The Boy Who Couldn't Keep His Clothes On

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1997
Original album - Bilingual 2001 reissue Further Listening 1995-1997 bonus disc
Producer - Danny Tenaglia, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Format
Other releases - bonus track with single "A Red Letter Day"

Like "Music for Boys," a b-side (in this case, for "A Red Letter Day") that gained as much if not greater popularity in gay dance clubs than its a-side. (Hmmm, I wonder why—) In fact, the song itself is set in a gay dance club. Inspired musically by their recent DiscoVery tour in Latin America and lyrically by the frequent (but former) behavior of a friend of theirs, Neil describes a young man's penchant for removing his clothes while dancing, much to the appreciation of those around him. (He eventually stopped doing that sort of thing, however, largely because of the way in which Neil and Chris teased him about it.) This behavior, though superficially scandalous, is actually a liberating experience: "He is exactly where he wants to be, in a world of his own."

At one point Neil's vocals drop away and we're treated to a spoken monologue by a young woman—apparently the young man's girlfriend (shades of "Can You Forgive Her?")—who tries to discourage him from his exhibitionistic tendencies and voices assorted threats ("I'm telling your mother!"), but to no avail. Funny stuff that was guaranteed—if not calculatedly planned—to prove a huge success with the gay segment of the Boys' audience.

To take an alternate perspective, however, one of my site visitors suggested that this song could easily be interpreted from a rather negative angle. Could it actually be a commentary on—or at least an unvarnished description of—what my correspondent referred to as "gay club hell," in which young gay men, new to the scene, can quickly descend into a careless, artificial, and ultimately self-destructive euphoria of drugs, drink, and dance? A very real phenomemon—and a very interesting, thoughtful interpretation. Perhaps there's a lot more to this song than meets the eye at first glance.

I should point out that this is one of those relatively rare songs where the melody itself carries specific meaning. The choral melody ("The boy who couldn't keep his clothes on…") is derived from—not identical to, but very clearly derived from—that of the familiar sing-songy "na-na-na-na-na" childhood taunt, which has been used for generations by children in various cultures to tease each other. (The first line of the traditional English folk lullaby "Bye, Baby Bunting" uses the same tune.) This is a characteristic that it shares with the chorus of Queen's "We Are the Champions," the similar use of which I noted in my 1994 book Rock on the Wild Side. This melodic quotation underscores the fact that the titular dancing, clothes-dropping boy is, quite simply, a big tease. (A less circumspect person than I might have used a word other than "big" there. wink)

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