NT – Well we sort of looked at what we’ve done over the years, and we made it into one word but it’s basically two words, isn’t it? That Pop Art kind of sums up what the Pet Shop Boys do. We’ve always very much been about pop music; but we’ve been about a very individual kind of pop music, expressing ourselves as well and I think that a lot of what we do, and also the visual side you could say was art, without being too pretentious about it, and Pop Art when you think of it is a very kind of shiny, kind of, think Andy Warhol or whatever, it’s very shiny and all about surface, But at the same time like Andy Warhol’s work for instance it might have some depth about it. So we thought it kind of summed up what we do.
And then having decided to call it that, we, well… thought why not, because we’ve, I think it’s 38 singles that we have, which is a lot of records, we thought, rather than just do it chronologically, we could divide them up into Pop and Art, the Pop ones being probably the more conventional bright kind of pop songs; and the Art ones being slightly darker approaches to a pop song. It’s really quite a good game to go through our singles and say Pop or Art? You know ‘Being Boring’? Art, ‘Se a Vida E’? Pop… and working it out. So, I mean a lot of people familiar with our singles can disagree about this forever. So it was, we did the breakdown in about 5 minutes.
NT – We haven’t changed tracks at all. They’ve been re-mastered where you go back to the original tape. It makes a difference with the earlier ones, with the 80’s ones, because you can just make tracks sound basically louder and sort of better than they used to. So that’s what we’ve done. But otherwise we haven’t re-mixed them. I think if you re mix them, you know… a record, we’re kind of purists really, you made the record and that was it.
CL – Yeah we’ve always tried to write melodies and have interesting lyrics with them. We’ve never been really about groove just for the sake of it, or just for ambient sounding track or a sort of record that would sound in the background. Or sort of wine bar music. We’ve always been very direct in terms of the melody and the lyrics; you can’t really have them on… I don’t think our music is very good for background music for that reason you have to listen to it. It draws you in; it’s not just pleasant tinkling away in the background.
NT – We write in pretty much the same way that we always have. I mean to us the melody is like a driving force in the record. I think pop music generally has become less melodically driven over the years and more groove driven. So if you listen to Justin Timberlake singles, which I happen to quite like, they’re not ultimately really melodically driven, they’re groove driven. Obviously they have melodies, but… and a lot of melodies coming from hip hop and R&B are like nursery rhymes in a way nowadays. But when we were starting it was very uncool actually in the early 80’s to like Abba and the Bee Gees and that was always the kind of lineage that we saw ourselves in as writing credible pop music.
In fact, The Human League as a group didn’t influence us, but we probably saw ourselves in that line. The Human League were electronic purists, but at the same time they were writing very melodic songs, ‘Don’t You Want Me’, with interesting lyrics with their own spin on things and that’s what we wanted to do, to put real life against a beautiful melody and music and maybe with a dance rhythm as well, but not necessarily.
NT – ‘Suburbia’, which is the second track on the album, someone accidentally on the list put ‘Video Mix’, because the video we put a longer intro on it. And we put out a DVD simultaneously with all the videos. And so we’ve left the video mix on it, which has a longer intro, which sounds quite cool, actually. So that is slightly different, but then it goes into what was the regular 7-inch.
There’s often in our songs a sense of journalism about them, and people probably forget now, but in the mid 80’s we’d had those riots twice in Brixton and that sense of frustration and being hassled by the police and all the rest of it and boredom. The contrast between poverty and wealth all the rest of it, and that was what inspired ‘Suburbia’, which was probably written in about 1984. There were those two lots of riots in Brixton, that’s where you get all the sounds of smashing, the police cars and the whole thing… I mean all that had been on the TV very recently when that song was written.
CL – This was a particularly good one working with Dusty because you know she was one of our favourite singers, and it was a real honour to have her come along and sing on one of your records.
NT – Dusty was living in LA at this point and it was very interesting… a few years ago Vicki Wickham, Dusty’s manager, published a book about Dusty and I had never realised until I read this book how low Dusty had kind of sunk. She was living in a pay per night motel in West Hollywood and we of course thought of Dusty as being this huge star really and at this time they’d re-issued ‘Dusty in Memphis’ or not long before on vinyl in those days. Dusty Springfield’s Greatest Hits was always getting re-released, and we used to love these albums.
When we wrote this song, which was written with Ally Willis who famously since then wrote the theme song for ‘Friends’ – we wrote this song with her and she sang and I sang and we needed a singer and we thought of Dusty. In fact someone in our management office said you’re always going on about Dusty Springfield, what about Dusty? Because they were sort of saying Tina Turner, Sade… and we wanted Dusty and we couldn’t get her for ages, and when you read Vicki’s book about Dusty it’s quite harrowing about this point of Dusty’s life, but Dusty had liked ‘West End Girls’, she’d heard it on the radio in America, and she finally agreed to do it. And she came over, and Chris and I were in the studio, in London, Advision, and we all talked it through with her and the producer Stephen Hague. Then Chris and I had to go up to Newcastle to do the Tube which was on television in those days, and so we disappeared up to Newcastle for a day and a half, and when we came back just a couple of days later, she’d done most of the vocal, and when we came in Stephen Hague said ‘It’s great!’!
Because we had been told – I’ve said this a million times before – we had been told, people said Dusty couldn’t really sing anymore and she’d lost her voice. And so we were slightly nervous about it, and in fact when we heard it, it was just amazing what she’d done, there’s the two (sings) ‘Since you went away…’ and on the second one she just takes it into the stratosphere, and then, listening to it I suddenly thought of an ad lib which is at the end of the song, which is (sings) ‘We don’t have to fall apart’, that bit, and she said ‘Oh I thought we’d finished’ (laughs) because Dusty used to record word by word or even syllable by syllable to get it right and to arrange it in her head, to bend the melody. And she went and sang that and we were really, really thrilled with it, particularly the way, I think Dusty just sounds really great on this record and it became her biggest ever hit in America, it was number two in America, and after that she signed to EMI and we did a couple more records with her, we did half an album with her…
CL – No, not really but I always liked his later Las Vegas period. I never liked all that rock n roll stuff he did. But I thought he was great in Las Vegas. I think just like Frank Sinatra his voice got better as he got older. Anyway, this song was from that era. And it came about because there was a TV programme: was it his centenary? I don’t know what it was…
NT – 10 years since he died
CL – 10 years since he died, and they asked us to go on that and do a cover version of any one of his songs and we chose this one and we did it in our …
NT – You chose it actually!
CL – Oh, OK…
NT – Chris is very good at choosing cover versions.
CL – And we did it in our own inimitable 1980’s high energy style. I mean we wouldn’t have done an Elvis Presley cover version otherwise, it was just that it came out of this TV programme.
NT – This was a song that we wrote and thought about giving it to Madonna because it’s so poppy but then we thought, ‘Oh, she’ll only turn it down,’ so we recorded it ourselves, but it’s a very, very poppy song. This is why it’s on the Pop album and not the Art album, where the words are just a bit like ‘Miracles’ I suppose. ‘Every time I see you something happens to me. My heart starts missing a beat.’ It’s a very traditional kind of love song but it’s very hooky.
Actually the funny thing is people always think that it’s easier to write something really obvious rather than to write something really subtle and complicated. Well, something like this is pure inspiration and it’s great when it comes along and something like this just sounds effortless and we were surprised because we didn’t think it would be a big hit and the record company didn’t either. There was a lot of faffing about this record going on and in those days, nowadays as you, you know, you always know everything that’s going to happen, everything’s got a prediction, you get a prediction day every day of the week now. It drives you mad.
In those days you didn’t really used to get them and I remember I was at my parents’ house in Newcastle. It was on a Sunday and we listened to the chart driving back from somewhere, probably having a picnic or something and we turned on, it was the Top Ten and it had gone in at number seven and so I was thinking ‘Oh it’ll be at number six or something or number nine if it’s gone down’ and it wasn’t and I was thinking ‘Oh my God it’s dropped out of the top forty, it’s dropped right out of the Top Ten the second week’, in those days records used to climb and they said ‘The number One is The Pet Shop Boys and ‘Heart” and I was absolutely shocked because I had no idea it was going to happen, it was number one for three weeks but we really couldn’t have been more surprised.
CL – Actually even now I think this is a great song. It sounds great with power chords on the guitar.
NT – It was the first really beautiful song we wrote. It was the first one we thought was really beautiful. I remember when we were being auditioned as it were by EMI to sign to us the head of A&R, Dave Ambrose, he listened to our demos in his car because he was driving to a pub in Fulham Road because he was going to meet a man who was going to put Duran Duran on postage stamps in South America and he was driving and I was going, I was saying, ‘Shut up, listen to this. This one’s really good,’ and I was turning it up and he was saying, ‘Oh yes, quite nice,’ and he was going on about this man he had to meet to put Duran Duran on postage stamps in South America… on reflection I always wonder if that was a metaphor for what he was doing with the man from South America but, and anyway, we always loved this song. Chris and I really pushed for it to be a single and Stephen Hague did a very, very good job with the production. Even now I think it sounds great. We always wanted…
CL – It wasn’t a very big hit though.
NT – But, like ‘Being Boring’, it wasn’t a very big hit.
CL – Sometimes your best records aren’t the biggest hits.
NT – It’s all about Catholic guilt. Not necessarily something I’ve ever suffered from to be honest. This song was written very quickly. Oh, in about 1983 Chris started playing this melody. We used to write in this little studio in Camden Town. Chris started this little melody and for some reason I thought of ‘When I look back on my life it’s always with a sense of shame.’ It sounds a bit like Morrissey that doesn’t it? Don’t know where it came from but fifteen minutes later it was written and that was that really.
CL – Yeah. I remember it being good fun…
NT – Yeah, it was a lot of fun.
CL – Dancing around the studio, you know, pretending you were a nun or something.
NT – Funnily enough I don’t think Chris and I ever rated it that much. We just thought it was fun, you know, and then when we were recording with Bobby O, when we first recorded it in New York, we played it to him and he liked it and then finally we recorded it. We didn’t even put it on the first album, you know, we’d already written it. We waited till the second album and we decided on this big, gargantuan over-the-top production.
We were very influenced by Trevor Horn in those days, partly anyway, and we thought we’d do a big, over-the-top production and then we did the video with Derek Jarman. We’d seen his film Caravaggio and it had a similar sort of mood about it and when we’d finished it I thought it was great, I was very excited by it.
CL – I think it’s about dominoes actually because we were in the Caribbean and this friend of ours kept winning and I was really angry. (laughs) It may be something to do with that, I don’t know.
NT – That’s where it came from.
CL – I was really angry because I just assumed that dominoes was just luck of the draw really but there’s obviously some skill to it.
NT – Chris kept losing.
CL – I kept losing. I was absolutely furious.
NT – And this friend of ours kept doing this little triumphal dance.
CL – Yeah, which was really winding me up even more.
NT – And it was where the phrase Domino Dancing came from, and in fact we already had the music. We’d written a lot of the music for this, rather Latin kind of music thing. At this time we used to like Latin hip-hop music. When we used to go to America we used to hear this Latin hip-hop music and we used to really like it and so we started writing a little bit in that style. Anyway, ‘Domino Dancing’ I thought, Oh, that’s a title, ‘Watch them all fall down.’ It’s one of those things, you start with a title ‘Domino Dancing’ and you think, ‘What does that mean?’ And then I thought, ‘Watch them all fall down,’ and so I then created a scenario of, you know, a guy going out with a beautiful girl and all the guys are looking at her on the beach in her bikini or whatever and they’re all dropping dead before her because she’s so gorgeous and so consequently he gets jealous and the relationship collapses so you’re right, it is completely about jealousy.
NT – Well, we’ve always done cover versions because it’s very interesting, when you hear a song and you like it and this was the beginning of Acid House and everything, there was a compilation called Acid Tracks, and we both loved this song and, when you like something like that, you want to devour it almost and, of course, the music equivalent of that is to do it yourself and to get in and see how the song works. It’s very, very interesting to see how other people write. It’s one of the very good reasons for doing cover versions you can learn so much about it.
CL – Anyway the single version was re-recorded totally from the album version and this was produced by Trevor Horn and his programmer of the time and it’s a very poppy version of this House record but actually at the time we did this it was a very obscure house record. Of course but since it’s become regarded as a seminal House record. At the time it was quite obscure, I feel anyway and it’s just a gorgeous song. I absolutely love the sentiment of this song.
NT – What’s sort of slightly horrifying is that when we recorded it the lyrics very quickly became dated but I was just thinking they’ve stopped being dated again, because it was dictation being forced in Afghanistan, revolution in South Africa and of course we’re now back in Afghanistan and we’ve got this trouble in Zimbabwe which is in southern Africa not South Africa and ‘I hope it’s going to be alright’. It’s funny because when the record was released, all the Afghanistan thing appeared to be over because that was the Soviet Afghanistan invasion he was singing about originally.
CL – What year was this record out?
NT – `89
CL – It really captures that whole feeling that love will sort of win in the end. Maybe it’s not quite like that now but in 1989 there was definitely a strong feeling that the world would be a really good place at some point.
NT – Well, you know, it was very timely really, the song, because it was about change and in 1989, you know, at the end of that year the Soviet bloc fell apart, the Berlin Wall came down, Ceaucescu was shot. It was a very optimistic time. It’s interesting that this record starts with helicopters and the sort of military thing. It was about change but also about how music is our soul is the continuity of our lives, you know, and the idea that if music exists everything will be fine because we’ll still exist.
CL – Which, of course, is why they want to, which is why it’s banned in extreme Islamic countries. It’s why the Taleban didn’t allow music, did they? I think it’s for that very reason.
NT – This is not really about me, but it’s a kind of an autobiography. When we were children, we didn’t have a very big garden, but there were four children, we each had a little corner and I made mine into a little camp like little boys do, you know, and I used to sit there and fantasize about things and pretend I was a soldier and things and I used to have a lot of toy soldiers. Actually it says I was a Roundhead general. Actually when I was a kid I used to pretend I was a Cavalier general not a Roundhead but it didn’t scan. It’s a sort of a, one of the interesting things about the Art album rather than the Pop Album is that a lot of the songs are me singing as in an assumed character. It’s kind of a version of me but it’s not really me.
CL – There’s an orchestra on this one. Is this another Richard Niles one?
NT – First one he did.
CL – So Richard Niles, it was the first time we used him and Richard, the demo of this it was like a Motown song and it got completely changed when we came to record it properly. Who was the producer of it again?
NT – Trevor Horn.
CL – Trevor, because, of course, it was House time everyone so it got turned into a House record and that’s when it became bigger and, you know, more orchestral and everything. You can imagine it as a (sings) doom, doom di doom doom kind of song, which is what it was originally.
NT – ‘Flamboyant’ is the newest song on the whole CD collection. It was written by us about 2 or 3 months ago. It was one of those songs where I had a title lying around in my notebook I just thought Flamboyant was a good word and I thought it was quite interesting to write this song. The lyric, it’s about the sort of contemporary celebrity culture. So it’s about someone who always wants to be in the press, who dresses very flamboyantly to always get noticed. It’s not about anyone in particular actually it’s a sort of generalization, it could be several people!
CL – It’s a bit of a tall order to suddenly demand 2 hits to order, ‘cause we’ve never seen ourselves as sort of Tin Pan Alley songwriters who knock out hits. We sort of go into Studio 2 Abbey Road, make an album’s worth of music and choose a single afterwards. And sometimes of course you finish an album and you think there isn’t a single on it and you think, ‘Tough!’, you’ve made an album anyway and it’s the album that’s the sort of art but you’re sort of writing to a brief, which is to have a hit. We wrote quite a lot of songs for the Singles, for The Greatest Hits and I think this is one of the catchiest ones we wrote.
NT – I think it sounds really good. We really like that Electro Clash thing of the last 18 months or 2 years and this is a little bit in that direction.
NT – This song took years to come together really. When I lived in Tottenham in the 1970’s I had an old piano, which I bought for twenty quid and I taught myself to play the piano from the guitar chords. And Barry White was popular and I wrote this little chord change that I thought sounded like Barry White. Anyway, years later I was in the studio with Chris and he was playing something in E and I played these two chords which were my “Barry White chords” and then Chris put the dum, dum, dum, didumpty, dum, dum and it was instrumental and then I went home taking the cassette with this and I realized this rap that I’d written, cos we were very much into rap music in the early eighties, like Grandmaster Flash, ‘The Message’ in particular, do you remember that record? And I’d written this rap really in the style of ‘The Message’ and I realized that when you got to the bit where the chords went up you could sing, ‘In a West End town, dead end world.’ I thought, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ and the first time we were in the studio with Bobby O this was the first track we did. We started playing the chords and Chris was playing the bass line.
CL – I know he just said, ‘Play it.’ I was like, ‘What?’ I thought it was all going to be programmed and it was like, ‘No, go in there and play it.’
NT – Which had never been seen before and I’m standing there and I’m playing these chords. Chris is going dum, dum, dumdumty,dum,dum and everyone in the control room was like kind of moving like this is great.
CL – I’m not a keyboard player, you know. (laughs)
NT – And anyway I said to Chris, ‘What are we doing? By the way that rap, you know, that rap we had, you can do it over this and it sounds really good,’ and so Bobby O said, ‘Okay, do the vocal now.’ And so I went …
CL – And he’d programmed the ‘Billy Jean’ drum pattern.
NT – He’d programmed the Billy Jean drum pattern, that’s right. Oompah, oompah. And anyway I went and spoke it and sang the chorus everything and everyone said ‘Oh, this is great’ and actually we all thought, ‘Yeah, this is really great.’ And so it came out of a long period of time but when we went back to England and we were playing the tracks to our friends, I was too embarrassed to play this to anyone because I thought it sounded stupid, me talking, so I didn’t play it to anyone.
CL – No, it’s true. I played everyone the other side
NT – ‘Pet Shop Boys’
CL – ‘Pet Shop Boys’ track.
NT – A very hip-hoppy thing. Yeah. It was number one in America and it’s one of those songs that I still like. It has an enigmatic quality in that, what are the words about? I mean the words are about going into the city at night. It’s no different from ‘New York City Boy’ really, going into the city at night and escaping from the pressures of your life. I think that when I was writing it I was thinking of when I was a student and I used to live in Tottenham and it was a bit grim living in Tottenham though I quite liked it and we used to get all dressed up in our platform shoes and Oxford bag trousers and get the bus to Seven Sisters tube station, go clattering down the escalator at Seven Sisters and get out at Oxford Circus and it was sort of really exciting. You were in the city now. You’d just come down from Newcastle it was very, very exciting. We were all dressed up. I think part of that was the inspiration for it as well.
CL – Originally it was another high energy stomper and we just had too many of them for that album it was ‘Actually’, wasn’t it? We had too many for that so Andrew Richards had the idea I think of slowing it, of giving it half the feel which worked out really well actually.
NT – And this song ‘Rent’ it was a classic example of taking a very bleak word, like the idea of ‘There ain’t nothing going on but the rent’ was round about this time, also Rent Boy and again it’s another song where I’m not singing as me, really the narrator in this song is a woman who is kind of kept, however you want to say it by a politician in America, and I used to think it was one of those women that Teddy Kennedy was always getting into trouble with in New York but it allows for the possibility of love in this situation. ‘Look at my hopes, look at my dream/ The currency we’ve spent’ and so it’s a double-edged thing `cos the currency is the money, they’ve spent his money but they’ve spent her hopes and her dreams in there and so it balances it out. ‘I love you, you pay my rent.’ It’s funny; sometimes I don’t even think I know what it’s about really. I like the sort of bleakness of it and of course it was a very eighties kind of thing, the obsession with money.
NT – This is our great ironic statement that got us tagged as being ironic because if you look at, going through all these singles the number that are ironic is pretty few really. Whereas a number of songs about hoping to fall in love or waiting to fall in love or falling in love or just having fallen in love and it all going wrong are multiple; but this was the one and we were in the little studio in Camden Town in `83 I think and Chris was playing the keyboard and he said, ‘Why don’t you sing Let’s make lots of money?’ And so I thought of, ‘I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, Let’s make lots of money,’ and then I made up a little story so again it’s Art not Pop.
It’s not me being me, about two sort of losers and I was thinking for some reason of the film ‘Midnight Cowboy’, you know when you’ve got John Voight playing the hustler and Dustin Hoffman playing the loser, and they’re going to get together. John Voight’s got the looks and Dustin Hoffman’s got the brains and they’re gonna, and you know it’s hopeless. And you know the guy’s a liar. ‘I studied at the Sorbonne’ so obviously he’s a liar. ‘I could have been a don. I can programme a computer. ‘ Anyway, when we released it, it came out twice, it was big in America this and we always had the impression in America it was taken un-ironically and we endlessly get requests for it to be used at business conventions. Someone launching a product and they say, ‘Can we use your song Let’s Make Lots of Money?’ And we normally say, ‘No’ actually. It’s a very kind of theatrical lyric as well in the verses.
CL – No, this is an interesting one because it just goes up a semi-tone. And there’s interesting key-signature things happening as well. There’s at the beginning there’s like, or is it on this version, I don’t know, there’s a six eight bar (sings) de,de,de,de,de,de,de and it was like our first proper record we were making for EMI and we were with J J Entczelic and Nick Frome and before we started to make it we brought in all of our favourite records of the time and picked out bits we really liked and one of the things was key changes, funny time signatures and all that kind of stuff but yeah, for no reason at all it just goes up by a semitone which you have to get your head round when you’re playing it live.
NT -‘Yesterday when I was mad’ is about being on tour. Every group has to write a song about being on tour and it’s when we were in the early nineties performing our ‘Performance’ tour which is the one where we got the two guys to the English National Opera to direct it and design it and we had 12 dancers and 300 costume changes and two guys who just did the wigs, there were so many wigs, and every song had a different setting. It was a very, very tough show to do physically and at the same time it was the best show we ever did, I think. And it was about people’s reactions to it. So the first line is ‘Darling you were wonderful, You really were quite good.’ (laughter) These were all things people used to say to us. ‘They didn’t understand your sense of humour like I do.’ One of the great things about us is that people are always saying to us, but particularly in America, ‘I really get you guys. You know, those guys, if they don’t get you I get you’ and we always say, ‘What is there to get, though?’ I don’t understand. It’s kind of insulting in a way. We always say, ‘It’s pop songs. It’s not…’ But we’re always getting, ‘I get you guys.’ Anyway, this is a song about that. It’s about someone, people making insincere comments. And how infuriating it is. And also the whole thing of being on tour. It’s got me and Chris arguing in it. ‘Then we posed for pictures with the competition winners and argued about the hotel rooms, who’s got the best one, and where to go for dinner, and someone said It’s fabulous. You’re still around today. You’ve both made such a little go a very long way.’
CL – Did someone say that?
NT – Someone definitely said that to us several times and so I just put them all in this lyric and I think, I really like this song because it’s very funny.
CL – File under humour.
NT – File under h for humour.
CL – Actually we should have had a third CD, ‘Humour’.
NT – Humour. (laughs)
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