Pet Shop Boys at 35 years: The 35 best moments so far

Fate rarely plays into how a band forms, or at least fate of any notable kind. Most band origin stories begin and end with the members meeting at school, or with two different groups coming together, or with something as lame as answering a classified ad. But then there are those band origin stories that read from a larger script of destiny, like the Pet Shop Boys. What are the chances that, 35 years ago, Neil Tennant would leave his home for an electronics shop at the same time and the same day as Chris Lowe? And what are the chances that two strangers would strike up a conversation and then would go on to create some of the greatest pop music ever written?

Since that fateful day, the Pet Shop Boys have enjoyed even more moments and in celebration of 35 years in operation, here are 35 of the best.

1. It starts where it all starts: Birth. Neil Tennant is born July 10, 1954, in North Shields, Tyneside in England. Chris Lowe is born Oct. 4, 1959, in Blackpool.

2. Neil Tennant leaves Newcastle, and Chris Lowe leaves Blackpool for London. In 1981, Tennant purchases a synthesizer and takes it home and realizes he has nothing to plug it into. He takes the synthesizer to an electronics shop to get an audio jack when Chris Lowe walks in. They begin talking about music and Neil gives Chris his phone number. Chris calls three days later, and they begin writing songs. Thus, the Pet Shop Boys are born.

3. After treating music as a hobby, the first proper song the duo writes is “Jealousy.” Chris composes the piano part back home in Blackpool, and gives the cassette to Neil who writes the lyrics. Despite being the first Pet Shop Boys song, they didn’t record it until 1990 when it appeared on their fourth album Behaviour.

4. The two share a mutual affinity for dance producer Bobby Orlando (aka Bobby O), and while Neil is working at the magazine Smash Hits, he gets assigned to interview The Police in New York City. While in New York he meets with Bobby Orlando who agrees to produce some records with Neil and Chris. The two fly back to New York and the sessions produce a number of songs including “West End Girls.”

5. Pet Shop Boys release the Bobby Orlando-produced version “West End Girls” in April of 1984. A year later, after cutting ties with Orlando, they re-record and re-release the song and it hits No. 1 in the U.K. and the U.S.

6. 1984 is also is the first time the Pet Shop Boys appear on stage, showing up at the Fridge Nightclub in Brixton.

7. In 1985, the Pet Shop Boys make their first appearance on BBC’s “Top of the Pops,” performing “West End Girls.” They’d go on to make over 50 appearances on the show throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s.

8. 1985 also sees the group sign to Parlophone Records, a label the group would stay with for 28 years.

9. In 1986, the Pet Shop Boys release their debut album Please, which includes several of their biggest songs like “Suburbia,” “Loves Comes Quickly,” “West End Girls,” and “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money).”

10. Also in 1986, the Pet Shop Boys fly to Los Angeles to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards, their U.S. television debut. Their performance is very ‘80s, and you should watch it here.

11. After taking home a BRIT Award in 1987, the duo releases their second proper studio album Actually. That album includes the group’s second No. 1 hit in the U.K. “It’s A Sin,” which describes Tennant’s religious upbringing and education which rankles the feathers of his alma mater St. Cuthbert’s Grammar School.

12. Actually also contains one of the Pet Shop Boys’ best songs in “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” their collaboration with Dusty Springfield. The song hits No. 2 in the U.K. and the U.S., but what’s better is when Dusty and the Boys performed it at the 1988 BRIT Awards. It’s an extraordinary lip-synching performance, and probably one of Chris’ best standing-there-not-caring performances ever.

13. That collaboration leads to the Pet Shop Boys producing several songs on Springfield’s 1990 album Reputation, which revitalizes her stature in critical circles, as well as the public eye.

14. In conjunction with the release of Actually, Neil and Chris star in the film “It Couldn’t Happen Here.” What starts out as a long music video turns into a full-fledged surreal movie about a blind priest in England all soundtracked to the Pet Shop Boys.

15. Pet Shop Boys do killer covers too. One of their biggest comes in 1987 when they cover Elvis Presley’s “Always On My Mind.” The video for “Always On My Mind” comes from “It Couldn’t Happen Here” and is another U.K. No. 1 hit for the duo.

16. In 1986, the duo had planned to go on tour, but their vision for the stage design proved too costly which led to them putting a kibosh on hitting the road. Three years passed until they finally went on tour, embarking on the MCMLXXXIX tour which was in support of basically everything prior to that.

17. After Dusty Springfield, the Pet Shop Boys take on the career of Liza Minelli, producing her 1989 record Results, one of her most successful albums.

18. In 1990 the Pet Shop Boys release Behaviour., an album produced with Harold Faltermeyer which also helps launch their 1991 Performance tour, the group’s first world tour.  

19. Before that world tour, though, 1990 also sees the group make their first concert appearance in America (outside of that VMA performance), showing up during Electronic’s (Bernard Sumner of New Order and Johnny Marr of The Smiths’ collaboration) gig at Dodger Stadium.

20. Later in 1990, the group makes their live debut in America proper with a set at the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles.

21. The Pet Shop Boys and sexuality have long orbited around each other. You wouldn’t describe a lot of their lyrics as overtly homosexual, but the music does undoubtedly have a flamboyant slant that proved popular in many gay bars throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. While Chris never states his sexuality, in 1994, Neil comes out to Attitude magazine.

22. A year before that, though, the group delivers their fifth studio album Very. The album marks a change for the group, especially when it comes to visuals, as the group releases several videos that feature aggressive ‘90s computer animation which looks quaintly aged now. Very remains the group’s only No. 1 album in the U.K.

23. ‘90s British music was sort of weird, an era where stars of the ‘80s and even the ‘70s were still trying to find their footing, case in point David Bowie. Bowie’s ‘90s output is hit-or-miss to say the least, but one of those hits came with 1995’s Outside. The Pet Shop Boys remix “Hallo Spaceboy” from that album, and join Bowie for a performance at the 1996 BRIT Awards, a combo that works surprisingly well.

24. At the turn of the millennium, Neil and Chris set their eyes on the stage, as they pen their first musical, “Closer to Heaven.” The production debuts in May of 2001 and closes in October of 2001. It has since been performed sporadically over the years.

25. The Pet Shop Boys have had a long relationship with Russia over the decades and in 2003, the duo travels to the country where Mikhail Gorbachev awards them the World Arts Award. As far as we can tell, there are no more World Awards, which either makes it an incredibly rare and impressive achievement, or something that is the equivalent of a Blockbuster Entertainment Award. Either way, the Pet Shop Boys have one.

26. The grand incompetence of George W. Bush and Tony Blair inspire the Pet Shop Boys to release their single “I’m With Stupid” in 2006. A commentary on the two politician’s relationship, the song proves popular in the U.K., reaching No. 8 on the charts. Even better, the group takes the song to “Top of the Pops” where backup dancers wearing politician masks support Neil and Chris’ typically upbeat instrumentation and irreverent lyrics.

27. In 2009, the BRIT Awards honor Tennant and Lowe with the Outstanding Contribution to Music statue. After receiving the award, the group performs a career-spanning medley that includes guest appearances from Lady Gaga and Brandon Flowers.

28. Did you know the Pet Shop Boys have a Christmas EP? They released the EP, entitled, um, Christmas in December of 2009. The four-track EP contains their previous Christmas song “It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas.”

29. At Glastonbury 2010, the group makes their first appearance in 10 years with a theatrical, well-received set.

30. After the mixed reception to their theater debut in 2001, Tennant and Lowe return to the stage in 2011 to score the ballet “The Most Incredible Thing” which receives favorable reviews.

31. At the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony, the group performs “West End Girls” while being transported around in geometric, Cheeto-colored pedicabs.

32. Robbie Williams awards the group with the Q Magazine Outstanding Contribution to Music Award in 2013.

33. And that same year sees the group release their twelfth studio album Electric.

34. Tennant and Lowe make their first-ever appearance at Coachella in April of 2014.

35. The group celebrates 2016 with Super, their critically-acclaimed thirteenth studio album. In support of Super, the group announced “Inner Sanctum,” a four-night residency at the Royal Opera House of London which opens to rave reviews.

The Pet Shop Boys are currently on tour and will play the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Oct. 29. For more information on tickets, click here.

Check out all of their upcoming tour dates here.