449. ‘Brass in Pocket’, by The Pretenders

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…


24 thoughts on “449. ‘Brass in Pocket’, by The Pretenders

  1. I’ll say the UK transition into the ‘80s is better than the US with Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” being the final #1 of the ‘70s and KC & The Sunshine Band’s “Please Don’t Go” being the first #1 of the ‘80s. The Pretenders are one of those acts I’ve never been exposed to a lot and in the US don’t seem to be too well known. Even in their time, “Brass in Pocket” only reached #14 with their biggest hit “Back on the Chain Gang” from 1982 peaking at #5. Though their last major hit, the #16 “I’ll Stand By You” has also been a big favorite seeing many people cover it and utilize it for shows. “Brass in Pocket” is also a song I hear from time to time and is notable for being one of the first music videos to play on MTV with Chrissy Hynde in that waitress outfit. And it’s a good song where I like the guitar driven beat and Hynde’s confident delivery. It’s a solid piece of new wave that by 1980 was starting to make some inroads in America but wasn’t as big yet as it would be once MTV launched which probably explains for its #14 peak at a time when the Hot 100 was trying to figure itself out after the implosion of disco.

    With Tom Breihan just wrapping up the ‘80s in his Number Ones column, my main takeaway of the decade is that it’s one of generational battles and transition with the younger era baby boomers and Gen Xers beginning to make their presence known throughout the ‘80s as the old guard continue to hold on with many acts from the ‘60s and ‘70s managing to comeback and adapt to an entirely different music environment.

    • My take on the eighties at first glance is that the first couple of years will be the ones I enjoy the most, as new-wave, post-punk rage on and the after effects of disco are still felt. Then it’ll slump in the middle with some over-produced and over-long power ballads, and way too much sax. But it will pick up by the end of the decade, for me at least, with SAW’s trashy pop and the rise of electronic dance. I’m looking forward to it!

      • For me, the ’80s peak around 83-85 with all the exciting parts of the decade reaching their peak from the blockbuster albums, synth-pop, new wave, soundtracks, and the height of MTV’s impact before it all gets tired out by the end of the decade. It’s an era that’s become so renowned that there’s a cool new book about that era called Can’t Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop’s Blockbuster Year that does a good job at showcasing the different styles and movements and the environment of the time. And there’s also the book I Want My MTV that’s very entertaining with how people at the network talk about the evolution of the network over its first decade.

      • I have seen 1984 picked out many times as the best year for pop music – personally I’d say it was 20 years earlier – but it is not reflected in the UK’s choice of chart-topping singles that year… 6 weeks each for ‘Hello’ and ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’. doesn’t make for a vintage year!

      • Yeah those songs aren’t exactly a great representation of 1984 but overall it’s hard to argue with the argument looking at all the big songs and albums and the general excitement of the period surrounding the big music and artists

      • The mid-80s might be one of the few times that the top of the Billboard charts was better than the UK charts (the rest of the time I’m biased…) Take ‘Thriller’, for example. 1 number one – ‘Billie Jean’ – for one single week. ‘Bad’? 1 number one: ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ – not one of the classics. Prince…? No #1s at all, until he was a symbol. Madonna had to wait until ‘Into the Groove’ in mid-1985, which means ‘Like a Virgin’ and ‘Material Girl’ missed out.

  2. Spot on summary as 80’s statement of intent – I bought this, it became the 3rd UK chart-topper in a row to top my charts too, and I adore Pretenders or Chrissie Hynde in any guise. Stop Your Sobbing, Kid, Back On The Chain Gang, Don’t Get Me Wrong, I’ll Stand By You all classics. Chrissie is an anglophile and rooted in the 60’s UK pop culture, and it comes out in the videos (The Avengers, Steed & Emma Peel), her look (Sandie Shaw), covering a Kinks track to start their career off (and then marrying Ray Davies), not to mention the reggae links (UB40 who Pretenders toured with, another 60’s link on their future chart-topper) and her charity chart-topper with 60’s icons Cher & Clapton.

    I saw the original line-up, before the loss of 2 members to drugs, at a Mansfield Sports Centre and they were cracking, despite the poor turnout. I saw them in the mid 80’s in Bournemouth, Chrissie unfazed by a power-cut mid-flow – she got a torch and did a mini-acoustic set. And I saw them again supporting UB40, still got it. Their recent album has been decent too, they plod on doing their own thing, or Chrissie does solo stuff, or guest spots on other acts and other genres, and still good. Still looks like Sandie Shaw’s hairdo too. Yay!

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  4. I run hot & cold with The Pretenders. Stop Your Sobbing is great. Middle of the Road is great. Back on the Chain Gang is great. Talk of the Town is great. This one doesn’t do much for me. 2000 Miles makes me want to shove pencils into my ears.

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  7. I can’t believe she didn’t like this song! I like the Pretenders a lot…they were one of the good bands I liked during the 80s lol.
    Sorry I’ve been away…a 3 week hell at work…exchange server went down…luckily I had enough posts ready to go…

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