As mission statements go, it lacks the fearless ambition of Madonna’s (“I want to rule the world,” she told Dick Clarke on American Bandstand in January 1984), but Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s rather more measured early goal of getting a disc into one of London’s cool import record stores has a directness of sorts. That they managed it with the fruits of their first sessions with dance producer Bobby O, but then went on to achieve so much more, is testament to a widely recognised flair for brilliant songwriting, the careful and constant curation of the whole Pet Shop Boys “package”, and their knack of somehow staying afloat in the shifting currents of the wider music industry.
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Always on my mind: a genius singles act
To understand why Pet Shop Boys are the UK’s most successful recording duo of all time, revered synth-pop pioneers and – even in the 21st century’s fractured state of affairs – a much-loved cultural institution and significant live draw is to, in part, understand the story of the broader music business during the final two decades of the 20th century and into the new millennium.
When Pet Shop Boys broke through in late 1985 with a re-recording of West End Girls, the music industry was dominated by the singles chart and the buzz of the pop video, and it was starting to wake up to the commercial potential of the new CD format. Pet Shop Boys are an inarguably genius singles act, gifted with the powerful understanding of what makes the perfect three-minute moment. Across the early run of their career, the duo quickly became unstoppable: adept at creating atmospheric mood music (Love Comes Quickly, Liberation), presiding over glorious moments of pop theatre (the triumphant resurrection of Dusty Springfield on What Have I Done To Deserve This?) or helming confident club-flavoured statements such as Domino Dancing or Before.