TV Cream

Pot pourri

Pet Shop Boys, alphabetically

It’s 25 years since the Pets’ first official single, Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) was released on EMI.

It was bought by a few people in the Smash Hits office and Chris Lowe’s family in Blackpool, and reached the dizzying heights of number 116 in the charts.

All was not lost, however, as success came (moderately) quickly when the pair’s follow-up single West End Girls, aided by numerous appearances on Wogan and Top of the Pops, slowly but surely climbed to number one in the autumn of 1985.

The big hits might have dried up since, but Neil and Chris have never really gone away.

Enough has been written since then about their “irony” and “Englishness” and so on, but we can’t think of many artists who’ve made as many fantastic pop tunes over the last two and a half decades.

Not to mention loads of memorable videos, TV appearances, record sleeves, collaborations, quotes and more.

And so, in celebration of 25 years of perfect pop, TV Cream presents its alphabetical tribute to Neil and Chris…

A is for ANNUALLY, the best pop book in the entire history of the universe. Deceptively packaged as a typical Christmas annual, it chronicled Neil and Chris’s sartorial and musical obsessions of the time (cf KYLIE MINOGUE),
recounted the making of IT COULDN’T HAPPEN HERE (qv) and all their singles and videos from IT’S A SIN to HEART, and unearthed Neil and Chris’s secret pasts as Marvel Comics editor and Milton Keynes office staircase architect respectively. Published at the height of the duo’s IMPERIAL PHASE (qv), the entire thing was done in classic deadpan SMASH HITS (qv) fashion and a characteristically tasteful Helvetica font, and has become a scarce artefact, apparently. “These are a bit rare,” as Chris personally informed TV Cream several years ago. A is NOT for ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, though, we hated that.

B is for BATES’ MATES, the Radio 1 show in which pop stars stood in for Simon Bates in the early 1990s, because he was so exhausted from doing his show live from Concorde every day that he needed a month off. The likes of Diana Ross and Phil Collins flung a few disinterested links down on tape, but the PSBs insisted on doing their stints live and took over the station entirely, making their own jingles, broadcasting house mixes at half past ten in the morning and playing The Prodigy on The Golden Hour. Indeed, when Bates “left” Radio 1 in 1993, Neil and Chris recorded a special version of So Long, Farewell from The Sound Of Music (“goodbye, good luck, from me and him to you”) as a tribute to “Simes”.

C is for CICERO, the duo’s Scottish “protégé” from the early 1990s, whose uplifting electropop anthems about teenage life were released on their vanity record label Spaghetti (so named because it was meant to, er, sound Italian). The brilliant LOVE IS EVERYWHERE had bagpipes on it and reached number 19. The later follow-up HEAVEN MUST HAVE SENT YOU BACK TO ME didn’t and reached number 70, although it did get used in a New Season On CBBC trailer, so that was all right. C is also for THE CLOTHES SHOW, which used IN THE NIGHT as its theme for squillions of years.

D is for DIMENSIONS IN TIME, the 3D Doctor Who special that appeared as part of the BBC’s Children In Need night in 1993, alongside Neil and Chris performing I WOULDN’T NORMALLY DO THIS KIND OF THING, also in three dimensions, although we can’t see the Pet Shop Boys exactly appealing to the average Dr Who superfan.

E is for ELAINE PAIGE TYPES, or the strategy Neil once outlined for continuing the group without them having to make any real effort. “The Pet Shop Boys will carry on, but we’ll stop being the front men. Instead we’ll change the line-up every year or so. Suddenly there’ll be four 16-year-old boys as the Pet Shop Boys and the next thing you know they’ll be replaced by two 35-year-old Elaine Paige types. We’ll be fed up with it all by then so we’ll just write the music. We’ll be able to spend our time doing the nice things like going to bed early.” E is also for ELAINE PAIGE, who a few years had the duo as guests on her Radio 2 show and promptly described one of the records Neil selected as “dreary”.

F is for FIFTH COOLEST PERSON IN POP, as Chris was declared by Select magazine in 1993 (“Chief among the arsenal of Lowe Cool is that he creates the impression that the other bloke does all the work while he watches the telly”), two places below KYLIE MINOGUE (qv). Neil was “disqualified for Trying Too Hard (going to opera, knowing about art, understanding media-pop interface etc)” F is also for FAT NORTHERN BASTARDS, the “Viz-type” single that Chris once proposed recording with Ant and Dec.

G is for GUINNESS BOOK OF HIT SINGLES TYPE OF PERSON, as Neil described himself in explaining his rationale for planning to release GO WEST in 1992, solely on the basis that the PSBs needed another hit to maintain their run of having a top ten single every year since 1985. The record company didn’t think it was the right time to put it out, however, and Neil was too embarrassed to admit the real reason he wanted to release it. It was finally released the following year, when Simon Bates (cf BATES’ MATES) played it three times in one hour on Radio 1.

H is for HIGHBURY, the football stadium seen in the (rubbish) video for DJ CULTURE (“like a football match, ten-NIL the score”) and the home of Arsenal, Chris’s favourite club and former team of Ian Wright, who recorded the single DO THE WRIGHT THING with Chris in 1993, which got to number 43 in the charts, and also rerecorded GO WEST as One-Nil To The Arsenal (cf PARIS ST GERMAIN) to be played at the ground before matches.

I is for IT COULDN’T HAPPEN HERE, Neil and Chris’s impenetrable “conceptual” film from 1988 that also starred Barbara Windsor and Gareth Hunt, and which TV Cream has yet to watch all the way through without falling asleep (“It’s quite complicated,” explained Neil). The scenes in the video for ALWAYS ON MY MIND (cf XMAS NUMBER ONE) are good, mind, especially the bits with Joss Ackland in the car. I is also for IMPERIAL PHASE, which, according to Neil, ended when DOMINO DANCING only entered the charts at number nine.

J is for JIMMY TARBUCK, who introduced Neil and Chris performing RENT (cf Margi Clarke) on Live From The Palladium in 1987, “wittily” remarking of Chris’s Issey Miyake puffa jacket, “I bet he drinks Carling Black Label.” Tarby later refused to let them use the footage on a compilation video. “He said we were miserable bastards, so we couldn’t have it,” explained Neil. “I was quite proud, really.” J is also for JOHNNY MARR and BERNARD SUMNER, with whom Neil formed “supergroup” Electronic in 1989, appearing on Top Of The Pops sitting on chrome stools to perform GETTING AWAY WITH IT, officially the most sixth-form common room record of all time.

K is for KYLIE MINOGUE, star of NEIGHBOURS (qv), long-time PSB collaborator and performer of I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY, one of Chris’s favourite moments of 1988 (“A ‘classy’ dance track – they’re all there, readers! I like the two videos for this – the BBC one where she’s looking out of the roof of a car is one of the best videos of the year”) according to ANNUALLY (qv).

L is for LEEDS UNITED STAR TREK LOOK WITH ROMAN CENTURION OVERTONES, as Select gloriously described the David Fielding-designed concept outfits for the GO WEST video, “with a hint of Star Wars Rebel Alliance chic and a smidgen of Dad’s Army in the salad-bowl helmets”. Chris said the visor on his helmet made him “look like Mr Le Forge off Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

M is for MARGI CLARKE, the irritating Scouse actress who portrayed ‘Pride’ in the video for IT’S A SIN, and Chris’s sister in the video for RENT, in which she attended a typically “decadent” 1980s dinner party. M is also for MADONNA, who is mentioned obliquely in the lyrics of DJ CULTURE (“she after Sean”) and to whom the PSBs originally planned to offer HEART (cf YUGOSLAVIA), and is also briefly seen in the video for WEST END GIRLS on a cinema poster for Desperately Seeking Susan.

N is for NEIGHBOURS, in which Chris made an inexplicable cameo appearance in 1995, driving a white Porsche into Ramsay Street to ask Helen Daniels and Marlene Kratz for directions to “a recording studio which is round here somewhere”, screeching off before Annelise could express her enthusiasm for the ‘Pet People’ in person (“I’ve got all their CDs! Owww!”). N is also for THE NOISE, the long-forgotten ITV Saturday morning pop programme presented by Andi Peters, for which the PSBs provided the theme music.

O is for OCTOPUSSY, the 1983 James Bond film from which the costumes worn by the showgirls in the video for WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS were originally designed. The PSBs also originally composed the theme song for 1987 Bond movie The Living Daylights but later pulled out of the project, and were replaced by A-ha.

P is for PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN, the French football club that was the first to adopt GO WEST as a terrace anthem, to Chris’s delight. “Who would have thought that an obscure Village People song covered by the Pet Shop Boys would become the song of football? It’s fantastic. I think it’s our greatest achievement.” P is also for PATSY KENSIT, the 1980s popstrel for whom Neil and Chris wrote I’M NOT SCARED, and seen a few years ago on Gameshow Marathon with Ant and Dec (cf FAT NORTHERN BASTARDS).

Q is for QUICKLY, the velocity with which LOVE COMES.

R is for RAW SEX, who did a brilliant PSB parody (“You’re good at standing still/I’m quite good at singing/They love it/It pays our rent”) on French and Saunders (don’t cf ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS). R is NOT for RICHARD EASTER, who did a terrible PSB parody on Steve Wright In The Afternoon.

S is for SMASH HITS, the greatest pop music magazine of all time, of which Neil “Nebbo” Tennant was deputy editor before the PSBs became successful, inventing much-loved catchphrases as “tragic”, “back! Back! BACK!”, “Sir William Idol” and “pur-lease” in the process, and memorably predicting a bright future for 1982 Eurovision flops Bardo (“it doesn’t look as though we’ve heard the last of Sally-Ann and Stephen”), although when he left, the magazine printed an obituary, predicting that “in a matter of weeks Neil’s pop duo will be down the dumper and he’ll come crawling back on bended knees, ha ha ha.” S is also for SCANDAL, the 1989 film of the Profumo affair, for which Neil and Chris wrote NOTHING HAS BEEN PROVED as performed by Dusty Springfield, a song that sounds a bit like the theme from That Was The Week That Was.

T is for TOM WATKINS, the big fat “svengali” who simultaneously “masterminded” both the PSBs and BROS throughout their IMPERIAL PHASES (qv), once heroically suggesting that the test card would act as a free advert for the INTROSPECTIVE album, as its sleeve consisted of coloured vertical stripes. He later managed a loads of other groups to diminishing returns, including EAST 17 (getting them to do a cover of WEST END GIRLS), FAITH HOPE AND CHARITY (ropey proto-All Saints including Dani Behr), DEUCE (ace proto-Steps who lost A Song For Europe) and 2WO THIRD3 (three gay blokes and a drawing). In 1989 he devised a plan to get a hit with a dance/classical track under the name THE BIZET BOYS by putting big question marks on the sleeve, thus intimating it was a secret PSB/Bros collaboration. It wasn’t. It flopped.

U is for U2, alternately PSB hate figures (Neil: “I don’t think U2 have anything interesting to say”) and the composers of WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME, as covered by the Pet Shop Boys in 1991 in a medley with Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Neil: “When the single version came out, Bono said ‘what have we done to deserve this?’ And who can blame him?”).

V is for VERY, the 1993 Pet Shop Boys album packaged in a brilliant orange Lego jewel case, one in a succession of classic PSB sleeves, including the “yawning” cover for 1987’s ACTUALLY (Chris: “I can’t stand the way I look in it. I hate wearing a bloody dickie-bow”) nicked at the last minute from a SMASH HITS (qv) photo shoot, and the tasteful “frosted glass” and yellow look for 1996’s BILINGUAL.

W is for WASHING MACHINE, the domestic appliance recommended by Neil in SMASH HITS (qv). “Readers, get a washing machine. It will tr-ans-form your life!”

X is for XMAS NUMBER ONE, the seasonal musical honour that is mentioned in IT DOESN’T OFTEN SNOW AT CHRISTMAS, the fan club only festive single performed by Neil and Chris on the last ever TFI Friday in 2000, and which they had achieved in 1987 with ALWAYS ON MY MIND.

Y is for YUGOSLAVIA, the former Eastern European republic where the fantastic video for HEART was filmed, featuring Sir Ian McKellen as a randy singing vampire, Neil getting married to a woman whom SMASH HITS (qv) described as looking like Tiffany, and Chris as his chauffeur.

Z is for ZEBRA, the black-and-white striped mammal briefly seen in the video for ALWAYS ON MY MIND (cf XMAS NUMBER ONE).

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Gavin

    August 19, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Thanks for doing this. The Pet Shop Boys are one of my favourite bands. Don’t forget the brilliant Spitting Image parody of Go West entitled “How the hell do we keep getting away with this?” Which Neil & Chris both loved. Also in the Doctor Who section don’t forget that David Tennant got his stage name from Neil after reading Smash Hits.

  2. Ricardo

    August 20, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Also don’t forget the splendid KP Choc Dips ad from 1991 that parodied both the PSBs and the Chart Show. It’s on YouTube as “choc dips ad”.

    I’m always delighted when TV Cream remembers something I thought only I remembered, this time it’s “Nebbo”, and the Smash Hits’ PSB obituary.

  3. Alan B

    August 20, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    P for Paninaro surely.

  4. Sleazy Martinez

    August 20, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    And A should be for “Armani, Armani, A-A-Armani”

  5. Ken Shinn

    August 21, 2010 at 10:30 am

    No it bloody shouldn’t! I’d sooner remember the Pet Shop Boys for marvellous, grandiose synth-pop than for a rather poor tie-in with a tediously over-rated alleged comedy.

  6. Ken Shinn

    August 21, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Also, doesn’t a lot of “Milky Milky (Take Me To The Fridge)” sound like a regal-phase PSB number, from the synth backing to the deadpan vocals of Hugh Dennis?

  7. Ken Shinn

    August 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Oops, sorry, wrong chap. “The deadpan vocals of STEVE PUNT.” That’s better.

  8. TV Cream

    August 21, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Hang on, “Armani, Armani, A-A-Armani” IS from a Pet Shop Boys song – the aforementioned (and rather splendid) Paninaro*. Are you thinking, Ken, of the tie-in with Absolutely Fabulous, which was indeed rather poor?

    *”Don’t like much really, do I? But what I do like, I love passionately.”

  9. Ken Shinn

    August 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Ah, thanks for the correction, TV Cream! I’d forgotten that one…

  10. sb2009

    August 23, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Tennant / Lowe have tweeted this http://twitter.com/petshopboys

    I get excited, you get excited to !

  11. Aoife

    August 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Er,i love Doctor who and i passionately love the Boys!I guess i’m not an average fan then!:)

  12. jasminewok

    August 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    I have so much public clutter I cant concentrate on this article. I havent done all this for nothing mate. So youd better change you rmind.

  13. jasminewok

    August 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I got rid of the public clutter and read it again and it is quite good and quite amusing.
    I would love to dump all that public stuff. Im quite brainy really.

  14. Leonardo

    September 5, 2010 at 10:24 am

    A lovely, lovely list.
    “J” should, I suspect, include Joss Ackland for the breathtaking grumpiness of his interview in the RT sometime around 2001/2 where he reminisced over the cameo in AOMM and said something like “I cannot tell you how embarrassing that was”. Ungrateful twat. Odd that he should later acted alongside Patsy Kensit (in Lethal Weapon 2). Perhaps between scenes the pair of them grouched about just how little the PSB had done for their careers….

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