Saturday, January 2, 2010
"Brass in Pocket" by the Pretenders (1979)
The sound of self-confidence. This amazingly sexy track gets where it’s going not by being kittenish or by being coy or by being in any way demure. This song is sexy because Chrissie Hynde demands that you find it sexy. She doesn’t holler or scream, she doesn’t even try very hard. She just has a gleam in her eye and a confidence in her stride that removes all doubt.
Chrissie Hynde is interesting. By now she’s been unimpressive for so much longer than she was ever impressive that it’s difficult to remember how high she once flew. For years and years now it’s been just one of those revolving-door ‘bands’ (like The Cure) playing MOR that pretends to be ‘alternative’ merely because its singer used to be.
How alternative did she use to be? Well (despite being from Ohio and despite being even older than Sting) she’s filled with stories about hanging with the Sex Pistols, the Clash and all the whole British punk aristocracy. Yet this song, which was released in 1979 just two years after “Never Mind the Bollocks…”, has no relationship that I can see to punk music, sounding much cleaner and more musical. It’s actually difficult to pinpoint quite what genre this song is, and thus it can feature quite comfortably on almost any rock-centred playlist. While her vocals undoubtedly steal the limelight, it most definitely is a ‘band’ performance, and in fact the musical equivalent of that confident walk is really what makes the song so memorable: a simple guitar riff over a basic clip-clop rhythm section (with cowbell!) recorded at exactly the speed somebody would strut down the street, head held high.
The verses aren’t up to much, really. It’s all just a build-up for when we get to Chrissie delineating what parts of herself she’ll use to ‘make you see’, peaking in a great phrase where she sings, ‘gonna use my… my… my…’, baiting you into expecting something perhaps dirty, ‘imagination!’ she calls out, cool as a cucumber, and the joke’s on you because your imagination’s in the gutter.
She then points out what’s blindingly obvious, that she’s ‘special’, and a bunch of anonymous male voices (the remaining Pretenders, presumably) parrot it helplessly until she practically reaches out of the speakers, grabs you by the necktie (for this is a song from 1979, and thus you are wearing one, and a skinny one at that) and forcefully demands of your attention, “give it to me!”
And we did, for several years more as she insisted on making further good music despite all kinds of tragedy in her band. Eventually, as must happen to all good things, she ceased being special.
Yet the amazing thing about having once been so clearly special is that the allure never truly goes away. It doesn’t matter if she never releases another good song; decades later when Chrissie Hynde dies, she will still be special.