Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

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Drico One
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Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#1 Post by Drico One »

With the impending release of Love, etc. (I insist on the comma), and concomitant anticipation rising to conniption levels in parts of the Iberian peninsula, I'm reminded of lead singles past and wonder where this latest album trailer will find itself in the Pet Shop Boys canon.

The lead single is the colloquialism that describes the first single release from a new album. On its shoulders lie the marketing aspirations of the record company and the band for the campaign that it fronts. It's the face of the era, really, and is crucial to the commercial success of the record.

So, while Love, etc., warms up in the wings, clearing its throat like a hoarse mute, I thought I'd take a look back at previously anticipated campaign trailers from It's A Sin to I'm With Stupid.

In most cases, the lead single represents a band's comeback onto a scene they were once familiar with, the one chance to sate the desire of the fanbase. I discount West End Girls and Opportunities as lead singles for this reason. The Please campaign was designed to introduce Pet Shop Boys to the marketplace, not to bring them back to their adoring public. They hadn't got a public in 1985. So their first challenge came two years later with the Actually campaign...

It's A Sin is perhaps the most perfect PSB single. After the emergence of the band in the previous 18 months, Neil and Chris were the nascent pop duo, a new force in the land. By the summer of 1987, anticipation was at fever pitch. Suburbia had introduced the public to a more expansive PSB style, but few could have predicted the hugely melodramatic thunderer that was It's A Sin. A guaranteed hit as soon as it was recorded, it crashed into the UK charts at number 5, all Catholic guilt, repression, and defiance. This public repudiation of a Catholic childhood struck a chord the world over. Others just danced to it. It was big, and Pet Shop Boys were now huge.

Domino Dancing was the next PSB single tasked with fronting a new commercial effort. It was disadvantaged by the fact that it followed its predecessing single, Heart, by a mere five months. No PSB studio album trailer has been encumbered by so short an interregnum. As such, though the anticipation was once again at fever pitch, the band had not disappeared from public view before its release and so Domino Dancing found itself merely continuing a line of hits rather than pioneering a new genetic lineage. It broke the UK chart at number 9, a comparatively low new entry. Even Heart, the final single from Actually, entered at 7. While that went on to top the chart, Neil and Chris found themselves climbing only two more places with Domino Dancing. Though the latin production of the track was not to everybody's taste, few would consider Domino Dancing a weak single in the PSB canon. But the PSBs were to learn that after five singles in nine months, a sixth in just over a year was one too many to keep the pot boiling.

Acknowledging their diminishing commercial appeal, Pet Shop Boys released So Hard as a precursor to Behaviour knowing that its possibilities were limited. It's Alright failed to improve on its number 5 chart entry in 1989 despite being the first single from the band in nine months. So Hard followed over a year later, but while a high chart entry was assured, the expectation abroad was that its first week would now be its peak. And so it proved. Accelerating the declining curve of second week sales, So Hard actually fell a position to 5 after its initial entry. The PSBs were beginning to define themselves as a cult. A magnificent single it was, however, replete with sharp social commentary, a classic Tennant lyric, and Lowe's driving analogue soundscape. If this could slide, there was a sense of foreboding about the times ahead.

Behaviour stalled on the charts, prompting The Sunday Times to describe the PSBs as "laggards" in an article on the declining pop market in November 1990. As a reaction, Neil and Chris went for the nuclear option and covered U2. At some cost. Performance followed as an unparalleled spectacular, and Discography was slated for release in the autumn to presage an artistic hiatus. DJ Culture led the charge for the greatest hits, and like Domino Dancing, came hot on the heels of a recent single. At a time when the PSBs couldn't buy a self-penned hit, its inability to enter higher than number 13 was blamed on a distribution mix-up. However, as underestimated as the track is, it was no single.

And so came the great drought. From December 1991 to June 1993, little to nothing. Electronic's Disappointed calmed palpating PSB hearts in 1992 by storming the chart at number 6 (proving that the climate wasn't interminably negative), but what would the future hold for a full PSB re-emergence? As it happened, Can You Forgive Her? was tipped as a "fifth number one" for the band in The NME in the week before its release. Sadly, reality was less delighting, the single making number 7 in its first seven days despite being an absolute gold nugget of pop magnificence. Yet, the overriding emotion was of huge relief. The nightmare of the Was It Worth It? flop was a memory. There was still a fanbase.

While Paninaro was re-recorded (edit: thanks, Palpatine) for the Alternative compilation in 1995, it wasn't original material (a glorified remix, really: sorry, Palpatine) and merely filled the gap between the major releases of Very and Bilingual. Fighting a Britpop takeover of popular culture, Neil and Chris went all Spanglish - but first released Before, perhaps their most underwhelming album trailer yet. Chart-wise, it performed adequately, making number 7, but it didn't register compared to some of its predecessors.

By 1999, the PSBs were very much out in the cold. Never before had they faced a marketplace that was so unwelcoming. Guitar pop and brainless dance ruled the airways, and our heroes were referred to as 80s relics as a matter of course. Music365, now happily defunct, even reckoned that they should have been part of a Duran Duran-led 80s retrospective show at Christmas. Nightlife might as well have been titled Good Night, such was the lack of interest. And they didn't necessarily help themselves. I Don't Know What You Want is a thrilling record, a genuine delight to this day, but was rather obtuse as a single. Indeed, there's an argument that the extended album version is the definitive recording of this stirring string-laden epic. It made number 15 and the Dotmusic forum went into meltdown.

The egregious musical followed, leading some to wonder if the eye had been taken off the pop ball by the distant prospect of theatrical success. By the time of Release in 2002, Neil and Chris had been disabused of such notions and came back to record a more organic record. Home and Dry reflected this, a sweet, evocative record that they probably couldn't have made 15 years earlier - and wouldn't have released as a single. Still, that didn't stop James23_uk secretly recording the audiotrack from the promotional video that was on display as part of an art installation in a London department store. How Aimoo swooned.

PopArt, released in 2004, reprised the Discography trick of providing two new singles as part of its promotion. Miracles, deservedly broke the top 10 at a competitive time in 2003. This time, with simple lyrics redolent of infatuation, Neil had crafted an exquisitely beautiful record bereft of irony, camp, or melodrama. So much for the notion that they re-release the same old record every three years.

Fundamental arrived in 2006 and its trailer, the comedic I'm With Stupid, broke the worrying trend of previous studio album releases failing to make the top 10. Continuing the long line of singles with hilariously observant lyrics, it made number 8 and caused a frisson of excitement at the BBC when its political message was considered "unbalanced."

So what of Love, etc? Well, what indeed. Only time will tell... But the wait can hardly be as long as this post.

Drico.
The pale kid that hides in the attic behind his PC...

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#2 Post by patrick »

If you had tits I'd f*** you.

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#3 Post by DJ_Couture »

In terms of making you sit up and take notice, the intros to It's a Sin and Can you forgive her? are hard to beat.

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Patrick Bateman
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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#4 Post by Patrick Bateman »

Domino dancing is their finest moment and so it's rather fitting that it marks the point at which PSB and the hoi polloi began to go their separate ways. It's a reminder of why however much we may have celebrated Miracles going in at ten rather than eleven, it's really immaterial.

I love the description of Love etc. by a poster on Popjustice as a laddish Can you forgive her? That makes me very excited.

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#5 Post by Flaffer »

Drico, the Will Self of PSB fandom :D
Still waiting to hear the Adam Freeland, Manhattan Clique and Axwell mixes of Integral.

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Young Offender
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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#6 Post by Young Offender »

Nice retrospective on each albums lead single, will look forward to you adding to it after Love, etc. is released.

I have always enjoyed your writing, Thanks!

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#7 Post by Blogo »

it made number 9 and caused a frisson of excitement at the BBC when its political message was considered "unbalanced."

I'm With Stupid reached number 8 in the UK charts or are you referring to another chart?
Listen without prejudice

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#8 Post by fluffmoln »

Paddymacall wrote:
it made number 9 and caused a frisson of excitement at the BBC when its political message was considered "unbalanced."

I'm With Stupid reached number 8 in the UK charts or are you referring to another chart?
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FACTUAL ERROR ALERT!

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Effen Vida
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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#9 Post by Effen Vida »

Nicely written, Drico. Your use of the English language is wonderful.

Though I believe 'coniption' has two N's. :D





I know this because I had to look it up in the first place.

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#10 Post by patrick »

They haven't picked a decent lead single in 16 years.

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#11 Post by Palpatine »

Wasn't "Paninaro '95" completely re-recorded, as opposed to remixed?

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#12 Post by One of the crowd »

Home and dry needs to be in bold
Fishing

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#13 Post by Palpatine »

IMHO, the only wrong choice for lead single was "I Don't Know What You Want...". It should have been "For Your Own Good".

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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#14 Post by gregf »

Well written and my favourite topic : PSB singles. :clap:
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Re: Lead Singles: A Huge Rambling Retrospective...

#15 Post by drunk14 »

I would like to read something about second singles now :D Ver y Good compilation.
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