Saturday, May 10, 1986

Pet Shop Boys “West End Girls” hit #1 in the U.S.

West End Girls

Pet Shop Boys

Writer(s): Neil Tennant, Chris Lowe (see lyrics here)

Released: October 28, 1985

First Charted: November 23, 1985

Peak: 11 US, 12 GR, 12 RR, 26 AC, 37 AR, 1 CO, 12 UK, 11 CN, 5 AU, 6 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, 0.6 UK, 1.15 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 191.12 video, 275.85 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe formed the Pet Shop Boys in London in 1981. Tennant was a music critic for the UK pop music magazine Smash Hits TB when he met Lowe, which according to Tom Breihan in his Stereogum column “Number Ones,” may make Tennant the only former music critic to land a #1 hit. SG That song was “West End Girls,” which The Guardian went so far as to name the greatest British #1 single of all time in June 2020. SG

It was the only chart topper in the United States for the snyth-pop duo, although they would land four more top-10 hits. In the UK, the Pet Shop Boys have had more than 20 top-10 hits, of which “West End Girls” and three others went to #1. According to the 1999 edition of The Guinness Book of Records, they are the most successful duo in UK music history.

The Pet Shop Boys first recorded the song with producer Bobby Orlando and released it in April 1984. They saw it as a New York dance record. Tennant said, “our career ambition was to have a record you could only buy on import in the gay record shop on Berwick Street…And we achieved that — by September 1984, you could only buy ‘West End Girls’ on a Canadian import in the Record Shack.” SG

Of course, the song went far beyond the duo’s initial ambitions, taking off in dance clubs in France and Belgium SG as well as becoming a club hit in Los Angeles and San Francisco. WK The duo would eventually sever ties with Orlando and re-record the song in 1985 with producer Stephen Hague. He “fattened up the sounds and gave it an overall polish.” TB

Lyrically, the song is inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land.” It is “an impressionistic free-floating account of urban London glamor and squalor. Tennant’s East End boys are the brutish young men of working-class London; his West End girls are the monied young women attracted to those boys.” SG Tennant “muses about class and attraction, about the threat of violence that lies under the surface of those interactions.” SG

Musically, Tennant’s “rap-like delivery and relative grittiness” TB was inspired by Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.” TB Tennant “doesn’t really rap, but he doesn’t really sing, either. Instead, he comes off like a narrator, dispassionately describing scenes of passion, sounding both amused and bemused.” SG His “detatched vocal” is similar to the “reserved, icy sing-speak of early-’80s UK synthpoppers like Soft Cell’s Marc Almond.” SG

The UK duo “had a massive impact on the music scene in the ‘80s. They helped to make club music accessible for the mainstream white audience…They invited the suburban straight audience to check out hip-hop and dance music, which was confied to gay clubs outside the U.S.” TC


First posted 9/27/2022; last updated 5/2/2024.

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