Classical Music

Oooo, Pet Shop Boys | Sandow

Oooo, Pet Shop Boys | Sandow

By popular demand on Facebook…well, two people asked for it 🙂 …here’s the story I said there I’d tell about the Pet Shop Boys. How something I said gave them an idea for a song.

I was interviewing them in LA in 1988 or ’89, when I was pop music critic for the LA Herald-Examiner. I’d long liked them, as I remember serious rock critics tended to. I know Greil Marcus did. I loved their delirious rhythm, their intelligence, and Neil Tennant’s deadpan singing, which somehow made room for both the intelligence and the delirium.

But a friend of mine back then called them “disco trash.” That must have been a hangover from the “disco sucks” backlash of 10 years earlier. And which we now know had a racist and homophobic tinge, disco having been the music of blacks, Latinos, and gay men, while the backlash came from straight white male rock fans.

I’d guess my friend was free of that darkness. She just didn’t like electronic dance rhythms, which of course now run right through the heart of mainstream pop.

So when I met Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe in their LA hotel room, I told them my friend called their music “disco trash.”

“We love disco trash!” they said. “What music does _she_ like?”

“U2 and Springsteen,” I said.

“We should turn some U2 or Springsteen song into disco trash,” they said. And then, so happily: “Don’t print that! We really might do it.”

And they did. They made a delicious version of U2″s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and for extra fun made it slide into Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” As if to say that U2 was no better than Frankie Valli, with Tennant’s deadpan voice making sly fun of Bono’s striving, his yearning toward something just out of his reach.

I don’t know if Tennant and Lowe remember this, or if they’d admit to it. But I love being part of it.

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