Collection Recollections: Pet Shop Boys Singles

I’ll be heading off to Japan in a few months, and unfortunately my records won’t be coming with me. It’s probably for the best though, I don’t know where I’d store 3,000+ records in a tiny Tokyo apartment. But before I shovel them away to a storage locker, I want to take some time to write about the records that mean the most to me. Up first, my Pet Shop Boys singles collection.

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When I tell people that I own over 40 Pet Shop Boys singles on vinyl, I always know they’re thinking something, but are too nervous to just come out and say it.

But the answer is yes, I really do love synthpop that much! (What did you think I was talking about?)

Growing up in the 1980s in Ohio, I was only ever tangentially aware of the Pet Shop Boys. I knew “West End Girls” and “Opportunities,” but that was about it. They were a band who I always knew of, but hardly knew anything about. I didn’t really discover more of the group’s singles until the early 2000s, when I bought a greatest hits collection on a whim at a used record store. From there, my interest was piqued, and when I started getting into collecting singles, I began to grab any Pet Shop Boys 12″ I recognized. As my obsession with collecting their singles grew, that slowly changed from “any single I recognized” into “any single I could get my hands on.”

But if you asked me why I felt the need to collect so many singles by the group, I don’t know if I could actually give you an answer. Unlike a lot of other acts from the 80s who I obsessively collect, I’m still not a huge Pet Shop Boys fan. Truth be told, I only own two of their proper albums, and of those I only really like one. I guess to me, the Pet Shop Boys are the ultimate personification of a “singles” act, a band I love in small doses but can’t really handle for album-length periods. It’s weird.

I think a lot of it has to do with just how good their singles are though. And I don’t mean the tracks themselves, I mean the B-sides and remixes that come along with them, especially the remixes. The Pet Shop Boys have some of the best remixes on the planet, and more often than not I end up loving a remixed version a track more than the actual album version or single edit. In fact, I can’t think of a Pet Shop Boys track that I prefer as the album cut. That’s probably because most Pet Shop Boys remixes are crazy long, usually clocking in at seven-minutes or longer, and they’re jacked up with hard and heavy beats.

That’s right, I like my Pet Shop Boys long and I like my Pet Shop Boys hard.

Ahem.

But seriously, some of their tracks just work better as longform pieces.

Take this remix of “It’s A Sin” for example. Yeah, the album version is great, but the ‘Disco Mix” really takes the track to the next level in terms of energy and enthusiasm. Its name isn’t a lie either, with the added sequencer rhythm tacked on, the track really does sound like a perfect amalgamation of late-70s disco and mid-80s pop, it’s like a greatest hits of Moroder staples. The added thunderous sound effects also amplify the song’s lyrical meaning as well, like it’s God’s way of chiming in on the matter. Awesome tune.

And then on the other end of the spectrum is “Rent,” proof that even a ballad can benefit from getting an extended remix. The album version of “Rent” is just three minutes long. What the fuck is that shit? I don’t even have that version on my hard drive anymore, this “Francois Kervorkian Remix” rendered it totally useless.

To me, this seven-minute remix isn’t just the definitive Pet Shop Boys track, it’s the definitive synthpop ballad – the most heartfelt and touching song about a loveless relationship that has ever been put to wax.  It’s as brutal as it is beautiful, and for a lot of people I bet it sometimes rings a bit too close to home, but goddamn it’s such a perfect song.

And I’ve always felt that “Opportunities” should’ve been its b-side, it certainly is the emotional and thematic counterpoint to “Rent,” a love song to endless greed and power.

A song as amoral as this is made to be danced to, and the extended 12″ remix does that job in spades. It’s a simple mix, just upping the tempo and extending the instrumental bits, but it works just fine. I’ve always thought that when a song is perfect as-is, the best thing an extended remix can do is just make the good parts last longer and leave the rest. That’s all this mix does, and that’s why I love it.

It’s also the best song to listen to before an interview, especially if you’re in a suit and rocking Gordon Gecko suspenders. Or so I’ve heard.

Sadly, they can’t all be winners. This is the KLF remix of “So Hard” and while it’s not exactly horrible, I certainly expected better from Bill Drummond and company. This just comes off as lazy and forgettable. And that part where they just loop the line “so hard” over and over again? Ugh. Cheap joke.

Occasional dud aside, I cherish my Pet Shop Boys collection, and wouldn’t let them go for anything. Not only do they hold a certain sentimental value for me, but many of the mixes are still vinyl-only exclusives, which kind of blows my mind.  It also blows my mind that I seem to be the only person who puts any sort of value on them – almost all of them are entirely worthless. I guess unless you’re opening an 80s-themed dance club in San Francisco, there really isn’t much of a demand for Pet Shop Boys singles. Most go for less than a buck on Discogs and eBay, and I routinely find them in bargain bins at my local record store.

The only PSB single I have that’s worth much of a strange German import version of “One More Chance” dubbed “New Remix 86.” It goes for about 10 bucks online, give or take, but I really can’t figure out why. The remix on it is pretty rare, but like I said, so are most Pet Shop Boys remixes. Maybe its oddity factor has something to do with it, or the fact that it’s on the ZYX label. Or maybe it’s the rad cover that makes the Boys look like villains in a bad vigilante movie.

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“Give us your Patrick Cowley singles and no one will get hurt.”

Like most of the bands I hoard collect, I won’t be happy until I have at least one version of every 12″ single they put out, and since Pet Shop Boys are one hell of a productive act, I still have a long way to go. I don’t have most of their singles from the 2000s (most of which were released on vinyl) and I’m missing a lot of their key 80s releases still.  I don’t even own the original 1st pressing of “West End Girls,” which is actually a weird mash-up of “West End Girls” and Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night!”

Actually, on second thought, maybe I don’t need that one. Yikes.

Oh, who the hell am I kidding? If I ever saw that in a record store I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

But seriously, what the hell is that? Did they find Peter Murphy’s Italian cousin to sing the Corey Hart part? I feel that remix leaves far more questions than answers.

4 Responses to Collection Recollections: Pet Shop Boys Singles

  • James Sanford says:

    Great article — and best of luck with your move to Tokyo!

  • Ken Murphy says:

    Pet Shop Boys obsessive checking in! They’ve released cd singles for their main 12” releases from It’s a sin onwards which are a bit hard to find now and there were also a load of German cd singles that covered the second remix 12” singles that they brought out from So hard onwards. There’s also a couple of bootleg collections called Pet Shop Boys Aurally that does a good job of collecting some of the rarer remixes together. They’re well overdue for a full cd single box set that covers everything though. Good luck in Japan!

    • Uofsc93 says:

      Right about the box set which I would buy in a heartbeat ala DM and Morrissey. I bet your vinyl would fetch top dollar in Japan and Europe. The boys jumped the shark (do people still use this analogy) a long time ago but everything up to Behaviour was top notch with the exception of How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously – which should have never been an A side.

  • Eric Schulz says:

    I just about peed when I saw your post in my inbox! LOVE PSB! Seen them three times, all great shows. I believe the ZYX versions are from the original pre-Please recordings they made with Bobby Orlando. The versions released in the US are newer recordings (Bobby O got the rights to the original versions, IIRC). They were the first group that I loved that I wondered “why the hell wasn’t this track on the album? IT’S GREAT!” I have quite a few CD singles (I worked at Virgin Megastore in Denver in the late 90’s and utilized my discount to the extreme!) but just a handful of vinyl 12″ singles, and few, if any 7″ singles. You can NEVER post enough about them!

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