25 Reasons To Love Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Actually’

The ever-innovating duo will receive the Godlike Genius award at the VO5 NME Awards 2017 on February 15

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

But they were too nervous to send it over, in case she said no.

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

Let’s be honest, the Pope doesn’t have ‘It’s A Sin’ on his iPod. This is a song that celebrates a Roman Catholic upbringing with the line “I didn’t care and I still don’t understand”. However, The Vatican should give the Pets some credit for seeking authenticity. While making ‘It’s A Sin’, they even went to Brompton Oratory, a Roman Catholic church in west London, to “record the ambience”.

12. They were arsed to “record the ambience”

This is a very 1980s popstar thing to do, so it’s worth flagging up properly.

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

At the time, the Pets couldn’t find time to tour, so they decided to give fans a 60-minute video based around songs from ‘Actually’. During the creative process, this grew into a full-length musical film starring Barbara Windsor. It was named It Couldn’t Happen Here, but they should have kept the working title: A Hard Day’s Shopping.

18. The cover shows Neil Tennant yawning

Though the contents aren’t remotely boring. In a similar way, the cover of one of Rita Ora’s albums shows the singer looking shocked.

19. It contains the world’s most unlikely threesome

You know the “oh-oh-oh” bit in ‘Heart’? That’s actually a three-way harmony featuring Neil Tennant, Prefab Scout’s Wendy Smith and… wait for it… Pavarotti.

20. It’s a… It’s a… It’s a…


21. They didn’t quite succeed

This line from ‘It’s A Sin’ is so brilliantly British, they should give it a blue plaque.

22. It’s a snapshot of 1987

Not just Maggie Thatcher, but also materialism, the post-Aids club scene and so-called “1980s paranoia”. The Pets don’t lay it on thick though. A line like “You always wanted a lover, I only wanted a job,” says a lot about the time without spelling anything out.

23. But it’s no museum piece

Beats date. Production will always tie an album to its time. But great songs continue to resonate and these ones still feel crisp and insightful. Of course, it helps that they’re so catchy.

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.