dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Different Point Of View: The 19 Most Essential Pet Shop Boys Non-Singles

As of today, Pet Shop Boys' new hits collection Ultimate is out in most countries (except for the U.S., where us Yanks have to wait till January). Timed to celebrate 25 years to the month since "West End Girls" hit #1 in the UK, Ultimate and its 19 tracks (18 hits plus new single "Together") got D'luv and his partner in pop banter/year-end lists Moogaboo wondering what a collection of the best PSBs non-singles would look like. You know—their standout album tracks, B-sides and even unreleased tunes.

Being fans of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe since childhood, the two of us compiled what we're calling the 19 Most Essential Pet Shop Boys Non-Singles. And after having a drink then a couple more at the King Of Denmark and the Fortune Of War, we jotted down a few personal notes about each of our picks.

Of course, lists and music tastes are always going to be subjective. So let us know what you think we got right, what we got wrong and what we missed altogether. (And just know that in doing so, we'll be electronically flipping you off.)

19. "Later Tonight" (Please album track, 1986)
D'LUV Says: "The first Pet Shop Boys album had a lot of optimism and heart. There's a really great clip of them doing this live on BBC's Whistle Test in 1986, which I used to watch on that Television VHS compilation. (Note Neil's intense stare toward the end!)"
MOOG Says: "Most romantic song about jerking off ever."

18. "Up Against It" (Bilingual album track, 1996)
MOOG Says: "This is one of their more melancholy dance numbers, and I love that the title comes from a never-produced Joe Orton screenplay for a Beatles movie."

17. "Try It (I'm In Love With A Married Man)" (Disco 3 album track, 2003)
MOOG Says: "Bobby O was a loon, and until this inspired cover, I didn't think any of his tacky masterpieces could be improved. If only there had been a video!"
D'LUV Says: "In the seven years since this came out, I actually never listened to the original Oh Romeo version—until now! Trashtastic."

16. "Falling" (Demo for Kylie Minogue, 1994—included on Very: Further Listening, 2001)
D'LUV Says: "It's a shame Kylie was in full-on irony mode by the time the PSBs submitted this soaring dance-pop jam to her, because their demo is far more exciting than her sultry spoken word version. True, the lyrics aren't the most inspired, but there's a certain appeal to the desperate longing in Neil's delivery of them."

15. "Miserablism" ("Was It Worth It?" B-side, 1991—included on Alternative, 1995)
D'LUV Says: "I wonder if Morrissey choked on a scone when he heard this obvious diss track? Love how Neil and Chris twist the knife by having such a peppy, upbeat chorus."
MOOG Says: "They coined a clever phrase and wrote a corking track around it which, when you realize Morrissey was in his fallow Kill Uncle period, probably pissed him off even more!"

14. "Bounce" (Unreleased, 1988)
D'LUV Says: "Despite the lyrics needing a bit of polishing, why 'Bounce' has never seen the light of day, even as a B-side, is one of pop's great mysteries."
MOOG Says: "Could this not have been a total jam for Liza? I love the chitter-bell sound effect in the background. I made up that name. The Boys used that sound a lot. I'm sure it has a real name, but for now—chitter-bell.

13. "Forever In Love" (Relentless album track, 1993)
MOOG Says: "The enigma that is Relentless offered up one of their swirliest dance jams, complete with classic Neil spoken verses. I always thought this was kind of an upbeat sister to 'We All Feel Better in the Dark'."

12. "King's Cross" (Actually album track, 1987)
D'LUV Says: "When I got Actually for my 14th birthday, I really didn't understand what urban dread was. But I knew I wanted to experience it. This song will forever remind me of doing chores around my parents' house on wintry Sunday afternoons that year."

11. "Too Many People" ("I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing" B-side, 1993—included on Alternative, 1995)
MOOG Says: "I always thought this sounded New Order-y, but couldn't place why. There's maybe a touch of Bernard Sumner in the way Neil contemplates the many facets of his personality."
D'LUV Says: "Well, musically, it sounds like a darker version of New Order's 'World In Motion'."

10. "I Want To Wake Up" (Actually album track, 1987)
MOOG Says: "I love this song so much. I even love the Johnny Marr mix with those weird lady-vocals shoved in before the chorus."
D'LUV Says: "I heard this once on the radio in early 1988—which is odd to think now, considering it was never a single. Anyway, classic PSBs. Always loved the veiled 'gay confession' in the middle eight ('...you're in love with me, she's in love with me, but you know as well as I do I could never think of anyone but you')."

9. "Pandemonium" (Yes album track, 2009)
MOOG Says: "Instead of ruining this one, a la 'Falling', Kylie turned it down flat. What is her problem? Just kidding. I love Kylie and I think she's brilliant, but I was NOT surprised to hear that Neil disinvited her from his annual fancy dress vampire panties party because of it."

8. "The Resurrectionist" ("I'm With Stupid" B-Side, 2006)
D'LUV Says: "Absolutely love this. There's something telling about the fact that I haven't listened to Fundamental as a whole since 2006, but I usually at least play this jam on a weekly basis. Love the grave robber/gay hookup double-entendre: 'I met a man down Thieving Lane, he told me he was in the same game / We both talked the same body language, on Newgate Street we saw the hanging..."

7. "This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave" (Behaviour album track, 1990)
MOOG Says: "Whereas Morrissey or Depeche Mode would have made a song like this a total dirge, PSBs give it a tough backing track and a melody that somehow makes it a really fun, danceable dirge."
D'LUV Says: "I've always been fascinated by the electronic 'Everybody, e-everybody' vocal running through. That alone makes this the best song on Behaviour."

6. "I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)" ("Heart" B-side, 1988—included on Alternative, 1995)
D'LUV Says: "This was originally meant to be included on Introspective, right? I'd have scrapped 'I Want A Dog' for this one, lads. Seriously, 'the clatter of the dustbin and the beat of my heart' truly sums up the Boys' whole 'flawed romance' aesthetic."

5. "Fugitive" (Fundamentalism album track, 2006—7" mix on "Beautiful People" EP, 2009)
MOOG Says: "A large part of the fun of being a Pet Shop fan is awaiting those surprises hidden on bonus discs. Richard X works his magic on this so superbly, it's kind of a shame they didn't do more together. "

4. "A Different Point Of View" (Very album track, 1993)
MOOG Says: "At the time, the two of them described Very as being like a a collection of Beatles songs with then-modern production. I think this track displays that sensibility proudly, and I think it might be my favorite off Very. (Although that changes daily.)"
 D'LUV Says: "The orchestra hits were pretty dated even for 1993, but I still smile from ear to ear when I hear this. It's near perfect pop, isn't it? My favorite part is at the 2:53 mark, when Neil drops out and the jubilant synths just carry on."

3. "Do I Have To?" ("Always On My Mind" B-side, 1987—included on Alternative, 1995)
MOOG Says: "This B-side epitomizes everything that was so cool about them in 1987—it's urban, it's bleak, it's sexually on the down-low. "
D'LUV Says: "...which probably explains why it soundtracked so many of my school bus rides in 1988 and 1989."

2.  "I'm Not Scared" (Introspective album track, 1988)
MOOG Says: "Christmas '89—I got Introspective from the 'tape club' and played this song to death, complete with one of those heartbreaking moments where the tape crimped, the stereo ate it and I had to re-spool it with a pencil. It was worth it."
D'LUV Says: "Not to dismiss Eight Wonder's hit rendition, but there's so much more drama in Neil and Chris' own version. Completely foreboding. This is what I holed up in my bedroom and listened to as a tween while everyone else was into Pebbles? No wonder I'm in therapy."

1. "Young Offender" (Very album track, 1993)
D'LUV Says: "I've already written my heart out about this track, so I'll just say that I can't imagine life without Very, or Very without 'Young Offender.' I think this is one of Neil and Chris' most forlorn, sad songs, and it only gets more poignant as you grow older and transition from being the young offender in question to being the aging narrator."
MOOG Says: "The video game noises add a little touch of menace, too, don't they? Kind of like Uncle Neil's cruising the arcade."


* Is Pet Shop Boys' New Single "Together" Their Most Disturbing Song Yet?
* The Pet Shop Boys Banterview: What Have They Done To Deserve This?
* Pet Shop Boys Very At 15: How Can I Even Try To Explain?

[Top Ultimate image source]

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  • At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I would have got Hit And Miss, Positive Role Mode, Always, and No Time For Tears in there, but you've absolutely nailed it with Young offender at No. 1.

    (AND one of the very few tracks of theirs that was not made worse by a remix; the Jam & Spoon mix is sublime.)

  • At 9:00 PM, Blogger A1 said…

    pretty on the money there, but for the Australian version id take out your #18, 17, 14,13, 8,7 and 2 and include:

    The Theatre (from very)
    It always comes as a surprise (from Bilingual)
    The Night I fell in love (from Release)
    Tonight is Forever (from Please)
    I want to wake up (from Actually)
    A new life and Hey,Headmater (from ALternative)
    In Denial (from Nightlife)
    and the essential, NERVOUSLY from Behaviour !!

    there i'm happy now!

  • At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Man, I was holding my breath as I read down from #19 to #1 with the hopes that "Young Offender" was on this list. You absolutely NAILED it....well done!

    Hard to believe really, that "Young Offender" was never a single when it is such a career standout for many. For my list i'd also throw in:

    In Denial; Nervously; Love Is A Catastrophe; and The Way It Used To Be

  • At 10:58 PM, Blogger Jump! said…

    I pretty much agree with this list although i would have swapped "My october symphony" and "hey headmaster" for "too many people" and "Try it (i'm in love with a married man)". The Latter is about as painful to endure as bottoming for a 2 liter bottle.

  • At 11:22 PM, Blogger Moogaboo said…

    Let's save "No Wonder I'm in Therapy" for our PSB tribute book.

  • At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Pranav said…

    Great post! I have to confess I am not a huge Pet Shop Boys fan (at least nearly not as big a fan as you are!) so I am looking forward to discovering these great album tracks. My personal favorite on that list is "King's Cross". I've loved that song ever since I heard it a year and a half ago on internet radio.

  • At 12:26 AM, Blogger countpopula said…

    Another truly excellent idea! I vote for Tonight is Forever, The End of the World, Shameless, Closer to Heaven, and Integral. Otherwise, spot on!

    Thanks for including Fugitive, Up Against It, and Different Point of View. Interesting stuff.

  • At 1:20 AM, Blogger Todd said…

    Fucking amazing post.

    Up Against It is the most played song on my iPod by far.

    Such a cold winter
    With scenes as slow as Pinter


  • At 4:21 PM, Blogger 17days said…

    amazing post. i agree almost wholeheartedly with everything... i'd say the choices of mine that are missing are:

    - Bet She's Not Your Girlfriend: i've always loved the lyrics and the not-so-thinly veiled attack on George Michael in the 90's.

    - You Know Where You Went Wrong: my favorite bs-die of theirs. the "ahhh-ahhh-ahhh" is haunting and i love the hip hop inspired production from the mid-80's!

  • At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post. What I love about a new PSB release is that it always forces me back into their catalogue to rediscover songs. I've done that a bit recently and this post helps. Top work in compiling your list.

    Mine would include Hit and Miss, Betrayal, It always comes as a surprise, Bright Young Things, For all of us. The list goes on really so I should stop.

  • At 6:15 PM, Blogger xolondon said…

    Stop this caprice, you've got to cease this fin-de-si'cle pretense because you forgot... Decadence!

  • At 6:13 PM, Blogger D'luv said…

    Thanks, gang. A few notes:

    Equinan, I've gotta dig out that bonus third disco for PopArt and listen to that mix again. It's been awhile.

    A1, always love a good import version with different tracklist ;)

    Anonymous, thank you!

    Jump!, and if anyone would know...

    Moogaboo, done.

    Pranav, let me know how you like them ones you seek out!

    Countpopula, thanks! I had "Integral" in mind, but it was technically issued as a digital single a few years back :/

    Todd, thanks! Yeah, been playing Bilingual a lot myself lately. Still can't shake the feeling that it was a letdown, post-Very, but I've made my peace with it.

    17days, thanks! The funny part being that when I used to play "Bet She's Not Your Girlfriend" as a naive teen, like most of their songs the obvious gay subtext escaped me.

    Loveincminor.com, I know exactly what you're talking about! Still, I'm never able to bust out Release in any of my resurgence's with them. Blah. "Bright Young Things" is a great B-side!

    Xolondon, I do like that one. Great Disco 2 bonus track memories from fall '94!

  • At 7:51 PM, Blogger Cobra Commander said…

    I was so glad to see Young Offender at number one. I didn't come upon Very until I was 18 in 1999 and that has been my favorite song of theirs ever since.

  • At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A Man Could Get Arrested

    awesome b side

  • At 11:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "One thing leads to another" from Relentless and "Delusions of Grandeur" B-side -- definitely among the top 5 all time best tracks. i get chills just humming them in my head.

  • At 11:27 AM, Blogger bookabickar said…

    This is a futile exercise- like asking a doting mother which one of her children is her 'favorite'...

  • At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    - Hit And Miss
    - Tonight Is Forever
    - Friendly Fire
    - Sail Away
    - Hey, Headmaster

  • At 11:01 PM, Blogger daavid said…

    Excellent selection! Wow, I can't believe it; I would've had almost exactly the same choices. Maybe I would have ditched the "Very" ones and added "Hit and Miss" and "Always", but aside from that.. amazing!

    This compilation has to happen, somehow!

  • At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    wtf?! you list Bounce, an unreleased song? Unreleased?! Cheezuz.

    Finally! A Different Point Of View getting some recognition. Well done.

  • At 1:41 AM, Blogger Jebb said…

    Wow, I can only agree with about four of those. The over-rated "Fugitive" is the first to go.

  • At 8:12 AM, Anonymous ty-boxx said…

    I love I want to wake up too!

  • At 1:37 PM, Blogger Moogaboo said…

    Anonymous, "Bounce" has been on YouTube forever, so it's fair game!

  • At 2:07 AM, Blogger Trunk Guy said…

    Hey there. Check out our response to your interesting article... http://trunkguy.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/contrarily-trunk-guy-vs-daddy-or-chips/

  • At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Where's Dreaming of the Queen?

    also for consideration:
    Truck Driver & His Mate
    Boy (Yo Luis!) Who Couldn't Keep His Clothes On
    Sexy Northerner
    Positive Roll Model
    If Looks Could Kill
    Gin & Jag (Young Offender II)
    The Way It Used to Be
    Up & Down


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