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.
Many of the Pet Shop Boys oddities an collaborations ended up in the middle of my list. Not deliberately, mind you, that’s just how I likes ’em. And thus, the middle continues…
60. We’re The Pet Shop Boys by Robbie Williams with The Pet Shop Boys
U.S. Promo CD released in 2008
Cover of a song originally written and recorded by My Robot Friend in 2002
This song was originally recorded by a New York band called My Robot Friend (linked above) and their original is rather excellent. Later, The Pet Shop Boys covered it without Robbie Williams and is likewise excellent. Indeed, this collaboration with Robbie Williams (while still pretty good) is the weakest of the three versions. My critique of his vocal is that, despite a good effort, it’s not detached enough for the spirit of the song. Sections of the lyrics are built around song titles of Pet Shop Boys singles and, again, it’s much more compelling to hear actual Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant sing them. None the less, it’s a fun listen even with Williams’ vocal.
59. In The Night
Limited edition Germany-only 7″ single released in 1987
If you took the beat for “Paninaro” (#74, #61) and put a more traditionally structured lyric over it and had Neil Tennant sing it instead of Chris Lowe, it might sound something like “In The Night.” Apparently, it was meant to follow the same chord structure as “Opportunities” (coming up) with the intent that this would be that song’s b-side and they could be played one over the other. The more you know! The subject of the song is a group of French proto-Beatniks called the Zazou who, during the German occupation of France in World War 2, were apathetic. The Nazi hated them because they loved American jazz music (which they associated with black musicians) and the French hated them because they would not take sides. Tennant wrote and sings this great line (the best thing about the song) about there being a “thin line between love and crime and… collaboration.” By not standing up to the Nazi, they were essentially collaborating. Let this be a lesson in 2018. Curiously, this was an A-side single in Germany only.
Second single from Electric (2013), released as a single in 2013
OK, I totally forgot this, but I downloaded and listened to Electric a whole bunch in 2013 and have the “date downloaded” iTunes data to prove it. I’m not sure why I forgot this when I started writing about the Pet Shop Boys. The singles from that album (indeed, that whole album) were in heavy rotation in my life for a few years. The single version of this song was about twice as long as the video (it’s essentially the album version). Dance music in this century tends to eschew vocals, so a dance song that features lyrics does, indeed, make a change. The lyrics explore how sometimes you connect with a lyric on the dance floor so strongly that you feel like it’s expressing your own feelings. A powerful sentiment to be sure and one I’ve certainly experienced (though my connection was at high school dances with every cliché new wave pop dance song this side of “Don’t You Forget About Me”). While I love this as a dance song and appreciate the lyric (and vocal), I want there to be a better hook than the “I like the music” melody. I offer no solution at this time.
57. Beautiful People
Third Single from Yes (2009), released as a single in Germany and a download in the U.S. in 2009
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were briefly part of a super-group called Electronic that featured Bernard Sumner of New Order and Johnny Marr of The Smiths. Every now and then, one of their songs sounds a bit like a tune that would have worked with that band. While the lyrics are a cut above your average New Order song, I can easily here this tune fitting in on a late-80’s/early 90’s New Order record. Just imagine it with Sumner’s voice in your head. No, do it, I’ll wait.
Anyhow, there’s also just a little touch of late 60’s rock in the way the Tennant and the backing singer (Lowe?) sings the chorus. I can’t really put my finger on it, but something about how the backing vocalists sing “around.” It’s not exactly a Pet Shop Boys classic, but I enjoy it whenever it pops up.
56. Absolutely Fabulous
Stand-alone single for Comic Relief, released in 1994
OK, mixed feelings here. The problem with novelty songs is that the novelty wears off. When that happens, a once-loved song can become painfully annoying to hear. Imagine the first time you heard “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” as a kid, for example, as opposed to how you feel when it comes on the radio now. I mean, you want to turn it off as soon as it starts, right?
So when I started making this list, I ranked “Absolutely Fabulous” very near the bottom. I loved it so much in 1994 and then hated it so much later in 1994. I assumed that I still hated it. However, a strange thing had happened in the intervening years – specifically, the intervening years happened. I feel a sense of nostalgia when I hear this song that pulls me right back to ’94 and loving the TV show Absolutely Fabulous. Furthermore, I am able to listen to it and marvel at how well Tennant and Lowe turned the samples from the show into a song – I especially love the sections where Edina and Patsy are singing brief snippets of different contemporary songs. The “Ride on Time” and the “Pump up the Volume” bits are even more delightful now than they were 24 years ago.
The Pet Shop Boys don’t seem to hold this song in particularly high regard (or there is some issue with the rights) because they’ve not included it on any of their compilations albums despite the fact that it was a huge hit in the English-speaking world (in the US, it was a big dance club hit). Anyhow, fun song and one that brings back some fun memories now.
55. DJ Culture
First single from Discography (1991), released as a single in 1991
I was an acting company member of the Honolulu Theatre for Youth for one season in the 90’s and when we toured to the neighbor islands and (eventually) to two of the Marshall Island’s atolls, I brought with me a copy of The Cars’ greatest hits package Just What I Needed and the Pet Shop Boys’ compilation Discography. Were I working on this song ranking project in the mid-90’s, I suppose I would start by making a mix tape(s) of all the singles and then (knowing me) re-record the mix tape based on my ranking (from least favorite to favorite). This would be a considerably more tedious process than just moving songs around in an iTunes playlist then syncing my old-school iPod Classic. This is an age of wonders!
Most of the songs on Discography had been hits so to entice super-fans to buy the collection, the Pet Shop Boys (or their marketing team) made the time-honored decision to include a couple of new songs in the package. Sometimes, this strategy is a disappointing failure but both of the new tracks on Discography were rather good. “DJ Culture” was a moderate hit, a bit of good luck for a song that aimed to compare George H.W. Bush’s use of Winston Churchill’s wartime rhetoric with the way that DJ’s sample early work. There’s a couple of delightful, subtle arpeggio that really elevate the song. I’m just going to go ahead and say this song marks the transition from the merely good Pet Shop Boys songs to the rather great ones.
Fourth single from Very (1993), released as a single in 1994
I had a CD copy of Very when it first came out. Or my friend and neighbor and classmate and fellow DJ Nathan did. It was orange and covered with these little circular bumps. When I recreated it in MS Paint for this project (you’ll see it in a few entries), drawing it made me borderline bonkers. It may be their coolest album cover, though. I certainly thought to back in ’93. At the time, “Liberation” didn’t make an especially huge impression on me. I liked the more aggressive synth-pop of “Can You Forgive Her?” and the beautiful, wistful cover of “Go West” but found this song to be fairly standard adult contemporary pop. Looking back with a fuller understanding of what it was like for to live as a gay man in the early 90’s, a song about how love feels like liberation was a much bolder, braver statement than I recognized at the time. It’s easy to forget how quickly western society has moved in the direction of supporting gay rights this past decade (and how much further we have to go as this poignant short video from earlier this year illustrates) but in the early 90’s, being out and gay was even harder than now. Anyhow, I still feel the music is a little lackluster on this song, but I find the lyrics to be genuinely moving.
53. Say It to Me
Fourth single from Super (2016), released as a single in 2016
As I’ve mentioned, Super is the second in a three-part trilogy of Pet Shop Boys albums that once again embrace purely electronic music (Electric was the first in the trilogy and the third is forthcoming, so I’ll need to update this list eventually). “Say It To Me” sounds a bit like a 21st century EDM tune with a Neil Tennant vocal and lyric. The choral “Say It To Me” hook is a simple and surprisingly infectious (something like that would have helped “Vocal” rank a little higher on this list – there’s the solution I didn’t offer before). I find this to be one of the band’s most successful forays into contemporary dance music and am interested in seeing how Lowe and Tennant continue to explore this direction on their next record.
52. Was It Worth It?
Second single from Discography (1991), released as a single in 1991
The second original song from Discography is a land of contrasts. I love the chorus so much – in fact, if I was just ranking choruses, this song would be in the top ten (maybe even the top five). On the other hand, the verses are almost entirely forgettable. In fact, I replace the lyrics to the verses with the lyrics to the verses of “Left To My Own Devices” (coming up) whenever I sing this song in my head. But, yeah, when I have been listening to this song during walks and hikes lately, I have to struggle to resist singing it as loudly as I can. Just so good. The song was not an especially big hit (it was their first song in seven years to miss the U.K. Top 20) and even if I can’t honestly rate it higher than #52, I wouldn’t give up that chorus for anything.
51. I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Any More
First single from Nightlife (1999), released as a single in 1999
Is it right to rank a song over other songs just because the title is brilliant? I think so. Fortunately, the rest of the song lives up to the title. I would characterize the song as somewhat ghostly – both Tennant’s vocal line and the Lowe’s keyboard work sound a bit like they’re coming from the other side. My favorite part of the tune is the haunting little “you’re… breaking my heart.” The lyrics are much more somber than the title might suggest – a lover has cheated on their partner and their life has been thrown into chaos. A simple, effective tune that is one of their better Adult Contemporary pieces.
Coming Soon: Another Robbie Williams collaboration and the halfway point.