Neil: "We had the musical idea of writing a song with the same chord change and tempo as 'Opportunities', which it was going to be the b-side of. We thought you would then be able to mix one into the other. The words were inspired by a book I read about Paris in the occupation, Paris In The Third Reich: A History Of The German Occupation, 1940-1944, by David Pryce-Jones; I read about these people called les Zazous who were like prototype beatniks. They were apolitical and used to grow long hair and listen to American jazz music, which of course was illegal under the Nazis. They were very existentialist and sat round talking about love and the meaning of life. I was just fascinated that they were totally out of the context of their times; that you had this beatnik culture in the middle of the Second World War in occupied Paris. The lyric mentions the clubs they went to, like Select and Le Colisée. They also sneered at the masculinity of both the resistance and the Germans; I suppose I sympathised with them. The song looks at the moral implications, because the Nazis hated them and the Resistance hated them, because they were fatalistic and didn't participate in the resistance, and the song asks whether that's collaboration. It revolves around the chorus - 'there's a thin line between love and crime and in this situation / a thin line between love and crime and collaboration' - because the fact of the matter is that if you're not really against something, you're for it, and in a way they collaborated with the Nazis by just carrying on a normal life. So, in the end, I am criticising them. We recorded it in PWL. Tom Watkins said there was this really good engineer at PWL called Phil Harding, and he'd done a mix of Bronski Beat's 'Why?' so we worked with him and his programmer Ian Curnow. We recorded it across two nights because they were working during the day on Brilliant's album. We'd work from ten o'clock at night until ten o'clock in the morning. Chris had already written the music on Blue Weaver's Fairlight."
Chris: "It was so boring making 'Opportunities' over three weeks that we decided to beaver away on the Fairlight while they were doing that, and we knocked this out. And the great thing was, the bloke who was mastering the record thought this was the a-side and that 'Opportunities' was the b-side."
Neil: "When I sang it, I tried to sound like Donovan, because I was thinking of a Donovan song, 'Goo Goo Barabajagal'. Although he was a hippie he had a rather cool way of singing."
A Man Could Get Arrested
Neil: "This was originally written and recorded simultaneously in Bobby 'O''s office studio in spring, 1984. I was working in New York at Star Hits and Bobby 'O' flew Chris over - he only got his ticket on the morning of the flight - and then Bobby 'O' left town for three days and we only recorded in his office, which really pissed us off because we liked going into a proper recording studio. Anyway, we started writing a song, and Chris had thought of this drum pattern and Bobby 'O' loved it. I couldn't really think of a chorus - Chris kept saying it was a rip-off of Shannon. But it was never finished at the time. The twelve-inch version, released as the b-side of the 'West End girls' twelve-inch, is the Bobby 'O' version, but because he never completed it, we finished it. We did it the same night as we did our twelve-inch of 'West End girls'. 'West End girls' took all night, and at about four in the morning we started this. We didn't spend long on it, and we were never totally happy with it so then we agreed to do a different version, a completely new recording. The seven-inch version, which was the b-side of the 'West End girls' seven-inch and which is actually the longer of the two, is a really Eighties pop production by Steve Spiro, who Tom Watkins was managing. We spent a week doing it with him. We changed the structure and the order of the verses."
Chris: "It's all real drums, real bass, real brass section."
Neil: "The bass player of Status Quo is playing on this. He was a nice guy, actually."
Chris: "This version has got a great middle section. The brass section is like Sharon Redd, and we also get a fantastic Sharon Redd bit with the handclaps and a complete breakdown."
Neil: "The handclaps go from side to side."
Chris: "I love that bit."
Neil: "The song was inspired by an incident with a friend of ours where we ended up being chased by these lads through Russell Square and onto Kingsway. Bottles were thrown; there were bottles smashing in the street."
Chris: "And Neil nearly did get arrested. It's always Neil that has scrapes with the law - I don't know if anyone's noticed that. He's always high and mighty about it, but it's always Neil."
Neil: "The rest is a portrait of Bobby 'O'. Bobby 'O' told us he would never have sex with a woman unless she went to the doctor's first, because he was obsessed with herpes. He said to me in the studio: '"If you've got your health, you've got everything", that's what my doctor said.' It went straight in there. And the chorus is totally Bobby 'O''s approach to life: 'if you want to earn, learn how to do it'. There's another Bobby 'O' line too, about his girlfriend: 'of course I told her I loved her - not just 'cause she insisted'. She was nice, his girlfriend. But I made the song into a
story about someone who is trying to get his girlfriend to have it off with him, basically, and he's so frustrated that 'a man could get arrested'. He's driven to distraction. It's a song about sexual frustration."
That's My Impression
Neil: "Before I knew Chris I had written a song with a completely different tune on the guitar - it was supposed to sound like Blondie - and when we wrote this music I used those words for this. I love the lines in the middle bit: 'go to a club, you think I'll be there / I don't go 'cause I'm not a member'. They were taken from another song, the first song Chris and I wrote together. It was a bit Soft Cell. Originally it went on: 'although I'm a boy / I don't mind what's on your mind at all / and you won't find me there...' The music for 'That's my impression' was written in our Italian disco phase. We were writing a song around an arpeggio. We first recorded it in Ray Roberts' studio, and then with Bobby 'O'. Bobby 'O' thought the words were very weird. We recorded this in a different studio, producing it ourselves while Stephen Hague was finishing Please. This, the 'disco mix' was originally on the 'Opportunities' twelve-inch; the seven-inch b-side was just an edit of it. It's a very Bobby 'O' theme again. It's about jealousy, a corny pop lyric about how your lover is out there somewhere, trying to pick someone else up."
Chris: "More sex."
Neil: "I used to live in Knightsbridge in this little flat and I often used to walk by the Serpentine, which is why that is mentioned. In the last verse I'm trying to be a rock 'n' roll singer."
Chris: "I like you singing like this. I don't like deadpan vocals. I've never liked deadpan vocals."
Neil: "Now you tell me."
Was That What It Was?
Neil: "We wrote and recorded this in Advision studios, trying to see if we could completely do a song from scratch for a b-side. We didn't really like our version, so when we went to America and Shep Pettibone was remixing 'Opportunities', we also asked him to remix this. Instead, his manager Jane Brinton did it. It's got all weird echoes in. It's one of my least favourite Pet Shop Boys songs, though I like the middle bit - 'I don't need any more in my life' - which I think sounds a bit like David Bowie. Although it also sounds like the middle section of 'Tonight is forever', which
I didn't notice until a fan wrote to me and pointed it out. It's one of my soppy love lyrics. There's a stream of soppy b-sides."
Chris: "Was that what it was? Was that what it was?"
Neil: "It's a 'why has everything gone wrong?' record, looking back, trying to pinpoint why the whole thing was screwed up. To be honest, it's a very minor work."
Neil: "Chris wrote this piece of music by himself in the studio. Tom Watkins had a group at the time called The Hudsons who'd brought out a record called 'One Man's Meat (Is Another Man's Poison)' and Tom Watkins had a really brilliant idea for a gay disco record, 'I'm In Love With A Woman', and we said we'd write it. And so when Chris wrote this music, we decided this would be it: 'I never thought I would leave you - but I'm in love with a woman'. It was great, but Tom got
sniffy all of a sudden and didn't want us to do it."
Chris: "I'd already put my vocal on when I did the track. I just thought I'd have a go. It's just a list of words."
Neil: "Very Andy Warhol."
Chris: "They were the first words that came into my head."
Neil: "Weren't they things that really excited you, supposedly?"
Chris: "Well, they're obviously going to be the first words that come into my head."
Neil: "Then we heard about the Paninari."
Chris: "The Italian youth cult."
Neil: "So we decided to make a song called 'Paninaro' and made this it. I liked the fact that all the trendies in Milan loathed the Paninari because 'they all like Wham! and Duran Duran and Madonna'. We thought, 'how fabulous - so do we'. I like fashion cults, and theirs were the kind of clothes we liked."
Chris: "The original lyric went 'Armani...Armani... Ar-Ar-Armani...Versace...cinque'. Then I edited out 'Versace', but I forgot to edit it out of the twelve-inch version."
Neil: "We didn't like Versace that much. Also Versace wasn't Paninaro."
Chris: "The twelve-inch was called 'The Italian mix' because originally it was just released in Italy."
Neil: "The talking in the middle is also Chris, from an American TV interview, on Entertainment Tonight. We did the original version at Abbey Road but then we decided it wasn't good enough, so then we went in with Adrian Cook and did it all again. Adrian Cook was going to programme the first tour, the one that famously went on sale in Los Angeles without anyone telling us, five nights at the Pantages Theater sold out, and which we didn't do. He was programming all our songs onto Fairlight in Abbey Road - as usual, money was flying around - so we decided to do a record that recycled sounds, so almost every sound in 'Paninaro' had been used before on one of our records. It's a recycled record. It was a nightmare, Chris doing his vocal."
Chris: "You know what I'm like."
Neil: "I think he only did it twice."
Chris: "I was only saying a list of words."
Neil: "It was like getting blood out of a stone."
Jack The Lad
Neil: "It started with a knock-off of one of Erik Satie's Trois Gymnopedies. We'd had the idea that there was going to be a Neil track and a Chris track on the 'Suburbia' single; Chris's track was 'Paninaro' and this was mine. The idea of calling a song 'Jack the lad' came from Big Audio Dynamite, whose song 'E=MC2' had a very similar chord change to 'West End girls'. On 'E=MC2' there's a sample from the film Performance which says, 'Who do you think you are - Jack the
lad?' And I had been reading about Lawrence of Arabia at the time, and about the spy Kim Philby: people who go too far, and people who practice deception. The second verse refers to the fact that Lawrence of Arabia is supposed to have been homosexual - 'telling lies in public, breaking codes at home, underneath the blankets...' When I say, 'Are you only Jack the lad?', I'm saying: are you just messing about? 'To feast with panthers...' is a reference to Oscar Wilde who said that when he was going out with all these rent boys it was like feasting with panthers because they were all so dangerous and it was all likely to destroy him. Which, of course, it did. Lawrence of Arabia, Oscar Wilde and, in the third verse, Kim Philby - they each lived as an establishment figure but lived another life at the same time. The song is asking why they're doing it. It is just for bravado? 'Are you only Jack the lad?' Or, another suggestion, 'they must have hurt you, Jack'. Is it some kind of resentment against your fellow upper class people that makes you want to betray them? It's a sort of anti-bravado song in a way. It's saying: why not come to terms with all this resentment you have? 'We all fall' - everyone makes mistakes. When I sing 'this is your only religion' I'm suggesting that to not be restrained has become the main point of their lives. To never want to grow up and face responsibilities. I'm kind of talking about myself there as well."
You Know Where You Went Wrong
Neil: "Like so many producers we've worked with, Shep Pettibone always wanted to do another 'West End girls'. He'd say, 'why don't you do another record where you talk, because everyone loves that in America?' It started off as a story Chris told me - that he'd been walking through Covent Garden and there were two tramps in this doorway and one of them turned round to the other one and said, 'well, you know where you went wrong'. He told me this and we thought it was really funny. It was like a New Yorker cartoon."
Chris: "I thought it was rather more Glen Baxter myself."
Neil: "That was about a year before we wrote the song; I'd always remembered it. Then the 'y'know' came from our friend Pete."
Chris: "You'd say something and he'd go 'y'know'."
Neil: "It's to agree with what someone is saying but to emphasise it in a slightly sarcastic way. Chris had written all the music. Shep Pettibone arranged the introduction and then later went and used more or less the same kind of arrangement for the introduction to 'Vogue' by Madonna. It was originally a rap song but Chris didn't like the rap and so I think he suggested this tune I should do. The words are just examples of people saying 'you know where you went wrong'. For
the verse about 'the girl says, "admit admit"', I was reminded about when my sister, as a girl, used to get magazines like June and Schoolfriend, and in them the girls would say things at the back of biology classes like 'admit admit'. The second verse is about someone disgraced by a way, an old statesman totally out of favour who can't understand why people are upset. Helena Springs, who had sung on 'West End girls', sings on it."
Chris: "She gets the best bit of the song."
Neil: "We spent ages working on it. I think we thought it might be a single, but it became the b-side of 'It's a sin'."
Chris: "That happens so often with us, and then the song barely makes it onto a b-side."
A New Life
Neil: "Helena Springs wanted us to write a song with her, and we went to her house one Sunday afternoon. She'd already written an idea, which became the bridge of this song, and we took that away and wrote the rest. She also already had that part of the lyric: 'the night goes by...' I wrote the rest of the words, except she had a good line we wanted to keep in: 'then rise the daylight sky'."
Chris: "She had some lyrics that were very positive, and when Neil had changed it around the song became more negative."
Neil: "This version was made as a demo for her to sing. We sent it to her because she was touring with Elton John at the time, and we never heard anything back from her for ages and we were dead disappointed because we thought it was a really good song. Then we got David Jacob to mix it and put it on the b-side of 'What have I done to deserve this?' - we had been recording 'King's Cross' with Stephen Hague and we stayed one night to mix this. Helena Springs did her own version, for her solo album which was never released, which she called 'A New Love'. Hers was much more complicated. The words I wrote - which were for her to sing - are about a woman leaving her husband, going to get a new life. She doesn't know whether she's doing the right thing - she's creeping away at night because he's repressing her. I like the line, 'how do you get to heaven if you never try?' I don't know why but I always imagine Boy George singing this.
I Want A Dog
Neil: "'I want a dog' came from our friend Pete. He said, 'I want a dog. A chihuahua. I've only got a small flat.' I laughed, and wrote it down straightaway. Chris wrote all the music to it. The piano bit was going to be the main tune and then Chris pointed out that it was a bit like 'look now, planet earth'. I remember David Jacob doing a very good 'meow' for us to use."
Chris: "It's an unusual track, this. Quite interesting. Probably spoiled by my vocal."
Neil: "We wrote it in the studio in two days, as a b-side for 'Rent'. I think we were trying to do a Detroit techno thing."
Chris: "Of course, in those days with house music every record was different. Dance music wasn't formulaic yet. I like the 'woof!' as the snare drum."
Neil: "On it, Chris reads out a list of dogs. In the middle there's a reference to Kraftwerk where he goes 'und dachshund'."
Chris: "Sardonically. It was good fun coming up with a list of dogs. Though we don't mention Lakeland terriers, which is the kind of dog Neil now has. It's one of our silly range, isn't it?"
Neil: "I think it's really sad, myself. It's about loneliness. It's why people have dogs - for love and security. We always planned to write a song called 'I want a baby' as a follow-up."
[commentary on the Introspective version is here]
Do I Have To?
Neil: "The idea came from Chris's frequent complaint while doing promotion: 'Do I have to?'"
Chris: "Is that where it comes from?"
Neil: "That's where it comes from. I originally had the idea of writing a song called 'Break his heart, don't break mine', the idea being that someone you're going out with is two-timing you, saying, 'Do I have to love you?' It's a really bitter song. I love the way that it's bitter and very romantic at the same time. You're telling your lover what to say: 'say this to them, say that to them, say what you like but you're not finishing with me and that is that'. I like the line, 'it's a fatal mistake that you're dying to make'. I wondered if I'd nicked it from Elvis Costello or Bob Dylan or
someone like that."
Chris: "The bit before the chorus has the same chords as 'King's Cross'."
Neil: "Don't think that wasn't pointed out at the time. We did the whole thing in two days because we wanted a b-side for 'Always On My Mind'. If we were making it now, I would suggest making it shorter. It faffs about a bit. It was the first time we worked with Bob Kraushaar. We were trying to do something that sounded like David Sylvian. Chris wrote the chorus and I wrote the verse. At the beginning, that's Chris Lowe playing the piano live."
Chris: "I can't believe I used to play the piano on records. I would never do that now."
Neil: "Chris also plays a sax solo on the Emulator. Very David Bowie."
Chris: "It's funny how our best b-sides tend to be the b-sides of the best singles."
Neil: "I once went into a pub and this was playing. I was thrilled."
I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too)
Neil: "This was originally done with Bobby 'O' in New York. The first version of 'West End girls' had come out in England, and we were going to America that weekend: I was going to Miami to interview Wham! for Smash Hits and then I was meeting Chris in New York. It was meant to be our Bobby 'O' single after 'One more chance', and he got some Puerto Rican people to remix it, but it never came out. When we recorded this at the beginning of 1988 it was going to be for
Introspective. We wanted to have a guitar on it and we phoned up Eric Clapton's manager to see if Eric Clapton would play on it. Amazingly that was where our heads were at at the time. They said no but they were very nice about it. When we recorded it, we did the whole thing as we had done it on the demo, and then I went to the loo - if I go out of the room Chris often gets wickedly creative - and Chris turned it into a house track. Then we decided to put in a middle bit with really silly words about the neighbours talking. We got Stephen Lipson to play a really rock guitar solo."
Chris: "I think we realised it would make a good b-side. In retrospect, I think it might have been better as a Bobby 'O'-style record."
Neil: "The basis of the song is the famous Oscar Wilde quote: 'we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars'. Originally it had a funny lyric about being really excited about things. It had a rap where I shouted things, and I know I mentioned lots of funny names like Dame Anna Neagle at one point. I remember I made up the words 'I hear the sound of the subway, the sigh of the heat / the click of the vistors' heels on the street' walking down Regent Street and I was rather pleased with them. It's about being in New York. Being me, I don't think it ever occurred to me that it sounded rude. It's never entered my head that it had any sexual connotation at all."
Chris: "I think we can safely say that Neil's subconscious is very active."
Neil: "It probably is, but it's not about sex - it's about being in New York and being really excited about it. Though you've got no money and you're having a grim time you're still excited. Two friends having a laugh. Maybe they're excited because they're in love, but maybe they're just tourists. I just like the idea of irrational excitement."
Neil: "The basic song was written in the Seventies, in about 1978, before I knew Chris. It was written on the guitar and was supposed to sound Spanish, which was why I thought of reviving it to go on the b-side of 'Domino dancing'. While Chris complains that I write songs about Russian history all the time, this is about the Balkans in the 1930s. I was trying to write lyrics in the style of Façade by Edith Sitwell, a sequence of poems she wrote with music by William Walton. Façade was very controversial when it was first performed at Cheyne Gallery on King's Road as Edith Sitwell declaimed it through a curtain with a megaphone while the music was playing."
Chris: "Was it slightly pretentious?"
Neil: "In the Balkans in the 1930s, they were caught between Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany leading up to World War II. They had all these funny monarchies. There was King Zog of Albania, King Boris of Bulgaria and Prince Paul, the Regent of Yugoslavia, and they were all trying not to be allied to Hitler while trying to stop Stalin annexe half their lands. Don Juan is supposed to be Hitler or Stalin but I could never quite work out which. I think it's Hitler. It's always interested me, that area. I suppose it's the hopelessness of it. The song attempts an Edith Sitwell use of words: 'an impasse has been reached with the teacher of the rich'. It's like someone coming to their senses: throughout all this decadence and complex language, they have this flash of complete reason."
Chris: "Then it goes into a bit which is like 'Flashdance (What A Feeling)'."
Neil: "In the last verse, everyone's resigned. Marie Lupescu - I got her name wrong; it's actually Madame Lupescu which is a bit embarrassing - was the mistress of King Carol of Romania, and practically ran the country. His wife was Marie and I confused the names. King Alexander of Yugoslavia of Marseilles was assassinated by terrorists in Marseilles."
Chris: "We recorded our demo at the same time as 'Domino dancing' in Los Angeles."
Neil: "When we got there Chris wrote the 'I've got this sinking feeling' bit of music."
Chris: "A marvellous chord change, and it also goes with the lyrics. I also added the housey stuff for the intro."
Neil: "We had the idea of calling it 'It would be a disaster'. But we didn't. We released two versions of the finished song - the one here [on the bonus disc of reissued Introspective] is the disco mix, the longer of the two."
The Sound Of The Atom Splitting
Chris: "It was a jam in the studio."
Neil: "The reason we did it was because, when we were doing 'Left to my own devices' and it says 'Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat', we had the idea that we would actually try to do Debussy to a disco beat. Trevor Horn had always been fascinated by the idea of putting Debussy to a disco beat, hence the last Art Of Noise album. So we jammed for as long as the song lasts, and I played Debussy-esque chords with lots of fifths in them - Richard Niles had shown me the kind of chords. Trevor played the acid-house keyboard, the Roland bassline. Steve Lipson thought it was pathetic that we liked acid house music and he had been showing us how easy it was."
Chris: "I'm playing that irritating high line."
Neil: "It was a voice sample of an opera singer."
Chris: "Steve Lipson played the desk."
Neil: "It was fun doing it. We were whooping with glee. It only took about forty minutes. The vocals were just spoken on afterwards. The phrase 'the sound of the atom splitting' came from Derek Jarman's film The Last Of England which is all shot in Super 8 and has a commentary, and a man says, 'What's that sound? It's the sound of the atom splitting'. I thought, 'That's a good line'. I thought the sound of the atom splitting was the sound of a nuclear explosion; the sound of
the end of the world. I started making up the words to the song while I was still watching the film. I also put a quote of Bobby 'O''s in it. Bobby 'O' walked Chris and I through Times Square once and said, 'Look at these guys - they're pinheads', these guys who wore stockings over their heads."
Chris: "Of course New York's a lot safer these days."
Neil: "The lyric is a dialogue between a fascist and a wet liberal. The right wing person is rather amused by the liberal because he's obviously so feeble he's never going to do anything. The wet liberal says 'whose side are you on anyway?', trying to be sneaky, and the right wing person says 'well, is that some kind of threat? Well, I suppose it'll have to do, as long as you don't make too much mess'. He's patronising him, like, 'you can have a party as long as you don't make too much mess'. There's a mistake in the vocals which I never corrected and which has always irritated me, where I trip up. I go 'whenever I...see' I start to say something else beginning with 'f' then change it to 'see'."
Chris: "We played it in the interval of the 1989 tour with a light show."
One Of The Crowd
Chris: "It was just one of my rare vocal performances. It's one of those songs without much of a chord change. I think I wrote it in Sarm West."
Neil: "We had decided for the b-sides of 'It's Alright', as we had for the b-sides of 'Suburbia', to repeat the idea of having one song each. We thought: that worked before - let's do it again. The original idea for this song came because Chris said in an interview on TV that he liked following fashion and that he didn't like to stand out, he liked to be one of the crowd."
Chris: "Wanting to just fit in, rather than stand outside it. This is where I invented lads' culture. Pop music has never been the same since I released that. After that you had the likes of Liam and Damon all dressed up in ordinary clothes, wanting to be one of the crowd."
Neil: "Interesting thesis."
Chris: "Because before then, everyone wanted to be different."
Neil: "Like I still do."
Chris: "Neil would never have sung 'One of the crowd'."
Neil: "Although I do on the record, in fact. Chris's voice is through a vocoder. I remember we were in the studio doing this - it was a Saturday afternoon; we were working on a Saturday, unusually - and I went down to the Portobello market with my friend Rosemary while Chris put the vocal on this, because of course he didn't want anyone in the studio while he did the vocal. And we came back and he played it to me - 'when I go fishing with my rod / I often get that urge...' - and we were rolling around the studio with laughter at the sheer moronicness of the words."
Your Funny Uncle
Chris: "This always makes me think of being on tour in 1991 - it was the last song, when we ended up going to bed. Great way of ending a show. I used to love going to bed thinking, 'I've got nothing more to do and Neil still has to sing a song'."
Neil: "It was during this song in San Francisco that one night a man jumped onstage and kissed me, and the next night another jumped on Chris's bed. The music for this I played all on samples. I first played it on the piano at Sarm West with a metronome click in my ears very loudly - you get a gap between verse two and verse three because I couldn't think of what to do between them. Then I took each of the instruments of a string quartet on the keyboard and separately played a
line: a cello line, two violin lines, a viola line, and then a clarinet sample near the end. It didn't take very long. It was done at about midnight one night. Danton Supple, the assistant, mixed it. Chris was asleep on the sofa."
Chris: "I wonder if I was dreaming of the Queen."
Neil: "The words are about one of my best friends who died of Aids. The same person who had the party in 'Being Boring'. He died in 1989, and this is a description of his funeral. All the details are true: the cars in slow formation, and so on. He did have an uncle, who had been in the army all of his life and suddenly found himself at the funeral of his evidently gay nephew who'd died of Aids. I think it must have been quite a difficult situation for him, but he was really nice and dignified and spoke to all of his nephew's friends. I had to give a reading, and the bit I read was from the book of Revelations, which started 'I, John, saw a new Jerusalem', and at the end it says there's somewhere where there's no pain or fear, and I found it a really moving piece of prose, and attached it to the end of the song."