Since meeting at an electronics shop in London in 1981, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have amassed an impressive body of work, which they added to in 2020 with the release of their 14th album, Hotspot. The most successful duo in British music history, Pet Shop Boys enjoyed their biggest hits in the decade following their breakthrough in 1985 with West End Girls, including in Australia, where their 10 highest-charting singles all reached the ARIA top 20.
Peak: number 18
Pet Shop Boys’ fourth and final UK number 1 was a song that the duo considered offering to singers Madonna and Hazell Dean, but ultimately recorded themselves. Remixed from the version on second album Actually, Heart was released with a music video featuring Ian McKellen as a Nosferatu-like vampire.
9. 'Can You Forgive Her?'
Peak: number 17
The lead single from fifth album Very, Can You Forgive Her? ushered in the pointy hat era of Pet Shop Boys’ career. Musically, the song signalled a shift to a more upbeat commercial sound following the more subtle Behaviour album.
8. 'Yesterday, When I Was Mad'
Peak: number 13
The final single released from Very followed the pair’s hugely successful stand-alone Absolutely Fabulous tie-in – more on that later – and their first-ever concerts in Australia in late 1994, both of which helped push Yesterday, When I Was Mad into the top 20 after previous Very single Liberation failed to reach the top 50. The lyrics of the tongue-in-cheek track touched on the experience of touring.
7. 'Se A Vida é (That’s The Way Life Is)'
Peak: number 11
For sixth album Bilingual, Pet Shop Boys injected their synthpop sound with Latin influences, as demonstrated by this second single, which was inspired by the pair's visit to South America on the Discovery tour and featured a Portuguese title (that didn't quite translate as the subtitle). It remains their last top 20 hit in Australia, with 2006’s I’m With Stupid coming closest in the years since by reaching number 23.
6. 'It’s A Sin'
Peak: number 10
Their second UK number 1 became their second single to reach the ARIA top 10. With lyrics inspired by Neil’s years at a Catholic high school, It’s A Sin backed up its religious overtones with a music video featuring representations of the seven deadly sins. The song also established the pair’s flair for the dramatic with its busy production including Latin chanting and a NASA countdown.
5. 'Go West'
Peak: number 10
Speaking of dramatic... Throughout their career, Pet Shop Boys have released a number of carefully chosen cover versions, including this remake of a minor Village People single from 1979. First performed by the pair at an AIDS benefit in 1992, they ended up recording it in the studio and eventually included the song on Very, complete with a male choir and key change.
4. 'Always On My Mind'
Peak: number 10
Pet Shop Boys’ first remake single was another song they performed first and then decided to lay down in the studio. Their contribution to a TV special to mark the 10th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, Always On My Mind was released as a stand-alone single and claimed the coveted UK Christmas number 1 spot in 1987, hitting Australia early the following year.
3. 'Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You) / How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?'
Peak: number 9
The duo’s best-performing cover in Australia was their daring reworking of U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name, which was turned into a hi-NRG medley with Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (a Frankie Valli song that had previously been disco-fied by Boystown Gang). Released ahead of the Irish band’s own musical experimentation on Achtung Baby, the single shocked U2 purists and led Bono to quip, “What have we done to deserve this?" – a play on the title of PSB’s 1987 hit with Dusty Springfield. Where The Streets… was released as a double A-side with a remix of Behaviour track How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously? about rock star posers.
2. 'West End Girls'
Peak: number 5
The song that started everything for Neil and Chris wasn’t actually successful first time around. Initially released as their debut single in 1984 in its original version produced by Bobby O, West End Girls made little impact. Remixed and given another shot in 1985, it went to number 1 in the UK and the US, and reached the ARIA top 5. Earlier this year, the half-rapped, half-sung track was named by The Guardian as the greatest UK number 1 of all time.
1. "Absolutely Fabulous"
Peak: number 2
Technically, this was not a Pet Shop Boys track, released instead as Absolutely Fabulous by Absolutely Fabulous, a charity song for 1994’s Comic Relief. Despite that credit, the Eurodance tune, which worked in dialogue from the BBC comedy series starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley to hilarious effect, has been accepted into Pet Shop Boys’ official catalogue, appearing on reissues of Very and compilation albums.
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