Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pet Shop Boys - Please

MM: Today we have a guest post from my online buddy Herc (of Herc's Hideaway). I will sprinkle my comments through out in italics, starting with an MM: marker. - Martin

Today (March 24th) marks the landmark thirtieth anniversary of Please, the debut album from Pet Shop Boys. The 1986 album was certified Platinum in Canada, the UK and the US where it remains the duo's best-selling album to this date. Please spent 31 weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 7. It also reached number 38 in Germany, number 21 in Sweden, number 20 in Switzerland, number 13 in Norway, number 10 in Australia, number 4 in Finland, number 3 in both Canada and the UK and number 2 in New Zealand.

Side 1 opens with "Two Divided By Zero", a track co-written by legendary Miami disco producer Bobby "O" Orlando and vocalist Neil Tennant. Neil and fellow Pet Shop Boy Chris Lowe were huge fans of Orlando's work and convinced Orlando to produce their first album. While they recorded eleven tracks together, only two singles - 1984 releases of "West End Girls" and "One More Chance" - were ever officially released and the album never materialized. Several of the tracks were reworked and appear on Please with Stephen Hague getting the producer credit. Still others appeared on subsequent PSB albums though the entirety of their work with Orlando has yet to surface - through official channels. The song is state of the art 1986 techno pop, all drum machines, synthesizers and talking calculators. It's a great song to kick off the album.

MM: I always liked the beat of this dance track and also the voice that repeats words from the title in the background. Together they made a great hook that really resonated in the clubs I was spending my weekends in during the mid-80's.

After the Boys managed to sever their contractual ties with Orlando, they re-recorded "West End Girls" and released it in October 1985 as their second major label single. In its newly re-recorded form, "West End Girls" is positively mesmerizing, with lots of machines whizzing and whirring about while Tennant narrates the the story of "rough boys getting a lot of posh" whatever the heck that means. The track's serpentine rhythm is irresistible and the song topped both the Club and Hot 100 charts in the US as well as going number 1 in Canada, Finland, New Zealand, Norway and the UK. "West End Girls" is a great introduction to the duo's sound and like the rest of the album, rewards repeated headphone listening sessions.

MM: The opening refrain was like a siren song to me in the club. By the time that first beat dropped at the thirty five second mark, I had to be on the floor and ready to groove. The production on this one is amazing and still holds up tightly thirty years later.

The album's third track "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)" was kind of the first single. It had been released in July 1985 before the second coming of "West End Girls" but only managed to make the UK chart at number 116. Both new single and new album mixes of "Opportunities" were made and the song was re-released in May 1986 after the re-release of "West End Girls" and the album's third (or fourth, depending on how you count) single "Love Comes Quickly." The "Opportunities" single managed to hit number 10 on Hot 100, number three on the Club chart and number 16 on the Maxi-Singles Sales Chart. While on a date in early April 1986, I stopped by Loco Records on the way home from the theater and heard the album's second, third, fourth and fifth tracks play in store and convinced my date to buy the album on the spot. She picked up the cassette and I convinced her to buy the vinyl album instead by promising to have cassette dub to her first thing in the morning so she could listen to it on her way to work. Still have that album and that girl and "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)" with its pulsing and pounding rhythm is probably my favorite song from the album.

MM: The lyrics on this one really set up a vivid image in my mind - of a Bonnie and Clyde type of couple becoming partners in a big payout high-culture heist. The chorus made a great pickup line too when dancing with someone you just met.

"Love Comes Quickly" is the fourth cut on Side 1 and is noted in the band's discography as the third single released from Please. It has a lightness and airiness to it that I appreciate after the busy-ness of the previous track. Neil even sings in a higher voice throughout most of the song whose lyrics concern the inevitability of love, especially for those who try to run from it. I like the song a lot and am disappointed in its chart performance, only reaching number 62 on the Hot 100 here in the US and number 19 in their native UK though it climbed into Top 10 in France, New Zealand and Spain.

MM: While this track has elements of a ballad in the vocals, the mid-tempo rhythms keep it from falling into that range. Instead, we got a bit of a breather from the high-tempo dance numbers that proceeded it but the party still goes one. That's all about the production.

Please's fourth single is its fifth track, "Suburbia" which was a bomb on the US charts, unable to break into Top 30 on Hot 100, Club Play or Maxi-Singles Sales charts. The single did top two country's charts - Belgium and Poland - and reach the Top 10 in nine other countries, including their native UK. Did I neglect to mention that each of the above four singles were released with non-album b-sides? And in several collectible import formats for fans here in the States. The first three singles are available in Shep Pettibone Mastermixes while Julian Mendelsohn handled remix duty for "Suburbia" which I enjoyed quite a bit when I heard it for the first time circa Thanksgiving 1986.

MM: This one has a nice bounce to it (especially that little piano melody) that sets up idealic image of suburban life, but the lyrics paint a picture of the darker corners of that world. The contrast really works well.

A brief barely recognizable until the final few seconds reprise of "Opportunities" can be heard after dropping the needle on Side 2 of the album. It is not listed and is barely visible on the record itself due to its duration of about half a minute.

Side 2 properly begins with "Tonight Is Forever," a song about having all the time in the world when you fall in love. It is pleasant enough but after the magnificently front-loaded Side 1, the entire second side suffers in comparison.

MM: As Herc said, after a stellar side one, this track kind of takes the energy down a few pegs. While a very serviceable dance tune, it just never really stuck with me for the long haul. Maybe different lyrics with the music might have produced something more lasting.

"Violence" is one of those songs whose lyrics don't match the music. The Boys could have called it anything else and it would have worked better.

MM: Things slow down a bit more with this next tune. It has a very intimate sound to the music, so I would have liked to have the lyrics reflect that. Instead, we get a contrast but unlike on "Suburbia" that contrast does not work as well for me here.

The urgent beat of "I Want A Lover" leaves little ambiguity to the lyrics as Neil states "I don't want another drink or fight/I want a lover." With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Neil came out as a gay man in 1993 while Chris remains ambiguous about his own sexuality though they both go to great lengths to point out that they have never been a couple. Neil's lyrics are written in such a way that they could be interpreted as either gay or straight as most of the songs deal with love.

MM: This one goes for a big and bold sound to go with the title's declaration. It tries to summarize those end-of-the-night desires, when it is last call at the club. For me, I find the song could have used a bit more to it. Rather than let the passion drive it, it feels more like a drunken haze.

"Later Tonight" is the penultimate track on Please and probably my least favorite. It plays like a coda for another song and lacks the aural excitement of all the other tracks with its simple piano accompaniment. Mercifully, it lasts less than three minutes.

MM: I always found this slower tempo tune intriguing. Because it is so different than what came before on the record, you really take the time to focus on it. The piano melody is lovely and well worth my time to take it in. It ends with me wanting more.

The drum machines get one last workout on album closer "Why Don't We Live Together?" which is a fine way to end the album. For me it's the fourth and final part of the love story hidden within Please that began with "Love Comes Quickly" and "Tonight Is Forever" then continued with "I Want A Lover" before closing out with the next step of co-habitation.

MM: the album closes on an upbeat note as the party starts again with another possibility. If one had this record on a continual loop, it would be a good intro to side one's line-up.

Please is one of my favorite albums of all-time and it was difficult to come up with any words that came close to describing the joy it has given me during the past four decades. I definitely undersold it. While more than a few of the electronic sounds are dated, the album's overall production still holds up to repeated listenings. Stephen Hague's production skills were still being formed though it should be noted that he had already produced three of my favorite records by the time he took on Please: Gleaming Spires "Are You Ready For The Sex Girls?" (most famously heard in The Last American Virgin), Malcolm McLaren's second act, combining opera with a dance music beat, on his cover of "Madam Butterfly" as well as Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark's album Crush.

I became a fan for life with Please and have enjoyed the Boys career as they both blazed new trails in dance music and honored those who have come before them. I have at least four Pet Shop Boys records on the Vinyl Wall though after a quick glance at that unorganized mess, I have no idea as to what they are other than Please. (Disco, a remix EP that came out nine months after Please, might be one of them.) In 2001, they released remastered and expanded double disc versions of their first six albums in a series entitled Further Listening. The Please entry in the series is titled Please: Further Listening 1984-1986 and the second disc features thirteen remixes, singles edits and b-sides. As we were listening to the album again for this post, my wife asked if I remembered the videos. It is no secret that she watched a lot more music videos than I did before and during our courtship and should come as little surprise I had no recollection whatsoever of the music videos made for the singles from Please. So we watched them. Far more interesting to me was this clip of Neil and Chris going through the motions of "West End Girls" on Soul Train.

MM: Back in the 80's, I owned a copy of Please on cassette and played it a good bit, both in my car and in preparation to go out dancing. Then in more recent years, I picked it back up for my digital library. I think it is a solid debut album, especially the first side. If you were into clubs and dancing back in the day, this was one that should have been in your collection. Like Herc, this was a debut that made me an instant fan of the group.

Thanks to my ever gracious host Martin for letting me have another crack at a Martin's View style post. I consider it both an honor and a privilege.

MM: And thank you too, Herc, for your detailed and personal look into a record we both enjoy! You are always welcome as a guest poster here on the blog.

For more from the Pet Shop Boys, click here.

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