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Pet Shop Boys in New York City

15 September 2019

Pet Shop Boys is an English synth-pop duo, formed in London in 1981 and consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. They have sold more than 100 million records worldwide, and are listed as the most successful duo in UK music history by The Guinness Book of Records. Three-time Brit Award winners and six-time Grammy nominees, since 1985 they have achieved 42 Top 30 singles, 22 of them Top 10 hits in the UK Singles Chart, including four UK number ones: "West End Girls", "It's a Sin", a synthpop version of "Always on My Mind", and "Heart". Other hit songs include a cover of "Go West", "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" and "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" in a duet with Dusty Springfield. With five US top ten singles in the 1980s they are associated with the Second British Invasion. At the 2009 Brit Awards in London, Pet Shop Boys received an award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. In 2016, Billboard magazine named Pet Shop Boys the number one dance duo/group over the 40 years since the chart's inception in 1976. In 2017 the duo received NME's Godlike Genius Award.


Neil Tennant (Left) and (Chris Lowe (Right) in New York City

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe met in a hi-fi shop on King's Road in Chelsea, London, in 1981. Tennant had purchased a Korg MS-10 synthesizer which sparked a conversation with Lowe. Discovering that they had a mutual interest in dance and electronic music, they began to work together on material, first in Tennant's flat in Chelsea, then, from 1982, in a small studio in Camden Town. They say their band name was taken from friends who worked in a pet shop in Ealing, and were known as the "pet shop boys". In August 1983, Tennant, who was an assistant editor at Smash Hits magazine, went to New York to interview Sting. While there he arranged to meet Hi-NRG producer Bobby Orlando and gave him a demo tape containing "It's a Sin" and "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)". From 1983–84, Orlando recorded 11 tracks with Tennant and Lowe including "West End Girls", "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)", "It's A Sin", "I Want A Lover", "I Get Excited", "Two Divided By Zero", "Rent", "Later Tonight", "Pet Shop Boys", "A Man Could Get Arrested" and "One More Chance". In April 1984, the Orlando-produced "West End Girls" was released, becoming a club hit in Los Angeles and San Francisco. On 2 November, it was voted "Screamer of the Week" by listeners of Long Island, New York, radio station WLIR.

It was around this time, when Tennant and Lowe visited New York City, and this picture was taken of them standing in the middle of East 35th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. (Special thanks to Bob Egan)


Pet Shop Boys in the 1980s

In March 1985, after long negotiations, Pet Shop Boys cut their contractual ties with Bobby O, with a settlement giving Bobby O significant royalties for future sales. Hiring manager Tom Watkins, they signed with the London-based Parlophone label. In April, Tennant left Smash Hits magazine, where he had progressed to the position of deputy editor and in July, a new single, "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)", was released, reaching number 116 in the UK. The B-side to this single, "In the Night", later resurfaced, in a longer remixed version, as the opening track to the duo's first remix album, Disco, in 1986. This version was also used as the theme for the UK television series The Clothes Show.

Unperturbed by the low chart position, the band returned to the studio in August to re-record "West End Girls" with producer Stephen Hague. Released in October 1985, this new version initially entered the charts at a similarly low position, but began a slow rise so that, by January 1986, it achieved the top spot. It was subsequently number one in the United States, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Israel, New Zealand and Norway and sold an estimated 1.5 million copies worldwide. It remains the most-heard Pet Shop Boys song to date.


East 35th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in New York City

After the success of "West End Girls", Pet Shop Boys released a follow-up single, "Love Comes Quickly", on 24 February 1986. The single reached number 19 in the UK Singles Chart and was followed by their debut album, Please, on 24 March. In June 1986, the band announced a European tour; however, their plans for a theatrical extravaganza proved to be too expensive and the tour was cancelled. Please started Pet Shop Boys' penchant for choosing one-word album titles, which Neil Tennant has since stated is now a Pet Shop Boys "signature thing", akin to e.e. cummings' use of exclusively lower case letters. New versions of their second single, "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)", and the album track "Suburbia" were also released in 1986, followed by a remix album, Disco. In September 1986, Pet Shop Boys performed "Love Comes Quickly" and "West End Girls" at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles.

1987 started with Pet Shop Boys receiving both a BRIT Award and Ivor Novello Award for "West End Girls". Later, on 15 June, they released what became their second number one single, "It's a Sin". The continued success was followed by the release of "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" on 10 August. Co-written with Allee Willis and also featuring Dusty Springfield on vocals, the single reached number two on the UK Singles Chart and the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Although the duo had wanted to release this track on their debut album, they had been unable to track down Springfield and were reluctant to record it with any other female singer, despite their record company's suggestions. Springfield's manager finally contacted them in 1986, following the release of Please, and towards the end of that year, she travelled to London to record "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" with them. It was the first track to be recorded for the duo's second album. Pet Shop Boys had been told that Springfield was difficult to work with and even that she could no longer sing; however, her performance on the track put any such concerns to rest and they began a collaboration with her, which lasted until the end of the decade. Included on their second album Actually, the song became a massive worldwide hit and resurrected Springfield's career, leading to her 1990 album, Reputation, on which Pet Shop Boys were major contributing writers and producers. This duet was also the start of a series of collaborations with high-profile musicians, going on throughout the band's career.

Song: It's A Sin
Song: Always On My Mind
Song: Rent

Also in August 1987, Pet Shop Boys appeared on Love Me Tender, a UK television programme, on ITV, commemorating the tenth anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. They were asked to perform one of their favourite Elvis tracks and they narrowed it down to two options, "Baby Let's Play House" and "Always on My Mind", eventually settling on the latter. Their Presley cover would later be re-released in a 12" version, consisting of a medley, along with an acid house track by the duo, titled "In My House". This extended version, consistently called "Always on My Mind"/"In My House", would later be included on Pet Shop Boys' 1988 album, Introspective, with the 12" medley attached to the vinyl edition of their Actually album and only marketed in the United States in such double release. September 1987 saw the release of the duo's second studio album, Actually, followed by the single "Rent" in October, which reached number 8 in the UK.

Song: Left to My Own Devices
Song: Domino Dancing
Song: It's Alright

Towards the end of 1987, Pet Shop Boys started work on an hour-long film that would incorporate the songs from Please and Actually. Working with director Jack Bond, the short film grew into a full-scale movie, It Couldn't Happen Here, starring Barbara Windsor, Joss Ackland and Gareth Hunt. The film was eventually released in 1988 to mixed reviews. Footage from the film was also used for the music video to "Always on My Mind", now released as a single on 30 November; it became both the duo's third number one single in the UK and the Christmas number one single for 1987, beating "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues.

Album: Please
Album: Disco
Album: Actually

1988 started with another collaboration. Pet Shop Boys wrote and produced the song "I'm Not Scared" for Patsy Kensit's band, Eighth Wonder. The song became her biggest hit single and the Pet Shop Boys included their own extended version of the track on their Introspective album. March 1988 saw the duo achieve their fourth UK number one single (and their last to date), with a remixed edit of "Heart", different from the album version. This single version would be included on their first and third greatest hits albums, Discography: The Complete Singles Collection and Ultimate, whereas the album version would be used for their second retrospective, the double PopArt: Pet Shop Boys – The Hits.


Pet Shop Boys Dreamworld Tour 2020

The duo's success continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and just this weekend, they played London's Hyde Park for BBC Radio 2 festival, and have released dates in 2020 for their next UK tour.





 


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