Friday, January 17, 2014
Pretenders - Learning to Crawl
The two year hiatus between albums was due to deaths of both James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon from drug overdoses. After a number of guest members, Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers finally settled on Robbie McIntosh (guitar) and Malcolm Foster (bass) as permanent band members.
Side one opens with “Middle of the Road”. This single went to number 81 in the UK, number 52 in Australia, number 19 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 12 in Canada, and number 2 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. It opens with a distinctive drum countdown, followed by guitars and then vocals. The total effect really pulls the listener in with lots of energy. Hynde even lays into a harmonica solo near the end. I think this track is a solid kickoff to the album.
“Back on the Chain Gang”, released as a single back in 1982, went to number 31 in the Netherlands, number 17 in the UK, number 14 in New Zealand, number 11 in Australia, number 5 in Canada and on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 4 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. It also appeared on the soundtrack for The King of Comedy in 1983. Billy Bremner (of Rockpile) and Tony Butler (of Big Country) played on this track. This song always gives me that nostalgic feeling of looking back on the past. Yet it is also about finding a way to move forward. I think it is fitting song for the band as they moved into a new chapter in the early 80's.
“Time the Avenger” reached at number 6 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. The lyrics really speak to the finite time we have in life and how fleeting it all can be. The beat drives this one like an ever-ticking clock that no one can halt.
“Watching the Clothes”, a song about spending a Saturday night at the Laundromat, has a frantic, spinning rhythm to it. You can't help but picture those old glass door washing machines with the water and suds whirling about. I also like how the guitars subtly speed up through out.
“Show Me” went to number 28 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 8 on the US Mainstream rock chart. After four kicking rockers, it seems fitting to end the side on this mid-tempo ballad. I have always gotten a sense of hope from this song. As a parent, I can also relate it to that first time you hold your newborn child; it is one of those moments you never forget.
Side two begins with “Thumbelina”, a B-side that went to number 57 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. This one has a great rockabilly rhythm to it.
“My City Was Gone”, the B-side to the 1982 single, went to number 11 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. Bremner and Butler played on this one as well. The song reflected Hynde’s interest in environmental and social issues, as the lyrics talk about her return to Akron, Ohio, where she grew up and how it had changed. Having grown up in a small town in western New York, this song has always hit a personal note for me too. Every time I get back there to visit, it always seems that some place I remember is no longer there. Change always happens, but when you don't see it happening gradually you find it to really be jarring and dramatic.
“Thin Line Between Love and Hate”, a cover of the 1971 R&B hit by the Persuaders, went to number 83 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 49 in the UK and number 32 in the Netherlands. Bremner, Andrew Bodnar, and Paul Carrack are guest musicians on this track. I have the original in my music library as well, but I really like what the Pretenders did here. Having a female vocal on the song really emphasizes the point of the lyrics well.
Out of the ten tracks, “I Hurt You” is certainly my least favorite. It could be because it may not have gotten as much airplay back in the day as the rest did. It is not a bad song per se; for me it just has a hard time standing out amidst so many stronger songs.
“2000 Miles”, as a single, went to number 36 in New Zealand, number 30 in Australia, number 15 in the UK and number 13 in the Netherlands. This closing track really fits, complete with its 60's trippy opening. Even though it is not meant to be a holiday song, it kind of feels right on a rock and roll Christmas play list.
Learning to Crawl is an outstanding album, easily my overall favorite from the Pretenders' catalog. As noted, most of these songs were all over back in 1984 - from the pop stations to the rock stations to MTV. For whatever reason I did not own the vinyl back then, but it was one I added early to my digital music library about five or so years ago. Since then, it has always been greeted in the rotation with a big smile.
For 1980’s self-titled Pretenders, click here.
For 1981’s Pretenders II, click here.