You Know Where You Went Wrong

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1987
Original album - Alternative
Producer - Shep Pettibone, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Actually 2001 reissue Further Listening 1987-1988 bonus disc
Other releases - b-side of single "It's a Sin"

As noted in the Alternative booklet notes, this song's lyrics were inspired by an incident in which Chris was walking through Covent Garden and noticed two tramps lying in a doorway. He overheard one of them saying to the other, "You know where you went wrong…." This scenario provides the first stanza of the song, which simply focuses on two homeless men.

Neil expands on the subject from there. The second verse is somewhat more cryptic, describing an old man who appears to be completely alone ("No one will shake his hand")—he doesn't even benefit from the companionship, miserable though it may be, of the previous verse's homeless pair—despite having provided in his life "security, bombs, and colour TV," although it did "cost a few lives." Could this be a wealthy industrialist who now finds himself abandoned in his final years on account of cruel, Scrooge-like behavior?

The final verse strikes us, by contrast, to be much more trivial as it deals with two teenage girls, one of whom is teasing the other as she bemoans her fate at having lost a boyfriend. But after each case, from the trivial to the more profound, we hear that nagging refrain: "You know where you went wrong." As the chorus reminds us, "It's the history of the world, of every boy and every girl." In other words, human beings have always retrospectively tormented themselves and each other about the mistakes they've made and their consequences. It almost seems our fate to gain the knowledge only in hindsight that might have spared us sorrow—regardless of the scale, scope, and profundity (or lack thereof) involved.

The music of this track arose from Chris's conscious efforts to write another hit like their first. "I was always trying to rewrite 'West End Girls,'" he confesses.

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