Back when Home Box Office was still referred to as Home Box Office and not by its acronym, the network showed music videos between movies. There was no MTV yet, certainly no YouTube. It was between movies on Home Box Office that I discovered Pretenders.
“Brass in Pocket” was shown regularly and I was instantly taken by this woman playing a waitress, signing that she’s “got bottle” and a “new skank,” she’s “Detroit leaning,” and she’s gonna use her “sidestep” to get a guy to notice her. I hadn’t the foggiest what she was talking about.
In Pretenders’ 2005 box set, the woman, lead singer Chrissie Hynde, explained the lyrics. Having “brass in pocket” means you’re doing alright. “So reet” refers to marijuana. “Got bottle” means “I’ve got front.” “Detroit leaning” refers to an attitude with which people from that city drive. “Gonna use my sidestep” refers to a dance move. I still haven’t the foggiest what she’s talking about, but what a great record!
Hynde didn’t and doesn’t care for the song. The track’s producer, Chris Thomas, saw the band play at a club in London and afterwards told Hynde he especially liked “Brass in Pocket.” He insisted the band record it. After acquiescing, Hynde told Thomas “he could release it over [her] dead body.” She was convinced to let the song come out. It became the group’s first top ten single in the UK, where it hit #1 in January 1980, and their first top 40 single stateside, where it peaked at #14.
“Brass in Pocket” was included on the band’s self-titled debut album, released in January 1980. The album also includes their first single, “Stop Your Sobbing,” a Kinks cover produced by Nick Lowe, who declined to produce the rest of the album, supposedly because he didn’t feel the group were going anywhere. (A few years later Hynde would become romantically-involved with The Kinks’ lead singer, Ray Davies.)
“Kid” was the single follow-up to “Stop Your Sobbing.” Here is what AllMusic.com says about this song: “The Pretenders recorded a fair share of brilliant tracks on their first three albums, but ‘Kid’ is probably the band’s masterpiece.”
Other stand-out tracks on the debut album include “Precious,” wherein Hynde sings “But not me, baby, I’m too precious/Fuck off!,” a line that was supposed to end with “I had to fuck off,” but Hynde couldn’t get all the words out; “I Go to Sleep,” another Ray Davies composition, this one not released previously by The Kinks; “Private Life,” a song covered by Grace Jones, of whose version Hynde said ‘Now that’s how it’s supposed to sound!,” calling the cover a “highpoint of [her] career;” “Tattooed Love Boys” and “Mystery Achievement.”
Presently, Pretenders sits at #30 on my Top All-Time Albums list.
Chrissie Hynde turns 63 today. Here are twenty of her finest.
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