Pet Shop Boys: pop time lords

As Pet Shop Boys release their 12th studio album Electric this week, Russell Iliffe takes a look at the singles that have helped the pair to achieve their status as pop time lords.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 18 Jul 2013
  • min read
With a consistent career spanning four decades, they have sold more than 50 million records and this week released their 12th studio album Electric.

The set marks a full-on return to the dancefloor and ensures Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe remain as musically relevant as ever.

Here, we take a look at the Pet Shop Boys singles that have helped the pair to achieve their status as pop time lords.

1.       West End Girls
Re-issued in late 1985 following a non-charting release the previous year, this now iconic track gave Neil and Chris their first taste of chart success.  Finally ascending to number one in the UK in early 1986, it also topped the US Billboard Hot 100.

2.       Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)
This satire on the Thatcher era was re-issued in 86 and became one of four UK top 20 hits to be lifted from their debut album Please. 

3.       It’s a Sin
With its religious themes influenced by Neil's Catholic education, It’s a Sin became the second Pet Shop Boys single to reach number one in the UK.  Topping the chart for three weeks in 1987, it also reached pole position across Europe.

What Have I Done to Deserve This?
Sixties legend Dusty Springfield duets with Neil on this moving tale of love turned sour.  Peaking at number two in 87, it was kept off the top of the UK singles chart by Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up.

5.       Rent
The third single from their 1987 album Actually is often assumed to be told from the point of view of a male prostitute.  However, Neil has stated that he has always imagined the song to be about a ‘kept woman’.  The duo later re-worked Rent for showbiz legend Liza Minnelli when they co-produced her hit 1989 pop album Results.

6.       Always on My Mind
Neil and Chris scored the Christmas number one in 1987 with their interpretation of the song that had been big for both Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson.  Their galloping dancefloor version denied The Pogues/Kirsty MacColl collaboration Fairytale of New York the seasonal top spot.

7.       Being Boring
Despite only peaking at number 20 in the UK, the poignant second single from 1990’s Behaviour album has become a firm favourite with both fans and music critics alike.

8.       Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)
The standard Can’t Take My Eyes Off You had been a hit for acts including Andy Williams, Frankie Valli and Boys Town Gang.  Pairing it with a U2 classic, within a hi-NRG medley, certainly paid off as this 1991 single reached the UK top five.

9.     Go West
This uber-camp cover of Village People’s 1979 hit gave the duo a number two UK smash.  Meanwhile the parent album Very was incredibly their first to top the UK chart in 1993.

10.   New York City Boy
A dizzy pastiche of seventies disco, this top 20 hit from the 1999 album Nightlife possesses a vibe that evokes Manhattan in the Studio 54 era.  The ‘where Seventh Avenue meets Broadway’ hook is about as NYC as it comes!

Words: Russell Iliffe, PRS for Music