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.
We’re still in the “pretty good songs that I just like less than even better songs” range on this list. We’ll enter the “quite good songs indeed, but there’s better still” section soon.
While working on this list, I discovered that the Pet Shop Boys released the song “All Over The World” from Yes as a single and I’ve added it to my rankings (higher up) which means we now have 87 singles. I’ve now double and triple checked my lists and hope this will be the only change. At any rate, I’ve adjusted the previous entry to account for this. Following the precedent I set when I made similar errors on the Bowie list and The Police list, I’m listing the new #81 both here and there.
81. Saturday Night Forever
Promo single from Bilingual (1996), released as a single in 1997
I think there’s more songs from Bilingual on my list than from any other PSB album. I’m noticing that record companies seemed to release a lot more singles as a rule from new albums in the late 80’s through the late 90’s. There are, of course, some albums whose sheer success led to most of the songs being singles in other decades (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, for example, spawned 7 singles from its nine tracks). Anyhow, all told 7 (out of 12) songs from Bilingual are on this list. Furthermore, a couple of the other songs on this list are b-sides from the Bilingual sessions that were later released as single. “Saturday Night Forever” sounds like a tribute to the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever (remove the “or” from “forever” and you have “fever”). I genuinely enjoy the chorus (especially the “Saturday night Saturday night” backing vocals) but the rest of the song doesn’t stick in my head at all (though I quite like it when I’m listening to it). To appear higher on this list, I need to remember the whole song and not have an issue with some aspect of the song.
80. King Of Rome
Brazil-only single from Yes (2009), released as a single in 2009
Much like “Home and Dry” (#86), “King of Rome” isn’t so much bad as just a little dull. What elevates it up past “Home and Dry” (and obviously several other songs) in my estimation are two things. First, the lyrics in general are interesting. I like the suggestion that the King is the loneliest possible person (though I cynically also believe that this is just something we poor people are told so we have undeserved sympathy for the very wealthy and powerful). Second, the last moments of the song (including the last two lines) end the tune without any resolution. He still longs for his lover and it’s suggested by this ending that this longing will never end (unless, I suppose, they release a sequel song). There’s clearly an audience for adult contemporary Pet Shop Boys songs, I’m just not especially in it.
79. It’s Alright
Third single from Introspective (1988), released as a single in 1989
In 1989 when I was 22, the central message to this song (“there’s horrible stuff going on the world but music will make it alright”) resonated with me and I liked this song much more than I do now. Many people agreed with me – this is the 8th best-selling single by the Pet Shop Boys world-wide. I’m 50 now and we’re living in a challenging time. These days, I feel like music (and art and theatre, etc) can make us feel better for a time (something we honestly all need) but that once it’s narcotic effect wears off, the overwhelming problems of the world are still out there. Thus, it’s a little harder for me to appreciate a song with this message. Fortunately, Neil Tennant (in his rewrite of the lyrics) provides a cynical little out for people like me by including the phrase “I hope everything’s going to be alright” near the end of the song. Yes, I hope that too.
Second single from Elysium (2012), released as a single in 2012
I have some complex feelings about “Leaving” (particularly the lyrics) that complicate my enjoyment of the song. Tennant build the song around a metaphor which compares a collapsed relationship with the death of a loved one. I completely buy this – mourning is very personal to each individual and for some, the end of a relationship can be just as (or even more) traumatic as a close death. That said, I also feel like “the dead don’t go away” is close to being a cliché so I’m a bit put off by that. Furthermore, the song treads territory between “baby please don’t go” and “baby, I know you’re breaking up with me because you’re fed up with me, but I will always be with you whether you like it or not forever.” I am completely sympathetic to the idea that a person would not want their lover to leave them but I’m somewhat creeped out by the “I’ll always be in your head shaping you in some ways” message. Now, it is of course entirely possible, based on his songwriting history, that Neil Tennant intended this song to be a little unsettling and maybe I just need a little more time with it to appreciate it in all its creeper glory.
77. It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas
I appreciate that we get to hear the real voices of both Neil and Chris at the end of this tune. “It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas” is saved from a lower ranking in part because it was released initially as a fan club single only. Had it been released as an actual Christmas single, it would have seemed like the Pet Shop Boys were cynically releasing a cynical Christmas single to capitalize on the fact that virtually any Christmas song has a chance of making some money. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with making money, but I hate it when artists are obvious about it. Usually. Sometimes I like it. Humans are complex.
Anyhow, a couple of things that are fun about this song include the chorus chant of “Bing Crosby,” the aforementioned spoken holiday greeting at the end, and the surprise cameo by “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” I find most Christmas singles to be excruciating outside of their intended seasons (and within that season, they’re only interesting in contrast with some of the other schmaltz blasting across Target) and this song barely escapes my seasonal wrath. That it isn’t ranked last is moderately high praise.
76. Yesterday, When I Was Mad
Fifth single from Very (1993), released as a single in 1994
I have been listening to this song since 1993 and whenever my inner voice starts singing it, my brain immediately turns it into “Stand and Deliver” by Adam and the Ants. I can get about half a verse in before my brain starts singing “we’re the dandy highwaymen” and then it’s over. Upon close listening, it’s clear that this is the fault of my brain and not based on any over similarities between the songs. None-the-less, I can’t stop my inner voice from turning this song into Antmusic. I quite like Adam Ant, so this isn’t a bad thing, per se. It just means I am not able for the life of me to listen to this song on its own merits.
75. Inner Sanctum
Third single from Super (2016), limited edition 12″ single released in 2016
The Pet Shop Boys’ most recent album (so far) was Super is the second in a planned trilogy with producer Stuart Price. On this trilogy, Tennant and Lowe are striving to be “electronic purists” once again. “Inner Sanctum” is a pleasant EDM track that takes a little while to stand out from any other given EDM track (assuming you, like me, are merely a casual and occasional listener of that genre). I’m not familiar with the terminology used to describe different EDM techniques, but I will point out that I always like the woosh-like moments when the song moves from a sort of minimal section to a more full/bass-heavy section. This song has one of those so hurray for that.
74. Paninaro (Original Italy only single)
First single from Disco (1987), released in Italy only in 1987
The Pet Shop Boys have, at several points in their career, reworked songs and released them again as singles in significantly altered forms. The band released their first recording of “Paninaro” (a song ostensibly about am Italian pop-focused subculture) in Italy only in 1987. I admit, I’m only somewhat taken by this version. Sung/rapped by Chris Lowe (the only song on this list featuring his lead vocals), the original version of “Paninaro” is more of a litany of things the Paninaro (and the Pet Shop Boys) like. While it is a fine dance song (and who doesn’t like to dance every now and again?), I find it a little tedious when I listen to it away from the dance floor or the gym. To whit, decent tune but I wouldn’t seek it out on a long drive.
73. Did You See Me Coming?
Second single from Yes (2007), released as a single in 2007.
“Did You See Me Coming” was the last single to enter the UK top 40 to date. It reminds me a little of a New Order song (albeit with better lyrics). There’s some clever wordplay on the Who’s Who book series, a driving beat and a few strong hooks. In fact, I’m going to just state that this song marks the move into “songs that I like a bit” section of the list.
72. A Red Letter Day
Fourth single from Bilingual (1996), released as a single in 1997
“A Red Letter Day” held, for a time, the distinction of being the song that took the biggest tumble out of the U.K. top ten in history. It is certainly a decent enough song – the lyrics speak of hope that we’ll all one day get to experience our own red-letter day and the music is reasonably pleasant. The Pet Shop Boys have so many great to excellent singles that a lot of these good ones sort of just get pushed down in my rankings. To whit, this song is just good.
71. I Want To Wake Up
Acetate 10″ released in 1987
Discogs constantly confounds me. It is a collector’s site which makes it very useful for this project (because collectors tend to be completists) but it also makes it problematic because some of the singles and albums listed on it are of dubious origin. Recall, for instance, “Shine A Light” by Madonna (#101), a bootleg track that I included in the list because it was included at Discogs. Acetate records are typically pressed for some sort of special purpose and almost never or general release because they wear out quickly. “I Want To Wake Up” found its official release as the B-Side to “Can You Forgive Her?” in 1993. I completely understand why it wasn’t released as a single, but it’s really a pretty decent love song about wanting to wake up next to the person you love (for the first time?). Should it be on this list? I mean, it is on this list. Can you buy the single or, in fact, acquire it in its acetate form? Almost certainly not.
Coming Soon: Can you forgive me? More great songs ranked far too low.