David Cicero’s ascent into the pop charts was swift. The first signing to Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s Spaghetti Records imprint, his 1991 PET SHOP BOYS produced single ‘Love Is Everywhere’ reached No19 in the UK charts.
The album ‘Future Boy’ followed in 1992 while he also contributed the song ‘Live For Today’ to the Oscar nominated film ‘The Crying Game’. But record company politics intervened at Spaghetti Records’ parent organisation Polydor and after the sad passing of his manager Peter Andreas, Cicero effectively left the mainstream music industry.
There were sporadic solo single releases over the next few decades, while he released several albums as THE EVENT and collaborated with dance DJs on a number of trance tracks. It was after a comeback charity concert in July 2019 in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support that Cicero started to put together his second album.
He had material from his Spaghetti Records days as well as his occasional singles, thus half the album was already written. So while reconfiguring his ‘Future Boy’ songs into a modern technological format for his live return, he would work on new material during breaks from programming. The Scot told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “it’s not ‘Future Boy 2’ but it’s still going to have that Cicero feel to it with a more up to date cutting edge sound”
Fast forward to 2021 and during the intervening period, Cicero tragically lost his mother and stepfather within a year. As a result, the album ‘Today’ is a very personal affair tinged with sadness but also full of hope.
Opening track ‘It’s Over’ is not too frantic a start and eases the listener back into the world of Cicero; using the voice treatments of now, it is that relatable tale of being in love with someone you can’t get on with… hey, we’ve all been there!
The hopeful euphoria of ‘Wish’ is undeniably a close relation to ‘Live For Today’ and features Amy Meave Baillie on vocals.
She ably deputises for Sylvia Mason-James in a manner that Neil Tennant used refer to as a “disco lungsmith” and perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a song from that bygone Spaghetti Records era.
Also led by soaring female vocals are the poignant ‘Face This World Alone’, a drum n bass excursion first issued as a single in 2015 and ‘Anyone But You’ which exudes further ripples of the breakbeat form, indicating the origins of both may have been from the same period. At the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘In the Rain (Children of Today)’ is a homely piano ballad featuring his daughter Holly calling for a better world and hoping that “happiness will come my way”.
A slice of heavenly spaghetti disco, ‘River of Lies’ is mighty with a strong PET SHOP BOYS influence. Out of all the tracks on ‘Today’, it is the one that, as his former mentor Neil Tennant used to say when he was Assistant Editor of Smash Hits, confirms Cicero is “Back-back-BACK!”. Also uptempo, the propulsive banger ‘Hide from Life Instead’ is wonderfully energetic and even features a few drops, all that’s missing are strobes!
A solemn heartfelt ballad, ‘This Way I Feel Inside’ encapsulates the very personal reflections that are omnipresent on ‘Today’. But the self-explanatory ‘Turned Around’ shows how the future boy has become a future man. A song about watching his daughter growing up, it is joyful tune that moves from ballad into Eurodance stomper after a minute and a half. It is also slightly reminiscent of Roger Sanchez’s TOTO sampling ‘Another Chance’ but with a considerably stronger lyrical focus.
Closing with ‘Broken’, a ballad concluding with a glorious piper’s lament and elegiac Vangelis inspired synth, Cicero heartbreakingly recalls in song of how he was unable to see his mother when she passed away.
‘Today’ is a mature midlife statement that touches on topics such as love, relationship breakdown, parenthood and bereavement which many will relate to. There are also some nostalgic nods to clubbing but let’s face it, while it is fun to go out and dance in your 50s, you wouldn’t want to do it every week now or even every month. It reflects the stage of life when the end is closer than the beginning, but there is still so much more to do and with that in mind, there can be a new found optimism.
It may have taken nearly 30 years for Cicero to follow-up his debut album, but it is time to rejoice that he is still able to produce good music, with some cracking tracks contained on ‘Today’.
Bentornato Cicero 🙂
‘Today’ is available via the usual digital platforms
2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.
While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business. That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic… MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again.
HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.
Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.
As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.
Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.
After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.
Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.
To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.
But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.
On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour. Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.
Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.
Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.
The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.
Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.
However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths.
DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.
Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.
However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.
While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…
Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019. It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.
Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount. This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.
Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?
Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?
Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.
It’s a funny old world, but as ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever. It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after attending two of its live events: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”
May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2019
From Livingston in West Lothian to the concert arenas of the world, the rise of David John Cicero into the pop charts was swift.
A fan of synthpop and dance music, Cicero began writing songs and making music in his bedroom, aided by advancements in technology such as affordable samplers and sequencing software. Following a PET SHOP BOYS concert in 1989, he managed to get a demo tape to the duo. Before two could be divided by zero, Cicero was offered a record deal with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s new record label Spaghetti Records imprint which was being set up via Polydor Records.
Although the excellent debut single for both Cicero and Spaghetti Records ‘Heaven Must Have Sent You Back To Me’ failed to chart, it brought the young photogenic Scot to the attention of radio programmers and press. So when his PET SHOP BOYS produced second single ‘Love Is Everywhere’ was released in late 1991, it eventually reached No19 in the UK charts.
The album ‘Future Boy’ and ‘Live For Today’, a wonderfully cinematic contribution to the Oscar nominated film ‘The Crying Game’ followed, but then record company politics intervened and contributed to a stall in momentum.
Although later, there was a UK tour supporting TAKE THAT plus the independently issued singles ‘Summertime’ and a cover of SOFT CELL’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, as the new millennium loomed, Cicero opted to disappear from public view.
But now in 2019, as his former mentor Neil Tennant used to say when he was Assistant Editor of Smash Hits, Cicero is “Back-back-BACK!”.
With the release of his appropriately titled new single ‘Turned Around’, Cicero kindly spoke about his album ‘Future Boy’, working with PET SHOP BOYS, briefly being a pop pin-up and his return to music…
At a time when affordable electronic music technology was making acid house and techno a cultural reality, you opted to do pop songs, so who were your main influences in that respect?
I was going to clubs in my late teens and listening to house music like ‘Jack Your Body’ and ‘House Nation’ the early stuff and thinking “wow I want to do that”.
When moving to Livingston when I was 17, the Scottish radio was full of RUNRIG, HIPSWAY, DEACON BLUE etc, mostly rock pop stuff. Nobody really from Scotland at that time was playing electronic music, in the mainstream anyway.
The club I went to called ‘Melvilles’ at the time (now a church lol) was playing all types of music including HI-NRG like “I was a male stripper in a go go bar” (not me, that was the name of the song ?) and tracks like “Boom Boom, let’s go back to my room” and I loved them. It was the energy they gave off on the dancefloor, just like house music which was uplifting, almost trance like. They also played a lot of electronic bands like OMD, PSB and VISAGE.
Can you remember your first synth or keyboard? What was it like to use?
The first keyboard was a small Casio which had built-in speakers and drums etc, not that great at sounds but you could play about with them to make better ones. It did not have any phono outputs, so I had to tape a microphone to its speaker when doing my early gigs.
What was your set-up when you were producing the demos that would eventually become ‘Future Boy’?
By the time I was working on ‘Future Boy’, I had my Korg T3 and an Akai sequencer, an Akai sampler and a rack mount synth which was by Roland.
It was a long process when writing tunes as you could not copy and paste stuff, it was all step-sequenced so you had to build the tracks part by part which was pain staking at the time. I also had an old Atari monitor when moving on to Cubase later which was so much better.
How did you come to the attention of PET SHOP BOYS?
They were playing at the SECC in Glasgow, I remember playing ‘Please’ constantly and loved every song. I carried my demo tape with me everywhere I went. We were listening in the car going to the gig and whilst waiting in the venue, my friend Ali bumped into Pete who was their PA at the time (later to be my manager) and said “you’ve got to listen to this, it’s similar to the PET SHOP BOYS!”.
At the time, I had only written ‘Love Is Everywhere’, ‘Heaven’ and ‘Cloud 9’. We were invited to meet them after the show and it was awesome. A month later Pete called me and said “you better start working on an album, the boys want you down in London”, the rest is history.
‘Heaven Must Have Sent You Back To Me’ was a fine debut single in anyone’s books, exactly what one would imagine Spaghetti Records to be about?
Yes Neil and Chris loved ‘Heaven’ and wanted it out first. Spaghetti Records was something they both created at the time to go with the Italian connection surname that I had. They later added more artists to the label.
You’re best known for your hit ‘Love Is Everywhere’ which looking back now, is quite a bizarre song sounding like THE PROCLAIMERS meeting PET SHOP BOYS and OMD with bagpipes and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo thrown in for good measure… how did this come together in your head and then in the studio?
Haha, yes there is quite a mixture of styles in that tune. I always wanted it to be a Scottish anthem sounding tune and had a crap bagpipe sample playing the main part, but it all just worked. When doing my early gigs, it was the song that got everyone pumped and went down rather well.
When in the studio with the boys, they wanted real bagpipes so we got some guys in to play it, but the bagpipes needed tuning to the correct key to fit the track. Neil also decided to add his backing vocals to it which lifted the chorus to another level. Thinking back, it was all experiments which the boys had fun being involved in.
Had it been the intention for PET SHOP BOYS to be involved in the production of ‘Love Is Everywhere’?
Yes from the get go, it was probably one of the first we started working on in the studio when putting together ‘Future Boy’.
With it, you became a pop pin-up with a ‘Smash Hits’ front cover, how did you find the adulation and also being on TV?
I loved every minute of it; I remember rushing to the newsagents to buy a copy when I was told I was in a magazine. You have to love it, it’s all about you and if you don’t like it, why are you doing it?
Being on TV was amazing too and at the time I always wanted to be on ‘Top Of The Pops’, I was on it but only a few seconds of the video to ‘Love is Everywhere’ as it was the highest climber that week. I was told I was going on the show the following week, but later that week we were told that Michael Jackson was releasing a bloody 10 minute video which they decided to premiere on the show instead!
‘That Loving Feeling’ was also produced by PET SHOP BOYS, what was it like working with them? Are there any funny stories you can recall?
Yes let me get it straight, these boys are so talented, the ideas at the time were flowing and me, being young and naïve, did not respect that as much as I do now. They were the biggest names in the pop industry and they were producing some of my songs! Don’t get me wrong, I was loving every moment of it and thought it was amazing and looking back now it all seems like a dream.
Chris was the joker, he would just come out with some random stuff which would get us all laughing; Neil too, I loved it when he would go off on one about some of the artists at the time in the charts who he thought were not deserving (I will not mention any names).
It was a shame ‘That Loving Feeling’ didn’t hit the same heights as ‘Love Is Everywhere’, why do you think that might have been?
It was all down to distribution at the time, you’ve got to remember we did not have social media to help push sales. Even though Spaghetti was my label, Polydor were the main backing / distributors and were not getting the records out to all the shops in time. This was really out of Chris and Neil’s control and should have been handled better by Polydor.
My bother and others that were contacting me were saying the stores were not stocking it or were waiting on stock coming in. At the time, you needed to sell a lot of records to even get into the Top 100 and I just missed the Top 40 which was a bummer but it never stopped me carrying on.
‘My Middle Class Life’ had an air of VISAGE about it?
Did it? *laughs*
I do like VISAGE. That was written when I was a waiter back in the days of getting sh*t from customers. I would go into my staff room and write it out on a napkin. A few songs were written there.
There is some great brassy freeform synth playing on the rugged album closer ‘Future Generations’, an art which sort of disappeared during those dance years?
That was a track written when I was coming down to London and seeing all the homeless / red light areas which I never experienced back home. We wanted the album to have an emotional ending to it, inspired by ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ by PINK FLOYD, the female vocals are stunning… I wanted that similar vocal effect at the end of my tune.
The excellent electro instrumental ‘Sonic Malfunction’ was a last minute addition to ‘Future Boy’, why had it felt necessary to add further tracks?
I did a lot of instrumental tracks too back in the day, it was one of those songs that Neil and Chris liked and wanted to add it to the album. (Check out my YouTube page for the new mix I did). They wanted to also show I suppose, the other side of Cicero which is not always pop. We did not want to overdo the album with instrumentals… we were keeping them for the B sides ?
On B-sides like ‘Mind The Gap’, ‘Splatt’ and ‘Jungilism’, you were able to let your more clubby instincts run wild?
Yep, again it was all about showing another part of Cicero and it was great having full control to experiment with songs like that.
We had a great laugh making them and loved playing with new technology in the studio.
How do you look back on the ‘Future Boy’ album? Which were your own favourite tracks?
I still think its timeless, I think it’s one of those albums that still sounds like some of the songs that are out there today, hell I may have even influenced them in some way ?
I don’t have any faves, I like them all but ‘Then’ was the one that I loved to listen to on repeat. Yes I sometimes still listen to it for inspiration. Is it bad to be a fan of your own music? If you’re not a fan of your own music why the hell are you doing it then!
One of my rare videos taken from the award winning "The Crying Game" movie and soundtrack called "Live for today"
‘Live For Today’, your contribution to the PET SHOP BOYS produced soundtrack to ‘The Crying Game’ is considered to be your best song; with that soulful counterpoint from Sylvia Mason-James, was this indicative of the direction you would have gone in for the second album?
Yes probably, we were going in a more orchestrated feel at the time but I was under no impression to change my music drastically compared to ‘Future Boy’
Some perceived you as a PET SHOP BOYS side-project… in hindsight, do you think the association helped or hindered you? Is there anything you’d have done differently?
Hey, I was their prodigy, they found me and I found them, it’s all about fate. I may have made it without the lads, but having them help me and to be part of it was something I would never change.
You also supported TAKE THAT on tour. Looking back, was it the right fit as it didn’t appear to revive your fortunes? How was the experience overall for you?
I loved being on tour with the boys, we were good friends and thought it would be a good surprise having me part of the show, we talked about it way back before they became famous. It was never a plan to revive my career but the response I got was overwhelming from the fans.
In 1996 you released a cover of SOFT CELL’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’? What is it about that song for you personally which you loved?
It was one of those songs when I first listened to it that made me relate to it a bit, but I always thought it would be a good dance tune.
Publically, it looked like you’d gone under the radar after that, what happened then?
I was and still am making music, I just wanted a break from it all. I went through quite a low time which I will not get into after my pop career. Later my lovely daughter was born who was 11 weeks premature. This was worrying times as she was in the hospital for a long time when she was first born so I stopped doing music until she was older.
I started doing music with a DJ friend of mine Paul Mendez, writing trance tunes under the name JACOB & MENDEZ. I also have a few albums out under the name THE EVENT which tracks have appeared on some independent films. I was always writing, always going on and never giving up.
You’re now back with a new single ‘Turned Around’ and it’s like you’ve never been away. What made you feel this was the right time to make a return to music?
I had released a couple of songs prior to this called ‘Face This World Alone’ and ‘Wish’, but was getting a lot of people asking when I was going to sing again. I wanted to put a song together that meant something to me and what a lot of others could relate to. I just wanted everyone to know I was back, but not really been away.
Is the current environment where an artist has more control over their music with regards self-releasing more suited to your ethos?
It’s a great time for independent artist who can now more easily set up their own label. I love having full control now, most artists if you ask them would love that, you can express your true music that way, it’s not controlled and it’s not all about making money like most big named record companies are only after these days. Just listen to the amount of sh*t that is out there.
How do you feel about the music industry today compared with back then?
Don’t get me started, it sucks, we are controlled into having to listen to what they decide is good. Everyone is expected to follow like sheep and listen to the same type of music as everyone else. Back in the 90s, music was so uplifting, nowadays it’s all so depressing. It’s like they want us all to be depressed. They control the big radio stations now and any small independent band does not have a chance… unless you get signed to them.
Photo by Neil McDade
You recently gave your first live performance for many years in aid of MacMillan. How does it feel to be playing live again?
It was one of the best nights of my life. It was something I planned a few years ago after doing a remake of ‘Cloud 9’. All of my original material was done on floppy drives, so I had to reprogramme everything from scratch for the live show. The response and feedback has been amazing. It’s given me the buzz again and you never know, I may just have to do another.
So what’s next for you then, your hopes or fears?
I may do some more live gigs. I am now working on an album, it’s not ‘Future Boy 2’ but it’s still going to have that Cicero feel to it with a more up to date cutting edge sound. Back in the 90s, we were limited to technology but we made it sound the best we could back then. The new album may not be out until later next year ‘cause I want to take my time to make sure I am happy with it first and hopefully you are too.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to David Cicero
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, KYLIE MINOGUE and GIRLS ALOUD.
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
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
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
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
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 MYLENE 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.
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.
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.
If ‘Girls & Boys’ came back as a different dog, then ‘Hallo Spacebuoy’ 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.
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
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.
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
‘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.
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.
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!”
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’!