Brass In Pocket

Album: The Pretenders (1979)
Charted: 1 14
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  • There is a lot of British slang in the lyrics:

    "Got Bottle" - Have courage.

    "Skank" - Move your body side to side.

    "Reet" - Righteous.

    "Brass" - a Northern English expression for money, harking back to the days when non-silver coins, or "coppers" were worth something.

    Lead singer Chrissie Hynde grew up in Akron, Ohio and was a student at Kent State University in 1970 when four students were killed by members of the US National Guard. She left for England in 1973, where she formed the group with three guys from Hereford.
  • "Brass In Pocket" was written by Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott. Hynde rarely explains what her songs are about, but she let on with this one in a 1980 interview with Sounds. "It's very lightweight pop type of song, nothing heavy about it," she said. "It's along the lines of the guy who is feeling very insecure, not about pulling a girl but, say, trying to be accepted by the guys down the pub. It's a front he's putting up. It's like buying a pair of new boots and you feel great but then you get home and see you spots in the mirror. Or take a couple of dexies and you're in gear for the evening but on the train home it's different."

    She had clearly internalized the British argot. "Pulling a girl" means finding a companion for the evening; "dexies" are Dexedrine pills, which give the user a jolt of energy. At the time, dexy abuse was common in the UK, especially amongst musicians and clubgoers. The band Dexys Midnight Runners took their name from the pill.
  • The song's title came about after The Pretenders first-ever UK gig, when they were in the communal dressing room with The Strangeways, whom they were supporting. Chrissie Hynde wanted to know whose trousers were sprawled over the back of a chair. One of The Strangeways, Ada Wilson, said: "I'll have them if there's any brass in the pockets."

    Hynde learned that "brass" is a Northern slang term for money. She fell in love with the expression and was inspired to write the song.
  • Many interpret "Brass In Pocket" as a "girl power" song, but Chrissie Hynde sang it from the perspective of a guy, and it's anything but empowering. She told Louder Sound: "When people say that there's this strong female persona driving the song, it drives me f--king crazy! The 'girl' thing seems to be real important for other people but I'm mystified by it."

    Hynde added that she considers the song very tongue-in-cheek, thus the line, "I'm winking at you."
  • This was the breakout hit from the first Pretenders album, which was a triumph by any measure. In the UK, three singles were released before the album appeared. The first was a cover of The Kinks song "Stop Your Sobbing," which was released in January 1979 and reached #34 in March 1979. "Kid" followed in June, going to #33 in August. In November, "Brass In Pocket" was released; it rose to the top in January 1980, and stayed at #1 for two weeks.

    The album was also released in January 1980, and went to #1 in the UK. In America, it took a while for the group to get noticed. "Brass In Pocket" was the first single there, going to #14 in May 1980. "Stop Your Sobbing" followed, reaching #65 in July. The album is consistently cited as one of the greatest debuts in rock.
  • Chrissie Hynde didn't like this song when it was recorded and came to detest it when it became a huge UK hit. "I hated it!" she told Creem in 1981. "It was a phenomenon that evades me completely. I was honestly very disappointed it was such a big hit – I was embarrassed by it."

    She explained that it was the group's producer, Chris Thomas, who convinced her to release it, and she put up considerable resistance. Hynde knew fans loved the song, so she held her nose and played it at concerts, and eventually stopped slagging it off in the press. It remained in Pretenders setlists throughout their career.
  • It usually doesn't show up in printed lyrics, but at the end of the song, Hynde coos the line, "Oh and the way you walk." She says that's an important part of the song; it's her telling the insecure peacock that she approves of his offering.
  • In the video, directed by Mark Robinson, Chrissie Hynde plays a waitress, implying that "brass" was the change she got from tips. Hynde worked as a waitress in the US before moving to London.

    Note in the video when James Honeymoon-Scott points to the "daily special" tag on the cafe menu he is holding just when the lyrics hit "I'm special, so special." Pure corn... but funny. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Hugh - Kansas City, MO
  • The Pretenders came to producer Chris Thomas' attention when he saw them at The Marquee Club in London. He recalls in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh: "I especially liked 'Brass In Pocket.' I went backstage to tell Chrissie. However Chrissie told me she didn't really like it. I insisted it was going to be a hit and if she didn't want to record it she should send it over to the producer Willie Mitchell and it would make her a fortune."
  • This song got a resurgence when MTV went on the air in August, 1981. Most American acts didn't make videos, so they had to lean heavily on imports. The Pretenders were a tasty selection because of Hynde, a female American rock singer with great camera presence. The network jumped on their video for "Message Of Love," which was released a few months earlier but was never a hit in America. That one didn't get much heat, but "Brass In Pocket" did, even though it had been out for over a year. Hynde waiting tables became a defining image from their early era.

    Thanks in large part to the video, the album got a boost in sales. In August 1982, it was certified Platinum for sales of over 1 million in America.
  • In the 2003 film Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson's character (Charlotte) sings this song, seemingly to Bill Murray's character (Bob), in a Japanese karaoke bar. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Tony - Sunshine Coast, Qld, Australia

Comments: 30

  • Bruce Hurley from North CarolinaAccording to this interview with Chrissie, "bottle" is Cockney rhyming slang for "ass" (bottle and glass). She also shares the origin of the term "Brass in Pocket" and other interesting insights:
  • Antigone from Kent OhioClive, Welcome to reality! The Detroit lean is a way of driving. Especially up here in the Great Lakes states!
  • Melinda from AustraliaI’d like to apologise for slandering Chrissie Hynde. She was in no way responsible for James and Pete’s deaths. I am just a bitter person.
  • Melinda from AustraliaLove the song. Always did. Even tho I’ve never knew what the expression Brass In Pocket meant till years later.
    Not a big fan of the lead singer, Chrissie Hynde.
    She was the one who introduced hard drugs to band members of The Pretenders. And she’s admitted that.
    You would have thought.. her being older than them at the time. She would have been more responsible. And protective.
    I’m judgey about this because quite quickly this resulted in the deaths of 2 key original band members......
    Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott. From heroin and cocaine.
    The death of these 2 talented guitarists within a 2 year period. Resulted in The Pretenders never really finding the same success after that.
    Chrissie Hynde didn’t look back though.
    She went on to marry Jim Kerr, lead singer of Simple Minds. And also Ray Davies of The Kinks. None of her marriages succeeded either.
    I see it this way, She’s lived her life. But those young men and their families lost them at an extremely young age.
    If they had have lived. The Pretenders would have continued to produce really good music. But from my memory, nothing they produced was ever as clever, after those deaths. Nor did they ever have big chart success again. Is that Karma?
  • Marcel from NcTaken from an interview in 2016 with Hynde:

    Elsewhere, Hynde’s mention of ‘Detroit leaning’ references a style of driving where folks lean way back in the front seat and stick their elbow out of the window; her ‘Got new skank/It’s so reet’ is a little tip of the hat to famed US artist and satirist Robert Crumb.

    “I was a big fan of his comic books”, she says. “One cartoon of his had this pot gauge; a machine for measuring the quality of marijuana. If it was really, really good stuff they called it ‘reet petite’.”
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 10th 1980, "Brass In Pocket (I'm Special)" by the Pretenders entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #92; thirteen weeks later on May 25th it would peak at #14 {for 2 weeks} and it stayed on the chart for 22 weeks...
    And on January 13th, 1980 it reached #1 {for 2 weeks} on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
    In Australia it peaked at #2 {for 3 weeks} on the Kent Music Report chart; the 3 weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for those three weeks was "I Got You" by Split-Enz...
    The quartet had two other Top 100 records, "Stop Your Sobbing" {#65 in 1980} and "Back On the Chain Gang" {#5 in 1981}.
  • Luke from Manchester, Uk...and it is Detroit Leanin' as, in the Motor City, they drove leant back in their cars.
  • Luke from Manchester, Uk1. Clive, you're talking crap.
    2. The terms are not British - not in these senses;
    Skank is slang for weed - they had a friend who rated his weed with different titles and "so reet" was to mean "very good".
  • Daniel from Chicago, IlListen to the Demo version of the song on the Pretenders Remastered/Expanded Edition, and I think she clearly says: "Detroit Leanin'"
  • Clive from Reading, United KingdomThis song is pure filth.
    She doesn't sing "Got something, I'm winking at you", she actually sings "Got something winking at you", ie, her vagina.
    She doesn't sing " drivin, Detroit leaning" (God knows who invented that), she actually sings "Divin', ditalini". Ditalini is Italian for fingering. In other words, she's been playing with herself.
  • James from Sherman Oaks, CaI have a good friend who knew the band personally and he told me in a drunken stupor that Chrissy wrote this for a love interest that she was admiring when she lived in London. The song lyrics are true with "reet" and "bottle". Chrissy always appreciated reggae and a lot of her influences came from that. Chrissy was originally from Ohio which "detroit leaning" was a way of driving not only in Detroit but throughout the mid-west.
  • Paul from Washington Dc, DcLike a lot of people, I'm not at all sure what in blazes the lyrics are to this DAY! But the melody is charming, the instrumentation is superb, and Hynde's lethargic vocals really give it it's playfully sexy edge. A great song.
  • Mark from Los Angeles, CaJust to show that even karaoke can be wrong. On Sound Choice's version on Brass In Pocket, they have so many wrong lyrics it's not even funny. For example: instead of saying "got bottle" they have "got vital", for "intention I feel inventive" they have "intention I'm feeling my dab", and "been driving Detroit leaning" is now "been diving detour leaning", and "no reason just seems" turns into "no visa just seems."
  • Cliffington from Goleta, Cawhere she says " gonna use my sidestep", i always heard it " gonna use my soft cell" as in her private area. wishful thinkin' i s'pose
  • Peter from Buffalo, Nyshe DOES say Detroit, on an interview with VH1 I was watching she said the "detroit lean" was the way people drove their cars in detroit by placing only one hand on the wheel in the 12 o'clock position
  • Swallow from Dublin,Chrissie definitely does NOT say Detroit. Feminine intuition tells me it's 'been diving, ditalini'. Ditalino is Italian for a pleasureable activity women engage in on their own.
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiaactually Ash i remember you from your comments about the song Relax...remember Fiona?????? go have a look, she never did respond
  • Pete from Nowra, AustraliaJay i thought it was "gonna make your motors"....???????
  • Ds from Louisville, Ky
    "Got a new skank, so reet!" Note: a 'skank' here, is also a reggae/ska guitar rhythmic percussion is so 'reet' (rasta-speak for 'right')! //

    It most certainly sounds like Chrissy is singing "diving, detour leaning" NOT "driving, detroit leaning". //

    The final phrase that most everybody leaves out is: "Anyway you want!"
  • Joycemorrison from Phi just discovered tonight: this was also in the 2005 movie "Just Like Heaven" starring Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon. (which came as a pleasant surprise.) twas used for the scene when Ivana Milicevic was trying (but failed) to seduce Mark.
  • Joycemorrison from Phdamn this is such a COOL song! Chrissie's voice is so strong... makes _me_ notice. learning now that this was used in "Lost In Translation", well, the movie has moved up another notch in my book.
  • Kurt from Lyndhurst, OhDetroit leaning is a style of hand on the wheel, head back against the headrest, seat tilted back, usually while singing to the radio
  • Marsha from Fort Worth, TxThis was the third video to air on MTV August 1, 1981.
    ---marsha, Houston, TX
  • Sab from Charlotte, Ncwhat does "Detroit leaning" mean?
  • Dc from Hilo, HiI always thought it was "gonna use my sassy". Got Bottle means courage? Who knew? Song still sounds great..
  • Roel from Cleveland, OhAt the very end of the song Chrissy Hynde says something (2:47 into the song) which sounds like a foreign language. Does anyone know what she is saying?
  • Jay from Atlanta, GaA common misheard lyric: Instead of "Gonna make you notice", it has been misheard as "Gonna make you malteds". Which wouldn't be such a bad thing..........
  • Heather from Holbrook, NyThanks to this site, I now know what a "skank so reet" is!
  • Ash from Charleston, WvPete - on this very day I found that out, too. I always thought it was "senses" as well. God bless the internet.
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiaya know after hearing this song for about 15 years i've finally worked out one of the lines in the songs ...didn't have a clue what she was singing...."gonna use my sidestep" always thought it was "gonna use my senses" well now i know
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