Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1987
Original album - Actually
Producer - Julian Mendelsohn
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)
One of the Boys' most grievously misunderstood songs. People who weren't paying close attention often thought it an exemplar of the supposed superficiality and triviality of the Pet Shop Boys' concerns. But a careful listening reveals that this is hardly about cruising the mall for bargains with credit card in hand. Rather, it's a sly commentary on the privatization efforts of Thatcherite Britainthe selling of government-owned national industries to private corporationsof which the somewhat socialistically inclined Boys heartily disapproved. If you doubt it, consider the opening lines:
We're buying and selling your history
How we go about it is no mystery
And then these later words:
I heard about it in the House of Commons
Everything's for sale
Still, that simple yet insidiously catchy chorus ("We're S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G, we're shopping") proved so indelible that the verses were easily overlooked. Hence, one of the songs that should have persuaded early observers that PSB was anything but trivial very often had the opposite effect.
Stylistically, this song bears the influence of the "new wave funk" band Cameo, best known for their big 1986 hit "Word Up," which Chris and Neil both loved. They decided to try writing a song in that style, and "Shopping" was the result. They even sought out Cameo's Larry Blackmon to produce the track, but nothing came of that part of the plan.
- As noted above, this song was inspired by movements toward privitization of state-owned industries that were taking place in the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.
- One of my site visitors reminded me that this track (like the much later "Minimal") belongs to a long and hallowed tradition in pop of "spelling songs," in which the spelling out of a word (usually the title) is a prominent part of the lyric. Among the other numbers in this rather specialized subgenre are Aretha Franklin's classic cover of "Respect" (although Otis Redding didn't do any spelling in his original), Peggy Lee's (and later Maria Muldaur's) "I'm a Woman," Tammy Wynette's "D.I.V.O.R.C.E.," Al Green's "L-O-V-E (Love)," Rhythm Syndicate's "P.A.S.S.I.O.N.," and a track with a profound influence on early PSB, the Flirts' "Passion" (yes, a totally different song from the Rhythm Syndicate track).
- Another regular visitor has suggested that the Boys' choice of the term "shopping" to describe effects of Thatcher's privitization policies may have been at least partly inspired by a famous speech made in November 1985 by former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan—an outspoken opponent of those policies—in which he compared privitization to "selling the family silver."
- "We check it with the city, then change the law" – Of course it's not surprising that "the city" being referred to here is London. But as one of my British site visitors has pointed out, when "the city" is used in this way by Londoners—especially if it were capitalized "the City," though it isn't in the "officially printed" lyrics—they're commonly referring specifically to the central heart of town: the financial district and seat of power. As he goes on to explain, "The City historically has a reputation for exerting more influence than it has any right to over the rest of London, and in turn the rest of the country." This was particularly true during the Thatcher Era—after all, it's when the song was written and recorded—which was generally viewed (rightly or wrongly) as catering to the financial powers-that-be and virtually ignoring everyone and everything else. In short, when the song's narrator speaks of checking with "the city" and then (and only then?) changing the law, the implication is that he needs to make sure that his ideas for privitization really do meet with the approval of London's financial district—those who hold the real power—before following through with the necessary legislation. (As if there were any doubt!)
- "There's a big bang in the city" – Rather than a reference (except possibly second-hand) to a commonly held theory of the origin of the universe, this line almost certainly refers to the date October 27, 1986, when the new rules enacted by the British government, implementing deregulation of financial markets, went into effect on the London Stock Exchange. It was soon dubbed the "Big Bang" on account of the sudden, tremendous surge in market activity that resulted. Of course, the scientific usage of "Big Bang," dating back to 1949, to describe a theoretical genesis of the universe was already quite widely known in popular culture by the 1980s, so its usage in reference to the 1986 financial event was undoubtedly appropriated from that original source.
- "I heard it in the House of Commons…" – The House of Commons is, of course, one of the two chambers of the U.K. Parliament. It's considered the "lower" house, although it actually has more power than the "upper" house, the House of Lords.
- Mixer: Julian Mendelsohn
- Album version (3:37)
Official but unreleased
- Mixer: [unknown at this time]
- Several early demo recordings of this song, ranging in length from only a few seconds to nearly five minutes, have surfaced through the years displaying various stages of "completeness," including instrumental tracks, vocals-only tracks, and song segments.
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