As Pet Shop Boys are named Godlike Genius for the VO5 NME Awards 2017, here are 25 reasons we actually do love their classic second album ‘Actually’…
1. It features possibly the greatest pop song in history
I’m talking about ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ by Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield. We can chat “hooks” and “unusual structure” all you want, but this song just has that thing: before it’s even finished, you already want to play it again. It’s touching too, which is impressive considering it’s about about a “major capitalist” (her) and a “pathetic feeble wreck” (him).
2. It brought back Dusty Springfield
Dusty was done before ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ Put it this way: her last single had been released by Peter Springfellow. When she finally said yes, the duet gave her a major comeback. It reached number two on both sides of the Atlantic and re-introduced the world to that voice: huskier, sure, but still magical.
3. When the Pets first met Dusty, she was wearing black leather
Or maybe “a pink shell suit and Reeboks”. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe can’t agree. But both outfits sound on point.
4. The album features three more classic singles
Two of them, ‘It’s A Sin’ and ‘Heart’, became UK number ones. The other – ‘Rent’ – features the chorus “I love you, you pay my rent” and still made it onto Top Of The Pops. Respect.
5. One of those singles was written for Madonna
6. So they almost gave to Hazell Dean instead
Before, thankfully, realising it was a keeper. Which single? Have a guess and l’ll tell you at the end.
7. It also has ‘Shopping’ on it
Yes, as in S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G. Surprisingly, this was never a single, but it’s been used on Watchdog so often, it feels like one.
8. Anne Robinson still has ‘Shopping’ as her ringtone
Probably. Either that or her catchphrase from The Weakest Link.
9. It also has a song called ‘Hit Music’ on it
So it’s a good job the album didn’t flop. In fact, ‘Actually’ peaked at Number Two in the UK, right behind MJ’s ‘Bad’, and sold four million copies worldwide.
10. It’s a little bit political
Sorry Annie, but ‘Shopping’ is actually about Thatcher flogging off state-owned industries in the 1980s. And talking of The Iron Lady, the album ends with an “angry song about Thatcherism” called ‘King’s Cross’.
11. It’s a little bit spiritual
12. They were arsed to “record the ambience”
13. It’s a little bit emotional
The album’s centrepiece is a wistful orchestral ballad called ‘It Couldn’t Happen Here’. It’s about the Aids epidemic arriving in the UK in the mid-1980s. “I thought we said it couldn’t happen here,” Tennant sings on the chorus.
14. It’s a little bit clever
Sometimes dumb pop is great pop – hello ‘Starships’! On the other hand, it’s always nice when some smarts hit the charts. Look at this verse from ‘Rent’. “You phoned me in the evening on hearsay / And bought me caviar / You took me to a restaurant off Broadway / To tell me who you are“. Now listen to LMFAO and bawl your eyes out.
15. It’s a little bit electro, a little bit dance, and quite a lot pop
Often on the same song. That’s kinda the Pet Shop Boys’ thing.
16. Its title is LOLZ
Why did they call the album ‘Actually’? Over to Tennant: “It was so English and kind of arch and kind of a joke and it was something we said a lot. And also it could be a sentence – “Pet Shop Boys, actually”.”
17. It spawned its own film
18. The cover shows Neil Tennant yawning
19. It contains the world’s most unlikely threesome
20. It’s a… It’s a… It’s a…
21. They didn’t quite succeed
22. It’s a snapshot of 1987
23. But it’s no museum piece
24. It captures Pet Shop Boys during their “imperial phase”
At the time, they basically couldn’t put a foot wrong. Between the release of the album’s third and fourth singles, the Pets recorded a cover of ‘Always On My Mind’… and scored the Christmas Number One.
25. Hazell Dean was nearly given ‘Heart’
Come on, you didn’t think think this woman was going to sing ‘It’s A Sin’, did you?
The Vo5 NME Awards takes place at London’s O2 Academy Brixton on February 15. Pet Shop Boys will close the ceremony with a special extended set of some of their greatest hits. You can be there in person by getting tickets here.