Pet Shop Boys Please/Further Listening 1984-1986
Please, the first Pet Shop Boys album, was released in March 1986.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe had met in London during August 1981 and
began writing songs together soon afterwards, eventually settling into
a routine of regularly demoing new songs in a Camden recording studio
owned by Ray Roberts. In August 1983 - when Neil was working at the
pop magazine Smash Hits and Chris was studying architecture - Neil was
sent to New York by Smash Hits to interview The Police and took the
opportunity to play some songs to the cult disco producer, Bobby Orlando,
whose records Chris and Neil admired. Bobby 'O', as he was known, announced
that they would make a record together. The first Pet Shop Boys single,
the Bobby 'O'-produced version of 'West End girls', was released in April 1984
and was a modest underground dance hit, at the time satisfying their one stated
ambition: to have a twelve-inch single available on import in the trendiest
London record shops. A second, 'One more chance', followed. By March 1985 the
Pet Shop Boys were extricated from their Bobby 'O' contract and signed to
'EMI Records' subsidiary, Parlophone. A single, 'Opportunities (Let's make
lots of money)', was released that August but, to their disappointment, only
reached number 116 in the British charts.
When they began to plan their first album, the Pet Shop Boys decided they
wanted to work with the producer Stephen Hague, because of his recent work with
The World's Famous Supreme Team ('Hey DJ') and Malcolm McLaren ('Madame Butterfly').
Their manager, Tom Watkins, suggested, among others, The System and a
newly-successful British production team, Stock Aitken and Waterman, who were
working with another of his acts, Spelt Like This. EMI also had doubts about
Hague and made other suggestions, but it was agreed they could record a new
version of 'West End girls' as a trial track with Stephen Hague, after which
they were given the go-ahead for the album.
Please was recorded with Stephen Hague at Advision studios in London between
November 1985 and January 1986, working from midday until midnight, breaking
mid-evening to visit Efe's Turkish kebab house down the road. 'We would drink
a bottle of retsina, if not two bottles, and come back half-drunk,' says Neil.
Occasionally they would take time off to perform 'West End girls' on Top Of
The Pops and Wogan, as it slowly rose to number one in the British chart.
At one point during the recording, the studio manager said, 'So you're the
singer, Neil? I thought you were the manager'.
They decided the album would include ten songs, already written, and set
aside a number of other contenders, including 'It's a sin' (which Hague said they
should leave to their next album), 'Rent' (which programmer Blue Weaver thought had
too similar a chord change to 'I want a lover'), 'What have I done to deserve this?'
(they had yet to persuade their chosen collaborator Dusty Springfield), 'Jealousy',
'One more chance' and 'In the club or in the queue' (which the Pet Shop Boys would
revisit in 1999 but which remains unreleased). Please was recorded on a tight deadline.
'West End girls' had already been finished, and they already had recordings of 'I want
a lover', Opportunities...' and 'Why don't we live together?' which Stephen Hague would
do further work on, but they were still under time pressure. The last song they finished,
'Suburbia' was a straightforward remake of their demo version partly because there was
no time to do anything else.
Though it was hardly a concept album, as the Pet Shop Boys recorded Please, they
realised that the songs they had chosen could be sequenced to form a loose storyline.
'We had the idea for the album that It was sort of linked together,' says Neil. They run
away in the first song, they arrive in the city ('West End girls'), they want to make
money ('Opportunities'), they fall in love ('Love comes quickly'), move to suburbia
('Suburbia), go out clubbing (Tonight is forever'), there's violence in the city ('Violence')
and casual sex ('I want a lover'), someone tries to pick up a boy ('Later tonight')... it
does sort of work.'
During the recording, there was much talk of how the first Pet Shop Boys album
sleeve should look. 'One of the great strengths of our relationship with Tom Watkins
is that there was a lot of negative energy in it, and Chris and I would react against
Tom,' says Neil. 'It really worked in a quite a positive way, creatively. Tom spent the
whole time we were in. Advision saying he was coming up with this amazing packaging
idea: paper engineering. Finally one day he comes in and says, "Right, I've got it,
the mock-up of the album cover, it's unbelievable".'
'He'd been describing this in words for ages and you just couldn't imagine
what it was,' remembers Chris. 'Every copy of the album, would be unique. It was these
folds of paper that came together. It was basically a lattice work.'
'We looked at it and thought it was ridiculously complicated,' says Neil.
'As a result we and Mark Farrow promptly came up with the idea of having a white
sleeve with a tiny picture of us. As ever, we didn't have a photo.' (Mark Farrow,
a designer who at that time worked in Tom Watkins' office, has worked on every
Pet Shop Boys sleeve since.) Most of the existing Pet Shop Boys photos had been taken
by Eric Watson, a photographer friend Neil had known since his youth. They chose one,
which had already been printed in Smash Hits news section, Bitz, in which they
were draped with white towels. 'Eric's never been very happy with it because if you
look at it it's not completely in focus,' says Neil. 'We whacked it on the front
cover simply because the towels were white.'
'At the time,' says Chris, 'it looked completely different from everything else.'
Still, in an era where most record sleeves were fussy, garish and cluttered,
not everyone appreciated its minimalism: their American record company insisted that
the title and their name be printed at the top of the sleeve so that it could be easily
identified in the racks, and the French record company, to the Pet Shop Boys' fury,
simply redesigned the sleeve using a much larger photo. Later, when it was released
on CD, the Pet Shop Boys didn't scale down the photo in the same ratio as on the album
sleeve, and they have always felt the CD sleeve doesn't work so well.
On the album's inner sleeve, they used 98 more photos, mostly from the many
sessions they had done with Eric Watson, though one - Chris's self-portrait in a
mirror - was taken in Neil's New York apartment in 1984 when Neil was launching
Smash Hits' American version, Star Hits, and Chris had been flown over by Bobby 'O'
so that the Pet Shop Boys could do more recording.
After 'West End girls', three more singles were released from Please.
'Love comes quickly' came out in February, before the album, the updated version
of 'Opportunities' was released in May, and an EP centred around a re-recorded version
of 'Suburbia' came out in September. (They also released an album of six dance mixes,
Disco, in November.)
The Pet Shop Boys had come up with the album's title fairly early on. Though Neil
thinks Chris probably suggested it, it derives from the habit at Smash Hits magazine
of saying 'pur-leaze!' at the end of sentences. 'I think if you look at my obituary
when I left Smash Hits it quotes me as saying 'such and such, pur-leaze',' says Neil.
'Meaning, 'for goodness sake'. It seemed to be associated with me. It was just a weak
joke, that you could go into a record shop and say, 'have you got the Pet Shop
Boys, Please'?' Not even a joke, really.'
Two divided by zero
Neil In 1983, when I was working in New York at the American version of
Smash Hits, I bought my father a talking calculator which spoke the numbers out loud
for his Christmas present. Chris and I loved the calculator's voice - it had a very
very sad quality. When we played it to Bobby 'O' he loved it top - he said 'this is
a whole album!'. Bobby 'O' had given us a backing track he'd done which he couldn't
think of anything to do with, so we had the idea - because you could make the
calculator say mathematical sentences - of making it say 'two divided by zero',
and building asong around that. I think it was Chris who thought of it - it's not
the kind of thing I'd have ever thought of.
Chris Two divided by zero is infinity, isn't it?
Neil I think at the time we had this discussion about whether or not
it was infinity. Anyway, it was rather a romantic idea.
Chris Two divided by nothing. It's like 'when two become one'.
Neil Precisely. It was just the idea that two people couldn't be split
up by anything; could be split up by nothing. And that suggested this idea
of two people running away. It reminded me of when I was a teenager.
This girl Maureen and I often had this romantic notion of running away to London,
and we sometimes used to go to Newcastle Central Station at night to see
the trains going to London. And, in the song, maybe there's trouble at home,
so the two people are going to run away. In this instance, to New York.
The 'when the postman calls...' part of the song comes from the way, when I was
a teenager, people were always having pregnancy scares, most of them totally
manufactured, I think, for the sheer value of the drama. The suggestion is that
one of them is pregnant. We originally recorded the song with Bobby 'O', and
then again for the album with Stephen Hague. I'd given the calculator to my dad
after we made the first version, then I got it back off him for the album, and
he never got it back again after that. I don't know what happened to it.
Bobby 'O's version was all programmed on a Linn drum and had loads of samples
on an Emulator, and Bobby 'O' also sampled himself and me, each saying 'two
divided by zero', and there was a lot more of the 'divided by.. .divided by...'.
For Please, Stephen Hague spent ages working on it, and I think it's the
best-sounding track on the album. The arrangement is very similar to Bobby 'O's,
but it sounds bigger. We were always very concerned that it should still sound
hip hop and not get too smooth - that's what we were concerned about for the
whole album - and I think the whole track has got that sort of rush of
excitement, of running away. At the same time, you know that there's no way the
people in the song are really going to end up in New York. Absolutely no way.
Just like Maureen and I.
West End girls
Neil 'West End girls' started off as a rap I'd written which was
completely inspired by The Message Grandmaster Flash, which was released
in 1982. I loved the whole idea of the pressure of living in a modern city,
and I decided to write a rap which couldn't be done in an English accent
over this piece of music Chris and I had written in Ray Roberts' Camden studio
where we used to work. The original music wasn't great, though there was a
fantastic bit at the end where Chris went into a Rhodes piano solo, which we
really liked at the time. I started writing the rap when I was staying at my
cousin Richard's home outside Nottingham. He and I had stayed up watching some
kind of James Cagney gangster film on the television, and I went to bed
at about one o'clock. I was sleeping in one of his kid's bedrooms in this tiny
single bed and for some reason the line 'sometimes you're better off dead there's
a gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head' came into my head, so I got out
of bed and wrote it down on to bit of paper with the next two lines. Then when I
got back to my flat in the King's Road, I lay on my floor one night and wrote
the whole thing, apart from the last verse. The following day we were in Ray Roberts'
studio and I said, 'I think we should do this rap recovery - I've got an idea'
and I spoke the whole thing to Clue and Ray Roberts, banging my knee. Then, literally
two or three days before we went to New York to record with Bobby 'O' for the first
time, we wrote an instrumental with me playing the piano and Chris playing keyboards.
It started off with this chord change that I'd written years ago, and Chris came
up with the bassline-our first bouncy bassline. I took the tape home and I realised
that you could say the rap I'd written over it, and that you could sing a tune
over the chorus and then have 'west...end...girls, following the bassline.
And I wrote the last verse, sitting on the floor again, and made a little tape
of it. When we went into the studio with Bobby 'O' he just stood us behind
two keyboards and I said to Chris, 'you know that rap...' and I did it then -
that was the first time I'd ever sung it, apart from muttering it to myself.
Chris The engineer had made 'Popcorn'...
Neil ...the first ever synthesiser hit, before Giorgio Moroder or Kraftwerk.
Steve Jerome, he was called. The following day Bobby 'O' did these overdubs
where he got the drum sounds from David Bowie's 'Let's Dance' and played them
live on the Emulator, and he played the choir thing on the Emulator. When we first
heard an Emulator at Bobby 'O's we loved the sound of this male Gregorian choir.
Chris New Order had already used it on 'Blue Monday'. Very annoying.
Neil I remember the engineer saying, 'oh, wow, your voice is so easy to listen to...'.
Chris When we wanted to release 'West End girls' again after we signed
to Parlophone, we had to re-record it, because we didn't own the original
recording. Stephen Hague decided we should slow it down - he wanted to make
it more moody. It's very similar to the original, but slower.
Neil We added a lot more incidental noises - we had a general theory at
this point that we wanted to make music that sounded filmic. We wanted to bring
real sounds into the music, so our suggestion was to record people walking down
the street at the start. We recorded traffic as well. At the start you can hear
what Stephen Hague recorded walking down the street outside Advision studios with a DAT.
Chris Luckily a girl was walking down the street in stilettos.
Neil If you listen very carefully you can hear a girl saying, at 0.05, something
like 'it's Sting'.
Chris Because Stephen Hague looks a bit like Sting.
Neil The original version had four verses, but we decided to reduce
it to three: I joined the beginning of the fourth verse to the rest of
the third verse, skipping 'I've said it all before and I'll say it
again/we're all modern men' from the third verse and 'All your stopping,
stalling and starting/ who do you think you are - Joe Stalin?' from the
fourth verse. And the way it worked in this version, it left a gap at
the end of the verses, apart from the first verse, so either we or
Stephen Hague suggested having someone sing there, and Stephen Hague
suggested Helena Springs.
Chris Helena Springs has got one of my favourite female backing voices
of all time.
Neil I told her what words to sing and suggested the tune to her.
She's got a fantastic, magisterial voice. Then we added the trumpet
solo, which is played by Stephen Hague on an Emulator trumpet sample.
Chris He spent ages doing it. It's a really good solo. A lot better
than most trumpet players.
Neil All the Emulator choirs come from Bobby 'O' 's original version -
Bobby 'O' played them originally. Chris and I foolishly didn't want to keep
them because we wanted it to not sound like Bobby 'O' but Stephen Hague quite
rightly said, 'No, that's so good it has to stay in'. The new version also
has a different beginning and end to the original. The whole record took exactly
one week, five days from Monday to Friday, on Friday evening it was finished and we
thought that it was absolutely completely brilliant. And famously we took it to EMI
and they were all a bit worried about it, and we really had to say, 'No, it's great'.
And it went to number one in Britain and then, in 1986, to number one in America.
Arguably, 'West End girls' was the first rap number one in America. Chris and I did
our twelve-inch mix [CD2, track 6] with Frank Rozak, an engineer from New York -
we went in at night because the studio time was cheaper. We weren't that happy
with it at the time, but that mix became the number one dance record in America.
A lot of people assumed the song was about prostitutes and of course, typically,
it didn't even enter my head. It was meant to be about class, about rough boys
getting a bit of posh. It's opposites - west/east, lower class/upper class,
rich/poor, work/play. And it's about the idea of escape. There is a huge thing
about escaping in our songs. I put in the bit about Russia because I've always
been interested in Russian history, and the idea was that the song went from west
to east - 'from Lake Geneva to The Finland Station', which is the historic
journey Lenin made in a sealed train. Chris and I used to love the West End of
London near Leicester Square because you'd get a lot of skinheads, and you'd
get posh girls. We used to go out nightclubbing a lot, and we'd go to The Dive
Bar in Gerrard Street, which is mentioned in the song. It was in a basement,
and it was damp down there, and there was no one in it apart from a couple of
queeny guys talking to the barman - but it used to fascinate us. The barman
used to play Shirley Bassey or Barbra Streisand or Barry Manilow. We used to really
like going there.
Opportunities (Let's make lot of money)
Neil This was another song we originally recorded with Bobby '0', and to be
honest I think I might prefer the Bobby 'O' version. When we wrote this track
in early 1983, before we'd met Bobby 'O', it was right in the thick of our
Bobby 'O' obsession, and we were trying to sound like him. One of the things
we always liked about Bobby 'O"s music is we thought it sounded like punk disco.
Chris came up with the idea of the lyric for 'Opportunities'. He was playing the
three chords - C minor, E flat, B flat, which was like Bobby 'O"s 'Shoot Your Shot'
for Divine - and he said, 'Can't you sing "let's make lots of money"?' This was
in the Eighties, during Thatcherism, and suddenly there had been this huge
philosophical shift in the country where the idea of making money was a good thing.
People started talking about yuppies and buying Filofaxes and all that kind of
stuff, and this was meant to be a sort of satire on that. It's a classic
Chris idea: let's say the unsayable.
Chris I was at university during the whole punk thing. Groups of our era were
still very punk in our attitudes, as opposed to musicians today who ha-1 a
completely different attitude to the industry.
Neil It was what you would have called, at the time, a wind-up. You wouldn't
have said 'ironic' at the time, you'd have said, 'it's a wind-up'. It was meant
to be proyocative.
Chris It always used to bug me that it was always the really successful wealthy
people, your wealthy rock stars, who are supposed to be not doing it for, the money,
whereas it is all the scratching disco [...] artists with no money who are criticised
for being commercial.
Neil Chris having said that, I wrote the words in about fifteen minutes. It's meant
for everyone: here's this nauseating synth duo singing a song called 'let's
make lots of money'. It was meant to be an anti-rock-group song, singing about the things
you're not supposed to sing about. It's the same [...] really, as that anti-hippie album
by Frank Zappa ai i J the Mothers Of Invention, We're Only In It For The Money. It's
like punks used to sing about unpalatable everyday things in a way that supposedly
glorifies them but doesn't really. The two people in the song are supposed to be
absolutely hopeless. I vaguely thought of the film Midnight Cowboy, in which
Dustin Hoffman is the guy who wants to go to Florida and [...] Jon Voight is the
hustler, a brains and brawn [...] I combination. People have often thought,
and ask [...] if it was about me and Chris, and actually I don't think it was.
This was the first song that I played to Bobby 'O' when I met him. He said, 'Oh,
I could do this', and I thought, 'Well, of course you could, it sounds like you
anyway...' But when we recorded it with Bobby 'O' we actually didn't give it an
octave bassline, which is the classic Bobby 'O' thing, Chris wrote a hip hop bassline.
Neil The Bobby 'O' version was much much more moody - it started with, and made
more of, the pretty melody. It's much more like New Order. It sounded very very sad.
We always thought the song was sad, because it was about two losers. We re-recorded
it first with J.J. Jeczalik from The Art Of Noise for our first EM I single. We chose
him because he'd had a hit record with Tin Tin, 'Kiss Me', and we liked The Art Of Noise.
He did it on the Fairlight, which we were very excited about. Before we even got to
the studio he'd come up with this weird sound which sounds like scaffolding falling
down, which became the basis of the rhythm track. We spent three weeks making a single
with him, in at least three locations. It cost about ?40,000. And no one was ever very
happy. We found it an intensely frustrating experience. They brought in a real bass
player and it all seemed to take a lot of time. It originally had a bit in the middle
which we edited out weeks later, and would eventually use as track six on Please,
as 'Opportunities (reprise)'.
Chris Best track on the album.
Neil I think Stephen Hague thought it was a rather strange thing to do.
Chris It was the start of side two of the vinyl.
Neil It was like: and the beat goes on. The original idea was that there was
a party scene in the middle of the song. It was part of our filmic thing. You can
hear Lesley White, who was the assistant editor of The Face, saying 'where's Neil?'
at 0.10. We had a party at Sarm East, to get a party atmosphere. The version of
the original 'Opportunities' single on this album [CD2, track 2] is the unreleased
full version before the party scene was edited out. We also did our own twelve-inch
version [CD2, track 4]. Around that time, we'd heard this record called 'Loveride'
by Nuance featuring Vikki Love so we had the idea of finding the producer of that,
Ron Dean Miller, and going to New York and doing the twelve-inch with him. Money was
still being spent. It was a major remix and he put the big chorus drums all the way
through. Stephen Hague wanted to re-record 'Opportunities' completely but there
wasn't time. The version on Please was based on the single version, but also used
elements of Ron Dean Miller's mix and then Stephen Hague did some reprogramming and
I re-sung the vocal as well. The vocal is much better on the album - on the first
version the vocal is really weak. We also faded out the album version before the
final section: 'all the love that we had and all the love that we hide/who will bury
us when we die?' We decided it was too pretentious. I remember hearing the original
version played on Radio One. We were all in Tom Watkins' office, listening, and the
guy on the radio took the piss out of it at the end and I thought, 'right, I'm not
doing that again'. The album version was subsequently a hit, though even then not
as big a hit as we'd hoped. Listening now to the way it starts, it's very grandiose.
We always used to like the grandiose, as well as the street. Actually, it's a dialectic.
We've always been trying to bring the two things together.
Love comes quickly
Neil This was written in the studio in Camden on the same evening we wrote
the song that became 'I'm not scared', and they both have very much a similar mood.
We were in our beautiful Italian disco mood that evening. This was in 1984 or early
1985, right towards the end of the time we were working in Ray Roberts' studio,
and it was a much more mature-sounding track for us than we were used to. I was playing
some chords, and Chris was playing some bass notes which made the chords rather
interesting, and I immediately came up with the chorus and the 'ooo-ooo-ooo', and then
I just sang the melody with some fake words. And we really really loved it - we thought
we'd written a hit single. Not long afterwards we had our a meeting with the head of
A&R at EMI, Dave Ambrose, and then we had to drive from EMI's offices to a pub in Fulham
Road where he was meeting a man who was going to put Duran Duran on stamps in South America.
And I said, 'You must hear this new track we've done - it's great'. It was very difficult to
actually get him to listen to anything. I remember turning it up in the car. Anyway, by the
time we got to the pub in Fulham he announced he was going to sign us, but I was slightly
frustrated because I don't think he'd really taken in what a lovely track it was. There
was another song on the tape, called 'Beautiful beast', totally camp nonsense which had
this line we always laughed about - 'then you caught me there within your snare, you
beautiful beast' - and had the most corny tune, and Dave Ambrose loved that. And I was
trying to play him what I thought was the most amazingly cool 'Love comes quickly',
about which he said absolutely nothing. So maybe we got signed on the basis of
'Beautiful beast'. But Stephen Hague always loved this song, and when we were
recording it for Please he did an accidental thing with the production.
Chris We used a sequencer on this track, and the sequencer shifted the bassline by
a sixteenth, so that it played off the beat, and that was what he worked on.
Neil This and Two divided by zero' were the tracks on the album that were what
we wanted to be like: very electro, the middle-range sequencer part holding everything
together, and also incredibly beautiful. We loved the handclaps fluttering from side
to side, which we'd loved ever since that Sharon Redd record 'Never Gonna Give You Up'.
Chris High strings, too.
Neil This was the first appearance of a high string line, which has appeared
in nearly every record we've ever made since. Stephen Hague said we should have
a middle bit - he was right - and he wrote the first two chords, where it goes'
I know it sounds ridiculous...'
Chris They're really good, though.
Neil That's why the songwriting credit is Tennant/Lowe/Hague'. We also decided we
needed a sax solo, and always being labels kind of people...
Chris It was the Eighties.
Neil ...we thought,'let's get the sax player from Roxy Music, Andy Mackay'.
So Andy Mackay came in with his wife, who was fabulous, a real rock wife. We spent
most of the time chatting to her. Andy Mackay played for hours and we used a tiny
bit on the fade out. It's a good bit, though. We wanted the twelve-inch [CD2, track 8],
which we did with Stephen Hague, to sound even more Italian disco. We wanted to just
have more of it. When we finished it, we had an acetate run off and Chris and I went
down to this club off Charing Cross Road we used to go to, the Jungle, and we got the DJ
to play it. It was all very very exciting. It didn't clearthe dancefloor. I remember
that Stephen Hague was puzzled by the lines 'it may seem romantic/ and that's no defence/
love will always get to you'. The whole song was about how you can suddenly fall in
love with someone and you can't help it. I was writing something gorgeously romantic,
but I don't think it was about my life. Unless, now I think about it, it was about
a friend falling in love, going through the traumatic start of a relationship,
always rushing off and bursting into tears. The song is about the surprise. When you
fall in love with someone, it's totally disruptive. You're having a comfortable life,
and suddenly everything's just turned upside down. All your priorities change. But the
song is also saying that, after it's happened, you suddenly realise you hadn't really
been alive at all.
Neil After we were signed to EMI, we went into Terminal Studios to do some writing,
with all this equipment which didn't work. Then we wrote 'Suburbia' and Tonight is
forever'. Chris wrote all the music for 'Suburbia'.
Chris The inspiration was 'Into The Groove', the bassline. It's virtually the same. The
song's nothing like it, but the bassline is.
Neil I wrote the words that night, and we went back the next day and finished
the demo. The album version is exactly like the demo. I thought it was amazingly catchy.
Chris I thought it was corny.
Neil Same thing.
Chris What makes it acceptable is the lyrics.
Neil It's a hard lyric, soft tune. That was our idea - to write disco music
with un-disco lyrics. The words were inspired by this film we'd seen,
Penelope Spheeris's Suburbia. I thought it was a great idea to write a song about
suburbia and how it's really violent and decaying and a mess. It's quite a theme
in English art, literature and music, like in Graham Greene or Paul Theroux - that
the suburbs are really nasty, that behind lace curtains everyone is an alcoholic
or a spanker or a mass murderer. Also, this was the era of the riots in Toxteth
and Brixton. I remember some friends of mine having to drive through the riots in
Brixton to visit me in Chelsea, and being scared. Brixton was a prosperous Victorian
suburb, and eighty years later it had become this decaying inner city. And there was
a feeling that the riots had been started by the police hassling these kids hanging
around a bus stop. The dogs in the song come totally from the packs of dogs in the film,
though I remember Chris telling me that it happened in Liverpool when he lived in
Toxteth - these huge packs of dogs with a big one in front and the little ones
at the back. I used to be a bit scared of dogs - my sister once got bitten, and
doing paper rounds you're always scared of dogs; you hear them tear the paper when
you put it through the door, and that's a symbol of the threat of violence. And so
the song just describes the riot happening, and the middle bit sums up why we are
having this riot: 'I only wanted something else to do but hang around...'
People are bored. Then it refers to the aftermath being reported on TV, just
sociological nonsense and police officers blaming television for the whole thing.
People always say, 'You can never find a policeman when you need one' and here
the media is saying, 'Where's a policeman when you need one to blame the
colour TV?', turning it upside down. So when it says, This is their hour of need',
the hour of need isn't the people in the suburbs needing jobs, it's the media needing
their talking heads to talk a load of nonsense. My mother always recognises the
reference to her - 'mother's got her hairdo to be done' - because she always got
her hair done every Thursday when I was a child, and her hairdresser Dominic would
tell her the gossip.
Chris When we made the demo we had just discovered a car crash sample on
Neil So that was all over it. We would always bicker with Stephen Hague
about things like that and the number of sampled orchestra hits. He would say,
'Right, we will takeoutfifty per cent of the orchestra hits on this track
because there are so many orchestra hits, and you can't have the car crash
that loud...' We had a car crash solo on it originally. We used the riot noise
off a film, and the high keyboard sound is influenced by 'Axel F', which was a hit at
the same time. We didn't spend long recording this track because we made the whole
album in ten weeks, and we always felt we'd rushed through this song. When Please came
out, all of the fans, and our families, said Suburbia' should be a single. We'd,
typically, gone off it by that point. Then we decided to re-record it as a single,
with Julian Mendelsohn, who Tom Watkins recommended to us. Julian had remixed
'Relax', and he brought in his keyboard programmer Andy Richards, who we were very
impressed with because he had worked on loads of Trevor Horn records and we were
always incredibly impressed by Trevor Horn. And we decided to make the new version
more filmic. Andy Richards took the synth line and made it verge on a horn section sound.
The new version had dogs on - we upped the dog quotient. The twelve-inch version,
'Suburbia (The Full Horror)' [CD2, track 11]-which the seven-inch is basically just
an edit of- is more epic. It's very Diamond Dogs, very Frankie Goes To Hollywood,
especially the 'where the suburbs meet utopia' bit. By the way, that's where the
word 'suburbia' comes from: 'suburb' and 'utopia'. Lots of bombs go off at the end.
An entire suburb is being destroyed in a riot. Twelve-inch mixes weren't really made
for dancing back then. We also recorded the sound of smashing glass in Sarm West
studio two. They couldn't find a good smashing glass sample anywhere, so we got a
pane of glass and the assistant smashed it, with half a brick, I think.
Chris There were several attempts.
Tonight is forever
Neil That day we both came into the studio with an idea for a song and Chris
wrote the music for 'Suburbia', I wrote most of the music for this. I had the PPG
synthesiser at home, and you could play chords on it. I'm sure I nicked the chord
change from some old song. It's about kids going to Heaven, the nightclub. The title
occurred to me in a nightclub once. The idea that you can make a brief transitory
excitement - fancying someone in a nightclub - into your whole life. It was written
in 1985 when the club scene was changing; gay and straight clubs were being mixed.
I like the contrast between 'tonight is forever', which sounds like something you'd see
Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald singing in some old film, and my favourite lines:
'I haven't got a job to pay/ but I could stay in bed all day'. The idea that you can
just stay in bed and have sex all day. It's, 'Don't think, do'. I mean, I'm not like
that myself. It was one of the things I admired about Chris when I first met him was
that he was a much more hedonistic person than I was. I would like to like that sort
of thing. Like, I like dance records but I can't really dance. In the song, by the
end, it's not'.. .if we fall in love' but '.. .when we fall in love', and it's really
corny because they do fall in love. It's a total fantasy. We were always fascinated
by kids going out clubbing.
Chris In the early Eighties everyone I knew sort of didn't work. Just got dressed
up, lived on the dole, and got into clubs cheap - a life of living at night.
Neil We have always had a slightly romantic idea of the street. The song is meant
to be very filmic. The top French horn line, which is played on the Emulator, is very
John Barry. There's orchestral percussion -tubular bells. Real ones. On day we came
in and there was a tubular bell player. Chris and I were very very against having real
instruments brought in the studio. We weren't happy about it at all. We said, 'Can't
you just get a tubular bells sample?' That's probably why they're turned down in
the mix. This was so nearly the follow-up to 'West End girls'.
Chris We did it on The Tube and it didn't work.
Neil That's why it wasn't a single. We got a real downer. It was the worst
television appearance we ever did in our entire life. It was The Euro Tube.
We opened the whole show with 'West End girls' and I had to sing live, and it
was fine. We then had to wait two hours, during which time I drank four pints
of beer, then I had to sing Tonight is forever'. You have never heard anything
worse in your entire life. You know when someone sings on the television and you
say, 'Wow, she really can't sing'. This was my, 'Wow, he really really can't sing'.
And during the drum break in the middle I couldn't think of anything to do, so I
just turned my back on thecamera. I thought they could film Chris.
Neil Violence was the last track to be written for Please.
Chris It was inspired by a sound on the PPG. It's the bass sound on the record.
Actually, the same sound is also used for the organ. It sounds quite soulful.
Neil My vocal is really thin-sounding on this. Helena Springs sings on it
as well. In the instrumental middle bit we are still in 'Axel F' territory.
It's about Northern Ireland. At this time there were bombs in London. It was
also partly inspired by another Penelope Spheerisfilm, The Boys Next Door,
which is about two teenagers who go up to lots of people in Los Angeles shopping
malls. Chris said I should put in 'violence breeds violence'.
Chris 'Violence breeds violence'. It's a bit like 'War is stupid', isn't it?
Neil I always thought it was a bit of a corny line but I couldn't think of
anything else. I like the last verse best. The song is really about how violence
is male. It's a male concept. A friend of ours who was in jail when this alburn
came out said that everyone in his prison loved this - they thought it was the
best track on the album. I don't think they thought it was glorifying violence.
I think they liked the fact that it was hard.
I want a lover
Neil We wrote this at Ray Roberts studio one night in 1983. Ray Roberts had a
bass guitar which I played. This is us doing gay disco - the words are completely
about going to a club and picking up someone. When we first started writing together
Chris was very keen that we should write sleazy songs - it had never occurred to
me before. It's about standing at a corner of a nightclub and everyone's leaving
and you've seen someone you fancy, and who's going to make the first approach?
It emphasises the transitory nature of it - it was totally a pre-Aids song.
It's recorded with Blue Weaver who we'd met when we did the first single version
of 'Opportunities'. He played on all the Bee Gees records and he was in Amen Corner.
He's a great keyboard player and programmer.
Chris Blue Weaver always understood disco.
Neil He lived in Miami. He played at the White House with the Bee Gees for President
Carter- how much more disco than that can you get? There's real guitar on it, played by
a friend of Blue Weaver's. There was more guitar originally - it sounded like 'Fame'
in the middle - but we edited it out. There's another car crash on this - a different car
crash - and there is a sample of Chris playing the trombone. Chris brought his trombone
into the studio. He wasn't very keen on doing it.
Chris Blue Weaver insisted. I learned the trombone when I was about ten.
My grandfather played the trombone.
Neil It's got my favourite line: 'driving through the night, it's so
exciting', followed by a car crash.
Chris Was that the first song with a bass drum on the fours?
Neil Yes, it probably was, and that's now what you'd think of as really Pet Shop Boys.
Chris It's all about turning off the lights and it all getting a bit steamy.
Our records aren't sexy enough now. It's all bloody politics and the intricacies
of Russian history. No one wants to hear about that, do they?
Neil This is played by Chris on the piano in Advision. Stephen Hague insisted.
He thought it would be great if we played something live on the album.
Chris I'm amazed I agreed.
Neil I sat on a stool and sang the song, and Chris played the piano, and we
had dim lighting and it was really lovely and I really enjoyed doing it.
Chris I would never do that now.
Neil You play a solo.
Chris How come I'm doing that? It's absolutely absurd.
Neil This is such a sad song. This is the most gay song we've ever written,
practically, and no one noticed at the time. It was about three of us staring
out of the window from the Smash Hits office at a cute boy walking down
Carnaby Street. He was a mod. The line 'he is the head boy of a school of thought'
was quoted in Select magazine as being one of the terrible lines of all time;
I thought it was a good line. I've always thought we'll put this song in a musical at
some point. It was originally written on a guitar. The song is saying that the boy
is so out of your reach you will never meet him... but then, you wait till later.
Maybe it's destiny, or fate, because tonight always comes. So it may happen.
Really it's about sex and class. People who like rough trade, it's an idealised
and frustrating idea because you're fancying them for something they're not-they
don't consider themselves to be rough trade. There was a whole other verse: 'you stare
like a fellow new to town who can't believe his eyes/ through plate glass you
can always see so much you want but can never touch'. It wasn't very good.
Why don't we Iive together?
Neil It was written in some rented studio about the same time as 'Suburbia',
and when we went to New York to remix 'Opportunities' with Ron Dean Miller
in Unique studios we were having such a good time that we announced we were
going to stay longer and do another track with him. EMI generously agreed to
carry on funding us. They were now well up to ?100,000 of costs and we hadn't
released a record yet. Ron Dean Miller played the guitar. We were being a bit
like 'Into The Groove' again.
Chris Not specifically. We were being New York.
Neil Ron Dean Miller suggested I change the phrasing of how I sang it.
Chris It used to be 'why don't we live together now?' but he said, 'Leave
off the "now".' And it was Ron Dean Miller's bassline. And the drums at the
beginning are fantastic.
Neil It sounded much more American. But that version [CD2, track 5] is not the version we
released. For the album, we worked on it some more with Stephen Hague. He spent ages
reprogramming all the drums for it.
Chris It's ace. I don't know why it wasn't a single.
Neil Ron Dean Miller could not understand the line 'the woman in me shouts out,
the man in me just smiles'. I always like presenting things upside down, so in this
song men are indecisive and women are decisive, whereas the stereotype used to be
the other way round. It's probably about someone I fancied, but I can't remember.
I'm saying that the woman in me responds to emotion and the man in me doesn't - it's
that my soft feminine side wants to settle down. That's what the song is really about:
settling down, compromise. If you will never find someone who you are totally in
love with, who you are intellectually compatible with, physically compatible with,
never going to get bored with sexually, is incredibly good-looking - if you're not going
to find that person, you're probably going to settle for the person whom you're used to.
It's the compromise of reaching middle age. A very old-fashioned idea. People say,
'You've got to work at a marriage', and I think that's true. The people in the song
are being wise. You both know you're kind of in love but you're messing around and
eventually one person is saying to the other, 'Why don't we just face the fact that
we're going to live together for the rest of our lives and get on with it, and we will
be happy?' It has some of the same words as the end of 'Opportunities':'.. .all the
love we had and all the love we hide'.
A man could get arrested
Neil This was originally written and recorded simultaneously in Bobby 'O"s
office studio in spring, 1984. I was working in New York at Star Hits and
Bobby 'O' flew Chris over - he only got his ticket on the morning of the
flight - and then Bobby 'O' left town for three days and we only recorded in
his office, which really pissed us off because we liked going into a proper
recording studio. Anyway, we started writing a song, and Chris had thought of
this drum pattern and Bobby 'O' loved it. I couldn't really think of a chorus -
Chris kept saying it was a rip-off of Shannon. But it was never finished at
the time. The twelve-inch version [CD2, track 1 ], released as the b-side of
the 'West End girls' twelve-inch, is the Bobby 'O' version, but because he
never completed it, we finished it. We did it the same night as we did our twelve-inch
of 'West End girls'. 'West End girls' took all night, and at about four in the
morning we started this. We didn't spend long on it, and we were never totally
happy with it sothen we agreed to do a different version, a completely new
recording [CD2, track 7]. The seven-inch version, which was the b-side of the
'West End girls' seven-inch and which is actually the longer of the two, is a
really Eighties pop production by Steve Spiro, who Tom Watkins was managing.
We spent a week doing it with him. We changed the structure and the order
of the verses.
Chris It's all real drums, real bass, real brass section.
Neil The bass player of Status Quo is playing on this. He was a nice guy, actually.
Chris This version has got a great middle section. The brass section is like
Sharon Redd, and we also get a fantastic Sharon Redd bit with the handclaps and
a complete breakdown.
Neil The handclaps go from side to side.
Chris I love that bit.
Neil The song was inspired by an incident with a friend of ours where
we ended up being chased by these lads through Russell Square and onto Kingsway.
Bottles were thrown; there were bottles smashing in the street.
Chris And Neil nearly did get arrested. It's always Neil that has
scrapes with the law - I don't know if anyone's noticed that. He's always
high and mighty about it, but it's always Neil.
Neil The rest is a portrait of Bobby 'O'. Bobby '0' told us he would never
have sex with a woman unless she went to the doctor's first, because he was
obsessed with herpes. He said to me in the studio: '"If you've got your health,
you've got everything", that's what my doctor said.' It went straight in there.
And the chorus is totally Bobby 'O' 's approach to life: 'if you want to earn,
learn how to do it'. There's another Bobby '0' line too, about his girlfriend:
'of course I told her I loved her - not just 'cause she insisted'. She was nice,
his girlfriend. But I made the song into a story about someone who is trying
to get his girlfriend to have it off with him, basically, and he's so frustrated
that 'a man could get arrested'. He's driven to distraction. It's a song about
In the night
Neil We had the musical idea of writing a song with the same chord change
and tempo as 'Opportunities', which it was going to be the b-side of. We thought
you would then be able to mix one into the other. The words were inspired by a book
I read about Paris in the occupation, Paris In The Third Reich: A History Of The
German Occupation, 1940-1944, by David Pryce-Jones; I read about these people called
les Zazous who were like prototype beatniks. They were apolitical and used to grow
long hair and listen to American jazz music, which of course was illegal under
the Nazis. They were very existentialist and sat round talking about love and the
meaning of life. I was just fascinated that they were totally out of the context of
their times; that you had this beatnik culture in the middle of the Second World War
in occupied Paris. The lyric mentions the clubs they went to, like Select and Le Colisee.
They also sneered at the masculinity of both the resistance and the Germans; I suppose
I sympathised with them. The song looks at the moral implications, because the Nazis
hated them and the Resistance hated them, because they were fatalistic and didn't
participate in the resistance, and the song asks whether that's collaboration.
It revolves around the chorus - 'there's a thin line between love and crime and in
this situation / a thin line between love and crime and collaboration' - because the
fact of the matter is that if you're not really against something, you're for it,
and in a way they collaborated with the Nazis by just carrying on a normal life.
So, in the end, I am criticising them. We recorded it in PWL. Tom Watkins said there
was this really good engineer at PWL called Phil Harding, and he'd done a mix of
Bronski Beat's 'Why?' so we worked with him and his programmer lan Curnow. We recorded
it across two nights because they were working during the day on Brilliant's album.
We'd work from ten o'clock at night until ten o'clock in the morning. Chris had already
written the music on Blue Weaver's Fairlight.
Chris It was so boring making 'Opportunities' over three weeks that we decided
to beaver away on the Fairlight while they were doing that, and we knocked this out.
And the great thing was, the bloke who was mastering the record thought this was the
a-side and that 'Opportunities' was the b-side.
Neil When I sang it, I tried to sound like Donovan, because I was thinking of
a Donovan song, 'Goo Goo Barabajagal'. Although he was a hippie he had a rather
cool way of singing.
That's my impression
Neil Before I knew Chris I had written a song with a completely different
tune on the guitar - it was supposed to sound like Blondie - and when we wrote
this music I used those words for this. I love the lines in the middle bit:
'Go to a club, you think I'll be there / I don't go 'cause I'm not a member'.
They were taken from another song, the first song Chris and I wrote together.
It was a bit Soft Cell. Originally it went on: 'Although I'm a boy/I don't mind
what's on your mind at all/ and you won't find me there...' The music for
'That's my impression' was written in our Italian disco phase. We were writing
a song around an arpeggio. We first recorded it in Ray Roberts' studio, and
then with Bobby 'O'. Bobby 'O' thought the words were very weird. We recorded
this in a different studio, producing it ourselves while Stephen Hague was
finishing Please. This, the 'disco mix' was originally on the 'Opportunities'
twelve-inch; the seven-inch b-side was just an edit of it. It's a very Bobby 'O'
theme again. It's about jealousy, a corny pop lyric about how your lover is
out there somewhere, trying to pick someone else up.
Chris More sex.
Neil I used to live in Knightsbridge in this little flat and I often used
to walk by the Serpentine, which is why that is mentioned. In the last verse
I'm trying to be a rock 'n' roll singer.
Chris I like you singing like this. I don't like deadpan vocals. I've never
liked deadpan vocals.
Neil Now you tell me.
Was that what it was?
Neil We wrote and recorded this in Advision studios, trying to see if we
could completely do a song from scratch for a b-side. We didn't really like our
version, so when we went to America and Shep Pettibone was remixing 'Opportunities',
we also asked him to remix this. Instead, his manager Jane Brinton did it. It's got
all weird echoes in. It's one of my least favourite Pet Shop Boys songs, though I
like the middle bit - 'I don't need any more in my life' - which I think sounds a
bit like David Bowie. Although it also sounds like the middle section of Tonight
is forever', which I didn't notice until a fan wrote to me and pointed it out.
It's one of my soppy love lyrics. There's a stream of soppy b-sides.
Chris Was that what it was? Was that what it was?
Neil It's a 'why has everything gone wrong?' record, looking back,
trying to pinpoint why the whole thing was screwed up. To be honest,
it's a very minor work.
Jack the lad
Neil It started with a knock-off of one of Erik Satie's Irois Gymnopedies.
We'd had the idea that there was doing to be a Neil track and a Chris track on
the 'suburbia' single; Chris's track was 'Paninaro' and this was mine. The idea
of calling a song 'Jack the lad' came from Big Audio Dynamite, whose song 'E=MC2'
had a very similar chord change to 'West End girls'. On 'E=MC2' there's a sample
from the film Performance which says, 'Who do you think you are - Jack the lad?'
And I had been reading about I awrence of Arabia at the time, and about the spy
Kim Philby: people who go too far, and people who practice deception. The second verse
refers to the act that Lawrence of Arabia is supposed to have been homosexual -
'telling lies inpublic, breaking codes at home, underneath the blankets...' When I say,
'Are you only Jack the lad?', I'm saying: are you just messing about? To feast with
panthers...' is a reference to Oscar Wilde who said that when he was going out with
all these rent boys it was like feasting with panthers because they were all so
dangerous and it was all likely to destroy him. Which, of course, it did. Lawrence of
Arabia, Oscar Wilde and, in the third verse, Kim Philby - they each lived as an
establishment figure but lived another life at the same tune. The song is asking why
they're doing it. It is just (or bravado? 'Are you only Jack the lad?' Or, another
suggestion, They must have hurt you, Jack'. Is it some kind of resentment against your
fellow upper class people that makes you want to betray them? It's a sort of anti-bravado
song in a way. It's saying: why not come to terms with all this resentment you have?
'We all fall' - everyone makes mistakes. When I sing 'this is your only religion'
I'm suggesting that to not be restrained has become the main point of their lives.
To never want to grow up and face responsibilities. I'm kind of talking
about myself there as well.
Neil Chris wrote this piece of music by himself in the studio. Tom Watkins had a
group at the time called The Hudsons who'd brought out a record called 'One Man's Meat
(Is Another Man's Poison)' and Tom Watkins had a really brilliant idea for a gay
disco record, 'I'm In Love With A Woman', and we said we'd write it. And so when Chris
wrote this music, we decided this would be it: 'I never thought I would leave you - but
I'm in love with a woman'. It was great, but Tom got sniffy all of a sudden and
didn't want us to do it.
Chris I'd already put my vocal on when I did the track. I just thought
I'd have a go. It's just a list of words.
Neil Very Andy Warhol.
Chris They were the first words that came into my head.
Neil Weren't they things that really excited you, supposedly?
Chris Well, they're obviously going to be the first words that come into my head.
Neil Then we heard about the Paninari.
Chris The Italian youth cult.
Neil So we decided to make a song called 'Paninaro' and made this it. I liked
the fact that all the trendies in Milan loathed the Paninari because 'they all
like Wham! and Duran Duran and Madonna'. We thought, 'How fabulous-so do we'.
I like fashion cults, and theirs were the kind of clothes we liked.
Chris The original lyric went 'Armani... Armani... Ar-Ar-Armani...Versace.. .cinque'.
Then I edited out Versace', but I forgot to edit it out of the twelve-inch version.
Neil We didn't like Versace that much. Also Versace wasn't Paninaro.
Chris The twelve-inch was called The Italian mix' because originally it was
just released in Italy.
Neil The talking in the middle is also Chris, from an American TV interview,
on Entertainment Tonight. We did the original version at Abbey Road but then we
decided it wasn't good enough, so then we went in with Adrian Cook and did it
all again. Adrian Cook was going to programme the first tour, the one that famously
went on sale in Los Angeles without anyone telling us, five nights at the Pantages
Theater sold out, and which we didn't do. He was programming all our songs onto
Fairlight in Abbey Road - as usual, money was flying around - so we decided to do a
record that recycled sounds, so almost every sound in 'Paninaro' had been used before
on one of our records. It's a recycled record. It was a nightmare, Chris doing his vocal.
Chris You know what I'm like.
Neil I think he only did it twice.
Chris I was only saying a list of words.
Neil It was like getting blood out of a stone.
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