An early demo of the track, created with Bobby O in New York, at sessions that led to the first release of West End Girls, goes heavy on the cowbells so popular at the time in the boystown dance scene, but the search for the right producer wasn’t without its problems. The maverick trio of Stock, Aitken & Waterman became early favourites for the task until Pete Waterman decided he didn’t care for the tune that much after all. Hopes then turned to Ian Levine (in those days the more obvious Hi-NRG hitmaker), but he passed on a plan to record it with Miquel Brown, who had recently enjoyed a huge club smash with He’s A Saint, He’s A Sinner. Levine decided the song’s theme would revisit too-familiar ground for Brown, and a third option of getting Divine to cut it also went nowhere.
Another major gear-change
No surprise, then, that the troublesome number didn’t make the pair’s debut album, Please, recorded after the surprise global triumph of West End Girls in early 1986. With the duo famously reluctant to commit to a tour, they turned their thoughts to recording a follow-up (in between gruelling promotional duties for hits from their first record). It’s A Sin was an obvious candidate for the album that became Actually, but the band were still struggling to create a recording everyone was happy with. Australia’s Julian Mendelsohn was finally tasked with making the song work – and, even then, Neil and Chris weren’t entirely satisfied (Neil later claimed his vocals weren’t good enough). They asked Please’s producer, Stephen Hague, to remix the track and, with vocoders added and orchestration removed, this time it passed muster.
With such a provocative title (for all its flamboyance, the 80s was a doggedly conservative time), and perhaps because of its somewhat stop-start genesis, Pet Shop Boys decided to release Heart as Actually’s first single – until their then manager, the late Tom Watkins, told them that executives at Parlophone, the duo’s record company, were actually much keener on It’s A Sin. Plans were rearranged and the single debuted at No.5 on the UK charts the week ending 27 June 1987, and made it to the top of the pile just seven days later for a three-week run. Despite their success so far, this was another major gear-change for the band.
The fuss the record caused perhaps proved inevitable. Tabloid featured attacked what was perceived as a veiled criticism of Neil’s religious upbringing and, most notoriously, accusations about the song’s origins. With later court damages paid to Pet Shop Boys and passed on to charity, the point was well and truly made: where there’s a hit, there’s a writ.