Neil: "'Left to my own devices' started off as an instrumental Chris wrote in EMI's demo studio in Abbey Road. We had asked Trevor Horn to do a song with us but we hadn't written it. We'd got to know him while making Actually in Sarm West."
Chris: "We'd always liked his productions."
Neil: "'Slave To The Rhythm', particularly."
Chris: "'The Look Of Love' by ABC."
Neil: "And The Art Of Noise. I've always liked big orchestral pop music. I've always liked Phil Spector's records, and the big Beatles records like 'A Day In The Life' and 'I Am The Walrus', and Trevor comes out of that school of production. Also, he was fun. We'd chat with him in the studio and have a laugh."
Chris: "He's very good at anecdotes. He's always got one about being in a backing band for someone up in some Northern club."
Neil: "Hazell Dean, for instance. And he'll tell you about how he played Madison Square Gardens as the lead singer of Yes. Also, he has this way of looking at you and his glasses seem to go opaque and you get this very blank look from him."
Chris: "It's hilarious."
Neil: "So we thought it would be fun to work with him, as indeed it was. We went into Abbey Road, the day before we'd arranged to meet him, to write something. Chris was doodling on the keyboard, and I was reading the Melody Maker and making phone calls and thinking 'I can't be bothered - can we go out for lunch?', and suddenly Chris got a bassline and I suggested we put it with these chords he had and it sounded quite good. Chris was in quite a hard-working mood, so he programmed it and I progressed onto the NME and then I realised - with joy - that I was singing to myself 'left to my own devices I probably would'. I don't know where it came from - it certainly wasn't Melody Maker."
Chris: "It was more like a Motown song, to begin with."
Neil: "The demo was much more moronic. It was slower than the finished record. I put onto it these guitar power chords from the Emulator and suddenly it was seriously happening so Chris read the Melody Maker and I did this mix where it built up from not very much to this enormous throbbing thing. It got louder and louder and louder until it distorted."
Chris: "Neil was enjoying himself."
Neil: "Across the road from the studio Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair had a little flat which they used for making demos, and I played Trevor a cassette of this instrumental. He was quite interested in working with us, but when the track was playing it got so distorted that he stood up and turned it down in case it damaged his speakers. A very Trevor moment. He said he didn't want to judge this song because it had no words, apart from 'Left to my own devices'. Two mornings later I sat down at the typewriter. I thought, 'I've got to write this bloody song'. I didn't get out of bed at half past ten, I used to get out of bed at half past nine, as I still do, but I just thought it sounded better. I know that the 'party animal' was my friend Jon Savage because he always phoned up in the morning. Actually he's not a party animal but in the Eighties he'd go out more and we'd talk about what had been going on. Originally it was going to be 'drink some tea, maybe if you're with me, we'll drink some coffee'. When I thought of 'do some shopping' instead, I knew everyone would say it was pathetic - another Pet Shop Boys song mentioning shopping - but I decided 'coffee' was even more pathetic. Even though it is the kind of thing I'll do - I'll decide on my own I'll drink some tea, but if someone comes round I'll offer them coffee. The line 'pick up some brochures about the sun'...sitting in front of me on the table that morning were some brochures about holidays in Italy, because I knew a travel agent who'd given me these brochures about Italian villas. And then it goes into a major childhood experience: 'I was always told you should join a club...' Which is completely not true, by the way. That's when I realised what the song was about - that this person goes through life always doing what he wanted to do. I liked the idea of writing a really up pop song about being left alone."
Chris: "I wonder what I would do if I was left alone."
Neil: "I had been to see my parents not long before and my mother had said to me that she worried that when we were children we each had a corner of the garden - mine was the top left-hand corner - and I used to spend a lot of time there. I had a bit of bush in my corner and when it rained you could sit under there and you didn't really get wet and I used to like to sit there for hours and hours playing with my toy soldiers. I used to make caves for them there and bury them with twigs and leaves over the top, and then soil over that, so that they were secret caves, and only I knew where they were. This was when I was about eight. And I used to pretend not to be a Roundhead but to actually be a Cavalier - I used to jump around the garden pretending I was on a horse. My mother used to say she worried that I wouldn't have any friends because I'd sit there and live in a fantasy world. When she heard this song she said she was worried by the line 'I was
a lonely boy, no strength no joy', but in fact I wasn't remotely lonely. The third verse was originally a rap in the middle of one of the first songs Chris and I ever wrote, 'It's not a crime'. The rest of the lyrics went: 'love is all I want to see / now I want you here with me / through the morning afternoon / all night long is none too soon / and oh I've got the time / I've got the time / and oh it's not a crime / it's not a crime / now I've fixed it we're all alone / don't look back and don't go home / through the morning afternoon / lock the door and lose the key...'"
Chris: "Of course it was a crime then. But it was a bloody good song."
Neil: "The song is a day in the life of someone, so it starts off with getting out of bed and being on the phone and drinking tea and all the rest of it, and it ends up with coming home. The last section of 'Left to my own devices' is meant to be a dream. That's why everything is jumbled up - Che Guevara is drinking tea and takes to the stage in a secret life. Che Guevara becomes a drag queen in the dream; that's what I always imagined. The 'Debussy and a disco beat...' section was written in the studio with Trevor. I mentioned that it should sound like Debussy, and Trevor said, 'I've always wanted to do Debussy to a disco beat'. I was going to mention Che Guevara in 'Domino dancing'. I'd been very interested in him since I was 14 when I'd bought his book on guerrilla warfare. So I paired him with Debussy to combine revolution with beauty. By this time I was making the words very exaggerated and camp, though writing a book and going on the stage were both things I had wanted to do when I was young."
Chris: "I just wanted to get married and settle down with kids."
Neil: "I had put on a guide vocal of the first three verses and the chorus at Advision, and the guide vocal is the one they used on the album. Trevor and Steve Lipson put it into the Synclavier, and I never changed it apart from putting harmonies on the chorus. Trevor Horn had this fantastic idea that we would programme all the keyboards and the computers, we would commission an orchestral arrangement, and then we would go in and record the whole thing live: the machines, the orchestra and the vocal. And it would all be done in one day. Six months later the record was finished, because it wasn't quite as simple as that. Trevor was working on a Simple Minds record at the time, and also with Paul McCartney. This was the first time we worked with the arranger, Richard Niles. We did the orchestral session at Abbey Road, and we were slightly appalled by it when we first heard it. Trevor said, 'now, don't worry - if we don't like anything we can edit it out'. But we were quite shocked."
Chris: "There was too much of it."
Neil: "But in the end we kept most of Richard Niles' arrangement, which is actually really brilliant, and we ended up working with him a lot after that. We really liked the idea that you had a dance track with this vast orchestra playing. The opera bit - 'I would if I could' - is sung by the opera singer Sally Bradshaw. Trevor had the idea that she should sing 'house' at the beginning because there were lots of records in the chart at the time that would go 'house music'. We did the seven-inch version much later. We went back into the studio in the autumn of 1988, and I think we improved it. Steve Lipson plays guitar, and we added some extra backing vocals - Trevor got his mate Bruce Woolley to sing backing vocals on it because he could sound like me and I wasn't available."
I Want A Dog
Neil: "We really liked the song, which was first released as the b-side of 'Rent' [commentary is here] and we thought it could be better. We liked Frankie Knuckles, so we approached him to remix it."
Chris: "I really liked 'Your Love'."
Neil: "We went to New Jersey to this studio to hear the finished mixes. He was a big guy, very gentle, and the mixes - there were four of them - just sounded fantastic. It sounded really black and so there was this incredible contrast with my voice. This was still, relatively, the early days of house music. We drove around New York in a limo playing the mixes."
Chris: "It really went well with the Manhattan landscape."
Neil: "When we got back to London we played it to Trevor Horn and Steve Lipson, and Trevor said, 'See? Cheap gear sounds better'. Our version was a bit experimental; this version had a kind of dark deep house atmosphere to it. It brings out the song's sad sinister quality, and it's got a fantastic rhythm track."
Neil: "We wrote this in the studio in Wandsworth a year and a half earlier, but we could never think of a chorus for it. We thought it was a bit like 'La Isla Bonita' by Madonna."
Chris: "Only in that it's Latin. I love this song."
Neil: "We wanted to write something Latino because we used go to America and hear all these Latin hip hop records and like them. We worked on it some more in a Los Angeles demo studio. We'd just been on holiday to Antigua, then flown to America to do some promotion, and booked this studio in Los Angeles. This guy had a really neat demo studio, and, being imperial, we used to drive over every morning in a stretch limousine. We were working on this song, and we needed a chorus, and Chris went 'well, you could just go like that...'"
Chris: "Put in another obvious chord change."
Neil: "...and I immediately sang 'all day, all day...' When we had been in Antigua, playing dominoes, our friend Pete would do a dance when he won and Chris said to him, 'stop doing your domino dance', and I wrote in my notebook: 'watch them all fall down, domino dancing'. I was thinking of the domino theory: push one and they all go down. They used to talk about the domino effect, that if Vietnam went communist, all of South-East Asia would go. In the song the idea is that someone is so attractive that everyone fancies them, and how difficult it is to go out with someone who's fantastically attractive because you feel jealous. The people falling down are the people she dances with; she's totally bowling people over. It's a bit like a Cole Porter lyric with all these hot ideas - the thunder crashing, the storm breaking in your heart, the hot climate, the love being hot - all put together. At the end of the song the singer has decided it's not working - he's going to tell her to stop messing around or he'll leave."
Chris: "We were really pleased with the demo version we did in Los Angeles."
Neil: "Even though there were no vocals in the verses of the demo, because I hadn't finished all the lyrics at that point."
Chris: "We liked all these great Latin hip hop records made by this bloke in Miami, Lewis Martinée."
Neil: "He was having all these hits with Exposé. We were so excited by 'Domino dancing' that we flew immediately to Miami and made the record with him. We stayed in the Hilton on South Beach, which smelled of hamburgers. There was this van there on the beach - Latin American Party - and as soon as we saw that, we thought that would be the cover of the record. Pete took a Polaroid, and that's the photo we used on the sleeve. All the musicians on it are Cuban. There's tons of people playing on it. This trumpet player came in who couldn't really speak English and he played loads of notes for the solo, and so I said, 'Can't he play the tune, and then halfway through play loads of notes?' and he did that, and it was great. And he came up to me afterwards and hugged me. I hate it when the solo has none of the tune in; it's the jazz version of a remix not having any of the song in. We made the seven-inch version, and then Lewis Martinée expanded it to the twelve-inch version on the album. Towards the end there are lots of edits, all done by hand. You could see all the white sticky tape going past. When Lewis Martinée finished the mix we suggested to him that he did a mix without the drums and that was done in half an hour. I've always liked that mix."
Chris: "It brings out more of the beauty."
Neil: "'Domino dancing' was the first new single released from Introspective, and we were very disappointed when it only reached number seven in the British charts. I remember driving back from my house in Rye and listening on the radio when it entered the charts at number nine and I thought, 'that's that, then - it's all over'. I knew then that our imperial phase of number one hits was over."
Chris: "I was in Liverpool, I think. I remember stopping the car to listen to the chart. The English don't generally like Latin-tinged music, anyway. When you look back, the chart positions are irrelevant. I love this track, so I couldn't care less."
I'm Not Scared
Neil: "We originally wrote this for Patsy Kensit in 1987 and it had been a hit for her group Eighth Wonder earlier in 1988, at the same time as 'Heart' was a hit. We used to meet Patsy Kensit at parties and she'd asked us to make a record with her. We'd never produced anything for anyone else before, and Phil Harding and Ian Curnow did tons of the work. The original demo, which we'd written in 1985 in Camden Town at the same time as 'Love comes quickly', had been called 'A
Chris: "One of my useless puns."
Neil: "It was only an instrumental. We thought it sounded a bit like Shannon. At the time Patsy Kensit had been in Absolute Beginners and she was in this group Eighth Wonder and they hadn't had a hit, and she was seen as a little girl and a controlled hype, and I thought the way that she was perceived could be changed. I thought it would be good if she could be seen as a strong woman. She seemed to me to be a very strong-willed person, slightly ruthless even, and I didn't
think it was good that she was just portrayed as a sexy bimbo. Chris and I were obsessed at the time by this record Princess Stephanie had made, 'Irresistible'. We liked that kind of French pop music and we liked the idea of making Patsy a European pop star. I think we did a demo with four verses but there wasn't room for all of them in her version. I wanted the song to sound as though it was translated from French, hence the line 'what have you got to say of shadows in your past?' I've tried for years to rationalise the line 'tonight the streets are full of actors'. I suppose it's just about people posing. 'Take these dogs away from me...' is actually a quote, or a misquote, from a John Betjeman poem called 'Senex', which is about it being disgusting to feel sexy when you're old. In the song, the idea is that she's got this horrible gangster boyfriend who's pushing her around but she's going to stand up to him because she's not scared. The dogs are the hooligans and criminal elements around them. So when I sing it I'm doing one of my singing-from-the-point-of-view-of-a-woman songs. I'm singing it as a woman."
Chris: "You don't get the spoken French bit in our version."
Neil: "No. But, doing one of our filmic things, we decided to set it in 1968 in Paris, because there was something French-sounding about the track anyway. The band at the start is taken from 1968 news footage, and you can hear a fascist speech - it's from a counter-revolutionary rally in Paris. I had been reading a book about that period at the time.
It was just the romance of revolution: students and workers. We got the tape from ITN but we weren't allowed to use the newscaster, which was a shame, because we wanted to put this bit over the end where he said, in this camp posh voice, 'the workers of France are marching...' For our version, we reinstated the missing fourth verse. It was after this track that I started singing much higher. If you listen to the first two albums I don't really sing high on them. We produced it ourselves with David Jacob. We did it in a much more Europop way with Patsy and we felt we could do it in a more luscious film soundtrack way, because the melody line is very string-based and romantic. Our version also sounds more electronic. It's very over the top. I think this is also the only song we've written with a coda where a whole new bit comes at the end."
Always On My Mind/In My House
Neil: "We were very much aware of the fact that 'Always on my mind' had been a number one single [commentary is here] but hadn't been on an album. When it was a single one of the twelve-inch versions had been a mix by Phil Harding and Ian Curnow, and a new riff replaced the brass riff. That's the tune at the beginning of this version. So we started this mix quite stripped down, and then took it on a journey, through a whole new bit, until you ended up back with it sounding like the original seven-inch. The 'in my house' section at the time, believe it or not, was supposed to be acid house. At the time there was the name 'acid house' but the music didn't really exist. I added a rap, just continuing the idea of the song. It was an interesting musical exercise trying to work how to get back to the original tune, all flags flying. I think we used a lot of bluster. At the end you can hear fireworks from J. J. Jeczalik's fireworks party. J. J. was having a bonfire party and Julian Mendelsohn went, so I said, 'tape his fireworks - we can use those on the record'."
Neil: "We bought the album Acid Tracks, which was the third The House Sound Of Chicago compilation, and we were listening through to it at Sarm West while we were recording something else, and 'It's Alright' by Sterling Void was on it, and we absolutely loved it. We suggested to Trevor Horn that he recorded it with this girl harmony group he was working with at the time, The Mint Juleps. And he started to do it with them."
Chris: "They didn't like it, did they?"
Neil: "When we started working on Introspective and were working with Trevor on 'Left to my own devices' we listened to what he'd done on 'It's Alright', and decided to do it ourselves. This first version, which appeared on the album, was very much based on the original Sterling Void record."
Chris: "Trevor Horn was very concerned with what the song was about. He went on and on about it. That's why Neil sings 'I hope it's going to be alright'. I've always preferred the original Sterling Void lyrics. The original line was 'it's going to be alright' and Neil added an element of doubt."
Neil: "I did, but then halfway through the song I throw the doubt out of the window in a flurry of optimism."
Chris: "I remember Neil and Trevor talking about it for ages."
Neil: "We were never quite happy with the album version - it's got a much more of a raw sound than the rest of the album and I think it's the weakest track - so we re-recorded it with Trevor Horn for a single. I wrote some new lyrics - Trevor asked me to write another verse, which I did, setting up more problems. The original lyric was more political, and I brought in ecology in the second verse. My understanding is that the song goes from uncertainty to optimism. In fact, we re-recorded 'It's Alright' twice. The first attempt has got the same start as the eventual single version - that's all we kept, though we did let this version slip out later on a ten-inch single. It's got a really pretentious bit in the middle: 'there's a boy standing by a river / there's a girl lying with her lover / there's a statesman standing at a crossroads / there's a soldier polishing his gun'. I was saying that people were standing at a crossroads and there could be war or it could be peace. We took it out because it was fantastically pretentious and not very good. Though there was a feeling at the time - this was early 1989 - that the world was somehow changing, because of Gorbachev and South Africa and the rest of it. Trevor mostly did the third version, which became the single version, without us, because we were busy making Liza Minnelli's album. The third version was great. He had a new programmer, George DeAngelis, who had been working at PWL. Trevor had the idea of Chris saying, 'It's going to be alright', so you can hear that too."
Chris: "I hate it. It spoils the record."