Ah, yes. Cleansing the palate after the rotten ‘Star Trekkin’, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a… classic. In fact, with Whitney before and Pet Shop Boys after, we have two beauties sandwiching a stinking turd. Such are the pop charts…
It’s a Sin, by Pet Shop Boys (their 2nd of four #1s)
3 weeks, from 28th June – 19th July 1987
It’s an epic, statement intro, juddering in like a train about to overshoot its platform, followed by a dramatic ‘Skoosh!’ It’s a sound effect last heard on ‘Relax’, and that’s a comparison I think could be maintained for the entirety of this post. Not only in the skooshing, but in the fact that ‘It’s a Sin’ is every bit as gay as its more infamous predecessor.
If ‘Relax’ was an unrepentant celebration of all things queer, then ‘It’s a Sin’ is a little more introspective. A lot more. When I look back upon my life… Neil Tennant announces… It’s always with a sense of shame… I’ve always been the one to blame… Tennant had gone to a Catholic school, where he was taught that pretty much every natural urge he had would earn him a one-way ticket to hell. For everything I long to do, No matter when or where… Or who… It’s a sin…
As serious as the lyrics are, though, the PSBs keep things moving, and shaking. You can pay scant attention to the words, if you wish, and just dance. Tennant himself has said he wrote the song more in a camp than an angry frame of mind. That comes through in the ‘do’ and ‘who’ rhyme, and I can’t help but picture a Noël Coward-esque arched eyebrow on the They didn’t quite succeed… line.
While if you listen harder still, you realise that he isn’t quite as ashamed as he first suggests. In the glorious Father forgive me… middle eight, he ends with a chest-beating moment of affirmation: I didn’t care, And I still don’t understand… It’s a brilliant feat, to write a song about something so unpleasant – his experiences could be seen as child abuse, who knows – but make it so catchy, and so funny. ‘Relax’ was in your face; ‘It’s a Sin’ outs itself more slowly, but just as effectively.
‘West End Girls’ is the Pet Shop Boys’ song which is routinely crowned as one of the best songs of the 1980s, if not of all time. But for me, this one beats it all ends up. Tennant and Lowe wanted Stock Aitken Waterman to produce it, but Pete Waterman hated the demo version. The one that got away… (I’d love to hear the SAW take on it.) Tennant has also likened it to a heavy metal song, in its tempo, it’s portentous chords and it’s overblown production. I’d also like to hear a metal version, and the closest I could find was this take by Finnish (of course they are) band The Jade… None of them can touch the original, though. One of the high points of the entire decade.