Generally in this thread, with the exception of the post about Sugababes, I’ve featured pop acts who have made one, maybe two, records that I like.
This week though, a band who I love, who you probably do too, but who it took me some time to actually admit that I like them.
I’d been aware of the Pet Shop Boys since before they were famous, since Head Boy Neil Tennant was writing for the much-missed Smash Hits magazine when I first began getting
my Mum to pay for it in the early 1980s, and I remember them getting quite some coverage when he left. There was one interview I remember where he divulged that prior to joining Smash Hits, he had worked for the UK branch of Marvel Comics, employed to anglicise the text, and to ensure that no drawings of female characters included any surreptitious nipples. Can’t think why that stayed in my mind.
I’d thought “West End Girls” was pretty good, liked “Suburbia”, loved “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, their duet with Dusty Springfield (mostly because of Dusty, it has to be said), but not enough to actually, you know, buy any of their records.
Have a listen to a piece of impeccable pop:
Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This?
There’s a bit in “What Have I Done….” where Tennant’s delivery always, without fail, makes me think of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Arthur Prufrock”, a poem I had studied at 6th Form at roughly the time that the single came out, and which I had fallen in love with almost immediately. You can read it here.
And then there’s Dusty; the bit where she just breezes into the chorus is just…heavenly.
Yet still my shelves remained a Pet Shop Boys-free zone
And why would that be? Well, I’ve written elsewhere admitting that when I was growing up, I had a general aversion to any record which didn’t contain anything sounding even slightly like a guitar, and today’s group definitely fall into that category.
As well as this unjustifiable phobia, they had annoyed me by keeping The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York” from the Number One spot in the UK with a bloody cover version, a heinous crime in my book.
By now, I had graduated from the glossy fortnightly pages of Smash Hits to the grubby weekly music paper NME.
And then, this happened:
This really annoyed me. Not in a Noel Gallagher “Jay-Z shouldn’t headline Glastonbury” kind of way; I had no issue with the Pet Shop Boys being on the cover of my beloved NME, it was the tag-line that got my back up.
“The Smiths you can dance to“.
The inference being that you can’t dance to The Smiths. This incensed me at the time. How they dare imply such a thing??
A few years ago I found myself in an Indie club, and the DJ dropped “This Charming Man”, and I suddenly realised they had a point. Have you ever tried dancing to that, without resorting to doing a Morrissey impression? It’s nearly impossible, the time signature is not conducive to anything other than an awkward Dad-dance shuffle.
So, in short, that tag line confirmed everything I thought: the Pet Shop Boys were the enemy.
I’m not entirely clear when that changed, but it was probably when Johnny Marr formed Electronic with Barney Sumner of New Order fame, and got Neil Tennant to make a guest appearance on a couple of tracks. Hang on a minute…if Johnny likes them, then what the hell was my problem?
Fast forward a few more years and one day I was in Cardiff’s branch of Fopp (R.I.P.) and there was their Greatest Hits album, “Discography”, going for £2.00. I examined the track-listing. How could anyone resist this list of supremely arch and, yes alright, danceable list of hits:
Not one duff track to be found there. Why were these songs not already in my life?
Because sometimes I’m an idiot, that’s why.
I admitted defeat. I had been wrong. Moments later it was mine.
If I had to pick one song by them that I love more than any other, it’s this next one. The lyrics evoke “The Day Before You Came” by ABBA, which I’ve written about before.
Older and (a bit wiser) I now realise that a band who can make you think of one of the greatest pop singles ever recorded and poetry within two songs is a very special band indeed.
And that record is this:
Pet Shop Boys – Left to My Own Devices
In 2010 I was at Glastonbury and was lucky enough to catch Pet Shop Boys’ headline set on The Other Stage on the Saturday night. They were incredible, without doubt one of the greatest sets I’ve seen, not just down on Pilton Farm, but ever. The set was a mix of “the classics” – Dusty made an appearance, albeit via a video screen – and new stuff which was so instantly loveable it felt like I knew them already.
There was even a cover of a song which I didn’t recognise as being by Coldplay until it was way to late to stop myself joining in with the crowd-singing.
Have a look for yourself:
Sometimes it’s alright to be late to the party, as long as when you finally arrive you’re able to admit that you wish you’d set off earlier.