The Pretenders

I came across this article where Chrissie Hynde of the rock group The Pretenders calls current young female pop stars, “sex workers.”   From the UK’s Daily Mail

She provoked fierce debate by saying it was her own fault for being sexually assaulted at 21.

And now Chrissie Hynde has waded into another contentious area – the overly sexualised nature of modern pop music.

In an obvious reference to scantily-clad stars such as Miley Cyrus and Rihanna, the former Pretenders lead singer branded them ‘sex workers’ for selling music by ‘bumping and grinding’ in their underwear. The 64-year-old also accused them of doing ‘a great deal of damage’ to women with their risque performances.

Miss Hynde launched the scathing attack during a tense interview on BBC’s Woman’s Hour yesterday. She suggested that today’s provocatively-dressed stars are sending the wrong message about how people should view sex.

Miss Hynde added: ‘I don’t think sexual assault is a gender issue as such, I think it’s very much it’s all around us now.

‘It’s provoked by this pornography culture, it’s provoked by pop stars who call themselves feminists. Maybe they’re feminists on behalf of prostitutes – but they are no feminists on behalf of music, if they are selling their music by bumping and grinding and wearing their underwear in videos.

‘That’s a kind of feminism – but, you know, you’re a sex worker is what you are.

As I think about it, I don’t recall ever seeing Hynde dressed in a provocative outfit.  For a rock singer, she’s definitely on the modest side.  But she is absolute right.  I can’t stand what these female pop stars are doing.  Frankly I don’t even think they are that musically gifted.  If you have to expose yourself to get popularity, it ain’t because of the music. 

One place I do disagree with Hynde is on blaming women for being sexually assaulted by their dress.  There is never justification for forcing oneself on a woman, no matter what her condition. 

You can read the rest of the article for more details.  But I did want to post the closing paragraph.

 Miss Hynde, who moved to England in 1973, also said she regrets her hard partying ways and how they damaged her relationship with her parents. The singer has given up drugs, alcohol and cigarettes and now embraces a clean-living lifestyle.

Good for her. 

Let me take this opportunity to post my favorite of The Pretenders’ songs, “Back on the Chain Gang.”  I’ll also post the lyrics.  I’m going to ask a question on the meaning of the chorus section of the song.  I want to get some opinions.

Here are the lyrics:

I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
What hijacked my world that night
To a place in the past
We've been cast out of? Oh oh oh oh
Now we're back in the fight
We're back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

A circumstance beyond our control, oh oh oh oh
The phone, the TV and the news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell, oh oh oh oh
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies
Put us back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

The powers that be
That force us to live like we do
Bring me to my knees
When i see what they've done to you
But i'll die as i stand here today
Knowing that deep in my heart
They'll fall to ruin one day
For making us part

I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
Those were the happiest days of my life
Like a break in the battle was your part, oh oh oh oh
In the wretched life of a lonely heart
Now we're back on the train
Oh, back on the chain gang

And here is the song.

While the Wikipedia entry on this song says it’s about the death from a drug overdose of the Pretender’s founding member and lead guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott, ostensibly the song seems to be about the memory of a failed relationship.  Nowhere could I find was it said that Chrissie Hynde and James Honeyman-Scott had a romantic relationship.  It doesn’t appear to be.  The lyrics are cryptic enough to blur both a romantic relationship and a friendship.

What do the chorus lines “Now we’re back on the train/Back on the chain gang” refer?  For the thirty-something years I’ve heard this song, for some reason I thought “Back on the chain-gang” referred to being remarried: wedding rings being links in a chain.  Suddenly yesterday while listening to the song I questioned myself and realized she means just what it means, a euphemism for convicts.  But then how does that fit into the song?  And what does being “back on the train” have to do with chain gangs?  It’s quite odd, and like the stanzas very cryptic.  I can’t seem to crack it.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

But what a great song this is.  The melody is so memorable, and melancholic.  It seems to capture a sadness with an angry undertone.  And the phrases are just superb, despite their opaqueness.   That first stanza in one succinct sentence captures the situation.  The verbs “hijacked” and “cast out” suggest powerlessness to forces beyond their control.  And the outside world entering their “house like a pigeon from hell” is superb.  And this stanza just captures the anger and bitterness: “But I'll die as I stand here today/Knowing that deep in my heart/They'll fall to ruin one day/For making us part.”  


  1. Yeah, she's awesome. I like Chain Gang and I'll Stand By You.

    1. Glad you liked it. She's got quite a few songs that are top notch.

  2. I remember her for singing "Smelly Cat" in the TV series Friends.

    God bless.

    1. Ha, I just looked that up on youtube. That was funny.