The Pretenders Hit That “Mortified” Chrissie Hynde and Made Her “Cringe”

“I never thought it was that great,” said Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders 1980 hit “Brass in Pocket.” Hynde never wanted “Brass in Pocket” released as a single. Released as the third single from the band’s self-titled debut, “Brass in Pocket” wasn’t Hynde’s favorite track, but producer Chris Thomas convinced her otherwise.

“This goes out over my dead body,” Hynde told Thomas at one point, but she was overruled, and “Brass in Pocket” peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, and went to No. 1 in the UK in 1980 where it remained for two weeks. Despite its success, Hynde still had her issues with the song she co-wrote with late bandmate, Pretenders co-founder, and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott (1956-1982).

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What is it?

“Was it pop? Motown? Rock?” said Hynde. “It didn’t seem to know what it was. I used to cringe when I heard my voice on those early Pretenders recordings, and then that f–king went to No.1. I remember walking around Oxford Circus [and] hearing it blasting out of people’s radios. I was mortified.”

[RELATED: 3 Songs You Didn’t Know Chrissie Hynde Wrote for Other Artists]

Hynde said she didn’t like the song because, genre-wise, she didn’t know what it was. “I thought it sounded like it was trying to be a Motown song, but it didn’t quite get it,” Hynde told American Songwriter. “It didn’t quite make it.”

Initially, Honeyman-Scott already had the riff to the song, and Hynde went along with it. “He was playing that in the studio and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’ said Hynde. “And I just happened to have a little tape recorder and I taped it. That’s the one time I did that. I wish I had done it more. That’s how I did it with him a few times.”

Hynde said it took some time for the song to grow on her. “Now I like that song because it’s one of those songs that served me well,” she said. “I didn’t like my voice on it. I was kind of a new singer, and listening to my voice made me kind of cringe. I shouldn’t be saying all this negative stuff because if people hear me saying all this negative stuff, they’ll start to believe it too.”

“Bottle” and Robert Crumb

The title first came to Hynde during a dinner with the Pretenders’ then-labelmates Strangeways and his experience at the dry cleaners. “We were all having dinner together and one of the guys in Strangeways had just picked up his trousers from the dry cleaners,” recalled Hynde. “His bandmate asked him jokingly: ‘Was there any brass in the pockets?’ I suppose I just liked the turn of phrase. Being from the U.S. I hadn’t heard it before.”

She added, “It’s got ‘bottle,’ too, in it. Bottle is Cockney rhyming slang. It means bottle and glass. The way Cockney rhyming slang works is the word you’re really saying rhymes with the second word. So bottle and glass rhymes with a–. In England, to say somebody has a lot of a–. they have a lot of funk. So you say, ‘That guy has a lot of bottles.”

The song also referenced the cartoonist Robert Crumb. “Where I go, ‘It’s so ‘reet,'” said Hynde. “Another one of my heroes, Robert Crumb. And, well, this is just f–king me rambling. Like I said, I got away from it in that song.”

‘Gonna Make You Notice’

The lyrics run around trying to gain someone’s attention, and they’ll use their arms, legs, fingers, style, sidestep, and more to get noticed.

I got brass in a pocket
I 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, 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 sidestep
Gonna use my fingers, gonna use my, my, my

‘Cause I gonna make you see
There’s nobody else here, no one like me
I’m special (special)
So special (special)
I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me

I got rhythm, I can’t miss a beat
I got a new skank, so reet
Got something, I’m winking at you
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice

“People did think I was the character in the song but I was not, really,” said Hynde. “Although I loved the anti-establishment nature of rock and roll. That’s why I got into it because I didn’t want to be part of the establishment. I still have this thing. See, the thing about rock is there are rules but there’s no rules.”

With “Brass in Pocket,” the idea is that “you’re supposed to be kind of cocky and sure of yourself,” said Hynde. “You’re not supposed to go on stage and say, “I’m small and I have no confidence and think I’m a shit,’ because you just can’t do that on stage,” she added. “You’re not supposed to, and probably you don’t have much confidence, and you do think you’re a little piece of shit or else you wouldn’t have gotten a rock band together in the first place.

Hynde continued, “The nature of the stage—where you are already seven feet higher than everyone and they have to look up at you—you have to use that to your advantage. And so, ‘Brass in Pocket’ is, I guess, a big lie.”

Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images

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