The Truck Driver and His Mate
Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1996
Original album - Bilingual 2001 reissue Further Listening 1995-1997 bonus disc
Subsequent albums - Format
Other releases - bonus track with single "Before"; 12-inch vinyl promo
Neil recalled from his youth an advertising slogan for a British candy bar, along the lines of "Big enough for the truck driver and his mate." He thought this was delightfully funny, what with its probably unconscious homoerotic connotations. So the Boys decided to build a song around the key phrase, adding still more layers of now-conscious macho homoeroticism, including a breathy, wordless "oh-oh-oh" chorus that one commentator has noted may even be suggestive of an orgasm. This rollicking acoustic-guitar-driven track (very unusual for the Pet Shop Boys), which was originally a bonus track on the "Before" CD single, quickly became a fan favorite.
Could this be the closest the Pet Shop Boys have ever come to pure, out-and-out rock? After all, in the Somewhere concert video, Neil straps on his guitar and cries, "Let's rock!" as they launch into this number. (I know the Boys claim to be no longer terribly fond of ironyto quote Neil, "Irony is shit!"but is this irony or what?) In fact, in early 2012, in an interview promoting the b-side collection Format, Neil confirmed the track's "rock intentions" when he asserted that "Truck Driver" was the Boys' "take" on the British rock band Oasis, who were approaching their peak of popularity at the time.
The line "Taking coals to Newcastle," unfamiliar to some, is an oft-used metaphor for doing a pointless jobsort of like taking sand to the Saharasince Newcastle is in the heart of England's coal-producing region. (In addition, Neil spent much of his youth in Newcastle, which could conceivably provide another layer of meaning.) In short, the song's truck driver finds his work unfulfilling, deriving satisfaction only from the fact that he gets to spend time "talking man to man" with "his mate"almost certainly his gay lover. After all, you can find them "dancing in the moonlight."
In light of all this, it's worth noting that the sleeve art of an extremely rare 12-inch vinyl promo of "The Truck Driver and His Mate" takes the notorious "penis graphic" of the "Before" vinyl promo and doubles it, thereby representing the two men of the title. Reportedly only 150 copies were pressed. It's understandable, then, that it ranks among the most highly sought-after PSB collectibles and has been known to fetch prices well into the triple digits.
- As noted above, the title was inspired by the advertising slogan for a candy bar that Neil recalled from his youth.
- As obviously homoerotic as this song is, it's especially so for American listeners, for whom the word "mate" carries different connotations than in the U.K. and Australia. In those countries, "mate" is commonly used by men to refer simply to a good friend—nothing more—whereas in the U.S. mate is rarely if ever used in that way. Instead, "mate" far more often has sexual connotations, as in "the mating ritual." To American ears, one's "mate" is nearly always more than a friend.
- In a November 2011 interview (the same one in which the Boys first revealed the pending release of the second b-sides collection, Format), Chris described this song as "our little tribute to Oasis" and said that it has "the same chord change" as the 1995 Oasis single "Some Might Say"—although the way he put it suggests that this was unintentional. Whatever the case, it's certainly no instance of plagiarism since the two songs are so very different that I, for one, can't hear much of any similarity at all aside from the sound of the electric guitar and perhaps the general "mood" of the songs.
- "Parked inside the lay-by" – A lay-by is a public facility along a freeway or other major highway where drivers can pull over to rest, stretch their legs, have a drink of water, use the toilet, and often get something to eat and/or refuel their vehicles. There are many other familiar terms for such facilities in the U.K., U.S., and other countries as well. If the Pet Shop Boys were American, they would probably have written "Parked at the rest stop" instead. But somehow that doesn't sound quite as poetic, does it?
- "Taking coals to Newcastle" – As noted above, this familiar (at least to most native English-speakers) metaphorical expression can refer to any pointless or useless task. The city of Newcastle (more formally known as Newcastle upon Tyne) lies within Britain's northern coal-mining region and has long been a vital port for shipping coal out to other locales, so why would anyone need to take coals to Newcastle? It's perhaps worth noting that Neil Tennant himself hails from Newcastle, having been born in the neighboring community of Brunton Park.
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