The Pretenders – Learning to Crawl: #501 of best 1,000 albums ever!

The Pretenders - Learning to Crawl

So why is The Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?

Learning to Crawl is one of those albums that wears better and better over time. Its first four tracks alone are endlessly listenable. As example, the first song, “Middle of the Road,” has been stuck in my head for hours as of the day I’m writing these words, and I don’t mind at all. It’s stuck in your head stuff in the best kind of way.

It occurs to me that very few bands have melded hard rock, new wave, and pop as well as “Middle of the Road” does. And then of course Chrissie Hynde’s vocals – tough yet alluring – pull it all together wonderfully.

And then “Back on the Chain Gang,” while lamenting the loss of Pretenders bandmates to drugs (two of them), is pretty pop music with a touch of Blondie-ish new wave in addition to a unique sensibility all its own.

“Watching the Clothes” is a fantastically frantic rocker, with nice muscular guitar work put in by Robbie McIntosh and a vibe of Adam Ant-ish new wave.

Also see: The Pretenders self-titled album, #736 of the best 1,000 albums ever.

Personal stuff that’s somehow related to The Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl

It’s odd sometimes, even funny, how one thing can connect to another thing. Music is certainly like that in all kinds of ways, and sometimes it doesn’t even have to make a ton of sense. Indeed, at times the connection demands to not make a ton of sense!

I’m not sure how much that applies here, but I’ll just explain the connection I instantly make every time I listen to “Middle of the Road.” There’s something about the vocals that kick off the song to the tune of “Whoa-ohhhh-oh-ohhh-oh!” that connects to “Holiday Road,” by Lindsey Buckingham.

Yes, that “Holiday Road,” the one from National Lampoon’s Vacation. If you know the movie, you know the song, and it’s indelible and catchy and fun, and maybe even makes you feel weirdly scorchingly nostalgic for your childhood and the 1980s and flipping around the channels and John Candy and Chevy Chase.

Anyway, when my brain gets to “Holiday Road,” I then think back to my living situation when I departed New York City and the east coast and moved to Berkeley, California in 1998. My roommates – Adam, Felice, and I – lived in a surprisingly spacious downstairs of a house with our truly only-in-Berkeley “housemates”* living upstairs.

* The housemates included our landlord, who told us when we applied to live there that we had the worst credit situation of anyone who had applied to rent the place, but that he liked the looks of us and that, “You guys probably like to make a little noise – we like to make noise.” At the time, we were all like, “Sure, sounds good!”

Our landlord/housemate lived with several (we believed) roommates, all of whom also worked constructure jobs. They would be out on jobs from quite early in the morning until 3-4 p.m., and that was when The Party would begin. The Party went on roughly 5-6 nights per week, and from our standpoint consisted of loud/bad jam band music, lots of pot, lots of “we like to make noise,” and what my then girlfriend and now wife described as… “sounding like dead bodies being dragged around the floor.” To be fair, by 7:30 or 8:00 it would be lights out and Party Over for the night.

Adam, an accomplished guitarist, started messing around with his acoustic one day, and that turned into his pairing with Felice on several songs, if memory serves. One song that absolutely stands out is their take on “Holiday Road,” and it sounded fantastic in an unplugged/acoustic guitar setting with male and female vocals. My memory gets fuzzier here, but they may have even performed together at a coffee shop or two in the East Bay.

In any event, Adam – nowadays an accomplished father of two – can most recently be heard in the band Sol Patch, which is an update to his college era band Soul Patch, formed back at Binghamton University. My dudes and fellow alums Dan and Nehal are also in the band, and they’re just great. Here is “Churn the Butter.”

And here’s a bonus connection if you can stand it, also semi-related to “Middle of the Road.” It’s possible that I’ve listened to Babyshambles’ “Side of the Road” more than any other over the last year or so. It’s absolutely in the Top 5. I can’t get enough of it. It’s off of the Shotter’s Nation album from 2007, and the entire thing is just smashingly amazing.

Some stats & info about The Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rock Music, New Wave, Hard Rock, Dance Rock, Pub Rock, College Rock, Album Rock
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
  • All Music’s rating – 5 out of 5 stars
  • When was Learning to Crawl released? 1984
  • My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #501 out of 1,000

The Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl on Spotify

A lyrical snippet from The Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe

The middle of the road is trying to find me. I’m standing in the middle of life with my plans behind me.

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.