The Cassette Chronicles – The Pretenders ‘Learning To Crawl”

BY JAY ROBERTS (SPECIAL TO LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE)

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.

The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums.

These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

THE PRETENDERS – LEARNING TO CRAWL (1984)

I don’t know about anyone else, but there are groups I tend to refer to as my “radio bands.” By that I mean, I love hearing them on the radio but haven’t really felt moved to actually buy their albums, or perhaps I might own a greatest hits compilation at best. Pink Floyd and Rush are probably the two bands that fall into this classification. Despite the fact that I always liked to hear Chrissie Hynde when she appeared on radio interview shows like Rockline because she seemed like a pretty captivating personality, you can also add The Pretenders to that list. Well, until now anyway.

I’ve heard the group’s stuff on the radio for years, from their first album hit “Brass In Pocket” to the five songs on Learning To Crawl that have become classic rock radio standards over the 33 years since the album was originally released. But I just never got up the desire to purchase any of the albums. It also left me a bit ignorant about the origins of at least a couple of the songs.

After the first two albums from the band, they suffered the losses of bassist Pete Farndon (fired in 1982 over his growing drug abuse, he died in 1983 after an overdose) and guitarist Jim Honeyman-Scott (died from drugs two days after Farndon’s firing). This left the remaining original members, vocalist Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers a bit adrift. They released some singles after the lineup changes but it was two years before a full album was released.
As I said, there are five songs on Learning To Crawl that are rock radio staples nowadays. Sadly, the rest of the songs on the album mostly did nothing for me. I did find that I liked the country tinged aspect of the song “Thumbelina” but that was about it.

But when you have songs like “Middle of the Road”, “Back On The Chain Gang”, “Show Me”, “My City Was Gone” and “2000 Miles” on the same album, you’ve done pretty well for yourself. “Middle of the Road” is probably the most rocking song of the bunch, fast paced with an edge that should come as no surprise to those that are long term Pretenders fans. I think “Show Me” is a bit underrated despite it being one of the band’s better known songs.

While “My City Was Gone” was originally released as the B-side to “Back On The Chain Gang” in 1982, both songs on the album here ensured they got more of a look-see on their own merits. It goes to show how either stupid or memory challenged I am because I have gone a long time thinking the song was called “Back To Ohio.” Yes, stupid and a bit embarrassing to admit.

In researching the album online for this article, I also learned, after all this time, that “2000 Miles” which has always seemed like a Christmas song given its lyrics (and the fact that it gets played a lot on the radio during the holiday season), is instead a song about the death of Honeyman-Scott. Written by Chrissie Hynde, it was released originally as a single in 1983, the year after the guitarist’s death. Being new information to me, it gives a new spin on the song.

I don’t know that finally taking the plunge and listening to a full album from The Pretenders will make me run out and buy their entire discography but it has changed my outlook on the band as a whole. While I can’t say much in the way for the lesser known material on the album, Learning To Crawl’s five hits went a long ways towards cementing the band’s place in rock and roll history. It has also peaked my interest for what else I might’ve missed out on from the band.

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Notes of Interest: The album was reissued in 2007 with seven bonus tracks comprised of live tracks and demos.

The cover of the Persuaders song “Thin Line Between Love And Hate” featured singer Paul Carrack on both vocals and piano. Carrack has played with Squeeze, Roger Waters and has his own solo career. He’s perhaps best known as the singer for Mike & The Mechanics where he sang lead on their two biggest hits “Silent Running (On Deadly Ground)” and “The Living Years.”

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