Ultimate Pet Shop Boys is in the shops and while it’s certainly an all killer-no filler synopsis of their impressive chart career since 1985, there’s so much more to explore. Inspired by ChartRigger’s alternative list of non-singles, Keith (Trunk Guy) invited me to join him in selecting our favourite album and bonus tracks. And there’s a Spotify list of most of ’em too.
Over to Keith:
As you can see from what follows; we didn’t manage just 20 tracks, nor did we manage to agree on our opinions of the songs we shortlisted.
I think this is testament of the music, musicality, style, lyrics and musicianship of Neil and Chris that they can create such a huge volume of work. I also find it interesting that we can create such a list of released songs that most people would not have heard of.
Ultimate is a great body of work for those who are aware of popular singles but I hope our list gives an insight into other great work produced by Neil and Chris.
I hope you find our list fun and informative, it’s purely our creation – feel free to drop us a line if you have a different opinion or other suggestions!
Enda: Bizarrely this predates the Kings Cross fire. When I started working backwards from Very, this track immediately grabbed me with its soaring, melancholic arrangement. There was no one else in pop (I felt) with such ambition and such style.
Keith: Sad, atmospheric, historical and captures just the right spirit – I remember growing up around all the unrest in the 80’s and remember when the Kings Cross tube disaster happened (which my hubby could have been involved in if he was a couple minutes later) – this is just a fantastic capture of a particular moment in time.
Two divided by zero
Keith: Any track that features my favourite toy (Speak and Spell) has to feature – it’s also a great story which I am sure is relevant to a lot of people – wanting to run away, saying goodbye to what they know and starting their lives anew. It’s kind of what I did as I came out and moved away from home.
Enda: I’m ambivalent about this one. But I’m pretty ambivalent about their first two albums in general. That said, I enjoyed hearing this and some other overlooked tracks on the Pandemonium tour.
Keith: Contains the best pop lyric ever:
Just for the sake of it
Make sure you’re always frowning.
It shows the world, that you’ve got substance and depth
Wonderfully witty and very observant track that I feel no one else could write or sing without people taking them seriously.
Enda: This was a dig at Morrissey, wasn’t it?
Your funny uncle
Keith: Observing the funeral of a young man through the eyes of his friends and his older uncle. Classic PSB storyline and very emotional for a track that is only 2:18.”
Enda: Stately and poignant. A beautiful track.
Former enfant terrible
Keith: On first listen I hated this but it grew on me and I am sure it’s Neil’s wonderful lyrics – no one else could come up with a song like this – it’s such a great capture of today’s culture and how celebs fall from grace and the lengths they have to go to to get back into the public eye – a great representation of the Big Brother generation.”
Enda: While I don’t hate this, I haven’t moved on to your level of acceptance as yet. That said, it’s very recent so it may take a while to absorb. I can say that the lyrics are clever (as ever), a tad bitchy (which doesn’t always suit them) and perhaps lacking something melodically. It’s The sound of the atom splitting part 2 methinks.
Violence (Hacienda version)
Keith: Original version used to pass me by but this version is superb – poignant and well written – a classic!
Enda: One that’s grown on me a lot over the years. It’s subtly insidious, nagging away at your brain before you realise it’s taken up residence from within and is claiming squatters rights.
Keith: A great autobiographical song that perfectly documents the life of a school headmaster, wanting to teach children who don’t want to learn. Wanting to expand and use his knowledge but being restricted by the career he has chosen. It was also featured in the play for the History Boys and fits the story perfectly.
Enda: Love it. A snapshot of what it might be like for the dedicated teacher who has his (gay) private life forcibly kept apart from his profession. In Ireland, the Catholic Church run most schools and managed to get an exemption from our otherwise robust equality laws so that gay teachers could be fired for not upholding the ‘ethos’ of the institution. What a crock.
We all feel better in the dark
Keith: The perfect antidote to Being boring (not that it needs one). The two tracks combined make the best single A and B side ever.
Enda: I really like the Balearic mix of this. At my fantasy Ibiza beach party, I’d squeeze that into my set somewhere.
We came from outer space
Keith: I hate Very but love Relentless and this is the one track that is always in my head!
Enda: Relentless holds up very well for an album of ‘throwaway’ instrumentals. I like it when they let loose and experiment (which is perhaps why I’ve chosen so many non-album tracks).
The view from your balcony
Keith: The depiction of London, the story of the council estate and living in the City; not as romantic as my original thoughts but this captures the spirit of London and what you find when you get here.
Enda: When I first started dating my Londoner and visiting London, this got some additional resonance. I tend to forget that even though neither Neil nor Chris are Londoners, Pet Shop Boys are a very London act.
The Sodom and Gomorrah Show
Keith: Another great story of the nation and the obsession with celebs and television – It SHOULD have been a single but Parlophone were too scared to release it – it would have done better than I’m With Stupid I am sure. The fairground freaks me out and I love the line in the background at the end: “Sun Sex Sin Death and Destruction”.
Enda: A great lost single for sure. They do this quite often lately – Did you see me coming rather than Pandemonium?
Keith: Ha ha ha! Chaos! Noise! Abandon! A great short piece which captured the spirit of Closer to Heaven (the play) in 2:48 – could have had so many remixes
Keith: PSB like to write about celebs and new money and this was the precursor to tracks like Sodom, Flamboyant etc but this is the best.
Enda: I loved this when I discovered it on Alternative, but the musical killed it for me. I’m not one for musicals and Closer To Heaven just didn’t work for me at all. It also shows their kinda bitchy streak (How can you expect to be taken seriously, Yesterday when I was mad etc) which I think is a waste of their talent.
Keith: Long and full of nonsense lyrics yet as ever Neil and Chris make it work – I love it.
Enda: I applaud the ambition and the daring of including this on such a poppy album, but I’m not sure it works.
In the night
Keith: This defines a generation – a Britain (or world) obsessed with fashion labels and it became a parody of itself as it was used as the theme tune for “The Clothes Show” which I loved to watch as a kid (how did I now know I was gay then!?).
Keith: Any song where you get to sing is brilliant – and the mix with Minimal at the last tour was classic. I think this and Opportunities is the tracks used more in VT on TV.
Enda: At the time, the satire was lost on me, but now this is one of the relatively few early PSB tracks I go back to. And yes, the mix with Minimal was inspired!
Hit and miss
Enda: PSB are a remarkable b-side act. This track is from the astonishingly good run of extra tracks from the Bilingual era. Quite why they would choose the pretty weak Electricity or Happiness is an option for the album instead of almost any of the extra tracks is beyond me. Hit and miss is the usual grown up, wistful, Happy-Sad PSB tracks. (EDIT: Happiness is an option is of course on Nightlife. Thanks again outoutout!)
Keith: Don’t hate it. Don’t like it.
Enda: When PSB choose the right producers, they make their best work. This track with Richard X is contemporary, smart and muscular. Controversial subject matter too (Suicide bombers? Forbidden lovers? Both?). I do like it when they make good on the Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat stuff.”
Keith: Very uplifting and a great party track – hmm maybe I should consider this one… It does give you the energy to proceed, to look at your life, to seize the moment. Good choice.
The boy who couldn’t keep his clothes on
Enda: Another Bilingual era track. I was hanging around with a Latin American set at the time and the PSB foray into all things Latin was welcomed, it was also seen with something of a raised eyebrow. My Mexican Ex wasn’t entirely pleased when I Ô’performed’ the “Yo Louis…’ bit! ‘All yo’ posse gonna know tomorrow!”
Keith: When growing up I used to dance and I was regional/UK champ for a while (something until now I have kept under my hat). I didn’t go clubbing until around the time I came out and this just captures the energy of clubbing and nights out. It’s also very relevant to me as a straight friend of mine always used to take his top off (he didn’t have the best body), his girlfriend always used to tell him off. I like the humour of this.”
It couldn’t happen here
Enda: Yep, this and Kings Cross are cut of the same cloth but this is even more dramatic. The film was, em, special and I think I even managed an whole 10 minutes of it.
Keith: This moves me as much as King’s Cross and really hits of the drama and the emotion of the storyline. It also reminds me of the film (which was terrible). This is on my ‘melancholy” playlist!”
Enda: I’m astonished at Keith’s appraisal as I find this poignant, delicate and yet another great example of how PSB make superb grown up pop. It’s amazing how they can go from cringe-inducing (The night I fell in love) to this sublime track. It’s also amazing how they chose the former for Release over this, but anyway…
Keith: No sorry – hate this – it’s a real low point for me on Release. Sorry Enda – sticking by my views on this one I am afraid!
My October symphony
Keith: My autumnal song – a song that documents the perfect English year, captured with the spirit of government and our very English need to stop ourselves from having any fun. Humorous, truthful and very insightful track.
Enda: This was something of a slow burner for me. While Behaviour overall is one of their strongest albums, I felt this lacked a little in the production. I’ve since realised that I am a fool who should not be given any credence about anything. Gorgeous.
A little black dress
Enda: Unreleased (as yet) and with a great rocky T Rex sample. I particularly love the humourous lyrics:
Is another word for depressed
For which post-feminism
Prescribes you a little black dress
A perfect track for when you metaphorically (or otherwise) feel like sporting a little black dress.
Keith: Do. Not. Like!
Enda: Whenever friends dismiss PSB as 80s has-beens, I attempt to describe this track. It’s from the Fundamental era; it’s a extra track; it was inspired by … Oh I can’t explain it, let Uber fan Dr Wayne Studer do it instead:”
It was inspired, according to Neil, by Sarah Wise’s 2004 book The Italian Boy: Murder and Graverobbing in 1830s London, itself based on an actual historical criminal case. The song takes its title from a darkly humorous nickname given to nineteenth-century graverobbers who supplied medical schools with cadavers: ‘resurrectionists’.
Over to you, Erasure…
Keith: This is a song only Neil Tennant could write. It does capture the spirit of Victorian Britain wonderfully and I do like the geographical nature of the song (especially as I work around most of the places). I simply don’t feel it ends well – I know that’s the point but it annoys me.”
No time for tears
Keith: I honestly have forgotten about this song – it makes no impression on me whatsoever.
Enda: Another classy, elegiac PSB track and the only real pop song as such on the Battleship Potempkin soundtrack. I believe this was considered as a potential single back in the day. It would have flopped, but it’s still lovely.
Enda: This takes Very into ‘almost classic’ territory. The scenario of older man with younger lover set to an intense thumping electronic loop. The Jam & Spoon remix builds greater tension, released with the beautifully sad instrumental synth strings that repeat to fade…
Keith: A classic and probably one of the best songs on Very (my least favourite album believe it or not) – lots of energy which captures the character perfectly but I does tend to just loop a lot – jury is out on this one.”
Try it (I’m in live with a married man)
Keith: Brilliant song – one I shouldn’t sing but can sing as I am a married man married to a man! Typical PSB humour here.”
Enda: Hmm, it works on so many levels… This is so PSB that I didn’t realise it was a cover of a 1983 Bobby O track. The original was sung by a woman. The boys didn’t change any pronouns. The brats…”
The calm before the storm
Enda: Yet another nugget from the Bilingual era. Very English, very pastoral. ”
Keith: Nope – sorry another one that passed me by (and also passed by my iTunes collection obviously!)
Keith: Another low point on Release for me – is it about Jesus? It just drags it’s knuckles… Sorry!
Enda: It’s about Jesus but also other ‘martyrs’ such as Stephen Lawrence and Mathew Shepherd, both high profile victims of hate crime. It does plod somewhat, but – irony alert – it gives Neil’s vocal range a good stretch. I do like how it fades away with a sample from one of my favourite carols, In the Bleak Midwinter.
The way it used to be
Keith: Most of Yes is brilliant and so is this – fantastic lyrics, great melody, wonderful story but it’s over shadowed by other work on Yes.
Enda: It is indeed brilliant etc but the other way round on the overshadowing – this track overshadows everything else on Yes. Modern, sophisticated, smart; this reminds me of particularly good late-Abba meet particularly good early New Order. Demonstrating yet again that the right collaborators can bring the best out of them, at a stroke, this went into my Top 3 PSB tracks ever.
Positive role model
Keith : Brilliant – Barry White and the Pet Shop Boys – all summed up by a troubled teenager coming to terms with his sexuality – this SO should have been a single and a club hit.
Enda: We agree completely on this. Disco 3 is a fantastic collection looking back. This would have been Top 10, no?
(Hang on I said I liked it, doesn’t mean I like Disco 3! – Keith)
Enda: Spacey synthy goodness. Turn it up loud as the loudness will mask the fairly ordinary structure of the track. After all, it can’t always be clever clogs references; sometimes they just aim for your feet.
Keith: No no no – I LOVE Nightlife but this always sounds like a filler – it also makes me feel like a track cut from Bilingual.”
Bright young things
Keith: Hmmm Don’t like the beginning of the track and it just, to me, seems positively angry – Neil doing hard dance in this format doesn’t seem to work.
Enda: Actually, I’ve gone off this again. (Must I be consistent? 😀 )
(LOL – Keith!)
A new life
Enda: Ah, the b side to What have I done to deserve this? I remember buying this as a ‘cassingle’ and playing it over and over. Despite the production being rather of its time, there exists a deceptively strong track underneath.
Keith: I always skip this track but when I do play it I listen to it completely – not sure what to make of it to be honest.
For your own good
Keith: Brilliant concert opener – I remember seeing this tour a couple times and this matched with the 3D spinning heads was awesome – it really puts you in the mood to party and sets the tone for Nightlife.
Enda: Agreed. A absolute belter of an album opener produced by Rollo. Epic, anthemic stadium house. It suited them entirely.
Up and down
Keith: I think this is one of the most energetic songs that have written in a while and think it should have featured on Yes.
Enda: Faint whiff of filler about this one for me! (How very dare you! – Keith)
Keith: We both forgot this one and we nearly regretted not including it – stunning song, brilliant lyrics and quite emotive – a true classic.
- Check out Keith’s blog.
- Ultimate Pet Shop Boys is out now in standard and deluxe formats. [iTunes] [Amazon] [Spotify]
- They play a gig for Mencap’s Big Noise on 8 December in the HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London.