It was April 1986, and the 19-year-old version of yours truly was in New York City for the first time (that didn’t happen to be the airport) for a 4-day extended weekend “field trip” with my wonderful class from the then-New England School of Broadcasting (now the New England School of Communications).
I got to hear Howard Stern for the first time, ate at Beefsteak Charlie’s, elevated to the top of The Empire State Building, visited the 3 major TV networks, the original MTV studios and some museums, got to see a taping for a CBS pilot with Rita Moreno, went to the National Lampoon office with my good friend Steve and fell in love with Times Square.
Speaking of love, that weekend was also the time I remember falling completely in love with a song by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe – 2 young upstarts from London known as Pet Shop Boys. That song, of course, was “West End Girls,” from their debut album, PLEASE.
“West End Girls” was originally released a couple of years before, as a completely different dance version than the version everyone has known and loved for 30 years. I found the original 12” single (on Bobcat Records) in a record bin at some discount store, still have it, and it’s not bad – just interesting and different.
The 1986 reworking of “West End Girls” was among the many songs produced by the incredibly-talented Stephen Hague, who also produced the parent album, PLEASE). Stephen Hague (who was actually born in Portland, Maine, believe it or not) produced 2 more albums for PSB (1987’s ACTUALLY and 1993’s VERY), and has produced gems for Malcolm McLaren (“Madam Butterfly”), OMD’s wonderful CRUSH album, plus music for New Order, Communards, P.I.L., Erasure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Blur, a-ha, Tom Jones and Peter Gabriel, among many others. I would love to dedicate a STUCK IN THE 80s show to his work before the show ends in August. Maybe I will; there’s still time…
To the surprise of no one (especially me), “West End Girls” was a global sensation, reaching No. 1 in the U.S. in May 1986, plus No. 1 in the U.K., Canada, Finland, New Zealand and Norway, and the Top 10 in at least 9 other countries.
Even though Neil and Chris haven’t really had a big hit here in the U.S. since 1988’s “Domino Dancing,” that hasn’t stopped the Pet Shop Boys from releasing music. They continue to chart around the world, as well as the BILLBOARD Dance chart, and are releasing their 13th studio album, SUPER, on April 1st.
But it was the 1986 PLEASE version of “West End Girls” that caught my ear and brought my attention to the Pet Shop Boys. I’m so glad it did. They are one of my favorite acts to this day. And, thanks to a former journalist and a former trombone-playing architect hopeful, my love for “West End Girls” has never subsided, and it never will…