Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Brass in Pocket" - Pretenders

This is the classic single from the classic album that happens to be number two or three on my all-time list. I've been singing along with "Brass in Pocket" for over thirty years. But I am not fibbing when I say that searching the lyrics for this blog entry was the first time I learned a good 60 percent of the lyrics. Just take the first verse: "Got bottle"? "Feel inventive"? Who knew? I think I sang "inventive" as "so plee-zed," which was itself pretty inventive. I was amazed to discover I had gotten "Been driving uh, Detroit leaning" right. But who cared? All you had to do was mimic Chrissie Hynde's delicious delivery of those syllables ... and lose yourself in the positive, rollicking vibe of the song.

It's that vibe that made me think of "Brass in Pocket" as an anthem for a new generation. Most of us Pretenders fans know it derives from Chrissie's days scrounging change as a waitress in a London tea-shop (as satirized in the video, below): "I'm special, so special / I got to have some of your attention, give it to me!" is superficially a plea to a customer to leave a good tip (and "brass in pocket" a phrase indicating one is skint/broke) -- not an Aretha-style plea to a lover to show some respect, or a feminist political statement. How progressive is it, really?

But we all know there's much more going on. Chrissie, possibly the essential female figure in rock history, delivers the song with the jaundiced but good-hearted feminism that she trademarked on that imperishable first record, Pretenders (1979). "Brass" is an irresistible marching song, right down to the mobility and physicality that imbue the lyrics ("Gonna use my arms / Gonna use my legs ..."). And on truly attending to the lyrics for the first time, it's a pleasure to find they hold up rather well as a potential soundtrack for a march or demonstration -- particularly anything featuring and/or focusing on females:

Got brass in pocket
Got bottle, I'm gonna use it
Intention I feel inventive
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice

Got motion, restrained emotion
Been driving uh, Detroit leaning
No reason, just seems so pleasing
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice

Gonna use my arms
Gonna use my legs
Gonna use my style
Gonna use my side step
Gonna use my fingers
Gonna use my, my, my, imagination

'Cause I going make you see
There's nobody else here, no one like me
I'm special, so special
I got to have some of your attention, give it to me!

You could imagine a crowd -- whether predominantly female or mixed -- having a lot of fun with the song, and kids really getting into the "Gonna use my arms" refrain. Moreover, belting "I'm special ... I got to have some of your attention ..." en masse and ad nauseam outside a recalcitrant politician's office or headquarters could definitely get you in the door for a meeting.

The original album recording of "Brass in Pocket", from Pretenders (1980):

The charming video that accompanied the 1979 single release of "Brass in Pocket": Chrissie doing her waitress shtick:

A live version from Köln, Germany, in July 1981, with the original version of the Pretenders still intact. Both bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott (co-writer of "Brass in Pocket") would be dead of drug overdoses within two years:

Other Resources

Song available on Pretenders (1980) (remastered 2006), track 10.

"Brass in Pocket" Wikipedia page.

Suede has an interesting cover version:

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