The Third Pet Shop Boy?

Back in the 1960s, among music industry personnel, journalists, publicists, and even the public at large, it was a common conceit—and, in retrospect, an almost absurd one—to speculate about the so-called "Fifth Beatle" (as if four weren't enough). Of course, actual former Beatles Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best were frequently cited, but other names were mentioned even more often as "fifths" during the Beatles' heyday. Their manager Brian Epstein was one such candidate. Personally, I always thought that New York DJ Murray the K's self-proclaimed and self-aggrandizing status as the "Fifth Beatle" was a ludicrous stretch. At least another person sometimes mentioned, keyboardist Billy Preston, actually shared a label credit with the Beatles on "Get Back." My own candidate, however, has always been the Beatles' producer George Martin, who was responsible more than anybody else aside from Lennon and McCartney themselves—yes, even more so than Harrison and Starr, at least in my opinion—for their overall "sound" and the excellence of their recordings.

At any rate, it occurred to me that it might be fun to engage in a similar conceit with regard to the Pet Shop Boys. Is there a "Third Pet Shop Boy"? Of course not. But, if there were, who would it be?

Pete GleadallAlthough Neil suggested in a 1987 interview (in the Dutch magazine Popfoto, issue #8 from that year) that he considered his mother the "third Pet Shop Boy," I have another candidate in mind: Pete Gleadall.* In some ways a rather mysterious figure for whom biographical details are frustratingly hard to come by (though it would seem, from details once revealed on the official PSB website, that his birthday is July 17), he first worked with the Pet Shop Boys as the programmer on their 1989 tour. He began serving as their in-studio programmer, sound engineer, and mixer of choice in 1991 (starting, I believe, with "Was It Worth It?"), often working in conjunction with Bob Kraushaar. Pete has continued in this role to the present day, proving himself almost—not quite, but almost—ubiquitous.

He's usually there behind the scenes at live PSB shows, manning synths and computers. A multi-instrumentalist (keyboards, guitar, bass, and violin), his talents serve him well in those occasional instances when he steps more into the spotlight, such as when he played guitar alongside Neil on their acoustic version of "Suburbia" on the 1994 DiscoVery Tour, and when he played bass as part of the onstage band for the 2006-07 Fundamental Tour's rendition of "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show." He also very often has a hand in the Boys' collaborations with other artists, including Boy George, Blur, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Yoko Ono, Madonna, Rammstein, and Robbie Williams.

In 1996 Pete spoke to Sound on Sound magazine about his work on the album Bilingual:

With the Pet Shop Boys, I'm a sound library—I don't actually play much. I get sounds up for them, record what they do in Logic Audio, and manipulate it for them.… Neil said he wanted that Babylon Zoo vocal sound, from "Spaceman," and I had to get that. Chris will give a very specific list of things he wants: a French horn, a Russian choir, an exploding boiler. He can be quite specific about the kind of sounds he wants…. I get that in time at the tempo he wants, and sit there recording everything he does.… He's a mine of ideas, and the hard thing with him is keeping up with his output; he can put a track together in minutes.

Before settling in, so to speak, with Neil and Chris, Pete worked with George Michael, engineering his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. Even before then, in the late 1980s, he programmed records by more obscure artists, such as Aswad and Luxuria. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s he has worked with various other artists aside from the Pet Shop Boys, including U2, David Bowie, Electronic, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Soul II Soul, Take That, Faithless, Bruce Roberts, Cicero, and (again) George Michael. He's scored a few dance hits of his own as a member of the short-term ensembles H.A.L.F. (1993-94), Los Vengadores (2003), and the Gimpz (2006). He has also recorded in the guise of Waxfactor, releasing the album Sci Fu in 2006, and he's done remixing work both under his own name and using the moniker Forthright. His collaboration with Tom Stephan and Fierce Ruling Diva, "Phreekn," became a major dance club hit in 2008. And he DJs under the name Pedro Gonzales. A busy guy.

Chris and Neil themselves would undoubtedly be equally forthright in crediting Pete with helping them develop their post-eighties "sound," and he surely makes their work easier both in the studio and onstage, assisting them greatly as they bring their musical visions to fruition. No, he's not really a "third Pet Shop Boy"—nobody is—but he has indeed been a major ongoing contributor to their success for more than 20 years now. So thanks, Pete! We fans owe you a debt of gratitude!

Oh, and one other thing: you may wish to visit Pete's own website.

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*The following exchange took place between Neil and DJ Ron Slomowicz in an interview that appeared on the About.com website sometime after I originally wrote and posted this page:

RS: Your graphic designer Mark Farrow, he’s practically a Pet Shop Boy himself, isn't he?

Neil Tennant: He is, yes. The other Pet Shop Boys are really Mark Farrow and Gary who does all the work in the office, by the way. Chris Heath has written books about us and does our magazine, and Pete Gleadall, our programmer, they're Pet Shop Boys three, four, and five.

So I guess my instincts to assign "third Pet Shop Boys" status to Pete was basically correct, though I didn't expect him to have to share that status with anyone else. But even though Neil may have casually granted him the spot of "fifth (or sixth) Pet Shop Boy," I personally think that, given his musical contributions, Pete deserves the #3 position far more than a graphic designer, office worker, and writer/journalist—no matter how invaluable they all might be.