Neil: "It was intended to be funny. We originally thought the first single would be 'I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing' but we played EMI a few tracks and they loved this. The Americans liked it too. I wrote the words coming back from Rye on the train. I walked from Charing Cross station home to Chelsea, making up the words in my head, and I started to laugh when I thought of 'she's made you some kind of laughing stock / because you dance to disco and you don't like rock'. It seemed to sum up the Pet Shop Boys. The title comes from the novel of that name by Anthony Trollope - I was reading it on holiday and Jon Savage said to me, 'That's a very modern title.' So I started with the title and then I had to justify it. Chris wrote the music for it. It's in 6/8 time."
Chris: "I think the starting point was wanting to do something that wasn't in 4/4 time. It doesn't really sound like anything else."
Neil: "I like the way the 6/8 beat makes it sound sneaky. It's got a sneaky quality to it and that may have inspired some of the words. It's about a closet queen. The person in the song is so deluded he's pretending he's in control and he's generously wondering whether he will forgive her for insulting him in this way, when all she's done is actually say the truth to him. He's probably gay, and his girlfriend has realised this, but he hasn't admitted it to himself, and that's why he's in a bad mood with her. He looks back to his boyhood when he was in love with someone from his school; his girlfriend knows his first sexual experience was gay and is 'not prepared to share him with a memory'. It's not an autobiographical song. I've never been in that situation, and I've never had sex behind a bicycle shed."
I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing
Neil: "I was going to Edinburgh to see a painting by James Pryde, which I own, exhibited in the National Gallery of Scotland, and I can remember quite clearly in the taxi on the way to the airport - the bit where you drive past those skyscrapers on the M4 going to Heathrow where the road goes up - I suddenly thought, 'I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing'. Maybe it was because it was what I was thinking - I wouldn't normally fly back and forth from somewhere in a day. And it was in my head all day long; I had the whole thing, the whole song. It was all very easy. And we were in the studio the following day and did a demo, and the version on the album isn't very different. Stephen Hague put the little guitar riff at the front - we just had the piano."
Chris: "For the single version we roped in some hip and happening dance producers."
Neil: "The Beatmasters took the guitar riff and made the whole thing much more Sixties. At the time I thought I preferred the single version, but now I quite like the economy of the album version, and I like the instrumental break Chris wrote in the middle, and that's different in the seven-inch. It's a song about a reserved Englishman, falling in love and going bonkers. It's partly based on my own experiences, but it would be a mistake to think of it as a picture of me, because
I'm not a totally reserved person. It's written a bit like a Noel Coward song - it's a list song, just a lot of things he wouldn't normally do. I was very pleased with the line about taking all my clothes off and dancing to The Rite of Spring. I always used to like the cartoons in The Observer by the American cartoonist, Feiffer where a woman would say, for instance, 'this is my dance for spring...', and jump in the air, and then there would be a funny pay-off line. I always imagined it being like that. I think the man in the video who does that bit is somewhat disappointing. I remember when we finished the album I went to Manchester and played it to Johnny Marr and when I put this on he started laughing, and laughed all the way through it."
Neil: "It's a straightforward love song. The incident referred to in 'all the way back home at midnight / you were sleeping on my shoulder' never happened, but it is about the relationship I was in at the time. There's nothing more to say about it really. The music was triggered by Prokofiev's music for the ballet, Romeo and Juliet. There's a version for piano, and in the theme for Friar Lawrence, the first two notes - just the first two notes - triggered the melody. I was lying in the bath at home listening to this and I suddenly thought of the melody for what became 'Liberation' and ran downstairs to work it out on the piano."
Chris: "Doesn't it sound a bit like 'Being boring' - the same drum pattern and the same bass?"
Neil: "J. J. Belle plays guitar on it. It was never a struggle, this track, which is why I don'tremember much about recording it. You normally remember things when they're a bit of a struggle. I think the song is about how, in a way, a relationship is trapping you, but it makes you feel free. And I'm saying: don't worry. It's one of our 'live for today' songs, like 'Tonight is forever'. It's terribly sweet, this song. There were always a lot of 'complications' and 'obligations' and 'hesitations' in my relationship, and it's saying: maybe we will make it work and maybe we won't, but it's fabulous now and it's worth enjoying the fact - and that makes you feel free."
A Different Point Of View
Neil: "This isn't written from any kind of experience. The idea just came into my head of 'a different point of view' and this irritating tune, and I just worked backwards from that. The words are about arguing. You think one thing and your lover thinks another. It's about people not believing each other. It has no real significance. This song would have been great done by Take That - I could imagine Mark Owen doing backflips to it. Chris never liked this song."
Chris: "I don't think I ever liked the 'a different...a different...' bit. I did my best to mess it up."
Neil: "Chris played the tune on orchestra hits, just to annoy me. And even more annoyingly I really liked it. It's a really good pop song. I think it's too poppy for Chris. Chris doesn't really like pop music, you know."
Chris: "I'd like to be in the Beastie Boys."
Neil: "You don't like the Beastie Boys!"
Chris: "I love their last album."
Neil: "You've kept that very quiet."
Chris: "You don't know everything about me."
Dreaming Of The Queen
Neil: "This is my favourite track on this album."
Chris: "It's bloody good. I wrote the music for this."
Neil: "I always loved the bit at the start - it's very un-Chris. It's a fanfare. I think that's what gave me the idea about the Queen."
Chris: "I always imagined that bit being sung but Neil could never hear it. I imagined a big diva-type thing, but Neil was never going to think of doing something like that."
Neil: "Being the Julie Andrews in the group. That's Chris's accusation - that I sound like Julie Andrews. Anne Dudley did a lot of work on this arrangement. She has all sorts of funny references - when I mention carriages, horns go off. The piano is so Jim Webb - Anne Dudley plays it. There's so much going on here. The whole vocal is double-tracked in octaves all the way through, and that's before auto-tune, so it took forever."
Chris: "Which is very un-Neil."
Neil: "I'd read that one of the most common dreams people share is that the Queen comes round to their house. Sometimes it's an anxiety dream and sometimes it's a nice dream. I already had the chorus, which was originally 'only lovers left alive', from the title of a Sixties book which Jon Savage gave me about a world where there were only teenagers. We worked on that chorus when we were doing 'DJ culture' and I realised that the song was about Aids and that 'no more lovers left alive' was better. Then, one day, the window cleaner was around and I was typing out the words to this song. Normally I get inhibited with people around, but for some reason while he was cleaning the windows I thought of the idea of dreaming of the Queen. It made sense because of Lady Di's work with Aids, and the break-up of her marriage, so that she is saying 'there are no more lovers left alive' because one of her friends has died of Aids, and 'that's why love has died' about her marriage. And the Queen starts to cry, because it's sad and true. It's the idea of living in a world with no love. In the second and third choruses, it is the person singing the song who is saying the words. It's a sadder song than you think. The idea of the song is that the person singing it has got Aids. He says, 'I woke up in a sweat...' He's having anxiety dreams about it, so maybe he thinks he's got Aids."
Yesterday, When I Was Mad
Neil: "Chris and I were talking about how, in progressive rock, they used to change time all the time, and how no one did it anymore, so this starts in 6/8 time and then goes into techno. We were quite into techno at this time."
Chris: "Who wasn't? Techno techno techno..."
Neil: "The music was written first. We wrote it at the studio in Hertfordshire and I put the chorus on straightaway."
Chris: "It's all about being on tour, isn't it?"
Neil: "When we'd been on tour in America in 1991 I'd written down the phrase 'yesterday, when I was mad'. It's meant to be more funny than angry but there is a little bit of anger because the conversations happened. Someone did say, 'You've both made such a little go a very long way', and also, 'They couldn't understand your sense of humour like I do.' It's people's reactions to the Performance show. People would come backstage and say these things, particularly in America.
Someone told me, 'I got it - none of them out there got it.' I always used to say: What is there to get? It's a show. There's nothing fantastically clever about it - it's just a load of costumes and dancing and stuff. It's not the story of King Lear. It's not La Boheme told in pop songs. When everyone says that stuff, you feel like giving up."
Chris: "Touring generally can make you feel like giving up."
Neil: "On tour it's very difficult to believe in people's sincerity because you're the king of the castle and everybody does what you say, so you don't know what they think. And then you think, when you're in the hotel by yourself, 'oh well', and you begin to think that you do believe in people's sincerity. As for the competition winners, hotel rooms and arguing about dinner, see Pet Shop Boys Versus America [see bibliography]."
Chris: "It's quite an unusual sounding record. It's from our punk disco range that we do every now and then. It's for the mosh pit, if that's what you call it. No one else would write a song like this."
Neil: "When we were going to release it as a single, Jam & Spoon did a remix and they had changed the introduction, and we used that in our single version. It made it much more spooky and techno-y. It was mixed by Julian Mendelsohn."
Chris: "The video was surprisingly good. I loved being a lampshade."
Chris: "I like this track. It's quite theatrical. I think it should have been a single. I can picture the
video...Oliver Twist...boys in boxes outside the theatre...Neil coming out of the theatre ignoring them, me giving them money."
Neil: "It was inspired by a remark from a Tory MP which Chris read out from the paper: 'Oh, the homeless, they're those people who you step over when you leave the theatre.' Quite often I'd walk up The Strand to a restaurant, Orso, and I'd walk past these Scottish kids sleeping outside one of the Australian government houses and I was always struck by how cheerful they were. They always used to ask for my autograph and I'd wonder why on earth, if you were homeless, you'd want one of the Pet Shop Boys' autographs. The song is a rather romantic idea. When I was a kid I always had a fantastic romantic idea of coming to London, and I still think of London as a romantic place...the streets being paved with gold, Dick Whittington, and all the rest of it. And then there's the reality, when you're homeless and people are ignoring you and pretending they haven't seen you. But the song presents a kind of romantic view of homelessness. It's a defiant song: 'we're the bums you step over...' I originally had a different word instead of 'bums' - it took me a lot of time to come up with 'bums'."
Chris: "It just keeps getting bigger and bigger, this song, doesn't it?"
Neil: "That was another production idea for this album. There was a bit of a wall of sound thing going on. When I sing '...and The Phantom of the Opera', Anne Dudley has put in a glockenspiel or something which sounds like The Phantom of the Opera. We've also got a choir of actors from a drama school singing on it."
One And One Make Five
Neil: "This is about the same relationship mentioned earlier. The song is saying: Don't listen to gossip, but also don't behave in such a way as to make people gossip."
Chris: "I was oblivious to all this intrigue. But musically it's a masterpiece. This is so Kylie, this song."
Neil: "Kylie had stopped making Kylie records at this point, but we hadn't. When we did this track we thought this was the obvious single off the album but EMI couldn't hear it at all. We wrote the music at the studio in Chris's house. Chris wrote the music, I think."
To Speak Is A Sin
Neil: "'To speak is a sin' is an ancient song; one of the first songs we ever wrote. It predates 'It's a sin', though it's from around the same time. It was written on the same day in 1983 as we wrote the unreleased 'In the club or in the queue'. It's a real early Eighties sleaze tune. We first recorded it with Bobby 'O' but we always had a problem with it because it's a very slight song: there's really only twelve bars of things happening here."
Chris: "I always thought it was about sad old lonely homosexuals not daring to talk to anyone attractive in a bar."
Neil: "Yes, that's pretty much it. And also, when you go into a gay bar, everyone turning around. Not saying anything. It's all done by looks and gestures. It's about people going out, no matter how ghastly the weather is, on the off chance they're going to pick someone up, and about the desperation, and the hopeful optimism, of that. It's not really like that anymore, now that everyone's out."
Chris: "Everyone's too flaming happy now. Obviously it's great that people are happy, but a whole culture has kind of disappeared."
Neil: "We always used to like tragic gay bars. They're hard to find now. When you go in there, it's pretty much empty and it's all a bit surly. Anyway, we'd been thinking about recording 'To speak is a sin' for ages. Once we'd got 'Jealousy' out of the way, which took long enough, we could move on to it. The music uses the Doppler effect, like when a police car approaches and appears to change tone, on my voice, when I go 'aaaahhhh....' Bob Krausaar did that. We should never have used a saxophone on this. It's sampled, and when we did this on the Discovery tour, we used a guitar sample, and Chris had a new, really good line he played, and it just sounded much better."
Chris: "Oooh, what a sexy title. One of the best tracks on the album."
Neil: "The title idea came from Chris. He'd written this piece of music and already titled it 'Young offender' on the computer. It's about someone old and someone young. The young person is playing on a computer."
Chris: "I thought it was someone in an arcade. I wish I didn't know that."
Neil: "It could be an arcade - we've given it that context in the song. It's also about how, when computer games came in, a certain generation just didn't know what they were all about. It is about a generation gap. The whole song is a defence of the writer against the young person: 'I've been a teenager since before you were born...' The young person isn't supposed to be a criminal - he's an offender because he's annoyed me. There's the double entendre no one ever notices: 'Will I get in your way or open your eyes / who will give whom the bigger surprise?' I like the 'whom'."
One In A Million
Chris: "Wasn't this once in Italian?"
Neil: "Yeah. The chords were written in about 1984, and it had a different verse, and it was just when we'd first signed with Tom Watkins as our manager. We did a big promotional brochure and tape, and we had 'two in a million men' translated into Italian, a little logo thing on the press release. Tom thought it was a ghastly idea, and it has to be said he was right."
Chris: "We thought it was too pretentious in the end."
Neil: "It was unbelievably pretentious."
Chris: "A ridiculous idea. Like the statues of us."
Neil: "I've never quite got over that idea. Making Very, we were in the studio one day, and as we were struggling over this song called 'It's up to you' - this is one song we did struggle with - Chris said, 'You could sing that old song we had, "One in a million men", over this', and that was that. The original chorus for 'It's up to you' was really weak - 'whatever you do / tonight / it's up to you / tonight' - but that's why there's a computer voice talking at the end of the song saying 'it's...up...to...you'. Late in the song there's a key change."
Chris: "Always a sign of desperation. When we did it live on the Discovery tour it went into Culturebeat's 'Mr Vain'."
Neil: "This was the Take That single that never was. Take That wanted us to work with them, and I thought we could do this song. I was worried this song was too young for us. I once took a straw poll in Sarm West - 'do you think we should produce a single for Take That?' - and everyone said, 'Yes, because if you do it'll be cool.' I said, 'See?' and Chris said, 'Well, we're still not doing it.'"
Chris: "They would have done it rather well. I could imagine Take That all doing their little things.
Neil: "Robbie would have done the main vocal, not Gary. It would have been great. The words are about a difficult relationship. It's autobiographical. It's about your lover wanting to break up, and you don't want to, and you realise that it's a hugely important decision that you're going to try and change their mind about. The person being sung to is so obstinate that only one in a million men could change their mind. And the person singing is saying it has to be them."
Neil: "Derek Jarman was having an exhibition for local Aids charities in Manchester and asked us to do a concert for him at the Hašienda. We were rehearsing in Nomis and we wanted to do a cover version. We were going to do 'The Fool On The Hill' by The Beatles, and then Chris came in the next morning and said, 'I've looked through my records and decided we'll do this song called "Go West".'"
Chris: "Which Neil didn't know."
Neil: "He played it to me and I said, 'This is ghastly.' I thought it was ghastly beyond belief. Awful. Anyway, Chris just carried on regardless."
Chris: "Neil just couldn't hear it."
Neil: "Then Chris enticed me into it by pointing out that it was the same chord change as Pachelbel's Canon. And that indeed worked."
Chris: "I knew that would swing over Neil to my way of thinking."
Neil: "Actually he just brushed me aside and said, 'I'm going to do it anyway.' He said, 'You're going to like this, you know - you're going to like this.'"
Chris: "I've always liked it. I've always been a huge fan of the Village People, and I thought 'Go West' would suit Neil's voice. And I thought it would be a good song to play at a Derek Jarman event - a song about an idealistic gay utopia. I knew that the way Neil would sing it would make it sound hopeless - you've got these inspiring lyrics but it sounds like it is never going to be achieved. And that fitted what had happened. When the Village People sung about a gay utopia it seemed for real, but looking back in hindsight it wasn't the utopia they all thought it would be."
Neil: "When Chris put the chords in and played the tune on the French horn, that's when I was sold on it. To be perfectly honest, I didn't even bother to learn the Village People's words. I copied them off the record once, and the first time we performed it, at the Hašienda, I had the words written out and I put them down and the wind machine blew them away and I had to improvise the words all the way through the song. 'Together! We will...do something! Together! We will...all
have to sing!' At that point I think, as usual, we imagined it might be a b-side at some point."
Chris: "Then we performed it again in America for a Lifebeat charity concert in New York, and the Indian from the Village People came along."
Neil: "And for the second time running the words blew away, but by that time I was vaguely more familiar with them. From the beginning we had put in the whole new middle bit - 'there where the air is free...' - which doesn't exist in the Village People's version. Chris wrote the chords, I think, and I wrote the new words. I don't think they're very good. '...where the air is free...' - what does that mean?"
Chris: "It's good."
Neil: "I think 'the promised land' bit is good, because I'd isolated what the core of the song is - it's about finding a promised land. Some of the other lyrics are mine, only because I could never be bothered to work out what the Village People were singing. The weird line - 'rustling, just to feed' - I'm sure that's not what they sing. I've no idea what they sing. We first recorded our version in 1992 as a one-off single. Chris had just had a studio built in his house and we wanted to do a track to try it out, so we did 'Go West'. We also went to America and recorded a choir - I liked the idea of doing vocals like 'There Is Nothing Like A Dame' from South Pacific on a pop record, a big choir of butch men, so we got a group of Broadway singers in New York arranged by Richard Niles to perform it in that style. We also put on seagulls from a sample CD, because of the beach...'Go West'...California. I also, being a kind of Guinness Book Of Hit Singles type of person, realised that 1992 would be the first year we wouldn't have had a top ten single since we started having hits, and that it would ruin our run. So, to be perfectly honest, that was my main reason for wanting to release it before Christmas that year. We mixed it with Mark 'Spike' Stent, and did b-sides, and then I spoke to Tony Wadsworth, who was the managing director at Parlophone. He phoned me up and said, 'What do you expect to achieve by releasing this now?' And I thought, 'you're right - I don't know'. I couldn't say the truth. If we'd been a hundred per cent happy with it we would have gone ahead and released it anyway, but secretly between the two of us we weren't happy with the mix of it. So we thought, let's not do it. I now think the original twelve-inch, which has never been released, is pretty good. It's dominated by this synth riff of Chris's which isn't even in the final version. The version on this album is actually even longer than the twelve-inch we were going to release in 1992 - we were going to fade it out much earlier. After we decided not to release it, we asked Brothers In Rhythm to work on the track."
Chris: "We thought the rhythm track wasn't good enough."
Neil: "They re-did the bassline, and Steve Anderson put in some piano at the beginning. We just kept on working on it. We took stuff away and put some back. On the 'Spike' Stent version of it there's no brass in the instrumental section after the first chorus because we'd taken it out. We'd already got Richard Niles to do the brass arrangement you can hear in the final version but when we first heard we absolutely hated it. We thought it was too cheesy."
Chris: "Brothers In Rhythm put it back in."
Neil: "And we realised it was perfect for the song. Then Stephen Hague mixed it, and that was basically it. Then, after it came out, we had the whole how-we-changed-Russia thing."
Chris: "It does sound surprisingly like the former Soviet anthem, we have subsequently discovered. It's remarkably similar."
Neil: "We did bits in Moscow for the 'Go West' video simply because we were going to Moscow for the launch of Russian MTV. It was just a coincidence, and we thought, 'Where do you go when you're East? You go West', so we did some filming in Red Square, pointing. But according to this artist we know in Russia, people thought that we had done a song that was based on the Soviet national anthem, and these Hungarian fans wrote to us and said, 'I hear this song and I am frightened', because they thought it was suggesting that the Russians should invade Eastern Europe again, because they would go west. Maybe that's why the Russians like it."
Chris: "It's also incredible that it ended up as such a big football anthem. Who would have thought that an obscure Village People song covered by the Pet Shop Boys would become the song of football. It's fantastic. I think it's our greatest achievement."
Chris: "It's meant to be a secret. It's a secret track. I wrote it on the piano. I'd like to know who's singing on it."
Neil: "Chris is. I play all the keyboards on it. It's a reversal of roles. Chris plays the piano though. He just said, 'I've written this thing and I want to do it like this.' It was in the style of REM - that's what I thought."
Chris: "To me it sounds like The Last Of The Summer Wine. It just came out. I wrote it at home. The shame of it. It's a one-off."
Neil: "I think it's really sweet, this song. Someone's father complained that the Pet Shop Boys had put out a song at the end of their album with a secret message encouraging the use of the drug ecstasy."
Chris: "It's not about that. It's personal."