Thursday, July 10, 2008

GMVW # 27: "The Story Behind the Song"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 27: The Story Behind the Song
Song: Back on the Chain Gang by The Pretenders
(Songwriter: Chrissie Hynde)
July 10, 2008

It’s fascinating when there’s a good story behind the making of a great song.  One of the best known examples is The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’.  Take a little Lennon: “I read the news today, oh boy….”; add some McCartney: “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…”; sprinkle in an orchestra in free fall, and Voila!: A classic Lennon/McCartney composition. 

This week’s Gem came together in a similar way, but with this song there was only one lyricist, Chrissie Hynde.  The similarity is in the piecing together of the song.  In this case, however the pieces are event based…a before and after. 

The Pretenders hit it off big with their first self-titled album in 1980 (few songs are as edgy as ‘Precious’) and followed it up with another stellar effort, Pretenders II, a year later.  Their success hit a brick wall however, when their lead-guitarist/co-writer James Honeyman-Scott died of a (what’s been described as out-of-character) drug overdose.  The band carried on, but was never the same (although few bands equal the success of early albums with later ones).

Before Honeyman-Scott died, Hynde had been writing a song about Ray Davies (Gem # 17), whom she had a long relationship with. After Honeyman-Scott’s death, the song took a more ambitious path and evolved into ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, notching up the sense of loss a few pegs in the process.  What was probably a very good song had become a great one (my only qualification for a Gem).  The ‘after’ part of the song appears to be primarily in the brilliant bridge, which plays out in the video after Hynde walks through the door into the chain-gang

The title alone tells the story.... Chrissie Hynde facing the realization that life at the top (in her case, success and relationships) can be fleeting.

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Back on the Chain Gang


About the Video: Made for MTV type video (rare)

Video Rating: 1

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