Album number 5 is from the Pet Shop Boys, and we go back to the 80s for the oldest entry on my list of ten perfect albums.
As well as introducing me to Bros, my brother-in-law Ray is also responsible for a number of my other tastes. Amongst those we can count the Rocky movies, a selection of martial arts films, the music and movies of Elvis Presley, and most importantly, the Pet Shop Boys.
My initial experience came from borrowing Ray’s “Showbusiness” VHS tape, featuring music videos that still stay with me now. Of the six songs featured on this video, four of them are taken from “Actually”, with the other two being from the Pet Shop Boys’ third album, “Introspective”.
From the header image above, you’ll see I have two copies of “Actually”. You won’t have to look too closely to see that the copy on the left has a poorly printed cover. This is my original album, purchased for £3 back in the early nineties on a shopping trip with Julia, my eldest sister. Julia was keen to show me a new shop that had opened up in Hanley, selling “allegedly” ex-jukebox cds without covers (to this day I’m not sure if that was the case, or if they were just selling off the stolen contents of some poor record shop’s back room – answers on a postcard). I bought “Actually” there and then, delighted to finally own my own copy (on CD no less, one of the very first I bought myself). I went back a couple of weeks later with my mum and picked up “Introspective”. I produced the terrible covers on the family inkjet printer a few years later.
Much more recently I picked up the copy on the right in the cover photo and shown in full below. This is the “Further Listening” re-release, and is a much more complete package. I’m still sentimentally attached to my original album though, and won’t be parting with it.
We’re going all hits here, do sing along.
It’s a Sin
Probably the first Pet Shop Boys song I heard, being the first one on the above mentioned VHS tape. I was captivated by the fairly ‘spooky’ video as a child.
“What Have I Done to Deserve This?”
The Pet Shop Boys have gone on to record many excellent collaborations, but I don’t think any will ever top this incredible song with the iconic Dusty Springfield.
Another great single from the album, and I’m going to stop here with these, because I could just link the whole album, and that’s not the point.
Relationship with the album
From that very early age, I’ve remained a fan of the Pet Shop Boys up to the present day. This album though, connects me to my youth, and to my relationship with Ray, more so than any other. Later albums still resonate, and I really enjoy 2016’s “Super”. However, listening to “Actually” takes me back to my childhood and weekends spent with Ray, renting action movies and playing Sega Master System.
When I try to pick a favourite Pet Shop Boys song, I frequently change my mind because there are so many that I love, but at least four of the top contenders come from “Actually”.
Pet Shop Boys
I find people’s perception of the Pet Shop Boys to be interesting, since many seem to dismiss them as just ‘pop’ even if they begrudgingly accept their staying power over the last 30+ years in the industry. Widely recognised as one of the most successful pop acts of all time, there is no way I could do real justice to them here.
As with Placebo & Glasvegas, I finally managed to see the Pet Shop Boys live last year, when they played the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. It was an incredible show at a great venue, and because we’re “cool”, my friend Nicky & I made a day of it, with front row seats at the matinee performance of the “Bat Out of Hell” musical. Best day ever.
I’m pleased to also report that Ray is still a huge Pet Shop Boys fan, and last year we managed to take our awful SingStar duet out to the people, and perform karaoke in a local pub. It was magic, bonding time with my brother. I’m sure everyone else hated it. Would do it again tomorrow.
Other albums and songs
I’m in the process of re-buying all the albums in their “Further Listening” editions, and very much enjoying listening to the bonus discs of material I haven’t heard before. Staying with singles here though, because there are just so many tracks to choose from and I’m supposed to be writing a blog not making a playlist.
Can You Forgive Her?
Another favourite, and the first track from “Very”. The change in sound for that album meant that 11 year old me didn’t get into it straight away, as it wasn’t what I was used to. I appreciate the whole album a lot more now than I did at the time.
Always On My Mind
One of my favourite covers of all time, a masterpiece. Also love that the video is cut from scenes from the movie “It Couldn’t Happen Here”, mentioned below.
West End Girls
Yeah okay, so it’s pretty much the law I have to include this one. Fair play, it still sounds great.
This Bluray / DVD / CD boxset is the live recording from the gig I went to last year in Covent Garden, mentioned above. At the time of writing it’s not out yet, but I have a pre-order in, and I’m putting it here because I’m excited. Also because it’s pretty.
It couldn’t happen here (Movie)
Last up, is the feature-length film “It Couldn’t Happen Here”. An incredibly surreal journey, but essential viewing for fans. Once you’ve watched it, you can also enjoy drunkenly explaining the context of the “Always On My Mind” video to your friends at parties, like I do. (No promises that your friends will enjoy this though)
I think every Pet Shop Boys album is worth listening to, and has something to recommend. However, “Actually” stands out as the one album I always come back to. It is perfect.