Oct 08

THE PRETENDERS – “Brass In Pocket”

FT + Popular71 comments • 6,828 views

#449, 19th January 1980

I had a pub conversation once about Radiohead’s “Creep”, where we decided the ideal cover would be one grounded in full-on swagger, simply inverting every “I” and “You” in the song: “I’m so fucking special – you wish you were special…you’re a creep!”. “Brass In Pocket” isn’t quite what we were getting at – there’s no sense that Chrissie Hynde’s target is any weaker than her, even if his capitulation is inevitable – but as an exercise in total confidence it takes some beating. The danger in the song is that its determination could shade into desperation, but when you listen to it you never once doubt that Hynde’s got the moves to back up her words: if anything, the song’s a challenge to her lover-to-be to step up and match her.

The band keep things steady in the background, cresting and rolling back unobtrusively to give their singer the space and stage she needs – and her vocal is a box-of-tricks performance, snapping from purr to pounce in the space of a line. Without it, actually, the song is nothing at all – there’s no particuarly good hooks in “Brass In Pocket”, no chorus, just build and force: if you don’t like Hynde’s voice there’s not a lot of room for you to enjoy it. And the honest truth is, I don’t like it – she’s borrowing a lot from Patti Smith but there’s a spontaneity in Smith’s singing, a sense that her squeals and shouts are unbidden responses to musical and emotional momentum. I don’t hear that in Hynde, and it means I can’t buy into her technique here. Of course, it’s a song about going after what you want with laser focus, so no surprise that the delivery’s kind of calculating – but this is one of those singles where I can understand exactly why it’s loved, but can’t join in myself.



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  1. 61
    thefatgit on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Each time I hear this record with it’s steady rhythm and sexy swagger, I just conjure up in my mind Chrissie Hynde repeatedly kicking Jim Kerr in the nuts. And for that, it’s a 9.

  2. 62
    Brooksie on 13 Feb 2010 #

    Love BiP; the jangly floaty guitars are irresistible. It’s catchy and likable. Don’t understand the criticisms here. There seems to be a little too much “It’s too catchy/It’s insubstantial” for me. My reaction is, “and?” It has everything a # 1 pop hit should have in spades. # 1 singles are not created for people in their late teens/early twenties for whom ‘credibility’ or ‘subtlety’ are paramount – # 1 albums maybe, but that age group have little bearing on what does or doesn’t get to the top of the singles charts (there are usually only one or two groups a year that shake that truth). They’re made for twelve year-olds who sing them in the playground. And for all those people talking about ‘Message of Love’ or ‘Talk of the Town’ like they should be the ones that hit the top, I say “no chance.” Those singles got exactly where there popularity justified them getting to – not # 1.

    @Brian # 51:

    You aren’t the only one baffled here. Let’s just get the history straight about Blondie / The Pretenders in 1980: Blondie may have been one of the biggest singles bands of the year, but from ‘Eat to the Beat’ onwards, the critics were shredding Blondie with increasing ferocity. The Pretenders were lauded across the board with their first album in 1980. Don’t be fooled by the comments here; if this was being written in 1980 as a roundup of the years singles, BiP would be the height of credibility, and Blondie would be seen as heavyweight fluff. Yes, in the modern world we love Blondie to bits, especially with their “fills a greatest-hits nicely” bunch of catchy pop-rock, but then we don’t have to sit through ‘Autoamerican’, do we? I say that as someone who loves/loved Blondie, and only passingly liked The Pretenders.

  3. 63
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2011 #

    does anyone else have the love for the two groovy instrumentals on the b-side? Just me then…

    (slight return from #50…)

  4. 64
    swanstep on 8 Feb 2011 #

    Great single from a great debut album. As well as the album tracks that Punctum mentions, the lyrical and musical ferocity of Up the Neck and Tattooed Love Boys really stood out I think. Both those tracks got played a lot on radio in NZ at the time. The Pretenders first line-up seemed like a full-service pop-group – great front-woman, great snarky attitude, great players and chops, great sexy loping pop songs, great filthy sexy fast rocking songs.

    BiP got to #2 in both NZ and Australia – no major manipulations alleged. The song’s an obvious hit.

    The week before BiP hit its peak in NZ was one of the best top-of-the-charts of my lifetime, if anyone’s interested:
    April 27, 1980
    1 Smokey Robinson, Cruisin’
    2 Ry Cooder, Little Sister
    3 Prince, I Wanna Be Your Lover
    4 The Pretenders, Brass In Pocket
    5 The Flying Lizards, Money
    6 Spinners, Working My Way Back To You
    7 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Refugee

  5. 65
    Lena on 17 Dec 2012 #

    Then Play Long discusses the parent album: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-pretenders-pretenders_17.html – and yes, I am now helping to write the blog. Thanks for any links, retweets, etc.!

  6. 66
    lonepilgrim on 18 Dec 2012 #

    that’s a fantastic response to a very underrated album Lena.

  7. 67
    Lena on 19 Dec 2012 #

    Thanks! I tend to think they are underrated altogether as they (in the original line-up) lasted for only two albums, and never got to grow and mature as a band, sadly.

  8. 68
    furtive on 16 Jan 2013 #

    Chrissie Hynde has said on many occasions how much she hates Brass In Pocket – she had to be talked into recording it and then persuaded to release it as a single, telling her band, management and record label that it would be released as a single ‘over my dead body’. Personally, I think it is a genius slice of pop music. Melding numerous genres together (country, Motown, pop to name three) it charges along from peaks to troughs and back again never allowing the listener to catch their breath and before you know in 2 short minutes the ride is over (the perfect length for a pop record).
    I’ve never seen Hynde’s delivery or lyrics as aggressive, there is a lot of melancholy and yearning in the the song and I’ve always felt it is more about unrequited love other than a quest to snare a man. I’ve perhaps been influenced by the film clip where Hynde fails to capture the attention of the men who come into her cafe. Surely the wonderful film clip is also one of the very first to feature a dramatic storyline instead of a straight performance to camera? I can’t think of many dramatic film clips pre-1979…

  9. 69
    hectorthebat on 19 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 17
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 66
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 87
    Spin (USA) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1989) 58
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 1970s (2012) 124
    Ultimate Classic Rock (USA) – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs (2013) 83
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs from the Past 25 Years (2003) 62
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 264
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1980s (2008)
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 580
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1970s (2012) 99
    New Musical Express (UK) – Classic Singles (magazine feature 2006-2007)
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 503
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Sounds (UK) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1986) 94
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 37
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 4

  10. 70
    Larry on 23 Nov 2014 #

    In 1979 I wasn’t that wild about BiP. Now, I appreciate that it’s about a woman feeling sexual, being open about her sexuality. That aspect of the song is completely undercut in the video that depicts Chrissie as an ignored waitress.

  11. 71
    Gareth Parker on 5 May 2021 #

    I would go with a 6/10 here. I quite like it and I think Chrissie is fab, but it just doesn’t quite catch fire for me.

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