The 80s was the time when many Synth-Pop duos from the UK had successful international careers. The longest lasting of those are the Pet Shop Boys. They were formed in London in 1981 and their latest album came out 2 months ago. There will surely be more to come.
The Pet Shop Boys are Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Neil came out publicly in 1994, while Chris never said that he's gay, but also he never denied it. Chris has lived together with his personal assistant Peter Andreas for about 5 years. In 1994 Peter died of AIDS-related causes. The album Alternative was dedicated to him. Also, Chris wrote and sung the song Postscript for him. We usually do these presentations chronologically, but, for a change, let's start with Postscript:
I believe in ecstasy
The times we've had, you and me
Friends we've met along the way
Partied every night and day
And I know we'll meet again
Tennant worked as an editor for the UK edition of Marvel Comics and then he worked as a news editor at Smash Hits, a British Pop magazine. A few months before that, he had met Lowe, a student of architecture at an electronics shop in London. They became friends and they created the Pet Shop Boys.
The Pet Shop Boys have sold more than 50 million records worldwide and are listed as the most successful duo in UK music history by The Guinness Book Of Records. They have been awarded 3 Brit awards and have been nominated for 6 Grammies. They have 42 singles in the UK Top 30, with 22 Top 10 hits, including 4 at #1.
Their first single, West End Girls, was originally released in 1984, but failed to make much of an impact: it only made #121 in the UK and #81 in Canada. However, when PSB changed labels the following year, they re-recorded the song with a different producer. This time they hit paydirt: the song was #1 in the US, the UK, Canada, Finalnd, Norway and New Zealand, #2 in Germany, Ireland, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland, #3 in Spain and Belgium, #4 in the Netherlands and #5 in Australia and Austria. They were now a big time act.
Also from their first album, Please, came good singles Love Comes Quickly (about the inevitability of love, even for those who shun it), Opportunities, subtitled Let's Make Lots Of Money (a criticism of the money-hungry capitalism prevalent in Thatcher's Britain) and Suburbia (inspired by the Brixton riots and Penelope Spheeris' film of the same name). Then in 1987 came their 2nd album, Actually, which was their most successful in the UK. Although it'd just missed the top (it peaked at #2) it became 3x platinum in the UK alone.
The first single off this album is one of their best and also one of their most successful. As great things often are, it was written in just 15 minutes, with no visions of greatness in mind. It's A Sin tells us how religion (Catholicism in particular in this case) introduces the feeling of guilt by condemning all that is pleasant (especially of the sensual variety) as sinful. It made #1 in most European countries and #9 in the US.
Their next single, What Have I Done To Deserve This, was a collaboration with the legendary Dusty Springfield. My favorite British female singer of the 60s was defeated by breast cancer in 1994, only 59 years old. She had a tough personal life: she was bipolar, prone to drug addictions and self-harm. She was a lesbian, trying to deal with the restrictions of being one in that era. She never had phony relationships with men and in her interactions with the press she was as straightforward as can be: "many other people say I'm bent, and I've heard it so many times that I've almost learned to accept it ... I know I'm perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don't see why I shouldn't." By the standards of 1970, that was a very bold statement. 3 years later, she added: "I mean, people say that I'm gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I'm not anything. I'm just ... People are people ... I basically want to be straight ... I go from men to women; I don't give a shit. The catchphrase is: I can't love a man. Now, that's my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition ... They frighten me."
We'll give Dusty the space she deserves when the time comes. For the moment, let's listen to the collaboration, which was #1 in Ireland, #2 in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden, #3 in Canada, #4 in Germany and #5 in Switzerland.
Their next single from their album Actually (seriously, if you only can afford to buy one PSB album, buy this. Or their greatest hits.) In the same album was another stunning song: Rent. It's about a kept boy: "I love you, you pay my rent". It too was a Top 10 hit in the UK and elsewhere.
A couple of years later, the PSB wrote songs for and co-produced the album Results, for none other than our Liza (please don't ask who's Liza!). The album made #6 in the UK and #13 in Spain. There, Liza reveals her own fabulous version of Rent:
As a bonus, here's Liza's hit single from this album, a #2 hit in Ireland, #6 in the UK and #7 in Spain. It's from Sondheim's 1971 musical Follies and it's called Losing My Mind:
Meanwhile back, the PTB performed on a TV special and included their version of Always On My Mind, which had already been a hit for Elvis Presley and Willy Nelson. Their performance was so well-received that the duo decided to record the song and release it as a single... And the single caught fire: it was #1 in the UK, Canada, Germany, Spain, Finland, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland, #2 in Ireland, Austria and Belgium, #3 in South Africa and Norway and #4 in the US.
Back to Actually: the 4th and last single from the album was also to be their last #1 in the UK. Heart was also #1 in Germany, Ireland and Switzerland.
Domino Dancing was in their 1988 album Introspective. It was Latin flavored and the video is full of eye candy. A big Top 10 hit all over Europe (highest position: #3 in Germany) and #18 in the US.
More on the Pet Shop Boys tomorrow.