Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls
At the end of October 1985 a song came out that would have determined the success of a group still considered absolutely cult today. Actually the song had already come out a year earlier, when this newcomer group, Pet Shop Boys, had produced the tracks for their first album with producer Bobby Orlando, also nicknamed Bobby O. The tracks produced with Bobby O were dance music, disco music, with lots of electronic effects and a fast-paced rhythm. And perhaps in all this groove the creative genius of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe was somehow hidden, so the music was certainly enthralling, but everything else could easily go unnoticed, so the song had exactly the success they expected, that is, limited to the dance music charts.
Pet Shop Boys and Bobby O decided to stop the collaboration, and due to a contract clause Pet Shop Boys were forced to a year of silence before being able to release more music. However, they spent this year working with a new record company, EMI, and a new producer, Stephen Hague. They fixed most of the tracks that were now ready for the first album, and made a new version of West End Girls. The music was relieved by the fast beat and electronic effects, and Tennant’s voice and words absolutely took the stage.
Incidentally, the album was titled Please. And do you know why they chose this title? Because with this title all the guys could walk into record shops and ask for “the Pet Shop Boys album, Please“. Brilliant!
The song is about a fragment of the life of young Londoners, who in the evening used to go to the area between Covent Garden and Leicester Square to dance in clubs. In particular, Tennant focuses on the meetings of boys from the East End, a working-class and port area, who after work rushed to take the subway (“running down, underground”) to reach the places where they could meet girls from the wealthier area of London, who from the luxurious Victorian houses of the West End went precisely to the clubs in that central area to spend the evening.
In the background there is also a topic of social integration: could a story or a love be born between a West End girl and an East End boy? Who knows, maybe an evening together, a fun story, but the feeling is that a high society girl would hardly have married and spent her life with a working-class boy; in all likelihood she would find another guy from the upper middle class or even of the English nobility who attended the same colleges and universities, and the same circle of personal relationships. We are in 1985, in full Thatcher era, and the concept of a social climb or a lift between social classes was still to be built, indeed, I would say that it was absolutely hindered by the upper classes of the capital, absolutely careful to protect their benefits and privileges.
The song is actually very light and flowing fast, as fast as the life and the movements of the young people of the East End, and the lyrics unite a series of thoughts and phrases often disconnected from each other, a kind of stream of consciousness in the style of Joyce , although Tennant claimed to be inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem Waste Land, rather. The text openly mentions one of the Pet Shop Boys’ favorite places. The phrase “to a dive bar in a West End town” refers to one of their favorite clubs, The Kings Head and Dive Bar. Upstairs there was a pub, the Kings Head, while in the basement there was the Dive Bar, one of the first gender free spaces in London where young people met to spend the evenings, a little bit of a disco and a little of a place for conversation. The restaurant was located in Gerrard Street, a few meters from Leicester Square, in the heart of London’s Chinatown. And in fact today at that corner there is an all red place with ideograms and lanterns.
The text, however, as we said, also contains many other things that went through Neil Tennant’s head, starting from the first verse, a phrase from a western he had seen (“Sometimes you are better off dead. There’s a gun in your hand and it’s pointing at your head”), passing through phrases that recall Neil’s passion for Russian history. The phrase “from Lake Geneva to the Finland station” probably recalls Lenin’s journey in the First World War secretly brought on a train to Russia by the Germans, an episode recounted in a book entitled exactly To the Finland Station. Perhaps by this phrase Neil meant that the feelings of East End youth are absolutely the same as those of young people from all over Europe, but the influence of his culture and readings of him is clear. Moreover, in the first version of the song, produced by Bobby O, there was also a line that said “who do you think you are, Joe Stalin?” verse which was later removed in the next version.
The video is absolutely a cross-section of London everyday life of the 80s: starting from the opening scenes in which Tennant imperiously walks through London followed by a resigned Chris Lowe, to the unforgettable scene where Lowe is a kind of ghost in front of a red garage door, to the crowd scenes filmed at Waterloo Station, the red double-decker bus to Aldgate, the images from the top of Tower Bridge, and the scenes of the two guys around the Thames. A real irresistible spot.
With the new version of West End Girls Pet Shop Boys won their challenge to be the first white rappers, even with a British accent! And Neil Tennant with this song entered the Guinness Book of World Records for being the first white man to reach the top of the hit parade with a rap. Well, there would have been Falco with Der Kommissar, to be honest, and too bad that the very English Captain Sensible hadn’t reached the top with Wot … but let’s enjoy this immortal success by Pet Shop Boys!!
Pet Shop Boys on Wikipedia