100 Essential CDs – Number 91 – Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour

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Behaviour- Pet Shop Boys  (Parlophone 1990) 

UK Chart Position – 2

US Chart Position –45

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With the release of “Behaviour” in late October 1990 the Pet Shop Boys found themselves with a healthy dose of critical approval.  Contemporary reviewers were keen to point out a move away from the club-dance of “Introspective” to a more subtle use of wider pop music references and high quality lyric writing.  Despite its early 1990’s issue it was still considered relevant enough to appear on a number of Best Albums of the Decade list at the turn of the century and is featured in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die publication.  Commercially it became the third PSB album in a row to peak at number 2 in the album charts although it disappeared off the sales charts in a fraction of the time of the previous two (14 weeks).  Its US Top 50 placing pales against the number 7 platinum release of their debut.

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By this time they had proved themselves as a viable live act and an account of their tour in Japan and the UK had been documented by writer Chris Heath and published earlier in 1990 as “Pet Shop Boys, Literally” which is one of the greatest books about British pop music of all time and which features as one of my 100 Essential Books.  The album’s lack of chart longevity compared to previous releases rankled with the duo who felt it to be one of their best releases.  Neil Tennant has claimed that the extended 12” mixes of tracks on “Introspective” had lost them some of the fans who would have bought “Behaviour” if it had been the follow-up album to “Actually”.  I personally have always had a bigger soft spot for “Introspective”, but this release was their third essential recording in a row- a feat I think unprecedented on my 100 CD’s list up to this point.

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The album is produced by the boys alongside Munch’s Harold Faltermeyer, a man well known on the Disco scene since the mid 70’s when he was involved with arrangements and productions alongside Giorgio Moroder for artists such as Donna Summer.  From the early 80s he had become involved in movie soundtracks, giving him his own UK/US Top 3 single in 1985 with “Axel F” from the big selling “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtrack.  Given the producer it is a little surprising that for probably the first time on a Pet Shop Boys album the biggest and best tracks are not the out and out dance tracks.  Maybe the experience of working with Broadway Legend Liza Minelli the previous year on tracks such as the slowed down “Rent” inspired a more theatrical less frenetic feel.

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The album kicks off with the dance-orientated “Being Boring” which has a lengthy introduction with what sounds like one of those tubes children used to whirl around to make a sound.  “Being Boring” was something the PSB were unfairly accused of in the music press and this track might have fuelled that.  As the second single off the album it became their least successful single in their five years of hits when it stalled at number 20 in the UK.  It’s actually really a cleverly written song using that of looking back to those “bright young things” moments of our youth.  Coming across “a cache of old photos/and invitations to teenage parties” gets the mature Neil recalling the past.  The song moves through times from leaving home in the 70s, to the present day when “All the people I was kissing/Some are here and some are missing/ in the 1990s.  Neil’s rather deadpan delivery recalling times when “we were never being boring” suggests there’s a touch of ennui in the present with some significant other not being present or having become less significant.  Neil has said it is a song about a friend who moved to London with him when they were teenagers and who died from AIDS.  That sense of loss comes across well.

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Neil and Chris with the bright young things of the “Being Boring” video

 

“This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave” sounds like it would have been a great track for the Boys to do with Liza Minelli had a second album happened.  I would love to hear how she would have dealt with the first line of the verse “Each morning/After Sunblest”.  Can’t see her as a sliced white bread girl myself.  There’s also “kneeling on the parquet” which would have been fabulous laden with Minelli-type drama.  Fitting “Behaviour” into the context of the times there would have been two occurrences that could only have influenced this album – the spread of AIDS and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  A  threat of a return to tyranny is used here both in a public school setting and with its Russian background voices, the escape from repressive communism.   “To Face The Truth” is a tale of unrequited love which brings into sharper focus the sense of melancholy that simmers throughout the album.

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“How Can You Expect To Be Seriously” sees the Pet Shop Boys taking New Jack Swing elements and using it to attack the established rock music industry.  Slightly heavier guitar riffs seem to indicate the direction the lyrics are meant to apply to.  The rock and roll lifestyle has become big business and “you live within the headlines and everyone can see/ you’re supporting every new cause and meeting royalty.”  Maintaining credibility amongst all this seems to be the point there and I’ve always felt it was Neil and Chris taking a swipe at bands such as U2, a point further taken on when they combined the group’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” for a cheesily effective medley and got to number 4 in the singles charts in 1991.  The fact that it was a double A sided single with this very track from “Behaviour” shows the point the boys wished to make.

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This would be the last Pet Shop Boys album that I would buy on vinyl and the closing track on Side 1 “Only The Wind” rounds things off nicely.  It’s a calm song which hides an inner turmoil of violent anger. So far, this has been a solidly but not classic Pet Shop Boys album.  The second side ups the quality considerably with a couple of tracks that rank with their best.

“My October Symphony” is a gem of a track and one of those which marks the duo’s passage from pop artists to having lasting potential.  It’s full of class and sophistication.  We’re on political territory here again reflecting the changes in Russian society since the loosening of the repressive regime all filtered through a classy, swirling melody with some lovely string work arranged by Alex Balanescu and played by his Quartet.

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From the “So Hard” video

The lead single from the album “So Hard” feels most like it is a natural successor from the “Introspective” and “Actually” albums with its driving intro, wry lyrics and sing-along feel over club beats.  We can also hear here the lessons the boys taught Liza Minelli with Losing My Mind.  In interviews she was always keen to say that Neil taught her to enunciate the “d” sound in Mind as a “t”, but it sounded like it and here it does sound as if Neil is singing “you make it so heart” which actually brings back memories of their  chart-topping “Heart” track, which it also resembles it a little.  It’s a song about lack of trust and suspicion which is making a relationship impossible;

“You lock your letters in a box

And hide the key.

I go one better- I’m indebted

To a contact magazine”

Great lyrics here.  Released around a month before the album “So Hard” got to number 4 in the UK charts.  It became another big international hit reaching number 1 in Finland,  number 2 in Italy, Spain and Switzerland and a top 10 hit in, amongst other markets, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Norway and Poland.  Their big hit US days were behind them as they were no longer attracting much US radio airplay.

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Another great track follows “Nervously” feels like a highlight track from “Pet Shop Boys- the Broadway Musical”. It’s a tale of a sensitive male finding a like-minded soul.  Nothing is made explicit but this is perhaps the boldest attempt yet to open the closet door, at a time when being gay was not good for careers in public eye and media hysteria over AIDS was rampant.  This gentle, beautiful song feels like perhaps their most radical statement to date.  Both this track and “My October Symphony” have been on my I-Pod since I first loaded songs onto it.  “The End Of The World” is good PSB electro-pop which saves another great track to round things off- and it’s another ballad.

“Jealousy” was the fourth single taken from the album and reached number 12 in the UK and made the Top 10 in Ireland and Finland.  In many ways it is the other side of the coin from the club track “So Hard” where the indiscretions are half-hidden, almost for the other to discover, but here the jealousy of one partner becomes all-consuming in the mantra “Where’ve you been? Who you’ve been? You didn’t phone when you said you would?”  Such neurosis flows through the calm-sounding song which then explodes into a brass band ending which is just terrific and feels like a fitting finale as harps swoop.  This was apparently the first song that Chris and Neil wrote together and they held back from recording it because they wanted Ennio Morricone to arrange it for release.  That didn’t happen and now on the fourth album of their career it appears with Harold Faltermeyer at the helm.  It fits in well with all that has gone before and is an ideal closer.

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With “Behaviour” the duo had left the club scene behind a little and produced perhaps their most rounded pop album.  The fact that it didn’t sell as well as expected caused them to redress the balance a little the next time out.  Although I like other Pet Shop Boys albums better there is enough here for me to consider it another one of their essential releases.

 

Behaviour  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £8.48 and used from £0.45. It can be downloaded for £5.99. In the US it is currently $29.98 new and used from $0.38 and as a download for $9.49.    In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.

100 Essential CDs – Number 51 – Pet Shop Boys – Introspective

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Introspective- Pet Shop Boys  (Parlophone 1988) 

UK Chart Position – 2

US Chart Position -34

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Just over a year after their essential “Actually” Pet Shop Boys released their third studio album.  It featured just six tracks giving them a chance to explore more extended dance-orientated material.  It was a bit of a risk, commercially, with buyers probably looking for value for money and with fans being likely to own at least one of the tracks already released as a single, but it paid off with another double platinum album in the UK, becoming worldwide not just their biggest selling album up to this time but their best.

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“Introspective’s ” concept  was to put out what were in essence 12” mixes on one album.  The tracks that were released as singles were put out in shorter formats.  The title refers to the lyrics as in reality musically, these were certainly not introspective as they were out and out dance tracks.  On paper it might have seem rather hastily put together, and was hot on the heels of “Actually” which was still selling at the time of this follow-up’s release.  Three of the tracks had been recorded by other artists, one had been a B side of a previous PSB single and only two were produced specifically for the album.  It does, however, work magnificently and bringing in Trevor Horn for production duties lead to an over-the-topness which lays beautifully alongside the occasionally quite sombre lyrics.

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Trevor Horn (a little earlier than his work with PSB)

The opening track sets the tempo and feel of the album magnificently.  “Left To My Own Devices is grandiose from its first notes- a violin sweep to a full orchestra with an operatic female voice singing what sounds remarkably like the word “arse” before the club beat kicks in.  This was the first time the PSB worked with a full orchestra. Both musically and lyrically this is superb.  The full-to-the-gills production cuts into Neil’s impassive rap and lyrics such as;

I was a lonely boy, no strength, no joy

In a world of my own at the back of the garden

I didn’t want to compete, or play out on the street

For in a secret life I was a Roundhead general.

The song is perhaps best remembered for its mid section when after  a particularly lively orchestral flourish it empties out for Neil’s spoken;

I was faced with a choice at a difficult age

Would I write a book? Or should I take to the stage?

But in the back of my head I heard distant feet

Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat

 These four lines seem to sum up the appeal of the Pet Shop Boys to me.  The questioning outsider keeping their options open with the urge to be just fabulous.  For those of us who hear Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat, Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant, I salute you!

From this point in the track the orchestral arrangement builds further in this stunning Trevor Horn/Stewart Lipson production which sounds all at the same time like classical music, movie theme and a great disco track.  It’s eight minutes and sixteens seconds of unadulterated pleasure.  Harps and handclaps compete before the opera voice returns.  It all builds to a rousing climax and can only be really finished off with a thunderstorm.   This track reputedly took months to produce and listening to it you can tell why.  As an edited single it reached number 4 in the UK charts, but you really need to hear the whole thing.  It did slightly better in Ireland where it reached the top 3 and made the top 10, in amongst other markets, Finland, Germany, Poland and Spain.

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“I Want A Dog” had seen life as the B-side to the single “Rent” but here is extended to six minutes and fifteen seconds in a Frankie Knuckles remix.  It’s a song about someone, who, basically, wants a dog.  There’s a yearning for company throughout which always pulls at the heart-strings perhaps exemplified by the line “When I get back to my small flat/I want to hear somebody bark”. It could be trite if it wasn’t a kicking house track set up by its lengthy instrumental introduction. In fact the first line almost seems like an anti-climax after what has been building up, but you’re soon sucked into the song.  “Don’t want a cat/scratching its claws all over my Habitat”. I’ve always taken that last word to refer to furniture bought at the shop of the same name, hence the capital letter. It’s not my favourite track on the album but it always brings about a poignant smile.

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“Domino Dancing” is the second of the two tracks recorded specifically for the album and was also the second single released prior to the album’s release.  There’s a great Latin flavour in this track from the keyboard work.  Once again this is the longer 7 mins 40 version of the song which as a single reached number 7 in the UK charts.  That Latin flavour got the thumbs up from Spain where it topped the charts as it did in Finland and made the Top 5 in amongst other regions, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland and became their last Top 20 US hit reaching number 18.  An autumn release may explain its slightly muted response in the UK as it feels like a heat of the summer track, released a month or so earlier this could have captured the feel of the holiday season.  Mixed with Wham’s “Club Tropicana” you’d taste the Pina Colada and smell the Ambre Solaire.

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It’s off to the parade for a marching band intro to “I’m Not Scared” which had already done the business earlier in 1988 when the version by Patsy Kensit led Eighth Wonder became their biggest hit reaching number 7 in the UK.  Lyrically, I have no idea. there’s actors on the street and that dog Neil wanted two tracks ago seem to be about to attack. There’s an unreal urban sense of menace to this track which is just a little scary and on the PSB version the sound of jackboots marching in the street is pervasive and a little chilling.

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Eighth Wonder

 Cover version next and it’s a great one.  Released as a single this became the Christmas number one of 1987 released in the midst of the tracks from their previous album and taken from the PSB movie “It Couldn’t Happen Here” which I’ve covered in my review of “Actually”. “Always On My Mind” is a slightly cheesy song which is perfect fare anyway for the boys but here it’s toughened by slipping into “In My House” an extended house workout.  Another track which is really sublime in its full length version- here its comes in just over nine minutes.  The edited single also topped the charts in Canada, Finland, Gemany, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.  It is one of the duo’s biggest ever singles worldwide and in 2014 in a BBC poll was voted the best cover version of all time.

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Album closer “It’s Alright” is at nine minutes 24 the PSB’s longest ever album track, and truth be told, it does go on a bit.  It’s another cover version this time of a Chicago House track recorded by Sterling Void which the boys heard on a compilation album.  The original, produced by legendary House producer Marshall Jefferson did become a small hit once “Introspective” was released (#53 teamed as a double A Side with “Runaway Girl”).  The Trevor Horn production on the CD is impressive but by this time this listener is beginning to feel that he has over-indulged slightly on the club sounds (not that bad a thing to happen, but slight rhythm fatigue is setting in by this point).  As a UK single it reached number 5 and made the Top 3 in Germany and Ireland.  It’s an optimistic, reassuring end to what have been some quite sombre moments lyrically on the album but it lacks the magic of some PSB lyrics to put it amongst their greatest tracks.

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I think the reason I love this album so much is its combination of PSB disaffection with a more strident production sense than we had ever heard before.  The group are morphing from a bedroom based recording duo to a pair who can take all musical forms in their stride and give it the Pet Shop Boys feel.  It really is “Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat”, but it is also a lot more and from this release you can appreciate that these boys would be able to go on to score movies and write operas.  It’s arty, accessible, exhausting and great fun.  This would be their second but not their last essential release.

The chosen video is for the single mix of “Left To My Own Devices”.  You’ll have to dig out the album version to hear the opera woman sing “arse”!

 

Introspective  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £5.99 and used from £0.72. It can be downloaded for £7.99. In the US it is currently $16.99 new and used from $1.99 and as a download for $11.49.    In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify. 

100 Essential CDs – Number 71 – Pet Shop Boys – Actually

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Actually- Pet Shop Boys  (Parlophone 1987) 

UK Chart Position – 2

US Chart Position -25

British National Treasures Pet Shop Boys found them ascending, after a couple of false starts, to the top of both the UK and US singles charts with their debut hit single “West End Girls”.  This was a 1985 re-recording of a track that had been out the previous year which had attracted attention in the clubs.  Their second release “Opportunites (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” also had to wait for a 1986 remix to make number 11 in the UK and 10 in the US.  A debut album aimed to install politeness to the record-buying generation, ensuring that they asked for “Pet Shop Boys Please” reached number 3 in the UK and 7 in the US.  It was a solid release, the best track for me being the third single “Suburbia”- a delightful piece of PSB nonsense which got to number 8 in the UK  (and went Top 3 in, amongst other territories,  Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Switzerland).

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My real love affair with PSB started with this, their second studio album. I’d bought both “Please” and “Disco” their first collection of remixes which was released in 1986 and reached 15 in the UK album charts but with this album they upped a gear into the Essential Releases category.  It would be their first top class release but by no means their last nor their very best.  I may be going Pet Shop Boys for quite a little while with these reviews so let’s see what makes this particular album so good.

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The CD contains ten tracks, four of these were released as singles with two reaching UK number 1, one reached number 2 and one number 8.  In the US one single reached number 2 another number 9. There were also chart-topping singles for them in amongst other markets, Austria, Germany, Finland, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.  The tracks are all written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, three in collaboration with other writers and they took production credits for three of the ten tracks alongside other producers, here still learning their craft.

The opening track “One More Chance” was written alongside Bobby Orlando, who had already had a part to play with their career.  The Boys hero worshipped this American producer who as Bobby O was a leading light in the Hi NRG dance music scene, which was by the mid 80’s a staple in gay clubs.  He recorded on a number of different dance labels, under a range of names, although quite often the tracks featured just Orlando himself.  He also produced for artists like drag superstar Divine and girl group The Flirts whose 1982 club hit “Passion” was a huge favourite of Chris and Neil’s.  A trip to interview Orlando when Neil was working with “Smash Hits” led to a request for the duo to record with him- the result being the original (non-hit) version of “West End Girls”.  Bobby O is back with the song-writing credits with “One More Chance” which had originally been the group’s second single three years before this album’s release and had appeared without success on a number of labels around the world.  For “Actually” it was re-recorded with additional lyrics by Chris and produced by Julian Mendelsohn.

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Bobby Orlando

A mood-setting introduction of screeching brakes leads into a street-bound paranoid love song.  A tale of one who is “chained/framed” and is begging for a chance to continue what seems like an unhealthy, obsessive relationship, all of this over crashing club beats.  It’s a good opener.

The most talked about track on the album follows next.  By 1987 arguably the greatest British female singer of all time had been in the musical wilderness and not featured on a top 40 hit for 19 years.  However the Dusty Springfield, PSB collaboration came about it was a stroke of genius.  Neil has often spoken of the painstaking way Dusty liked to record- the ultimate perfectionist, often to the detriment of her career and certainly her peace of mind.  “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” reached number 2 in both the UK and US just before the release of the album.  The crowning moment is when Dusty, initially a little lost in the mix with Neil in the verse comes in with her  “Since you went away/I’ve been hanging around” section.  It makes me breathe out and think “Dusty’s back!”.  And she was back as they collaborated again on “Nothing Has Been Proved” a track appropriately from the 60’s set movie “Scandal” as well as tracks on her number 18 1990 album “Reputation”, a recording which saw Dusty’s first Top 20 studio album for 25 years.  It also paved the way for other collaborations including one of my other Essential CD’s “Results” by Liza Minelli.

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“Shopping” is a bit of fun fluff examining the consumerism of the 80’s, “I heard it in the House Of Commons/Everything’s For Sale”.  It’s very much the “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” of this album.  I don’t know how seriously you can take songs with spellings (“D.I.V.O.R.C.E”& “D.I.S.C.O” being further evidence of this.)  Classic track “Rent” is up next and this is one that features on two of my Essential albums (Liza Minelli’s version on “Results” turns it into a Broadway ballad).  Here it’s faster and gentler than Liza’s and may very well be the first hit single to imply male prostitution or sugar daddy-ism,  but whatever it is Neil is quite happy with the arrangement; “We never ever argue/We never calculate the currency we spent/ I love you/ You pay my rent”.  Great lyrics.  The song reached number 8 as the third single from the album.

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“Hit Music” is a dance track, with nothing deeper in the lyrics than to have a good time.  Music as escapism and works well enough as that.  I’ve always had a big soft spot for the ballad which follows next.  “It Couldn’t Happen Here” and is written by the Boys alongside movie score supremo Ennio Morricone.  It comes from another surprising venture for the boys, a now pretty much forgotten feature film of the same name released in 1988.  The film starred Chris and Neil alongside Joss Ackland, Barbara Windsor and Gareth Hunt and joined the vast pile of British film starring pop stars which are just plain odd.  The surrealness of the movie didn’t really work.  The resume of it on IMD goes “A young boy’s holiday at a seaside resort includes a crazy blind priest, nuns in suspenders and a whole bunch of fat ladies”.  Enough said.   The song on “Actually” is actually quite lovely, a big sweeping ballad which certainly extended PSB beyond the dance music boundaries.  Another track taken from the soundtrack following the release of the film, the Boys’ version of the Elvis Presley hit “Always On My Mind” eased its way to the top of the UK charts between singles number 2 and 3 from “Actually” and was the 1987 Christmas Number 1.

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It’s to “Actually’s” big hit next, a number 1 single which preceded the release of the album.  “It’s A Sin” is amongst the best of PSB tracks of all time and was their first really great single.  Full of Catholic guilt, the single was helped by a memorable video directed by radical film-making genius Derek Jarman, the first of a number of collaborations with the boys.  The whole theme of the song resonated with the world’s record buying public as it topped the chart in at least 10 countries, ascending to the top in both Catholic and Protestant nations.  In the US it was their third top 10 hit reaching number 9.

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Sandwiched between credible but not totally memorable dance track “I Want To Wake Up” produced by PSB with Shep Pettibone and the under-rated album closer slowie “King’s Cross” with its somewhat obscure, strangely poignant lyrics is “Heart” a track which, when released as single number 4 from the album some seven months after “Actually’s” arrival somewhat surprisingly topped the UK charts – becoming their fourth and to this date final chart-topping UK single.  It was accompanied by a video featuring Ian McKellan as a vampire.  Less showy than their previous number 1’s, it is a great Hi-NRG track, although in interviews the duo have tended to dismiss it on occasions.  The feelings I get from “King’s Cross” may still have something to do with the shocking fire at the tube station just a couple of months after the album was released which killed 31 people- Neil sings of “the dead and wounded on either side”, which can have nothing to do with the fire and yet, because this album was still pretty much on  constant rotation at the time of the tragedy it is still linked in my mind.

“Heart” Record sleeve and on set with Ian McEwan

With sales of over 4 million and appearances in books such as “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” “Actually” cemented the global reputation of Pet Shop Boys.  Its variety, the quality of the songwriting, the big hit singles and Dusty Springfield makes this an essential CD.

Actually  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £5.50 and used from £0.74. It can be downloaded for £5.99. In the US it is currently $11.36 new and used from $4.17 and as a download for $9.99.    In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify. 

100 Essential CDs – Number 47 – Liza Minnelli – Results

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Results- Liza Minnelli (Epic 1989) 

UK Chart Position – 6

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By 1989 Pet Shop Boys had been at the top of their game for four years.  During this time they had scored three UK and one US number 1 singles, three big selling studio albums and one remix album.  Significantly, they had also revitalised the career of 60’s singing legend Dusty Springfield with their UK & US number 2 collaboration “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”  In 1989 Dusty was riding high again with their “Nothing Has Been Proved” a song about the very British sex and politics Profumo scandal which was taken from the movie “Scandal”.  The whole Dusty project had been a fascinating one for Neil and Chris, from the painstaking way she liked to record to their bringing to a new generation one of the greatest British voices of all time.  The experience had left them open to consider new collaborations.

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PSB with Dusty Springfield

In 1989 showbiz legend Liza Minnelli was telling her record company that she wanted to move away from the live Broadway -style albums and standards that had been her lifeblood and record something more contemporary.  This came to the attention of  the duo’s manager Tom Watkins.  Minnelli was a big fan of their song “Rent” and so the deal was struck.  Neil Tennant, a huge Minnelli fan, straight away began writing songs that would be suitable for a woman in her 40’s keen to re-enter the youthful pop market and “Results” was the fabulous result.

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Performing with her mother Judy Garland

Liza Minnelli was born a showbusiness legend.  With her parentage it was inevitable.  Superb in her 1972 Oscar winning performance “Cabaret”, she became an unstoppable force, huge Broadway star and a household name somewhat outside of the commercial pop mainstream.  Recording-wise she had never been as successful as one might think.  The soundtrack to the movie had made it to number 25 in her homeland (#13-UK) and a recording of her television special “Liza With A Z” which had also gone a long way to cement her into public consciousness had reached US#19, UK#9).  Her highest placed studio album in the US was 1973’s “The Singer” (which reached #38, #45 in the UK).  With the exception of the last album, chart-wise she had performed better in the UK, so perhaps a collaboration with a top UK band would seem a shrewd move.

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The whole concept seems very British- a pairing of the Queen of Cheese with the Kings Of Cool, the emotional Yank with the detached Brits.  In the UK we got it, Liza did a lot of television to promote the album and received  a gold album and her highest ever chart placing.  It was also a big hit in Spain.  In the US the mixture of showbiz glitz meets electro left them cold and it was considered to be a flop.  The whole project appealed to the British sense of camp and to be honest, still sounds very good over twenty-seven years on.  It is an album which is technically accomplished, superbly produced and can have you up and dancing and can both bring a smile at moments of kitsch as well as be genuinely touching and affecting in places.

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The album produced by Julian Mendelsohn and Pet Shop Boys contains ten tracks- three covers of songs associated with other artists, two tracks which had been previously released by the duo and five originals that Neil and Chris wrote especially for Liza.

Opening track “I Want You Now” is one of the new Tennant and Lowe compositions and from the introduction you can tell we are in Pet Shop Boys territory  with a strong electro feel.  There is, however, an epic orchestral sweep which accompanies Liza’s sterling performance.  The song is bold and dramatic and it sets out what is going to follow superbly.  A great opener.

“Losing My Mind” is the hit single from the album, reaching number 6 in the UK charts.  A Stephen Sondheim song from “Follies” would feel like familiar ground for Liza but Pet Shop Boys magic turns it alongside “Always On My Mind” (of which it has a slight feel) and “Go West” as one of their great covers.  It is also gloriously kitsch, probably one of the kitsch pop lover’s finest moments, probably until KLF got Tammy Wynette to sing “I’m justified and I’m ancient and I drive an ice cream van”.  I remember Liza heavily promoting the single at the time and on (I think) an episode  of “Wogan” she explained how she, the showbiz trouper, had learnt singing tips from Neil and that to get the proper ending to the word “Mind” she should sing it as if it ended with a “t” and it would sound as if it ended with a “d”.  She said she had taken this on board but, listening to the track, there are a few occasions when she sings “Mind-t” ending in a t and it sounds like it ends with a “t”.  There’s something about that whole story and its result that I love.  If that is a singing technique here is evidence that it doesn’t always work, with glorious results.  It was a number 2 hit in Ireland and got to number 7 in Spain and amongst other chart placings made the Top 20 in Austria, Belgium and Germany.  It also saw Liza performing on “Top Of The Pops” and has been a staple for drag acts to mime to for nearly thirty years.

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“If There Is Love” has a dramatic start and yet for me is the weakest track on the album.  It does feature a “Minnelli rap” and what might we expect from her?  Well, I wouldn’t have counted on Shakespeare as she gets here, Sonnet 94 “They that have the power to hurt….”It’ a good track but does not reach the heights of others on the album.  It has a false ending before Minnelli-does-Shakespeare kicks in over programming and Courtney Pine on Sax .  Another Tennant-Lowe original “So Sorry I Said” is probably the closest on the album as to what we might have expected from Liza, a slightly over-blown ballad lyrically yet her performance is subtle and really very strong and probably in a lower register than she is used to.  The whole thing comes across as quality.

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It’s certainly back to the dance floor with “Don’t Drop Bombs”, with a big electronic sound and scratching.  Who knows what is going on here but it has always been one of my favourite tracks on the album with Neil coming in to warn us “Don’t Drop Bombs!”  The off- the- wall feel continues with an inspired cover of Tanita Tikarim’s #22 UK hit from the year before, the very odd “Twist In My Sobriety”.  This kicks off with a rap from Donald Johnson who intones the memorable lines from the song Kander and Ebb wrote for her the name-checking “It’s Liza with A Z, not Lisa with an S, because Lisa with an S goes ss not zz”. The song is fairly bonkers but its given an epic feel which works sublimely.  There’s strong background choral work, whistling, considerable scratching and Liza singing if it’s the most important message she ever wants to get across.  I love this.

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The song that Liza attracted to the project is up next.  “Rent” with its tongue in cheeks lyrics with its definite nod towards male prostitution would not seem likely material for Minnelli but here it is transformed into a song that could have stopped a Broadway show.  There is certainly a dramatic full orchestral sweep, the song is slowed down which suits Liza’s deliberate diction.  The whole song sounds very different from Pet Shop Boys version.  It’s really a precursor to the sort of things that took Paul Anka back into the charts with his 2005 “Rock Swings” album when he famously turned Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into a cheesy swing classic.

“Love Pains” was originally a disco hit for Yvonne Elliman.  Minnelli’s version is good but I actually prefer the version that was also released in 1989 by Hazell Dean.  It’s a song that has underachieved for all artists who have recorded it which also includes Kelly Marie, Obsession and the great Viola Wills,  .  “Tonight Is Forever” is another song associated with PSB as it appeared on their debut album “Please”.  It’s given the “Rent” feel, but doesn’t work quite as well.

A veritable epidemic of Love Pains

The final track on the CD, written for Liza by the Boys is “I Can’t Say Goodnight”, which is as strong a closer as “I Want You Now” is an opener.

Disappointingly “Results”  was Liza’s final dabbling with the contemporary pop market and is the only CD in my collection by her.  She did do a good duet with Donna Summer “Does He Love You?” in 1996.  It does seem fitting though, that someone associated with places like Studio 54 and those big 1970’s discos had her own moment on the dance floors around the world with some of the tracks of this album.  Personally I would have loved the PSB-Minelli collaborations to continue for at least another album but I’m certainly thankful for these ten tracks.

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One of the crowd at Studio 54

You won’t escape the intensity of Liza’s eyes in this Top Of The Pops performance of “Losing My Mind” (here shown on taken from a TOTP2 re-run).

 

 

Results  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £9.97 and used from £0.24. It can be downloaded for £5.99. In the US it is currently $27.24 new and used from $1.14 and downloaded for $8.99.  In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.

100 Essential Books- Pet Shop Boys, Literally – Chris Heath (Penguin 1990)

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Towards the end of 1985 Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (there’s no “the”) stormed to the top of the charts with their first hit single “West End Girls”.  They combined a  pop media savviness (from Neil’s days on “Smash Hits” magazine) with an ability to avoid saying anything personal about themselves.  Five years on they had twelve hit singles (4 number 1’s) and four huge selling albums and agreed for journalist Chris Heath, who they had known from their early days, to shadow them and write up his experiences.  Twenty five years on this remains one of the greatest books about British Popular music of all time.

The boys (I have to use the “the” there to get the sense) invited Chris to catalogue their first tour, initially in Japan and then the UK.  There was a great deal of interest in this tour as it was believed by many that they would not be able to translate their studio sound into a live performance, but they always have been a great success as a live act.  Their Japanese fanzine had devoted many column inches to whether they would be able to tour.  There is a quote from Neil in the magazine, which has been obviously translated into Japanese and then back into English which sets the seal for the whole enterprise.

“Please look forward to it!  We won’t make it ordinally pop concert.  We’re planning gaudily show cause we want to give our impression strongly.  At first, we’re thinking to use theatre instead of proper music fall.  It gives you different atmosphere.  Well, take a look.  We’ll make you think our’s not average concert.”

Not knowing quite what he was in for Heath was invited to accompany them.  They were clear what they didn’t want.  Chris told him;

“Rock shows are really embarrassing.  The audience can be embarrassing and the performers I feel cringeworthy.  You light your lighter during the ballad……It’s the way it’s meant to have some kind of importance when it evidently hasn’t…That’s what I find embarrassing.”

Over the next few months the boys change the blueprint for live performances, bringing film director and all-round hero Derek Jarman to direct, producing a grandiose stage show using lighting , technology and many performers in a way which was radically different at the time yet now seems commonplace.

This book is a great insight into what makes Pet Shop Boys tick (without any personal revelations at all).  It is laugh out loud funny, extremely readable and hasn’t been left behind by the passage of time.  To put it in its context, however, the boys seem obsessed with the rise of Bros!  It’s a tale of coping with the rigours and frustrations of touring, of comparing themselves with just about everyone else in the music business, of answering fan mail and worrying over chart positions.  Neil and Chris’ humour, word-play and occasional sniping is much to the fore and it makes for great reading.  It is a book which you can open at random and find much to enjoy and read as a whole it manages to give you uniquely both the whole sense and no sense at all of who the Pet Shop Boys are .

Following this book Chris Heath also joined the first American tour and recounted this separately in “Pet Shop Boys Versus America” (1993).  Photographs by Pennie Smith are more to the fore in this book and it is by the author’s admission less of a meticulous moment by moment analysis of the tour, more of an overview.  It is not as essential read as “Literally” but it is thoroughly enjoyable and makes for an excellent companion piece.

Pet Shop Boys, Literally fivestars

 

Pet Shop Boys Versus Americafourstars
Both books were published by Penguin paperbacks/Viking hardbacks