If you’re just joining us, check out the About This Project link for details. Basically, I make playlists of all the singles by certain musical artists and then try to order them using the guiding principle “do I like each song more than the last song.” I define “single” in a broad enough way to include any song that was released as a purchasable single in any format in any country; as a promotional single in any country; as a video; or generally any song that I know charted anywhere. My main sources are Wikipedia (mostly reliable) and Discogs (reasonably reliable). I welcome editing feedback since sometimes I favor speed over spelling.
These lists are, of course, strictly about which songs I like the most by any given artist. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste. I really genuinely dig most of the top 60 or so of these songs, but as we get closer to the top of the list, I’m kind of surprised to see that most of my top 20 are early songs by the band. Maybe it is nostalgia, maybe I just like them better. Who can say? Let’s go back to the 80’s and 90’s… Mostly.
20. Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes off You)
Third single from Behavior (1990), released as a single in 1991
Arrangement of “Where The Streets Have No Name” originally written and performed by U2 (1987) and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli (1967)
This was the Pet Shop Boys final single to enter the US Billboard top 100. Mind. Blown. In my little corner of the radio world, I was playing tunes from their next album – 1993’s Very – and thought at the time that that was a superior set of songs. Writing about U2 last year, I ranked their version of this song at #6, but in 1990, I was so over U2 and thought they were a bunch of phonies, so I was primed for this piss-take on one of their classic songs (I liked to play this song back to back with Negativeland’s “U2” on KTUH). In the UK, the song as a double A-Side with “How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously” (#36). Neil Tennant credits this song with helping U2 loosen up. All these years later, I have a deeper appreciation for the U2 original but that hasn’t spoiled my enjoyment of this great, pointed dance mash-up.
What I Love: The moment where Neil sings “Where the streets have no name… I can’t take my eyes off of you” in exactly the same way.
Third single from Actually (1987), released as a single in 1987
I hated this song when I first heard it. This feeling lasted for about twenty years. Then I forgot about it for another ten. Finally, I started working on this project and the first time I heard it again, my brain went “What the heck is this it’s so good.” Really, I love the keyboard work so much on this song now. Something about the bass line contrasting with the little bits of electric glimmer just rubs my brain in the right way. I can’t explain why I didn’t like it all those years ago. The lyrics were written to deliberately invoke the British term for male prostitutes, “rent boys,” though Tennant says he was inspired to write the song after reading how Edward Kennedy kept a mistress in New York. The song was a big hit in the UK, but it wasn’t even released as a single state-side because we’re dumb.
What I Love: The little key change going into the chorus is an absolute delight.
18. The Pop Kids
First single from Super (2016), released as a single in 2016
I just learned that the lyrics of “The Pop Kids” are based on a true story. I mean, I sort of knew that because I imagine this song could have been the true story of any number of people who love pop music, but there’s a specific couple that were specifically called the pop kids in the early 90’s. When I first heard the tune, I figured it was a somewhat fictionalized account of the friendship between Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, in part at least because of the bit about rock being overrated. I am pleased to report that this is a song from their most recent album so – at least in my sonic world – the Pet Shop Boys are still releasing top quality songs.
What I Love: The little semi-spoken description of a Wednesday night trip to a club followed by the awed “Oooo I like it here” bridge.
17. Domino Dancing
First single from Introspective (1988), released as a single in 1988
I guess Neil Tennant has said this song was about jealousy destroying a hetero relationship, but back when I was playing this on WRBC in 1988, we all knew with 100% certainty that it was obviously about the AIDS crisis. I’m pretty sure the balance of the lyrics don’t actually support my firm 80’s belief. One could argue that the possible infidelity of one’s supposed monogamous partner in the 80’s could be akin to a death sentence and would be ample reason to end a relationship. I ramble, but I am not convinced my original interpretation of the song was wrong. Furthermore, between the “racy” video and the poor reception to the song’s Latin beat, “Domino Dancing” was the Pet Shop Boys last top 40 hit in the USA. Besides, we’d moved on from new wave to hair metal. The late 80’s were a grim time.
What I Love: This is one of my favorite choruses of any of their songs. I love singing along with the “All Day, All Day” part, even though it has a grim overtone to me.
Second single from PopArt (2003), released as a single in 2004
The Pet Shop Boys released a greatest hits collection called PopArt in 2003. I have mentioned several times how turned off I am in general to the concept of a major artist releasing a package of previously released material with just one or two new (usually mediocre) songs in a cynical effort to encourage hardcore fans to purchase said record. While I’m still not a fan of this practice, I’ve got to say that the one-two punch of “Miracles” (coming up) and “Flamboyant” on PopArt almost justifies the existence of this practice. If every new greatest hits collection could have two songs as good as these on it, I might even be sold on the idea. I mean, I’ve bought albums of all new material where there was one good song and everything else sucked. Two great new songs an a bunch of decent one’s I’ve heard before? That doesn’t sound too terrible.
Even though the lyrics might read like a bit of a disparaging tune directed at somebody in particular, Dr. Studer describes it more as of a celebration of an archetype of a person with a kind of “sparkle.” I’m in the theatre. I know a dozen or more people like this, most of whom I love. This song strikes a chord.
What I Love: “Every actor needs/An audience/Every action is/A performance.”
15. Always on My Mind
My first encounter with this song was Willie Nelson’s understated hit single. I didn’t know whether I loved it or hated it (I think now I sort of love it?). When I first heard the Pet Shop Boys version, I was not aware that the song had a much richer history so I assumed it was a bit of a piss-take on Nelson’s song. I wasn’t sure where the joke was, but I assumed it must be there. I am pleased to say that, for once, my interpretation of the song was accurate. The Pet Shop Boys were deliberately revealing the selfishness inherent in the lyrics. I’m almost proud of myself.
What I Love: The dominant melodic keyboard stings are fabulous.
14. Hallo Spaceboy (remix; David Bowie featuring Pet Shop Boys)
Remix single of a song originally from David Bowie’s Outside (1995), single released in 1996
This is the first song that I’m ranking for a second time. Previously, I placed it at #37 on my list of David Bowie songs. I suppose this seems to suggest something about how the rest of the songs on this list rank against the rest of the songs on my Bowie’s list. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.
Dr Studer’s brief essay about this song from the Pet Shop Boys side of the collaboration is as worth reading as was Chris O’Leary’s take from the Bowie side. My own thought is that this is a true collaboration – though the song was initially Bowie’s, Lowe and Tennant thoroughly reworked it in their mix. The addition of a pastiche of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” as a second verse was particularly inspired.
What I Love: Same as before: Neil Tennant’s vocals are always spot on and he and Bowie compliment each other nicely.
Third single from Bilingual (1996), released as a single in 1996
I submit this song as further evidence that U.S. listeners in the mid-90’s had no idea what made a great pop song. Even if you strip away the clever lyrics (about a kind of pathetic UK businessman trying to be a sophisticated lady’s man on the continent), the delightful Latin-flavored shuffle of the track should have propelled this up the charts. Looking at the top 100 U.S. singles from 1996, I’m struck by how perfect this would have sounded on a radio friendly mix with like 75% of those songs. Oh, America.
What I Love: “And after work explain how I feel/’Perdóneme, me llamo Neil'”
Fourth single from Please (1985), released as a single in 1986
This is officially the first of the four singles from Please on this list. The second follows immediately after. I was in college when this album came out and purchased it on cassette. My father and I took a trip to Arizona and the Grand Canyon around this time and I’m not sure if I just listened to this tape a millions times myself or if we had a car with a cassette deck which would have allowed me to inflict it upon him for a solid week. As I recall, I almost never listened to the second side of the album, but the whole first side is some of the best pop music of the era. Featuring a bassline that is “virtually the same as” Madonna’s “Into the Groove” (#3), “Suburbia” explores the dark underbelly of suburban life. It also makes the horror sound pretty darn fun and inviting.
What I Love: The chorus is fantastic and I love the keyboard melody.
11. Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) (remix)
Third single from Please (1985), released as a single in 1986
Never has Neil Tennant looked more like Harry Anderson than in that video. I placed the original mix of this song at #39. I don’t have a lot to add other than to say that I think this version is tighter and more enjoyable.
What I Love: If the original mix sounds dramatic, this mix seems huge and bombastic, which compliments the lyrics nicely.
Coming Soon: Another one you’ve heard before earlier on this list…