Pet Shop Boys: Further Listening

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This week I’m mining more treasure from the music collection of Dave Vachon (former veteran journalist and news editor with the Belleville Intelligencer). As keeper of Dave’s collection, I’m still discovering music that I’ve never heard, particularly from the realms of British New Wave music and mostly from the 1980s.

As a huge fan of the Pet Shop Boys, Dave had nearly everything they ever recorded including remixes, alternate takes and collector’s editions.There are 53 Pet Shop Boys CDs and 14 vinyl records to explore, spanning the duo’s career from their debut album Please (1984) up to the present.

This week I’m digging into the Further Listening series that delivered each of the synth-pop band’s albums with a second (and sometimes third) CD of extra material, known as “further listening.” Let’s hit a few highlights and obscurities from some of the first six collections.

Please/Further Listening 1984-1986


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Two Divided By Zero opens the record with a heavy beat, synth pads and crystal clear vocals with distant, sampled spoken word and various bleeps and blips. This debut album also features the Pet Shop Boys’ first (and some might argue biggest) hit single – West End Girls.

Tonight is Forever rides a syncopated synth loop a la Kraftwerk before blossoming into a full-on dance-pop anthem. Other highlights include the timeless Suburbia, Opportunities and Violence. Curiosities include A Man Could Get Arrested (7” B-Side), Suburbia (the Full Horror) and the Disco Mix of That’s My Impression.

Actually/Further Listening 1987-1988

What Have I Done to Deserve This? features Dusty Springfield and is a timeless hit. The Extended Mix stretches things out to almost 7 minutes of dancefloor glory. It’s a Sin chugs along on a percolating percussive groove and the Disco Mix introduces some strings and vocoder. Strangely, this collection includes three versions of Always On My Mind, which appeared on the next album (Demo, Extended Dance Mix and the percussionless Dub Mix).

Introspective/Further Listening 1988-1989

Left to My Own Devices is a driving opener and the 7” Remix features lush strings. There are three unique versions of Domino Dancing, including the album version, the alternate version and the demo.

Always On My Mind was created to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. It’s a marvelous 9-minute exploration of the original, mixed with new material. It is clearly a highlight here.


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Behaviour/Further Listening 1990-1991

How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously features some sparse but surgical guitar, while Only the Wind has a techno-Latin groove. The extended mix of Being Boring clocks in at over 10 minutes.

The absolute highlight of this release is the interpretation of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You) which merges the Frankie Valli classic with the U2 hit. It’s a multigenerational mosaic that deserves repeated listening.

Bilingual/Further Listening 1995-1997

Se a vida é (That’s the Way Life Is) is one of the most remixed tracks in the duo’s catalogue. Released in thirteen different mixes around the world, the song charted in the UK, United States, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and Spain, and Denmark. Most unexpectedly, with thirteen remixes of Se a vida é, none of them appear here.

Other highlights include A Red Letter Day, Delusions of Grandeur, The Calm Before the Storm, and the gently pulsing It Always Comes As a Surprise.

Nightlife/Further Listening 1996-2000

This album is full of big songs that were conceptualized for a musical theatre production. For Your Own Good and Radiophonic are best described as “hard trance” with quick tempos and pulsing beats.

Happiness is an Option is based on Sergei Rachmaninoff’s classical piece Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14. Do yourself a favour and listen to a recording of that masterpiece to more fully appreciate the PSB track.

Other highlights include Boy Strange, the Fan Club Mix of It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas and two versions of Vampires.

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