Pet Shop Boys (the band uses their name without the definite article, “the”) are a highly influential United Kingdom electronic music act. Founded in the early 1980s, the duo - (Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) - enjoyed immense critical and commercial success, starting with their second EMI-released single, “West End Girls” in 1985.
They are one of the most consistently successful duos in pop music. They have had four number-one singles in the UK: “West End Girls”, “It’s a Sin”, “Always on My Mind” (a cover of an Elvis Presley hit), and “Heart”. Another well-known single, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” was a collaboration with Dusty Springfield, which led directly to a resurgence of interest in her music.
On August 19, 1981, Tennant and Lowe met by chance at an electronics shop on the Kings Road in Chelsea. They later began to write songs together. After rejecting the name West End, they settled on the name Pet Shop Boys, a name they had previously used to describe some friends of theirs who ran a pet shop in Ealing.
At the time, Tennant’s day job was reporting for teen pop magazine, Smash Hits. Tennant was sent to interview The Police for the magazine in 1983, and, while in New York, had lunch with one of his idols, producer Bobby Orlando. Soon after, Tennant, Lowe and Bobby O’ wrote and recorded their first versions of many of their early hits, most notably “West End Girls”. Pet Shop Boys later cut their contractual ties with Bobby O’ and instead signed with the Parlophone label in March 1985.
Neil Tennant has consistently and sincerely labeled the Pet Shop Boys' music as “disco”. Their music’s trademark sound is a combination of pure synthesized pop (which could qualify them for a New Wave label), with sometimes slightly over-the-top instrumentation, contrasting with Tennant's laconic vocals, sometimes spoken-word or rap. Their lyrics (mainly written by Tennant) are articulate, stylish and poetic, often with a melancholic undertow. Strong studio production values mark out their work.
Visually, the group grew to favor avant-garde tailored fashions. The duo were frequently accused of lacking stage presence, said to be a deliberate reaction to the hyper-cheerful boy band music of the time demonstrated by, for instance, Wham!. A typical early performance featured Lowe in the background hitting the occasional note on a Fairlight synthesizer keyboard and Tennant singing but otherwise unanimated in the foreground. However, later productions were elaborate exercises in costume and production design more reminiscent of modern opera than pop music. (Indeed, one tour was designed by former U.K. National Opera designer and architect Zaha Hadid.)
Pet Shop Boys are significant figures in queer culture for such songs as "West End girls", their cover of The Village People's "Go West", "Can You Forgive Her?", "It's a Sin", and their anthem "New York City Boy" among many others. They have even written a song about a young male fan spending a night with homophobic rapper Eminem called "The Night I Fell in Love". Their 1990s single "Being boring" remains a testament to the gay experience and the devastation wrought by the AIDS crisis; the video, filmed by Bruce Weber, remains one of their more popular.
Although Neil Tennant denied rumors of being gay in the 1980s, he came out in the early 1990s, shortly before the release of 1993's Very and also revealed it in an interview in the British magazine Attitude, published August 1994, though his lyrics had been rife with gay allusions for a decade. Chris Lowe is notoriously private about his personal life, but was rumored to be involved with Pete Andreas, who died of AIDS. Their b-sides collection entitled Alternative was dedicated to his memory.
Neil and Chris set up Spaghetti Records in the early 90s. The label's most famous release was the soundtrack to "The Crying Game", which featured Boy George performing the title song. Other label releases included Scottish dance artist David Cicero and the Masterboy 12-inch single for "Shake It Up and Dance".
In 2003, the label was rebranded as Olde English Vinyl and Lucky Kunst. Their first release on Olde English Vinyl was Atomizer's "Hooked On Radiation" in 2003, which was followed up by Pete Burn's "Jack and Jill Party" in 2004. The latter hit the top 75 despite being only available from the duo's website. The only Lucky Kunst release to date is a cover of the Donna Summer track "Love to Love You Baby" and features the artist Sam Taylor-Wood (using the pseudonym Kiki Kokova) on vocals. This was not the first time that Pet Shop Boys had collaborated with the artist. In 1998, they recorded a version of "Je t'aime... moi non plus", originally by Serge Gainsbourg. The track was released as part of an art book by profilic British artists such as Tracy Emin, Marc Quinn, Gilbert and George, Jake Chapman and Angela Bulloch who had each recorded a track with popular musicians such as Boy George, Arthur Baker and Brian Eno.
Neil Tennant was involved as producer, singer and musician with Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr's Electronic project during the era of their first eponymous album. Tennant featured on three songs: "Getting Away With It", (the first single) "The Patience of a Saint", and "Disappointed". Chris Lowe also contributed to "The Patience of a Saint".
Additional co-producer credits go to Boy George's "Crying Game" (1992), a dance/club version of Blur's "Girls And Boys" (1994), and David Bowie's "Hallo Spaceboy" (1996) to which Tennant also lent his vocals.
In 2000, Pet Shop Boys collaborated with Jonathan Harvey to write the musical Closer to Heaven. The musical ran for less than a year at the Arts Theatre in London but was restaged at the Brisbane Powerhouse in 2005.
In September 2004, Pet Shop Boys appeared at a free concert in Trafalgar Square, London where they performed a new soundtrack to accompany the seminal 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin.
As of 2003, Pet Shop Boys are ranked by Billboard's Joel Whitburn (in his book Billboard's Hot Dance/Disco 1974-2003) as the Number Four most successful act on the US Dance/Club Play charts, behind only Madonna, Janet Jackson and Donna Summer.
PSB has a penchant for choosing one-word album titles - often amusing ones, when used in conjunction with the group name. For example, when asking for a copy of their first album, Please, record-shop customers would sometimes have to say, "Can you help me find the new Pet Shop Boys' album, Please?".
Because of this polite title, their first album was a big hit in Japan. It is said that the band choose album titles based on words they'd been using frequently during the album's production, such as Actually, Please, and Disco.
Earlier this century, Neil Tennant ended years of debate over how to write the band's song titles. He now claims that the definitive Pet Shop Boys' style is to treat each song title like a sentence, thus only the first letter of definitive articles should be capitalized. Hence, "West End girls" or "This must be the place I've waited years to leave" (for example), are now considered the proper way to write the band's song titles.
One of the most iconic and influential pop acts in the world, The Pet Shop Boys
return with their ninth album Yes
, their first release on Astralwerks. Filled with sparkling state-of-the-art Pop songs, Yes
is an affirmation of the duo'
s knack for mixing innovative artistry with exuberant commercial appeal. Produced by the acclaimed Xenomania (Girls Aloud
, Annie, Saint Etienne
), the album features guitar work by ex-Smith
Johnny Marr and orchestral arrangements by Owen Pallett (Last Shadow Puppets
, Final Fantasy
The 2011 original soundtrack release from Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (Pet Shop Boys), The Most Incredible Thing, is the music for their first ever full-length ballet - a collaboration with choreographer Javier De Frutos and Britain’s leading contemporary dance theatre, Sadler’s Wells. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson story of the same title, Tennant and Lowe proposed Andersen’s story as the basis for a new ballet to Sadler’s Wells in London in 2007 after a friend, the then Royal Ballet principal, Ivan Putrov, asked Neil Tennant if Pet Shop Boys would consider writing a piece of music for him to dance to at Sadler’s Wells. The story is about a competition in a mythical kingdom where the King announces that whoever invents the most incredible thing will win the hand of the Princess in marriage and half of the Kingdom.
Elysium (2012) features twelve new songs which display a warm, deep electronic sound, and includes orchestral arrangements by Joachim Horsley, Andrew Dawson and Ben Leathers. Backing vocals are provided on many of the tracks by veteran singers Oren, Maxine and Julie Waters (whose long career spans sessions with The Jackson Five to Adele), and singer/songwriter James Fauntleroy.