It's a Sin
Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1987
Original album - Actually
Producer - Julian Mendelsohn
Subsequent albums - Discography, PopArt, Concrete, Pandemonium, Ultimate
Other releases - 1987 single (UK #1, US #9, US Dance #3)
While appearing as a guest on the long-running British radio program Desert Island Discs in February 2007more than two decades after the Boys wrote this songNeil described it as having been inspired by his years in a Catholic school: "[It] always seemed to be taught that everything was a sin. Everything you wanted to do was a sin. And so I put that in a song."
If there's such a thing as an "accusational confessional," this is it. Neil confesses his many sins (or at least his many temptations to submit to them), but in his defense accuses the Church and/or God of making sins out of too many things. "Everything I long to do, no matter when or where or who … it's a sin!" Famous for its over-the-top epic production (complete with a non sequitur sampled NASA countdown just because it sounded so good), this, the first single from Actually, proved to be one of the Boys' all-time biggest hits. Its video, which became an MTV staple at the time, bore memorable images of Neil before the Inquisition (held captive by Chris in the role of his jailer) and personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Anger, Envy, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, and Greed).
The song attracted attention on a number of other counts as well. Some religious leaders actually praised it for raising and seriously discussing the subject of sin, rarely noted in popular culture. Meanwhile, British singer, songwriter, and producer Jonathan King, best known for his 1965 hit "Everyone's Gone to the Moon," publicly and repeatedly accused the Pet Shop Boys of stealing the melody from Cat Stevens's "Wild World." Neil and Chris sued him and won their case, thus prohibiting him from continuing to repeat his aspersions. They donated their monetary award in the case to charity.
Neil, incidentally, is what is often quaintly referred to as a "lapsed Catholic." The text that he mumbles, almost unintelligibly, beneath the music at the very end comes from the Latin mass: "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti vobis fratres, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, opere, et omissione, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa," which can be translated as "I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, act, and omission, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."
By the way, Neil has said that it took only 15 minutes to write this, one of their biggest hits and, by far, the Tennant/Lowe song most frequently covered by other artists.. Such is the mystery of art and inspiration.
- As noted above, the words in Latin that Neil recites at the end—"Confiteor Deo omnipotenti vobis fratres, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, opere et omissione, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa"—are from one of the prayers that may be recited during the Roman Catholic mass, specifically the portion near the beginning during which congregants confess their sins. It translates, "I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, act, and omission, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." Curiously, it would appear that Neil has omitted one word, et (and), included in the "official" text: "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti et vobis fratres…." Is this simply a faulty recollection of words that Neil hadn't recited since childhood?
- According to Richard Buskin's 2012 book Classic Tracks: The Real Stories Behind 68 Seminal Recordings, the samples from an actual Roman Catholic mass heard in "It's a Sin" were "almost certainly recorded using a Nagra portable recorder at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Brompton Road in South Kensington." He appears, however, to be mistaken. According to a reliable source within the PSB organization, the samples of the mass in "It's a sin" were actually recorded in Westminster Cathedral, while the "ambience" of the middle section ("Father forgive me…") was recorded in Brompton Oratory—there's the connection to Buskin's note—by producer Julian Mendelsohn, who recorded the "sound" of the church, empty at the time aside from someone cleaning the candle-holders.
- As noted above, the video for this song features personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Anger, Envy, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, and Greed). Of these, many modern readers may be the most perplexed by the designation of "pride" as a "sin." That's because pride has taken on more positive connotations in recent years as a means of countering the negativity that has traditionally been imposed upon certain groups and individuals. In light of this, it might be more helpful to regard the sin of pride as being that of excessive pride to the extent of being vain and narcissistic, looking down on others. In fact, some contemporary listings of the Seven Deadly Sins replace "Pride" with "Vanity." Another common modern alternative to "Pride" is "Hubris," which refers to foolish pride or over-confidence. It's worth noting that the Church has traditionally regarded Pride as the most dangerous of the Seven Deadly Sins—the one most likely to lead to all the others as well.
- Available on Actually
- Album/single version (4:59)
Stephen Hague and Pet Shop Boys
- Available on the Further Listening bonus disc with the Actually reissue
- Disco Mix (7:41)
- Ian Levine Mix (8:14)
- Mixer: Phil Harding
Harding Latin Vocal Mix (9:17)
- This remix has often been mistakenly referred to as the "Miami Mix"
- Phil Harding Latin Dub Mix (4:22)
- Live Concrete rendition (5:33)
Pet Shop Boys and Pete Gleadall
- A 2004 re-recording (as opposed to a remix)
- On the CD Popjustice: 100% Solid Pop Music
- Barfly Verson (3:50)
- Mixer: Stuart Price
- Pandemonium CD live version (5:04)
Official but unreleased
- Bobby "O" demo (5:45)
- First (?) demo (5:51)
- Early 1980s demo (5:08)
- "U.S. Remix Vocal #2" (4:23)
- In addition, at least nine other early demo-type versions of "It's a Sin" have come to light on bootleg releases.
- Mixer: Peter Schwartz
- Nightlife Tour studio arrangement for rehearsal (5:11)
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