Looking back at 2020

This has not been, I think we can all agree, a year that we will look back upon particularly fondly. We finally saw a perfect storm of long-building problems with climate change, civil rights abuses, far-right politics, and more, and subsequently all spent most of the year locked up in our homes.

The world of music, meanwhile, has been an interesting one. I suspect revenues hit an all-time low, as pretty much nobody went out to any concerts for most of the year. Dance music in particular has taken some interesting side steps, as nobody had anywhere to go and dance, so the US and UK Club Charts have been on hold since March or April.

In spite of that, there have been many bright moments, with plenty of free concerts on YouTube (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s recordings and Jean-Michel Jarre‘s somewhat successful attempt at an immersive virtual reality experience spring to mind). My age-old favourite band The Beloved have forged ahead with reissues of their first two albums, and the brilliant Sophie Ellis-Bextor took the first UK lockdown as an excuse for a greatest hits album, which is very astute indeed.

There is, of course, plenty more that we could mention, but I’ll leave it to you to consider what. In spite of everything, there has been lots of creativity to celebrate in 2020, and while I think we all hope that 2021 will see some degree of return to normality, I hope the inventiveness continues.

Jean-Michel Jarre, by the way, is trying again tonight, with his Welcome to the Other Side virtual concert, which should be a suitable way to close out this disastrous year, in case you don’t have any other plans.


Festive jukebox – Pet Shop Boys

I invented the Festive Jukebox this year so we could just lounge around and enjoy a few contemporary Christmas songs together. There are hundreds to choose from, but I wanted to go with the all-time greats – and of course, this is one of the finest. Originally released in 1997, these are the Pet Shop Boys, and It doesn’t often snow at christmas:

Chart for stowaways – Christmas 2020

Christmas charts the world over are showing some strange entries this year, and the Chart for stowaways is no exception. Here are the singles:

  1. The Future Sound of London – Cascade
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Enola Gay
  3. Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls
  4. Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Crying at the Discotheque
  5. New Order – Be A Rebel
  6. Tiesto – The Business
  7. Saint Etienne – I Was Born on Christmas Day
  8. Kylie Minogue – Magic
  9. Erasure – Crackers International EP
  10. Röyksopp – Le Cantique de Noël

Pet Shop Boys – The Bobby O Years

For reasons that are unlikely to ever become clear, I just developed an unexpected obsession with the music of Bobby O. I suppose I had always liked Pet Shop Boys, who regularly cite him as an influence, but he’s also got some pretty great tunes in his back catalogue (particularly Passion, Helpless, and She Has a Way).

Famously Neil Tennant‘s career had a bit of a turn left moment in 1983, when he was sent to New York to interview Sting, and decided to take the opportunity to go and visit his hero Bobby O. Fascinated by the never-ending churn of disco tracks with his name attached, he saw an opportunity to record together, and Bobby O was apparently also excited to work with an actual human being, rather than one of his many pseudonyms and manufactured groups.

The most common evidence of this era is the original release of West End girls, first released in April 1984. Quirkier than Stephen Hague‘s number 1 single version, it’s an interesting piece – it has a lot in common with many of Bobby O‘s tracks, but you can hear there’s something a bit different about this one. Something a bit more British, maybe?

Apart from that, there are a couple of demo tapes, and a heck of a lot of dodgy European reissues and remixes, the latest of which just came out last month, so the timing seems perfect to re-evaluate this largely-forgotten era of Pet Shop Boys‘ early history.

The Original Singles – 1984

Not well known, even among fans, is the fact that there were actually three singles in 1984. West End girls was the first, and of course the most famous. The main release was essentially two tracks:

  1. West End girls 5:00
  2. Pet shop boys 5:10

Bobby O seems to have done his own extended mix of the lead track (7:52), and then there are two edits of each track, which it’s probably fair to assume were never officially sanctioned by Pet Shop Boys. In the case of the lead track, those edits are the “single version”, which was released a decade later (below), and what fans have inexplicably come to call the “Nouvelle” version. Various versions and formats of this single were released in the USA (on Bobby O‘s O Records), UK (on Epic), Germany (on ZYX), Benelux (on ChanneL), and France (on Jonathan).

The follow-up only made it to Germany and Benelux, and was One more chance. Curiously there is no “original version” of this track, and while Pet Shop Boys were presumably aware of what’s going on (hence the Massive demo tape listed later), it is unclear whether they actually approved of this follow-up:

  1. One more chance (Kordak Remix) 3:29
  2. One more chance (Bobby O Remix) 5:36

The third single was only ever released in Germany, and is by far the worst of the lot – an awkward medley of West End girls and Corey Hart‘s Sunglasses At Night remixed by ZYX’s Mach 2, West End – Sunglasses is a very odd mix. While Pet Shop Boys surely can never have approved of this, Bobby O must have, as his dub of the previous single made it to side B:

  1. West End – Sunglasses 7:32
  2. One more chance (Bobby O Dub Mix) 4:43

The Demos – 1984

Exactly what was tried out is unknown, but Neil Tennant did post a photo of an early mix of an in-progress album from 1984, containing the following obscurities – I’ve corrected the titles below:

  1. West End girls
  2. Opportunities (let’s make lots of money)
  3. It’s a sin
  4. I get excited (you get excited too)
  5. Pet shop boys
  6. That’s my impression
  7. A man could get arrested
  8. Later tonight
  9. To speak is a sin
  10. Pet shop noise
  11. Pet shop boys X
  12. Rent

Their management company Massive also sent around a cassette featuring several of these tracks, which was presumably what ultimately got them signed to Parlophone:

  1. West End girls (Extended Mix)
  2. One More Chance (Kordak Mix)
  3. Opportunities (let’s make lots of money)
  4. I get excited (you get excited too)
  5. Two divided by zero
  6. Rent
  7. It’s a sin
  8. In the club or in the queue (Ray Roberts Studio Demo)
  9. I want a lover
  10. Later tonight

History books also mention an unreleased 28-minute version of Pet shop boys, which we can only hope will never see the light of day.

The Cash-Ins – 1986-1988

Some very complex legal wranglings left the original versions of three tracks in Bobby O‘s hands – West End girls, Pet shop boys, and One more chance. Losing control of these cannot have left Pet Shop Boys particularly upset, but the remixes that followed surely must have. What’s not clear is exactly who was responsible – Bobby O is often blamed by fans, but it seems to be exclusively his German record comnpany ZYX who released these, and given how few reissues his other works have ever received, it’s tempting to wonder how much of a hand he really had here. Whether he did or not, they are uniformly dreadful.

Rather than being Pet Shop Boys singles, all three were effectively singles by a German ZYX artist called Manfred Alois Segieth, under his Hurricanes and Tess alter-egos. He seems to have created all the remixes (many of which are pretty poor), and also recorded both of the b-sides, which have zero connection with Pet Shop Boys.

First was West End girls ’86:

  1. West End girls (Remix ‘86) 5:00
  2. Theme for the Pet Shop Boys (performed by Hurricanes) 5:00

An edit of each of these was released on the 7″ version, but both of those turn up again later. Next came One more chance (New Remix 86), later reissued without any changes as New Remix 88:

  1. One more chance (Hurricane Mix by Tess) 4:57
  2. Theme for the Pet Shop Boys (Pt II) (performed by Hurricanes) 4:58

Again, edits of both were released on the 7″. And just as before, the third was the worst of the lot, an exceptionally badly mixed megamix, released in 1988, and released as ZYX Mega Mix:

  1. Megamix (West End – Sunglasses / One more chance / West End girls) 8:04
  2. West End girls (Remix ’86 – Single Version) 3:28
  3. One more chance (Hurricane Mix by Tess – Single Version) 3:25

Separately, there was a fourth single, The Ultimate Mix (also released in 1988), with a near-identical track listing, but this time the megamix was by Mario Aldini:

  1. The Ultimate Mix (Sunglasses at Night / West End girls / One more chance) 5:38
  2. West End girls (Remix ’86 – Single Version) 3:28
  3. One more chance (Hurricane Mix by Tess – Single Version) 3:25

The Reissues – 1992 and Beyond

Having cemented their place in history with no fewer than six singles, Bobby O‘s European record companies turn up again every few years with some new, and typically dreadful cash-in on a reissue of a cash-in. First was a 4 CD box set The Maxi-CD Collection Of The Pet Shop Boys, which contained the nine tracks from the West End girls, West End – Sunglasses, One more chance (New Remix ’86), and ZYX Mega Mix singles listed above (inexplicably, the original One more chance, West End girls ’86, and The Ultimate Mix were omitted).

Next came this bizarre 1992 CD of remixes by an uncredited individual:

  1. West End girls (Acid House Mix) 7:08
  2. West End girls (James Brown) 6:15
  3. West End girls (Original) 7:46
  4. West End girls (Montreal 12″) 8:17
  5. West End girls (Montreal Instrumental) 5:33
  6. West End girls (Montreal Dub) 6:49
  7. West End girls (Montreal 7″) 4:09

Followed by a 1995 CD single:

  1. West End girls 5:00
  2. West End girls (Remix ’86) 5:00
  3. West End girls (Single Version) 3:21

After a ten-year gap, the next was 2005’s bizarre CD Megamix (Original Giga Mix / House Remixes 05), a two-part megamix by ZYX’s latest artist Isy B, and containing remixes by him/her on the second half. It’s not fully clear to me what Original Giga Mix is.

  1. One more chance (Original) 3:23
  2. West End – Sunglasses (Original) 4:26
  3. West End girls (Original) 6:13
  4. Original Giga Mix 6:08
  5. West End girls (Remix 05) 5:46
  6. Pet shop boys (Remix 05) 5:00
  7. West End – Sunglasses (Remix 05) 4:34
  8. One more chance (Remix 05) 4:54

This one apparently erroneously samples Stephen Hague‘s version of West End girls, so is probably a bit of a legal minefield. ZYX appears to have given up after that, but then the Dutch label High Fashion Music took over the regular reissues, with this digital release first appearing a couple of years ago. I’ve corrected the mix titles for consistency with the other releases above

  1. West End girls (Single Version) 3:24
  2. West End girls 5:03
  3. One more chance (Bobby O Remix) 5:36

Finally, November 2020 just saw this new set, West End girls (2020 Remixes):

  1. West End girls (Michael Gray Classic Sultra Remix)
  2. West End girls (Ben Liebrand 9 Course Suite) 8:38
  3. West End girls (Ben Liebrand Bass Mix)
  4. West End girls (Moplen Classic West End Mix)

For now, that ends the sorry saga of Pet Shop Boys‘ early years. Three good songs, followed by countless dreadful remixes and poorly curated reissues. Really, they deserve a lot better – but could have ended up with much worse.

Chart for stowaways – November 2020

November saw The Future Sound of London firmly lodged at the top of the single and album charts for stowaways with their wonderful Cascade 2020 album and track. The rest of the chart saw relatively little movement, but here are the albums from the third week in the month:

  1. The Future Sound of London – Cascade 2020
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot
  3. The Beloved – Happiness
  4. The Beloved – Where it Is
  5. Faithless – All Blessed
  6. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  7. Depeche Mode – The Best Of – Vol 1
  8. Depeche Mode – Spirits In The Forest
  9. Depeche Mode – The Singles 86-98
  10. Various Artists – The Best of “O” Records, Vol. 2

Random jukebox – a-ha

Norwegian band a-ha have an interesting discography, in which they never seem to have actually done anything particularly bad – unlike many of their counterparts from the mid-eighties. This is the title track from 2009’s Foot of the Mountain:

Complete Guide to The British Rock & Pop Awards

In this final post (probably ever) about the British Rock & Pop Awards, I wanted to round out what we do know about the eight-year history of this ceremony. There weren’t too many awards each year, so this should be fairly brief.

Best Female Singer

  • 1976: Kiki Dee
  • 1978: Kate Bush
  • 1979: Kate Bush
  • 1980: Sheena Easton
  • 1981: Toyah
  • 1982: Alison Moyet
  • 1983: unknown

Daily Mirror Readers’ Award for the Outstanding Pop Personality

  • 1976: David Essex
  • 1978: Ian Dury
  • 1979: Paul McCartney
  • 1980: Cliff Richard
  • 1981: Adam Ant
  • 1982: Boy George
  • 1983: unknown

Best Group or Band

  • 1976: Status Quo (Top Hard Rock Band), Wings (Top Pop Group), Wings (Top Rock Group)
  • 1978: Bee Gees
  • 1979: The Police
  • 1980: The Police
  • 1981: Adam and the Ants
  • 1982: Duran Duran
  • 1983: unknown

Best Male Singer

  • 1976: David Essex (Best Male Singer), Paul McCartney (Best Male Group Singer)
  • 1978: Leo Sayer
  • 1979: Gary Numan
  • 1980: David Bowie
  • 1981: Shakin’ Stevens
  • 1982: Simon Le Bon
  • 1983: unknown

Best Album

  • 1976: Bay City Rollers – Dedication
  • 1978: Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue
  • 1979: The Police – Regatta de Blanc
  • 1980: The PoliceZenyatta Mondatta
  • 1981: The Human LeagueDare
  • 1982: Duran DuranRio
  • 1983: unknown

Best Single

  • 1976: Elton John & Kiki Dee – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
  • 1978: Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
  • 1979: Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays
  • 1980: The JamGoing Underground
  • 1981: UltravoxVienna
  • 1982: Dexys Midnight RunnersCome On Eileen
  • 1983: Culture ClubKarma Chameleon

Radio 1’s Disc Jockeys’ Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Pop Music

  • 1976: unknown
  • 1978: Nick Lowe
  • 1979: Jerry Dammers
  • 1980: John Lennon
  • 1981: unknown
  • 1982: unknown
  • 1983: unknown

Nationwide Golden Award for the Artist or Group with the Most All-Round Family Appeal

  • 1976: unknown
  • 1978: Barron Knights
  • 1979: unknown
  • 1980: The Nolans
  • 1981: unknown
  • 1982: unknown
  • 1983: unknown

Best Newcomer

  • 1976: John Miles (Best New Singer), Real Thing (Best New Group)
  • 1978: unknown
  • 1979: unknown
  • 1980: unknown
  • 1981: unknown
  • 1982: unknown
  • 1983: unknown

Best Instrumentalist

  • 1976: Eric Faulkner

Best Disc Jockey

  • 1976: Noel Edmonds

Unknown Awards

  • 1977: The Stranglers

You can see full details (or as much as my research was able to reveal) for all events below: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983.