West End Girls (1985 version)

Their first big hit, most people will be familiar with West End Girls, from their debut album Please. The version that became a hit single was actually a re release, with the original Bobby O version barely troubling the charts in 1984 (it was a number hit in Belgium of all places, but that’s for another post.)Following their signing to Parlophone, they had to re-record West End Girls as they didn’t have the rights to the original version, which I think turned out to be a blessing. The second version was produced by Stephen Hague, and of the two versions it does appear to be the more acclaimed.  It was also Stephen Hague’s idea to slow the songs tempo which enhanced the track immensely I think. In the original Bobby O version the tempo was faster and for me, the song didn’t have the same atmosphere which what makes the 1985 version stand out. Also, in 1985 version Neil’s vocals are much improved, and the whole song just ties together much better and sounds more cohesive. The introduction to the track consists of various everyday noises, that were recorded not far from the studio. Lyrically speaking the song is about contrasts, specifically “rough boys getting a bit of posh” as Neil puts it in the Further Listening booklet for Please. A lot of juxtaposition is used here: “East End/West End, Hard/Soft option and heart of glass/heart of stone”Really, I think you could argue that East End and West End are metaphors for two sides that are in conflict possibly.  The song was long rumored to be about prostitution, but the song wasn’t written with that subject in mind. I also think disillusionment is a strong theme of the song, particularly in the first two lines which are obviously suicide references. Speaking of which, those two lines originated from when Neil was staying at his cousins house in Nottingham, watching a gangster type movie with James Cagney, and as he was drifting off to sleep the opening two lines of West End Girls popped into his head. Another important aspect of the songs lyrics is that the song isn’t told from one narrators point of view. This influence came from TS Elliot’s poem “The Wasteland”. The line “Just you wait til I get you you home” is a direct quotation from the poem. The song is also notable for being the first to include a theme that Pet Shop Boy’s would visit rather often in the years to come: that of Russian History. The line “From lake Geneva to the Finland Station” is a reference to the journey that Vladimir Lenin took on when he was smuggled by the Germans to Russia in the First World War. Another reference to Russian history was made on some lyrics that were originally in the 1984 version but were dropped in the 1985 version: “All your stopping, staring and starting/who do you think you are, Joe Stalin?” The ” to a dive bar in a West End town” line refers to what was a real bar that was called The Dive at the time the song was written, which was popular with the gay community and has since closed down. The song was a huge success, hitting #1 in both UK and US, and to this day remains their biggest hit on an international level. It even netted them a BRIT award for Best Single.  Out of their four classic singles (West End Girls, Always on My Mind, Go West and Its A Sin being the four that people who haven’t listened to their work tend to know really) I’d say this is the most representative of their overall sound, its one of their most experimental and striking singles, without going too far like DJ Culture did. A great song that deserves its status as somewhat of an 80’s classic!

The Killers – Human

Human is the lead single from The Killers third album, Day and Age. It was the first song recorded for Day and Age, and actually came from the sessions for their B-sides and rarities collection Sawdust. Brandon had written the song prior to meeting Stuart Price who was working with them on a number of Sawdust tracks and when Stuart said to Brandon his studio was free after dinner, they decided to go and record Human. By Brandon’s own admission, the song never actually changed that much during the recording process, as when they recorded it initially they knew it sounded like a strong track. Stuart Price would then go on to produce the rest of Day and Age. Brandon described the song as sounding like a hybrid of Johnny Cash and Pet Shop Boys, and from what I’ve read I think a lot of people think it has a Pet Shop Boys sound to it, Neil Tennant has said that many have said that to him also. Coincidentally, Stuart Price ended up working with Pet Shop Boys too so I do wonder if Human acted as a catalyst for that given that they are fans of The Killers. Having said that t I can’t say I could imagine them performing this track so I don’t think it sounds overly like a Pet Shop Boys song. I used to love the synth work, but the song itself made no sense to me and that did put me off it somewhat. The most notable aspect of the lyrics is its confusing chorus which has garnered much debate: “Are we human, or are we dancer?”. Not only does that not make grammatical sense, but some have also questioned whether or not Brandon says “denser”, which I initially used to think too. After some research though, the song actually makes a lot more sense and I can appreciate it a lot more. The song is based on a quote from Hunter S. Thompson (known for writing Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas) which is “We’re raising a generation of dancers”. The quote I think is a social statement that people are afraid to fail to comply with the norms of society and would rather be one of the crowd, which I think is emphasized by the line “sometimes I get nervous, when I see an open door.”. On the subject of Hunter S Thompson, some have questioned is the line “wave goodbye, wish me well, you’ve got to let me go” a tribute to him, given that he committed suicide in 2005. The second verse deals with the subject of changing values in society, Brandon has said that the references to devotion were to do with the way that his parents were married for 45 years but in changing society this, among with other values like “grace and virtue” seem to be lost. Really you could say the song is a social critique on a variety of levels. In some ways I do think that’s a possible similarity with Pet Shop Boys as it is one of the most common things they do in their work: songs that are danceable and catchy enough to sound commercial but when you research into their lyrics there’s a lot of hidden depth. In any case, I think this was a great song for lead single as its got the right balance of commercial appeal and depth and showcases a very strong album!

DJ Culture

The first of their two new tracks to be released as a single from Discography, I’d have to say this is probably their most experimental single. For the longest time, I really hated this song for whatever reason. I think it was the chorus and the arrangement, the whole song just seemed to be lacking in a melody or something and I just couldn’t get my head around the message of the song. Recently though, I’ve been listening to it quite a bit and I have to say, its fast climbing my list of favourite Pet Shop Boys songs! In all seriousness, in terms of lyrics this has to be one of their most cryptic songs, even after reading their own comments on what the lyrics are about, I’m still struggling to grasp it and the song covers a lot of different themes. The song’s basic theme is that of insincerity, and uses sampling, which was becoming the big thing in dance music when the track was originally recorded as a comparison/metaphor sort of thing: that we basically sample old ideals from the past, both in society and in music so very little can be said to be truly new. Not only this, but we live in a “satellite fantasy” were the media brainwash us, so really I think it is a song about the need for individuality at its core. The song also makes its far share of current (at the time they were anyway) affairs, the “war that everyone won” refers to the Gulf War, and “she after Sean” is a reference to Madonna and her reinvention after her marriage to Sean Penn broke down. “Liz before Betty” refers to Elizabeth Taylor prior to her admission at the Betty Ford clinic and was something that their lighting manager said whilst on the Performance tour. The song’s chorus originated at the same time that In Private, and what was eventually going to become “Dreaming Of The Queen”. The song I think developed much more once they were on Performance Tour, Neil actually says in the book he has this idea for a song called DJ Culture. Neil has also said a few times that the aim of this song was to create a 90’s version West End Girls: I mean both songs have spoken verses and sung choruses. Having said that, I think DJ Culture sounds a lot more experimental, it does amaze me this song placed higher in the UK Charts than Was It Worth It, given that Was It Worth It was a much more contemporary sounding track. For me, DJ Culture doesn’t sound that much different to some of the tracks on Alternative, as its experimental and definitely wouldn’t fit on any of their albums. I think its a hard song to get into, but one that still carries a lot of merit nonetheless!

Betrayed

Betrayed is one of the most  unusual Pet Shop Boys songs I think that has ever been recorded, because of the genre of music it belongs to. The song is actually drum and bass in genre. The reason for this, is that one day Neil read on the internet that “Pet Shop Boys won’t do jungle because Neil Tennant is too old and doesn’t like it” so the song was recorded in this style as a retaliation. The song was subsequently released as one of two B-sides for Se A Vida E along with How I Learned to Hate Rock and Roll. I will admit that I’m not a fan of drum and bass, but I really like Betrayed! I think its because drum and bass can have a harsh sound, although I can listen to more mellow sounding drum and bass a bit more. For me, that’s one of the reasons why I like Betrayed so much, it has this mellow sound which makes it easy to listen too. I think you can all guess that the theme of the song is, but the lyrics of the song do actually originate from a rather unusual situation which makes it somewhat less of a cliche. Lyrically, the song dates back to 1980, when Neil worked at MacDonald International Publishing and everyone there was sacked in 1980 over a redundancies dispute. However once their jobs were lost, a good friend who Neil used to employ took over his position, leading him to write the lyrics for Betrayed. Also of note, the song could have been recorded by Dusty Springfield. Whilst she was in some studio sessions in Nashville working on a country album, her manager phoned Pet Shop Boys and asked if they wanted to write a song for her following the success of previous collaborations. They originally suggested Betrayed, but she declined, saying that she liked the lyrics of the song and felt they should record their own version. I actually think the songs drum and bass arrangement actually emphasizes the lyrics, its got a sad quality to it which just brings them out more I think. I’m glad it also wasn’t featured on Bilingual, as it just wouldn’t fit on that album, so I think its a perfect choice for a B-side as its definitely more experimental. I love Pet Shop Boys when they’re eclectic and Betrayed is a perfect example of that!