Having missed out on Patti Smith and the handful of strong female singers who elbowed their way into view among the first punk groups, it was probably the first time I’d seen a woman front a band much as a man would when the Pretenders performed ‘Brass in pocket’ on Top of the Pops in late 1979 and early 1980. With her dark mess of hair, drainpipe trousers and a jacket, Chrissie Hynde was obviously the boss. For all that I also loved Blondie, I could tell that there was a difference between her and Debbie Harry. That there were limits to what Chrissie would do for fame. That she would not take any shit, or at least not respond well to it. Probably Debbie Harry wouldn’t have either, but that wasn’t always how she came across. Not that I could have put any of this into words aged 11. But I think I intuited it, with the intuition that precedes understanding; the kind of pre-understanding that experience later solidifies. And I certainly responded to the richly sexy self-determination in Chrissie’s voice. But then who didn’t? Who wouldn’t, hearing the song for the first time? ‘I’m special, so special’, she sang – and of course she was; but the beauty of the song is that so is any girl or woman (or boy, or man, for that matter) who sings along with her.
Chrissie’s delivery was a bit special too, contorting the words till their meaning was obscured. (I’m not sure I’ve ever known what certain lines were until I looked them up while writing this – what I’d always heard as ‘I got a moose cake’, sharper ears than mine have interpreted as ‘I got a new skank’.) You might not have known exactly what she was singing all through the song, but there was no doubting what she meant. The song’s title is a red herring, because ‘Brass in pocket’ is of course about everything but the cash that Chrissie has to call upon; money is only important in that it facilitates being out and about in the world, being visible – in fact she may well have just enough brass for one night out, and find herself stony broke tomorrow. But that doesn’t matter, because Chrissie’s got all the resources she needs. She’s gonna use her arms, legs, style, side-step, fingers and most importantly of all her imagination to get what – or rather who – she wants. Siren-like she casts a spell upon the listener, and you remain only dimly aware of the music behind her, chugging, rising and falling, essentially serving only to accentuate Chrissie’s positives. It all goes to make ‘Brass in pocket’ a truly great pop song, a number one in intention and actuality.