Saturday, May 8, 2021

Pet Shop Boys - 40 Years Ago


While the 80s are unabashedly danceable (even The Smiths were danceable – of course, I dance around to Pink Floyd), the social commentary that was expected from bands like The Clash was overlooked with New Order, Pet Shop Boys, and the new wave ilk. But Pet Shop Boys were/are far more than two unassuming British gentlemen; they have a political/social voice that coincidentally has an EDM beat, all with a sense of the literary. Funny that their first and still most popular hit, "West End Girls," was based on TS Eliot's epic poem, The Wasteland and "Jealousy" reflects Iago from Othello: "Not poppy nor mandragora/ Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world/ Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep/ Which thou owedst yesterday" [Shakespeare, Othello Act 3 Scene 3 line 333].

By Fundamental, they'd attack Blair and Bush on "I'm With Stupid," a song sung from the perspective of someone chasing an idiotic lover as Tennant wonders "Is stupid really stupid, or a different kind of smart?" From homophobia to prejudice, Pet Shop Boys were the most beat-oriented social commentators of the 80s.

Neil Tennant was born on July 10, 1954, in Northumberland. A quiet, studious type with a strong inclination toward the arts and history, and early on learned guitar and cello. While in his teens he wrote a one-act play that was performed in a local arts festival. Having earned in 1975 a degree in history from the Polytechnic Institute of North London, Neil worked for the U.K. branch of Marvel Comics, where he Anglicized the spellings, performed small bits of censorship to accommodate British standards, and inserted advertisements. Later, of course, he held a now-legendary stint as an assistant editor for the pop-music magazine Smash Hits.
Christopher Sean Lowe was born on October 4, 1959, in Blackpool to a musical family. He learned to play piano at ten, as well as his father's favorite instrument, the trombone. As a child attending Arnold House School, Chris enjoyed "designing houses" as a hobby and subsequently studied architecture at Liverpool University. During the early 1980s, he worked in the toy department at Harrod's department store.
The pair happened upon each other in a London record shop on King's Road in 1981 and talked about music and synthesizers. They kept in touch and soon became friends and musical collaborators, writing songs together in Neil's apartment. Among the songs they wrote in this early period were "Bubadubadubadum," "Oh, Dear," "I Can't Say Goodnight," and "Jealousy." In 1982 they made their first demo tape in a studio they rented for £6 per hour. Deciding that they needed a name, they decided to call themselves West End, ultimately renaming themselves Pet Shop Boys after friends who, you guessed it, owned a pet shop.
One of their signature hits "Opportunities," has made a comeback based on the awful TV commercial for Allstate. The song is superficially about stupid-money excess, down to its chorus "I've got the brains, you’ve got the looks/Let’s make lots of money." In fact, it was an icy satire on dehumanization and greed and ended with the lyric "All the love that we had, and the love that we hide/ Who will bury us when we die?" Danceable commentary – gotta love it.

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