Never boring, the Pet Shop Boys are now Rock Hall of Fame eligible
(No. 35 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
This week’s selection is sure to inspire responses, and some could be on the violent side. But that’s Ok. I’m ready … I think.
I’ve got my catcher’s equipment on, mask included. So fire away.
The Pet Shop Boys should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
There, I’ve said it. How can I expect to be taken…seriously?
Because I’m gonna tell you why. Of course, some of you who “didn’t see that coming” may have a hard time hearing me while you’re jumping for joy. And others may have an equally difficult time while you’re throwing objects at the screen while screaming “what have I done to deserve this?” or worse.
For starters, one of the few things the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has gotten correct is the inclusion of all types of Rock & Roll. There’s hard rock, there’s soft rock, there‘s folk rock. There’s metal, there’s disco (or dance). There’s funk, there’s doowop and progressive. Yes, there’s even rap next to rockabilly. And there’s probably a few I’ve forgotten and maybe even some no one has put in a box yet. The choices sometimes may be off and may greatly favor one genre while all but ignoring another, but the field is wide open as it should be. So Bob Marley is in, Miles Davis is in, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys are in and Abba stands side by side with AC/DC.
The ground rules have been established and those ground rules make room for artists such as The Pet Shop Boys.
So it doesn’t really matter – at least not to me – if the Pet Shop Boys are considered disco or dance by some or if they release a ballet in 2011 – “The Most Incredible Thing.” To me, they’re just another thread of Rock & Roll with occasional dabbling in other musical forms. And I’ve been a huge fan since first hearing “West End Girls.” That was 1984, and the duo of vocalist Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe has been near the top of the charts and my play lists since.
Over the years the pair has had close collaborations with Hall of Fame inductees Dusty Springfield, David Bowie, Elton John and Madonna and also should-be inductee Johnny Marr of the Smiths. They also have had major hits with remakes of Willie Nelson and The King’s “Always On My Mind,” and a pairing of U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” and FrankieValli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” I must admit, I don’t like either, but Presley, U2 and Valli are in the Rock Hall of Fame.
While much of their music is dance beat based, their lyrics touch on social issues with intelligence and wit, making for interesting listening as well as club fare. Plus, they also compose terrific ballads. Tom Hull, writing in “The New Rolling Stone Album Guide,” described the 1990 album “Behaviour” noting, “Its subdued mid-tempo rhythms didn’t burn up the dance floor, nor did its singles scale the charts as before, but its songs were elegant and complex and often downright beautiful.”
The pair had been dominating charts around the world, and “Behaviour” really wasn’t much different, ascending to No. 2 in the United Kingdom, No. 4 in Germany and No. 9 in Sweden. “So Hard” became a huge smash in Europe, and “Being Boring” and “How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?” were cuts destined to become PSB classics.
By that time the Pet Shop Boys were well on their way to their eventual standing as one of the most popular acts of the ‘80s. “West End Girls” had topped the charts in the UK, Canada and the US, just missed in Germany, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland and went top five in Australia and the Netherlands. “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” was a solid follow-up, hitting the US top 10 and just missing in the UK, while “Suburbia” clicked throughout Europe.
In 1986, “It’s A Sin” pushed the duo back to the summit, going No. 1 throughout Europe and Canada and reaching the top 10 in Australia and the US. The successor, “What Have I Done To Deserve This?,” duplicated that success and also rejuvenated the career of Springfield. In 1987, “Always On My Mind” and “Heart” were also worldwide chart-toppers.
“Domino Dancing” and “Left To My Own Devices” each cracked the top 10 in the UK and US. Meanwhile, on the album charts, “Please” reached No. 3 in the UK and the next three, “Actually,” “Introspective” and “Behaviour” all climbed to No. 2, the success in Germany being just as good with “Actually” topping the charts.
Success continued into the ’90s with their 1993 LP, “Very,” becoming their first British chart-topper buoyed by the worldwide success of the cover of the Village People’s “Go West.” And every one of the five Pet Shop Boys’ releases of new material in LP form since has reached the top 10 in the UK, from 1996’s “Bilingual” to 2009’s “Yes.” During that time span, the pair has placed 14 singles in the UK top 20. Though the success has been less in the States, the Pet Shop Boys have remained dominant on the US dance charts, adding four No. 1’s to bring their total to nine, with 14 others reaching the top 10.
So, whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, The Pet Shop Boys have compiled quite a resume. Obviously, many more love ‘em than hate ‘em, myself being one. They may not fit your definition of Rock & Roll, but I still haven’t heard a definition better than “music young people like.”
In their case, a lot of young people like them, and I do believe quite a few old fogies, yours truly included, feel the same.