Listen to this track by Anglo-American pop chart disturbers The Pretenders. It’s “2000 Miles”, a B-Side that supported the U.S “Middle of the Road” single. Both songs appeared on 1984’s Learning To Crawl, their third album and one that was a return to the public eye after the deaths of two original members.
In the UK, “2000 Miles” was released as an A-side, scoring a #15 on the British charts. This song has since been particularly high profile at this time of year, just because of the references to Christmas time. The song therefore served as a Christmas single of sorts, released in December 1983. Since its release, it’s been included on Christmas compilation albums, covered by other artists, and featured at many an office Christmas party, too.
But, where the song may touch upon that yuletide vibe, what it’s really about is missing someone, and feeling the pain of separation. On one level, this could be a very universal tune. After all, being separated from loved ones over the Christmas holidays is a pretty common experience. That’s what pop music does. It connects with common experience, and lets the listener fill in the details for themselves.
But, with this song, there is something personal to be found in there as well.
A lot of the themes touched upon in this song had to do with the trajectory of the band, which was one marked with the breathless highs of a smash debut album and top 40 international single in “Brass In Pocket”. The Pretenders would also experience incredibly devastating lows in very close succession to counterbalance their chart-topping showings.
In 1982, the promising guitarist and leading creative force in The Pretenders, James Honeyman-Scott, died of drugs-related heart failure. Bassist Pete Farndon had been ejected from the band due to his own habit. He died in April of 1983, also of a drugs-related cause.
To say that Learning To Crawl was born out of a lot of stress and sorrow is perhaps understating things. Another single, “Back On The Chain Gang” would be an expression of this situation in finding herself back to work, but without her two bandmates that had helped to get the band to where it was. But, “2000 Miles” was a bigger song than just that one specific context.
“2000 Miles” in many ways is the more basic and universal statement, accentuated perhaps by being so closely associated with Christmas. The tune may be interpreted as being about the song’s writer, and her situation. It may also refer to the Falkland Islands conflict, with British sailors missed by their families and hoped to be “back by Christmas”, a line that also appears in Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding”. But, “2000 Miles” appeals to the listener who also may feel their own sense of loss at the wrong time of year, whatever it is.
That’s another thing; that the best pop music unravels some of life’s complexities by boiling them down to their basics. The Christmas season is often fraught with emotion, with not all of those emotions being enjoyable. In turn, it’s at this time of year, those emotions, good or bad, tend to get magnified.
Sometimes, Christmas is less about togetherness for many people, and more about feeling isolated. Sometimes, it’s characterized by feeling like you’re the only person who feels that way at a time of year where being gloomy, or in mourning isn’t culturally allowed. You feel 2000 miles away from the one you’re missing, and from everyone else outside of that feeling. For anyone feeling the other side of the Christmas cheer coin, this is a song for you.
In this respect, “2000 Miles” is certainly a Christmas song, inasmuch as missing people is as much a part of the season as being joyful is, even if what the song touches on goes well beyond that.
The Pretenders is a going concern today, led by Chrissie Hynde and original drummer Martin Chambers.