When You Hear This Song: “Pack it Up” by Pretenders (1981)

pretenders

Andrew Gerhan of classic pop purveyors & satanic majesties Nevada Nevada exalts his number # 1 song for looking in the rear view mirror and screaming “Burn Baby Burn : “Pack It Up” by Pretenders

I first became aware of the Pretenders “Pack It Up” through Jawbreaker. Now I had probably heard the Pretenders version already, at least spilling out from under the bedroom door of an older sibling in the 80’s (mine were cool), but “Pack It Up” wasn’t one of the radio singles so I didn’t become truly acquainted with the song until Jawbreaker sort of covered it. It was on their “Chesterfield King” EP which I bought from the band at their merch table after a show at ABC No Rio in the the dawn of the 90’s. I then spent the rest of the night and following day trying not to bend the record as I stayed up wandering NYC before heading back home upstate. I say that Jawbreaker only sort of covered “Pack It Up” because in place of the original lyrics, they sang the words “don’t play…” followed by a list of their own song titles. At this point in time I didn’t know the original lyrics, but I saw the songwriting credited to “Chrissie Hynde”, which seemed odd as Jawbreaker were tiny then and she probably wasn’t writing her songs about their songs.

Skip ahead several years and I live in Oakland and am working as a bike messenger in San Francisco. On the weekend my friend Dominic and I would go to Amoeba Records in Berkeley and sift through the used vinyl. It was the mid-late 90’s and at this point in time people were busy buying cds and jettisoning vinyl collections so it was easy to snap up entire artist’s catalogue for 99 cents per LP. I bought all kinds of great stuff this way : most of Springsteen, CCR, Byrds, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris and… The Pretenders. This is how I ultimately closed the loop and solved the riddle of just what the hell “Pack it Up” actually was: a track on side 2 of “Pretenders II” from 1981, a “deep cut”. For me though, it is the zenith of the album.

 

 

It begins with a great mid-tempo chorus riff and just seconds into it, Chrissie Hynde belts “You guys are the PITS OF THE WORLD !”. Whoever the “guys” are have already been leveled, and she hasn’t even started to sing yet…guns are blazing. She then claims “this is no place for me…” and begins to indict a person or perhaps a series of people, seemingly men, seemingly lovers, but it could really be anyone who is crappy with their influence or authority. They are of the party/industry set with all the usual trappings : jacuzzis, suntans, Porsches. Perhaps record executives luring artists into bad deals with fake promises ?

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She ends the first verse by fuming “But I know my place…where’s my suitcase?”, then the chorus hits and she rails “Pack it up or throw it away, what I can’t carry, BURY !”. This gets me to the core of my own motion-loving soul. 

I love travel, touring, and nomaderie of all kinds and under strife my instincts usually try to point me out the door and away from whatever is getting under my skin. In real life I don’t do this nearly as much as I want to, still the temptation to “pack it up” is strong sometimes.

If this was the whole song I would still love it but what really gets me is that she goes on to claim a portion of dignity while packing her meager scraps and stomping out : “When you pass me in your Porsche, please don’t offer me a ride, I may be a skunk, but YOU’RE a piece of junk!”. Then she says “And furthermore…”and reads off litany of ills starting small with “I don’t like your trousers” and zooming out to “all you scumbags around the world, you’re the pits of the world!”. And with that the song comes full circle, the narrator has left, and a smoldering crater is all that remains. Here is the recognition that you may just be a dirtbag rock n’ roll urchin, but you can still claim dignity and agency. You can still pack it up.

Check out Nevada Nevada’s new EP “Wild and Glowing” right here. Pack it up y’all:

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