The Pet Shop Boys, the British dance pop duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, have been performing and recording for over thirty years. Once claiming they had more in common with a group like Steely Dan than Depeche Mode, the Tennant and Lowe's songs are distinguished by strong melodies, witty and occasionally acerbic lyrics, and intricate production that has been known to borrow dance styles from different genres and countries. Here are ten of the best.
10. "Shameless" (1993)
This outtake from 1993's Very is one of their most exhilarating dancefloor corkers, and prescient to boot. Just before the dawn of reality shows and social media the Pets have a blast impersonating a pair of vapid notoriety seekers. Try not to sing along with their irresistible credo "We have no integrity." Not even the group knows why they left "Shameless" off the album.
9. "The Survivors" (1996)
This gorgeous ballad may be the Pets' most overlooked great song. Placed near the end of their underrated 1996 Bilingual album, this musical elegy features one of their most elegant melodies and backing vocals from Katie Kissoon on the final chorus. Not even the group knows why "The Survivors" wasn't released as a single.
Maybe Tennant's most caustic attack on rock culture, taking down a self-righteous, do-gooder rock star. "Do you think they'll put you in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?" he coos sarcastically. The song was supposedly inspired by a specific person - Wendy James of Transvision Vamp - but there certainly were (and are) other figures that fit equally well.
7. "The Night I Fell In Love" (2002)
Another track also based on a real-life pop star - only his identity is made pretty obvious even if he goes unmentioned by name. Tennant wistfully recounts an intimate one-night stand with a certain Detroit rapper he meets after one of his concerts. As an openly gay man Tennant certainly offered the most audacious contribution to the discussion over Eminem's alleged homophobia.
6. "Liberation" (1993)
Tennant is known for his deadpan vocals, but he's always been equally adept at putting across heartbreaking ballads. "Liberation", from their best album Very, may be the finest example. He beautifully uses his upper range on the chorus of this song about letting yourself fall in love.
The Pets frequently assume various cynical personas in their lyrics. In "Opportunities" Tennant is a conniving schemer looking to strike it rich without sweating too much over the legality of his plans. Definitely one of the funniest and most danceable songs about greed released in the 1980s.
This well may be the giddiest song in the group's catalog. The singer suddenly feels a euphoric rush, and the music matches his emotions. Triumphant brass hooks and skittery beats mark this uptempo gem from Very.
3. "Left To My Own Devices" (1988)
The six long tracks on the group's 1988 album Introspective showed their infatuation with that era's house and freestyle music. The sweeping eight-minute opener "Left To My Own Devices" also adds symphonic flourishes and operatic chorales -"Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat" as the lyrics memorably put it. Don't miss Frankie Knuckles' excellent piano remix.
2. "West End Girls" (1986)
The Pets' debut single "West End Girls" exists in two versions. It was first released in 1984 as a rather Spartan synthpop dance track built on a simple programmed bassline. A year later, working with a different producer they re-recorded a more polished version of the song, one whose sound evokes a foggy London afternoon. This better-known (and better) "West End Girls" hit Number One in the U.S. in 1986.
1. "It's a Sin" (1987)
The 1987 Top Ten single "It's a Sin" is a powerful disco epic with Catholic guilt as its theme. The listener is immediately drawn in by the opulent Gothic arrangement filled with majestic synth stabs and thunder effects and Latin chanting deep in the mix. A longtime fan favorite, it's the one song you're always guaranteed to hear at any Pet Shop Boys show.
And the Pet Shop Boys do put on quite the stage show, so don't pass up the chance to catch them live. Keep up with all the latest information on the Pet Shop Boys here.