A Smash Hits journalist and a keyboardist “possibly more famous for not doing anything than almost anyone else in the history of popular entertainment” (according to a 1995 Guardian article) make an unlikely recipe for pop success but, 30 years on, the Pet Shop Boys are the most successful UK duo in music history.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe met back in 1981 but it wasn’t until 1986 when a re-recorded, re-released version of West End Girls catapulted them into the spotlight. It was the first number one single of the year and the first of the band’s 22 (to date) top ten hits.
30 years later and with four number ones – the others being It’s A Sin, Always On My Mind and Heart – under their belts, the Boys released their 13th album studio album, Super, a couple of months ago.
Their style has evolved over the years but there’s no mistaking their signature electronic/synth pop sound. Despite Tennant’s thin voice and Lowe’s trademark low-profile presence – he rarely speaks or makes eye contact and even when playing live barely moves – their shows are proper theatrical events full of bombastic sound and coruscating lighting. I saw them at Wembley Arena back in 2000 and am going again in July, when they’re playing at London’s Royal Opera House.
But West End Girls was where it all began. With its pulsing bass line and social commentary, it has remained an enduring staple of 1980s-based playlists. The song won Best Single at the Brit Awards and Best International Hit at the Ivor Novellos. The duo even made an appearance at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics Games, when they performed the track at the closing ceremony, in recognition of their role in British pop culture.
Finally, a couple of trivia notes. All 13 Pet Shop Boys albums have single-word titles. And you may recognise the vampire in the video for their fourth and final chart-topping single, Heart, which you can check out here. (Answer below.)
(Yes, that is Sir Ian McKellen.)