There’s one set of demos floating around which really deserved to be an album in its own right – Pet Shop Boys‘ 1984 demos recorded with Bobby Orlando. Around the time of the initial success of West End Girls, they recorded a whole fleet of demos, which are entirely unlike their finished counterparts, and are totally brilliant into the bargain. How different would their history have been if they had released this as an album?
Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) comes first. As with the final versions, it kicks off with a repeated drum sound, although this time it’s an 808 woodblock, among things. Then the bassline, which has been recycled from West End Girls. This is a much darker and gloomier version of the track, thanks to the deep choir of which Bobby O was so fond, but it’s pretty good nonetheless, despite the ill advised vocal acrobatics towards the end.
1988 b-side I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too) comes next, trying ever so hard to adhere to every Bobby O stereotype you can think off (the bass part, the choir, the big snares, the warbly synth arpeggios… all that’s lacking is the female vocal). But then, a couple of minutes in, it becomes almost recognisable as the final track – except somehow more energetic, and possibly even better. Well, without that awful synth part, anyway.
Two Divided by Zero is very recognisable as the completed track from Please (1986) – except that it’s totally awful. Stephen Hague dropped the dreadful transposed drum sounds and callbacks to West End Girls and turned it into something altogether darker, moodier, and more atmospheric. Without going anywhere near a choir sound, either, believe it or not. And I’m not sure who thought the “your momma” sample was funny…
Rent is somewhat spoiled by the awful drum introduction and poor vocal production, but you can hear the beginnings of one of their best songs here. If you really strain your ears. It’s a Sin on the other hand, is quite glorious. It’s enormous, electronic, and the choir is actually serving a useful purpose here. Even the drum breakdown in the middle fails to ruin the mood, because it comes back bigger than ever afterwards. They surely must have realised they had a number one hit on their hands already, mustn’t they?
In the Club or in the Queue sadly never got released anywhere in the end. It’s nothing special, I suppose, but it might have made a nice Please or Actually b-side at least. The car samples don’t help much, but the piano does after all the Hi-NRG of the preceding tracks, and it’s good to hear something a little more experimental too.
The last two tracks would end up on their debut album Please a couple of years later – I Want a Lover and Later Tonight. Both have fairly modest production, suggesting that Bobby O may have left the boys to it for much of the recording. Or so it seems, until the inevitable attack of the killer handclaps half way through I Want a Lover. The last track, at least, is pretty calm.
Whether the artist likes it or not, there’s something very special about listening to demos like this. You feel you have much more of an understanding for where the song came from, and how it evolved into what it became – something which no amount of commentary from the artist can give you. And this collection in particular I’d particularly recommend.
You’ll have to poke around on the internet to find this set of demos – the chances of Pet Shop Boys releasing it commercially are slim to negligible.