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Then And Now: Pet Shop Boys
If you ever look up the 1999 Guinness Book of Records for the most successful UK pop duo in history, you'll find the Pet Shop Boys. After 25 years together, it's their impact on electronic and dance music that sets them apart. There were a lot of acts that populated and fuelled the 1980s, but no one generated as much of a dedicated dance floor following within that decade as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe did. Bursting onto the scene with an uber-cool image and a smart and utterly moveable sound, they were the definitive pop stars; everyone else was lucky to stand in the shadow of their light. 2006ís Fundamental is the ninth studio album by the British band, and hereís a look back at why any new music from the duo is important in the world of pop music.

Pet Shop Boys: Then
The band formed in London in 1981 after vocalist Neil Tennant met keyboardist Chris Lowe at an electronics shop and they discovered a shared passion for dance records. Tennant had done a stint at Marvel Comics and was a music journalist for the legendary UK Pop magazine Smash Hits, while Lowe was an architect who had previously played in a cabaret act. Initially they called themselves West End, but later came up with the moniker Pet Shop Boys in homage to some of their friends who worked in a pet shop. As a journalist for Smash Hits, Tennant began to meet the right sort of people ~ he was even sent to New York to interview The Police at the peak of their popularity with Synchronicity. On one such assignment, Tennant met producer Bobby "O" Orlando of Hi-Energy records and talk began about making a record with the Pet Shop Boys.

The result was the bandís first single in April 1984 ~ West End Girls. A minor hit in US clubs, the single went nowhere in Britain. Follow-up single One More Chance was just as unsuccessful, and the boys wanted out of working with Orlando. A year later, Tennant left his job with Smash Hits to concentrate on their music, and in the process they signed a record deal with Parlophone Records. Single Opportunities (Letís Make Lots Of Money) came out in the summer of 1985 to moderate success, but the boys had yet to break into the top ten. They decided to re-record West End Girls with producer Stephen Hague, and it was the breakthrough they needed. It climbed to #1 in the UK, and the singleís success propelled their 1986 debut Please to the top of the charts. The hit machine steamrolled and that was the beginning of a run of 40 pop hits and five #1s in the UK, plus thirty dance hits in the US, which includes eight US #1s!

Pet Shop Boys: Shaping Pop Music
Since the late 1980s, the Pet Shop Boys have seemed invincible ~ a brainy hit-making machine that have produced and written hit songs for some of the biggest names in pop music. Their #1 single Heart was originally written for Madonna, then a duet with 1960s pop legend Dusty Springfield on What Have I Done To Deserve This? became a #2 hit and resurrected Springfield's career. The duo have since then written and produced songs for Tina Turner, Elton John and even Robbie Williams; Tennant was the one responsible for the backing vocals on Williamís hit single No Regrets. In Denial had them teaming up with Kylie Minogue. Minogue, during her recent Showgirl tour, performed the track live singing to a pre-recorded Tennant.

Pet Shop Boys: Now
The duo by the end of the eighties rivalled Duran Duran and George Michael as Britain's biggest pop act. Teen and music magazines in the UK latched onto them quickly, and the US soon followed. It was a rare month in the mid-eighties when there was not at least one picture of the band in teen and pop music magazines, even if the sugary coverage was at odds with the band's titillating videos and sometimes politically incorrect lyrics. In 1991, the duo issued a Greatest Hits CD Discography, one of the best compilations of the 1980s pop era and a bible for new pop groups. Many were worried that this would mean the end of the duo as Tennant had got involved with Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner to be part of pop band Electronic.

That was laid to rest after 1993ís Very, a strong collection that promoted contemporary dance music of the period. 1996ís Bilingual saw the pair returned to #1 on the US dance charts with first single Before, as the pair experimented with Latin dance rhythms. Next release Nightlife saved 1999 from being a rather dormant year in techno-pop, with a creative UK top ten single You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk. The duo then fulfilled a long-term dream with the opening of their musical Closer To Heaven in the spring of 2001 in London's West End. Seventh studio album Release appeared the next year to great fanfare, and paved enough interest for a new hits compilation titled Pop Art soon after. 2005 saw the Pet Shop Boys as the headline act for the Live 8 performances from Red Square, Moscow.

You can read the rest of our feature Then And Now: Pet Shop Boys in the May 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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