To Step Aside

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1996
Original album - Bilingual
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Chris Porter
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - single (US Dance #1)

It's not a subject that Pet Shop Boys fans want to think about, but it's inevitable: the day that the Pet Shop Boys cease to be. Neil and Chris must of course think about it, too. And that's what's going on in this song, in which Neil ponders what he would do "if I decide to step aside." What first sets him off in this reverie is a scene he witnesses from a hotel room in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, of religious pilgrims converging on a nearby cathedral. He can't help but think that these people experience a depth of meaning in life that he, though living in the lap of comparative luxury ("all the champagne that I drink"), cannot know. From another window (this time in Budapest, Hungary) he sees poor workers, who formerly toiled without reward under the communist system, now struggling just as hard as they wait (in vain?) for the "market forces" of capitalism to reward them.

Interestingly, Neil portrays himself as very much a figurative and literal "insider," kept apart from the more mundane yet conversely much more profound concerns of the masses. He can't help but think that there's much more to life than the pursuit of comfort and pleasure—and much more to his life than his career as musician and pop star. So his mind is filled with questions of what course his life would take if he were "to step aside" and walk away from it all. Despite the upbeat, even bouncy musical setting (including extremely effective use of acoustic guitar), this is one of the most serious, contemplative, and indeed personal songs in the Pet Shop Boys' entire body of work. By the way, the strange background vocals (you either love 'em or hate 'em) are sampled from a recording of Gypsy music.

It's also worth noting that "To Step Aside"—which was released as a "dance single" in the United States, with a plethora of remixes—earned the Pet Shop Boys a Grammy nomination in the category of "Best Dance Recording." Unfortunately, it lost out to Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "Carry On."

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