Books About the Pet Shop Boys

These are books that are truly about the Pet Shop Boys—not those that merely mention them or even discuss them at some length but actually devote as much or more attention to other subjects. For example, I don't include the 1996 book Design for Performance: Diaghilev to the Pet Shop Boys, which is far more about dance and choreography (such as for the Boys' Performance tour) than about the Pet Shop Boys themselves, and the 1996 Brazilian social sciences text O Adoloscente Por Ele Mesmo ("The Youth for Himself") by Tania Zagury, which uses on its cover a modified version of a classic Eric Watson photo of Chris Lowe (the same one that subsequently appeared on the jacket of Pet Shop Boys Catalogue, listed below), but the contents of which has absolutely nothing to do with the Boys. I also don't include such things as PSB tour programs (which are covered on a separate page) and sheet music.

Pet Shop Boys Special (1988) - 62 pages
Author: Robin Mackintosh
Publisher: Grandreams Ltd
ISBN 0-86227-597-0

I'm not sure which came first—this book or the next one—but this one "feels" like the first. It's very much an unofficial "pop-star cash-in" targeted to the Boys' legions of fans during their "imperial phase." In particular, it seems aimed primarily at teenage girls who might have harbored romantic fantasies about one Boy or the other, if not both. For instance, there are horoscope pages that provide Neil's and Chris's astrological signs and reveal how compatible they would be with every other sign. (Did you know that Libras can be "a little flirtatious, just to prove to themselves that they can still attract the opposite sex"?) Filled with lots of early photos of the Boys and bits of fun Smash Hits-style trivia, it's a facile yet delightful period piece.


Pet Shop Boys, annually (1988) - 62 pages
Editor: Chris Heath
Publisher: World International Publishing Ltd.
ISBN 7235-6842-1

The Pet Shop Boys had originally envisioned publishing a book such as this every year—hence its title. But whether on account of insufficient sales or insufficient interest (or both), those plans came to naught, leaving this book the unique testament to those plans. Completely under their control (unlike the preceding publication), it succinctly covers a wide range of the Boys' activities and interests during 1987 and '88, including the album Actually, the singles "It's a Sin," "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" "Rent," "Always on My Mind," and "Heart" (along with their respective videos), the establishment of their official fan club, "candid" photos, fashions, and favorite records by other artists. It even has a crossword puzzle, but you'll wreck its value as a collectible if you were actually to do it. Speaking of which, this book has indeed become highly collectible; copies in mint or even just good condition can fetch prices in excess of $1,000. No joke.


Pet Sounds: Pet Shop Boys - The Mega-Mix Annual (1988) - 35 pages
Author: Huw Collingbourne
Publisher: COMAG
ISBN n/a (not available or not applicable)

This extremely rare and quite slim U.K. paperback—actually, little more than a one-off magazine—also appeared at the height of the Pet Shop Boys' popularity. I don't own a copy and know virtually nothing about it, although it apparently contains a great many photos, quotes by and about the Boys, a discography, chart positions, a trivia quiz, astrological information, an "A-Z" section, and the like. Clearly another cash-in, but that's understandable: as the aphorism goes, one should strike while the iron is hot, and in 1988 there weren't many hotter irons in the pop-music fire than the Pet Shop Boys. Of course, despite its title, it proved no more an "annual" than the preceding publication.


Pet Shop Boys, Literally (1990) - 342 pages (2nd ed.)
Author: Chris Heath
Publisher: Viking Penguin/Da Capo Press
ISBN 0-670-83616-8 (first edition)
ISBN 0-306-80494-8 (second edition)

The first truly "essential" PSB book. Journalist Heath—who through the years has become the Boswell to the Pet Shop Boys' Johnson—accompanied Chris and Neil on their first concert tour (MCMLXXXIX) in Asia and Britain. As a result he produced this combination travelogue, interview compendium, and textual documentary. Ranging from June 1989 to August 1990, we get a quasi-intimate peek into the daily lives of the Boys that's both remarkably candid in what it includes—our heroes can seem downright petty at times, but you have to admire them for allowing that apparent pettiness to be recorded for posterity—and just as remarkably discreet in what it leaves out. First published in 1990, the second edition (1992) proved a bit lengthier with the addition of some new material.



first edition


second edition

Pet Shop Boys: Introspective (1991) - 192 pages
Author: Michael Cowton
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
ISBN 0-283-99825-3

A completely unauthorized but informative "band biography" that is, as stated in its own sleevenotes, "based on interviews the Boys have given to the media and with their friends, colleagues and other members of the entertainment industry who have watched their surreal rise to stardom." (Surreal?) There's little if anything original here, but it very neatly compiles other sources into an extremely convenient package. By turns fascinating and frustrating, it makes for interesting though hardly essential reading.


Pet Shop Boys versus America (1993) - 250 pages
Author: Chris Heath
Publisher: Viking/Penguin Books
ISBN 0-14-024261-9

Very much a sequel to the preceding Heath volume Pet Shop Boys, Literally, this book follows a similar format, covering the period of March-April 1991 (with an April 1993 epilogue) as it documents the Boys' first North American tour. It's particularly valuable for its behind-the-scenes, play-by-play account of their ill-fated appearance on The Tonight Show. Although it has the same basic strengths and weaknesses as the preceding book, the former definitely outweigh the latter, again making this essential reading for anyone greatly interested in the Pet Shop Boys.


Pet Shop Boys (1996) - 48 pages
Author: Jordi Bianciotto
Publisher: La Máscara
ISBN 978-8479741402

I know very little about this slender Spanish-language publication, although it appears to be part of a series about popular music stars, "Idolos del pop" ("Pop Idols"). It has also apparently proved successful enough to warrant a second printing in 2000. If I were more proficient in Spanish (which I studied in high school and college but have practiced very little since then), I would probably order a copy for myself.


Pet Shop Boys de A à Z (2003) - 126 pages
Author: Vincent Laufer
Publisher: L'Express Editions
ISBN 978-2843431616

I don't own a copy of this French text, either. (My French is no better than my Spanish, probably sufficient for me to get the gist of any given passage, but every seventh word would surely have me scrambling for my Petit Larousse.) As its title (translated "Pet Shop Boys from A to Z") indicates, it's a PSB mini-encyclopedia, covering their work and career via alphabetically organized entries. But I can't attest to its accuracy or completeness. I might have been willing to work around my inadequacies with the language if the cover art hadn't been so appallingly cheesy.* And while it's true that you can't judge a book by its cover, a bad cover does nothing to enhance one's faith in the contents, especially when there are other obstacles to overcome as well.

*Cheese notwithstanding, I find it immensely interesting that both of these non-English-language books (and, by coincidence, page 165 of my own 1994 book Rock on the Wild Side) employ the "Can You Forgive Her?" striped cone-capped getups to depict the Boys. It appears that these costumes rival the "tuxes and yawning" cover of Actually, Chris's "Boy" cap, and his infamous Issey Miyake blowup jacket in terms of their sheer iconographic power.


Pet Shop Boys Catalogue (2006) - 336 pages
Authors: Philip Hoare and Chris Heath
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
ISBN 0-500-51307-4

A great big glossy tome documenting nearly all (note: nearly all) of the visual output associated with the Pet Shop Boys' career up through 2005, this high-quality prestige piece is clearly designed to affirm the Boys' status both as artists and as patrons of the arts. The real drawing cards here, however, aren't the copious illustrations themselves but rather the accompanying textual commentaries. Your guests will pick it up from your coffeetable—where it belongs, mind you, right there on prominent display, rather than tucked away on a shelf—and skim through, glancing at the pictures. You, on the other hand, will actually read it. An exquisite work, only the occasional intentional omissions (such as items that were deemed "unofficial," uninteresting, or too similar to other illustrated examples) and very minor errors render it less than perfect—and even that is a somewhat debatable assessment.


Pet Shop Boys (S'il Vous Plait?) (2014) - 118 pages
Author: Anthony Coucke
Publisher: Books on Demand
ISBN 978-2322035298

A French-language purported biography (the title of which is essentially that of their first album Please, only of course in French as well, more literally translated as "If it please you") that covers their entire career up through the Electric album. I'm afraid I know very little about this book, although its table of contents (which I've examined on Amazon) seems to indicate that its first half is devoted to an album-by-album retrospective of their work and the second half consists of assorted lists and profiles of various artists and producers who have worked with them through the years. I'd surely buy it myself if (1) it weren't in French, (2) it weren't so pricey for a comparatively slim paperback, and (3) I honestly thought I'd learn anything from it that I didn't already know. One of my French-fluent site visitors has read it, however, and shared with me his own succinct review. He has very little—in fact, absolutely nothing—good to say about it, and considers it of such poor quality that it "doesn't deserve to be bought."


S'il Vous Plait

Pet Shop Boys: Plural (2016) - 528 pages
Author: Francisco J. Barbero
Publisher: Milenio Publicaciones
ISBN 978-8497437271

This hefty Spanish-language tome, five years in the making and described on Amazon as a "comprehensive" biography of the Pet Shop Boys, is reportedly "peppered with numerous anecdotes and details, many unknown to the general public." I don't own it and haven't read it, so I must rely on second-hand information to provide further details of my own (of which I don't yet have any).


Plural

Smile If You Dare: Politics and Pointy Hats with the Pet Shop Boys (2016) - 119 pages
Author: Ramzy Alwakeel
Publisher: Repeater
ISBN 978-1910924228

Speaking for myself—but surely for many others as well—if any PSB album deserves the book-length analytical treatment, it's their brilliant fifth studio collection, Very (which also happens to be my all-time favorite PSB album). And this book does it justice. It's an imaginatively, at times even beautifully written, deeply insightful extended love letter to the album. The author's exegetical treatments of the associated videos are a particular treat. My only complaint (a small one) is that it all but ignores a few of the songs. Nevertheless, I think it's safe to say that if you love Very, you'll love this book. And if you don't love Very, this book may help persuade you otherwise.



Smile If You Dare

Annually 2017 (2017) - 64 pages
Author: Chris Heath and Pet Shop Boys
Publisher: Pet Shop Boys Partnership (?)
ISBN N/A

Twenty-nine years after the first edition of Annually (see above), Neil and Chris resurrected the annual-publication concept in the wake of the cessation of their official Fan Club and the irregular appearances of its associated magazine Literally. In essence, it's very much like any one of those issues of Literally, only larger and hardbound. It presents detailed "behind-the-scenes" information about their most recent releases and activities, responses to fan questions, lyrics of recent single bonus songs, and lots of photos. And the striking fuchsia coloration of its front and back covers will help ensure that it never gets lost on your bookshelf. It was accompanied by a special bonus CD of what seems in effect to be a single of the Super song "Undertow," with an added remix of "Burn" and a new studio recording of Stuart Price's new Super Tour arrangement of "Left to My Own Devices." Offered in a limited edition from the official PSB website, Annually 2017 very quickly sold out, which resulted in some fan frustration as well as copies appearing in short order on third-party sites at tremendously inflated prices.


Annually 2017