Here we are then. The nineteen eighties. Synths, post-punk, Thatcher, Reagan, the 2nd British Invasion, MTV, SAW, Yuppies, Hip-Hop, ‘Thriller’, Madonna… The decade in which I entered this world… A decade that, I have to admit, I used to rank way below the sixties and seventies in terms of its music. But not any longer. I’m ready for it!
Brass in Pocket, by The Pretenders (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, 13th – 27th January 1980
And what a cool way to start the decade. I got brass, In pocket, I got bottle, I am gonna use it… This one’s all about the hustle. Picture Chrissie Hynde, stepping off the bus in London town, and picturing just how she’s going to make it BIG. Gonna make you, Make you, Make you notice!
She’ll use her arms, her legs, her style and her sidestep, and in the space of three minutes the capital will have fallen. I’m special, So special, Gotta have some of your attention… This could come across as wildly obnoxious, but it doesn’t, somehow. Give it to me! Probably helps that it’s a woman singing these lines. Since punk, women can be bad-ass singers of rock ‘n’ roll bands. These days people’d call her a Boss Bitch.
The obvious comparison to make – a female lead singer in an otherwise male new-wave band – is with Blondie. Hynde sounds nothing like Debbie Harry, but her voice still drips with the same kind of attitude. And the music is more British post-punk – Police-like chiming guitars and a bouncing, reggae-ish beat – than Blondie’s spiky, New York sound.
In the second verse, she’s a little more explicit about how she may be getting her ‘brass’. Got new skank, So reet… I thought it was a drug reference, but apparently it’s about moving your body. You know, like dancing, or… There has been some discussion over whether the song is actually about The Pretenders’ first ever concert, or about the singer’s first sexual experience with a new partner. Either way, Hynde sums it up: “The tradition of ‘Brass in Pocket’ is that you’re cocky, and sure of yourself.”
This was The Pretenders breakthrough hit from their debut album – they had only been a band for just over a year. They would never return to the top of the charts (though a cover of one of their songs will…) but they managed impressive longevity: a handful of Top 10 hits spread out over fifteen years. Chrissie Hynde, meanwhile, will have another #1 under her own steam (sort of).
And so, with this short, sharp little record – that manages to be both clever and catchy – the eighties have kicked off. In previous decades, the first number one singles have been perfectly pleasant pieces of pop (Michael Holliday’s ‘Starry Eyed’ in 1960, and Edison Lighthouse’s ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’ in 1970) with little indication of where popular music is heading at that moment, but ‘Brass in Pocket’ actually sounds like a statement of intent…