Bridging the gap between Synth Britannia and Acid House, PET SHOP BOYS first found international success with ‘West End Girls’ in 1986.
With their Gilbert & George inspired persona, they cleverly satirised Thatcherism on ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’ and used board game symbolism in their observation of the AIDS crisis on ‘Domino Dancing’. They also combined cool aloofness with pop stardom and achieved 4 UK No1 singles; they were only denied a fifth with their 1993 cover of Village People’s ‘Go West’ by Will Smith as ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’!
Preferring to “dance to disco” because they “don’t like rock”, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe managed to change the whole concept of concert presentation in 1991 by removing from the stage, that one consistent element in the history of rock ‘n’ roll… the live musician!
The success in 1987 of ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’, a duet with iconic starlet Dusty Springfield showed PET SHOP BOYS’ willingness to collaborate, while Tennant’s involvement in ELECTRONIC with Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr illustrated that work away from the nest was not out of bounds either.
Since their imperial phase, they have shown their versatility in projects ranging from producing or remixing other artists and running their own Spaghetti Records label to assorted theatre, film and ballet commissions. As well as Dusty Springfield, Liza Minnelli and David Bowie, the PET SHOP BOYS portfolio has also included Tina Turner, Madonna, and Kylie Minogue.
Becoming the esteemed funny uncles of the British music scene, they have managed to acquire the sort of public recognition that has been denied to DEPECHE MODE. Although both can count a Brit Award for Best Single on their mantelpieces, it would appear publicly in the UK at least that PET SHOP BOYS are held in greater affection.
With an Outstanding Contribution to Music BRIT Award in 2009 and an appearance in the 2012 London Olympics Closing Ceremony alongside Ray Davies, PET SHOP BOYS can now be regarded as quintessentially English as much as THE KINKS.
So presented in chronological order with a limit of one track per artist project, here are 20 tracks by PET SHOP BOYS… collaboratively!
EIGHTH WONDER I’m Not Scared (1988)
‘I’m Not Scared’ for Patsy Kensit’s EIGHTH WONDER was the duo’s first production outside of their own work; dubbed a “Princess Stephanie record” by Tennant, influenced by the likes of moody Gallic disco tunes like ‘Voyage Voyage’, Kensit’s gorgeous purr en Français of “Débarrasse-moi de ces chiens – Avant qu’ils mordent…” was the icing on the cake. PET SHOP BOYS released their own recording of the song for ‘Introspective’, but it lacked the panache of Kensit’s version.
Available on the album ‘Fearless’ via Cherry Red Records
LIZA MINNELLI Twist In My Sobriety (1989)
The combination of “Liza with a Z” and her strident theatrics with PET SHOP BOYS’ orchestrated electronic pop was somewhere over the rainbow and the ‘Results’ project was a combination of Tennant / Lowe originals and cover versions; one of those covers was an outlandish hip-hop inspired take on Tanita Tikaram’s ‘Twist in My Sobriety’, featuring a rap by A CERTAIN RATIO’s Donald Johnson. Whereas the original was organic and droll, this was a welcome stab in the face!
Available on the LIZA MINNELLI album ‘Results’ via Cherry Red Records
DUSTY SPRINGFIELD In Private (1990)
The snappy electropop of ‘In Private’ was Springfield’s third hit single in a row helmed by PET SHOP BOYS and had originally been written for the film ‘Scandal’; considered too contemporary by the film’s producers, the song was temporarily shelved and the moodier ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ was used instead. As with ‘I’m Not Scared’, when PET SHOP BOYS recorded their own version as a duet with Elton John for the B-side to ‘Minimal’ in 2006, it was less accomplished.
Available on the DUSTY SPRINGFIELD album ‘Reputation’ via Cherry Red Records
CICERO Love Is Everywhere (1992)
David Cicero was a Scottish musician who after attending a PET SHOP BOYS concert in Glasgow, passed a demo tape to the duo’s personal assistant Peter Andreas. Impressed, they signed him to Spaghetti Records and co-produced his second single ‘Love is Everywhere’. Like NEW ORDER crossed with OMD and RUNRIG, complete with bagpipes, it actually reached No19 in the UK singles chart. Despite a tour supporting TAKE THAT, Cicero’s career was unable to gain further mainstream momentum.
Available on the CICERO album ‘Future Boy’ via Cherry Red Records
ELECTRONIC Disappointed (1992)
Having appeared on ‘Gettting Away With It’ and ‘The Patience Of A Saint’, Tennant sang lead vocals on his third and final contribution to Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s ELECTRONIC. A Europop number inspired by the French dance hit ‘Désenchantée’ by Mylène Farmer, producer Stephen Hague’s pop sensibilities came to the fore on the lush single mix; ‘Disappointed’ became a fully functioning hit that many understandably mistook for being PET SHOP BOYS.
Available on the ELECTRONIC album ‘Get The Message: The Best Of’ via EMI Records
BOY GEORGE The Crying Game (1992)
Commissioned to produce the soundtrack of the Neil Jordan film ‘The Crying Game’, Tennant and Lowe covered the 1964 hit for Dave Berry with Boy George as the song for the closing credits; he laid down what the duo thought was a guide vocal, expecting him to return to the studio the next day to finish it. But he didn’t and they were left to salvage the track using the CULTURE CLUB singer’s slightly wayward performance. Not that it mattered, as it gave the finished recording a marvellously vulnerable quality.
Available on the CULTURE CLUB album ‘Greatest Moments’ via EMI Records
BLUR Girls & Boys – PSB Radio Edit (1994)
Already aping BLONDIE’s ‘Atomic’ and DURAN DURAN with its discofied template, ‘Girls & Boys’ was BLUR’s breakthrough hit. Beginning a spate of remix commissions, bassist Alex James remarked that having a PET SHOP BOYS remix was like having your dog being taken for a walk, but when it came back, it was a different dog! That different dog was performed live by Tennant and Lowe themselves on their ‘Discovery’ tour later in the year.
Available on the single ‘Girls & Boys’ via EMI Records
DAVID BOWIE Hallo Spaceboy – PSB Remix (1996)
If ‘Girls & Boys’ came back as a different dog, then ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ was virtually hijacked, with PET SHOP BOYS certainly re-producing this Bowie / Eno composition from ‘1.Outside’ into a much more commercial proposition. But in the true artful spirit of Bowie, Tennant even utilised the cut-up technique made famous by William S Burroughs to decide which words from the song he would duet with. It became Bowie’s biggest UK hit single since ‘Jump They Say’ in 1990.
Available on the DAVID BOWIE album ‘Nothing Has Changed’ via EMI Music
PETER RAUHOFER + PET SHOP BOYS = THE COLLABORATION Break 4 Love – UK Radio Mix (2002)
A renowned remixer with DEPECHE MODE and Madonna among his credits, the late Peter Rauhofer’s project THE COLLABORATION united him with Tennant and Lowe to produce a cover of RAZE’s cult house classic ‘Break 4 Love’. While the ‘Classic Radio Mix’ straightforwardly borrowed the arrangement of the sparse original, the ‘UK Radio Mix’ was more frantic and busy, the energetic antithesis of the more understated ‘Release’ album that was out at the time.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS single ‘Home & Dry’ via EMI Records
YOKO ONO Walking On Thin Ice – PSB Electro Mix (2003)
The original recording of ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ was notable for being the very last song that John Lennon ever worked on. Yoko Ono’s haunting lyrics for the disco inflected tune reflected on the unpredictability of life, death and of “throwing the dice in the air” before poignantly adding that “when our hearts return to ashes, it will be just a story….”. The PET SHOP BOYS remix, with its hypnotic octave shift mantra and metronomic backbone, gave it a respectful futuristic sheen.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Disco 4’ via EMI Records
PETE BURNS Jack & Jill Party (2004)
Sounding not unlike the backing track to PET SHOP BOYS’ remix of ‘Walking On Thin Ice’, ‘Jack & Jill Party’ was a long awaited recording with the late Pete Burns that exuded a wonderful Electroclash tension that suited the snarly DEAD OR ALIVE singer down to the ground. Mixed by Bob Kraushaar and released on Tennant and Lowe’s Olde English imprint, it actually reached No75 in the UK singles chart but this was to be a collaborative one-off.
Available on the PETE BURNS single ‘Jack & Jill Party’ via Olde English
RAMMSTEIN Mein Teil – PSB You Are What You Eat Remix (2004)
When German industrial metallers RAMMSTEIN released ‘Mein Teil’, it attracted controversy as its lyrics were inspired by the disturbing Armin Meiwes cannibalism case. Vocalist Till Lindemann said “It is so sick that it becomes fascinating and there just has to be a song about it”. Appropriately, PET SHOP BOYS offered up the ‘You Are What You Eat Remix’ which retained the guitars and the aggression, thus maintaining some gothic fervour for the dancefloor.
Available on the RAMMSTEIN single ‘Mein Teil’ via Universal Music
THE KILLERS Read My Mind – PSB Stars Are Blazing Mix (2005)
Singer Brandon Flowers referred to the underwhelming ‘Sam’s Town’ as “the album that keeps rock & roll afloat”, but Neil Tennant had joked that he knew THE KILLERS’ second long player would not be as good as the debut ‘Hot Fuss’ because Flowers had grown a beard! After the synth indie hybrid of ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘Mr Brightside’, it was extremely disappointing but Tennant and Lowe put some pulsing electronics into ‘Read My Mind’ to alert audiences as to what could have been.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Disco 4’ via EMI Records
TENNANT, LOWE & DRESDENER SINFONIKER Nyet (2005)
‘Battleship Potemkin’ was a 1925 Soviet silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein about a 1905 naval mutiny. Using their surnames like classical composers on this updated soundtrack commission, the pair were accompanied by Dresdener Sinfoniker, conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer. Arranger Torsten Rasch had released ‘Mein Herz Brennt’, a song-cycle based on the music of RAMMSTEIN. Despite being uptempo, the mix of strings and electronics on ‘Nyet’ reflected the grim tension of the story.
Available on the TENNANT, LOWE album ‘Battleship Potemkin’ via EMI Records
ROBBIE WILLIAMS She’s Madonna (2006)
The former TAKE THAT star had covered ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’ so was a proven fan. With PET SHOP BOYS in charge of production, ‘She’s Madonna’ was inspired by a conversation Williams had with his ex Tania Strecker on the excuse her former boyfriend Guy Ritchie gave for leaving her for Madonna. It was an interesting artistic twist, as Tennant and Lowe had remixed ‘Sorry’ for Madge in 2005.
Available on the ROBBIE WILLIAMS album ‘Rudebox’ via EMI Records
SAM TAYLOR-WOOD I’m In Love With German Film Star (2008)
Visual artist and director Sam Taylor-Wood became friends with PET SHOP BOYS when she provided film projections for their shows at London’s Savoy Theatre in 1997. She later recorded covers of ‘Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus’ and ‘Love To Love You Baby’ both produced by Tennant and Lowe, but it was her moody electro version of ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’, originally recorded by THE PASSIONS, that was the first to actually be released under her own name.
Available on the SAM TAYLOR-WOOD single ‘I’m in Love With A German Film Star’ via Kompakt Pop
LADY GAGA Eh Eh – PSB Radio Remix (2009)
When Tennant and Lowe received their Outstanding Contribution to Music Award at the BRITs, they were joined on a ‘Hits Medley’ by THE KILLERS’ Brandon Flowers and Lady Gaga who did her turn on ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’. Originally a lame cod calypso excursion from the latter’s debut album ’The Fame’, PET SHOP BOYS managed to rework ‘Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)’ into an electro-disco stomper despite its break-up subject matter.
Available on the LADY GAGA album ‘The Remix’ via Interscope Records
PET SHOP BOYS featuring PHILIP OAKEY This Used To Be The Future (2009)
‘This Used To Be The Future’ was a dream trioet that featured both PET SHOP BOYS and Philip Oakey of THE HUMAN LEAGUE, recorded as a bonus song for ‘Yes etc’. With Lowe actually singing albeit autotuned, as opposed to just speaking, this celebration of yesterday’s tomorrow saw Oakey deadpan that his utopian dream didn’t quite turn out how Raymond Baxter predicted on ‘Tomorrow’s World’! Disappointed, he conclusively grunts “AMEN!”
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Yes: Further Listening 2008-2010’ via EMI Records
STOP MODERNISTS feat CHRIS LOWE Subculture (2011)
A cover of the lost NEW ORDER single from 1985, Finnish producer Jori Hulkkonen remembered: “The idea was to take what me and STOP MODERNISTS partner Alex Nieminen felt was an underrated song, make a late 80s deep house interpretation and bring some extra twist with having Chris on the vocals. It’s very hard – impossible, actually – to explain how important this record is to me. PET SHOP BOYS have been the most important musical influence for me”.
Available on the STOP MODERNISTS single ‘Subculture’ via Keys Of Life
JEAN MICHEL JARRE & PET SHOP BOYS Brick England (2016)
Jean-Michel Jarre’s ambitious ‘Electronica’ project was a worldwide collaborative adventure where the handsome French Maestro “had this idea of merging DNA with musicians and artists of different generations”; ‘Brick England’ with PET SHOP BOYS was a slice of classic mid-tempo Euro disco, with Tennant and Lowe not breaking with tradition, although Jarre’s ribbon controlled lead synth sounded like it was going to break into EUROPE’s ‘The Final Countdown’!
Available on the JEAN MICHEL JARRE album ‘Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise’ via Sony Music
Text by Chi Ming Lai
29th December 2017