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The CHIRP Blog

Eddie writesTake Two: “Back On The Chain Gang” (The Pretenders Vs. Selena)

by Eddie Sayago

There is a chance that you have come across a song (or two, or so many more) that you enjoy and did not realize that it's either been covered by someone else or is a cover itself. We hope that this series allows you to appreciate both the original and the covers they have inspired, and to seek out and enjoy new music in the process.

For this entry, we take a look at “Back On The Chain Gang”, a song about loss originally written and recorded by one-half of the original Pretenders, and a slightly sunnier Spanish-language cover performed by Selena over a decade later. 

The original: Pretenders “Back On The Chain Gang” (1982)

It was a tough time for the Pretenders when they stepped into the studio to record “Back On The Chain Gang” in July 1982. Only half the band was around; singer/songwriter Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers. The previous month, they kicked out bassist Pete Farndon due to his drug issues and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of a drug overdose only a few days later. (Farndon would die of a heroin overdose the following year.)

Hynde was feeling the pressure from the music industry as her profile rose higher. “I found a picture of you, o-o-oh, o-o-oh/Well it hijacked my world at night” references her estranged partner, The Kinks’ Ray Davies, as she was pregnant with their daughter at the time of recording. Hynde would dedicate “Back On The Chain Gang” to Honeyman-Scott and would become one of their signature songs, never losing its emotional punch.

The Cover: Selena “Fotos y Recuerdos” (1994)

The Spanish-language cover of Hynde’s hit also has its own backstory. Another producing three successful albums, A.B. Quintanilla, the producer and brother of Selena was under a lot of pressure to develop more material for his sister’s fourth album, Amor Prohibido (“Forbidden Love”) which the record label was hoping would expand her audience. In this version, Selena sings about a lonely woman pining after her lover, resulting in kissing his photo every night before she goes to sleep.

“Fotos y Recuerdos” (“Photos & Memories”) was the last single released during Selena’s lifetime; she was killed two months later in March 1995. This song has remained a staple on Spanish-language radio across the world, becoming one of the best-selling pop singles of all time.

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Categorized: Take Two

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