"Back on the Chain Gang" is a classic hit song by the English-American band The Pretenders, released as single by Sire Records in late 1982. The song was also released on The King of Comedy soundtrack album in March 1983 and later included on The Pretenders' next album Learning to Crawl in January 1984.

It reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 becoming the band's biggest hit in the United States. It also got as high as #4 on Billboard'Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number 17 in the UK Singles Chart. The single's flip side, "My City Was Gone", became a substantial hit as well.

The song was originally going to be about Ray Davies, leader of the band The Kinks. Lead vocalist/guitarist Chrissie Hynde and Davies were a couple and had a daughter together, but the meaning of the song changed after James Honeyman-Scott, the Pretenders guitarist, died of a drug overdose at the age of 25 earlier in 1982.

The memorable chain-gang chant heard during the chorus of the song echoes a similar chant on Sam Cooke's song "Chain Gang." In 1995, the American singer Selenarecorded a Spanish-language song with the same melody called "Fotos y recuerdos".

In an interview with Guitar Player in 1992, George Harrison claimed that "Back On The Chain Gang" utilizes a chord that he had "invented" and incorporated into theBeatles song "I Want to Tell You": "That's an E7 with an F on top and I'm really proud of that because I invented that chord… There's only been one other song, to my knowledge, where somebody copped that chord - Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders on 'Back On The Chain Gang'."


 [hide*1 Personnel



Chart (1983) Peak


U.S. BillboardMainstream Rock Tracks 4
U.S. BillboardHot 100 5
UK Singles Chart 17


  • Brazilian singer Danni Carlos recorded an English language cover version for her 2004 album Rock'N'Road Again.[1]
  • Chicago-based production duo The Hood Internet performed a version of the song in June of 2012 for The A.V. Club's A.V. Undercover series.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.