Neil Tennant, the assistant editor of UK pop magazine Smash Hits met keyboard player Chris Lowe in a music shop in London in 1981 and discussed forming a band called the Pet Shop Boys (the name takes its inspiration from a couple of friends of Tennant and Lowe who owned a pet shop in Ealing, West London).
After writing and recording demos, they came under the wing of New York dance producer Bobby “O” Orlando. In the summer of 1984, they issued the Orlando-produced West End Girls which passed unnoticed.
Dropped from Epic Records, they were picked up by Parlophone the following year.
A second single Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money) also failed but a re-recording of West End Girls began selling in late 1985.
In January 1986, this hypnotic single topped the charts in the UK and repeated the feat later in the USA.
The duo’s debut Please, Love Comes Quickly, a re-mixed version of Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money) and Suburbia consolidated their position in the UK during 1986. The following year, the duo returned to number one with It’s A Sin.
By this time, they were critically fêted as one of the more interesting bands of their time, with an engaging love of pop irony, camp imagery, and arch wordplay.
The quality of their melodies was also evident in the successful collaboration with Dusty Springfield, What Have I Done To Deserve This? which reached number two in both the UK and the USA.
By the end of the year the duo were back at the top in their home country with a cover version of the Elvis Presley hit, Always On My Mind (also a US Top Five single).
After releasing the well-received Actually, the duo appeared in the 1987 art/documentary film, It Couldn’t Happen Here, which co-starred Carry On actress, Barbara Windsor. The film was given the cold shoulder by reviewers and was seen as a mild – albeit pretentious – hiccup in the duo’s fortunes.
A fourth UK #1 with Heart was followed by a production and songwriting credit on Eighth Wonder‘s hit single, I’m Not Scared. Introspective spawned further UK Top 10 hits in Domino Dancing, Left To My Own Devices, and It’s Alright.
Having previously eschewed live tours (they had hitherto performed one-off concerts only), the Pet Shop Boys made their debut in Japan and the Far East, before finally reaching the UK.
In typical manner, the show’s concept took them as far away from the traditional pop concert as possible and incorporated the use of actors, dancers and film.
A surprise collaboration in 1989 with Liza Minnelli gave her a UK Top 10 hit with Losing My Mind. The duo’s own inventive wit was again in evidence on the UK Top Five hit So Hard, the laconic Being Boring (a rare failure – it only reached number 20), and an odd fusion of U2‘s Where The Streets Have No Name and Frankie Valli‘s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Behaviour was a downbeat, slightly disappointing album.
In 1991, the duo issued one of the best compilations of the era, Discography. Despite Tennant’s continued involvement with Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner in Electronic, the duo insisted that the Pet Shop Boys were only taking a short break.
The UK Top 10 hit Can You Forgive Her? was a fine trailer to 1993’s Very, a superb collection that tinkered with the duo’s sound to incorporate contemporary dance music sounds. Later in the year, they enjoyed a UK #2 hit with a bold cover version of the Village People‘s gay anthem, Go West.
Alternative was an excellent double CD of b-sides, which fully demonstrated their pioneering sound in “left-field dance pop”. Bilingual experimented with Latin rhythms, and featured two further UK Top 10 singles, Before and Se A Vide E (That’s The Way Life Is).
The duo’s long-awaited new album, Nightlife, was premiered by the single I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Any More.
Despite a rare lapse of taste on the camp New York City Boy, the album highlighted their remarkable creativity on tracks such as Happiness Is An Option and the bittersweet single You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk, which put them back in the UK Top 10 in January 2000.
Tennant and Lowe subsequently collaborated with writer Jonathan Harvey on the West End musical, Closer To Heaven, which opened at the Arts Theatre in May 2001.
The show earned some particularly harsh reviews from theatre critics, and despite attracting a cult audience closed after only four months. The duo returned to the UK charts in 2002 with Release, which featured a more guitar-orientated sound, notably on the powerful I Get Along.
The third volume in the duo’s ongoing remix project was released the following year, with Tennant and Lowe reclaiming territory that had been eroded by their own success and that of other less talented acts. The Pet Shop Boys shine in the dance arena, and Disco 3 was a blistering return. They remixed Yoko Ono‘s Walking On Thin Ice which became a hit in June 2003.