Rewind: Pet Shop Boys
David Spencer | Sunday, 22 March 2009
When Pet Shop Boys received the Outstanding Contribution to Music accolade at this year's Brit Awards it says something that there were no mutterings of "why them?". Sometimes those lifetime achievement awards can go to artists that haven't really contributed very much, but that's not the case with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe.
Back in 1986, 'West End Girls' was such a distinctive number one that it prompted future reviewers to describe it as the first 'rap' record to reach the top spot. While that pushes the description of rap just a little too far, the song was and still sounds unique. With the likes of Depeche Mode, Human League and Japan taking the lead with early '80s synthesiser pop, it was up to Pet Shop Boys to take the genre towards and into the '90s.
The reason for the success might come from Tennant's obvious understanding of the demands of the pop market. He worked on Smash Hits magazine after linking up with Lowe in 1981 and this must have proved an invaluable experience. In fact, it was while doing a feature for the magazine that Tennant met producer Bobby Orlando, which led them towards their big break. He first produced a version of West End Girls in 1984 which proved a club hit in New York. Eventually the band cut their ties with him and released a revamped version which went to number one of course.
What impressed so much at the time was the depth of their debut album Please, an '80s classic. Including 'Suburbia', 'Love Comes Quickly' and 'Opportunities' it stands up well against today's production values and has aged well. It was clear then that they weren't a one-album wonder though. B-sides like 'In The Night' proved they had depth to their locker of songs and within two years they'd clocked up their fourth number one. 'It's A Sin', 'Always On My Mind' and 'Heart' all reached the top spot, in an hot streak that they wouldn't match again.
In fact, in 1988, after hearing 'Domino Dancing' had failed to make the top 5, Tennant said their major success was over. He was right. Since then they've been an influence without a doubt and they've also continued to experiment within their genre. And with new single 'Love Etc' they've proved they can still turn out knock out tunes.
Perhaps the best judgement of the influence and impact of the Pet Shop Boys is to examine the people they've worked with. Dusty Springfield, Patsy Kensit, Trevor Horn, Liza Minnelli and Johnny Marr. A diverse but impressive list of just a few of their colleagues over the years and the spread says it all. The band's 23 year chart career is about more than just the music. It's about the stunning videos and live shows, and even about Tennant's eventual openness about his sexuality.
Ultimately, the Pet Shop Boys will be seen as a singles, not an albums band, and from a critical point of view that's a shame. Please and Actually are '80s classics and deserve to be revisited whenever you get the chance.