I Didn't Get Where I Am Today

Writers - Tennant/Lowe/Lambert
First released - 2003
Original album - Format
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Release 2017 reissue Further Listening 2001-2004 bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with single "Flamboyant"

Rock and roll! Originally recorded during the Release sessions (and, like so many of the songs on that album, with Johnny Marr on guitar), this has been described by Neil as a "Sixties-ish sounding song" inspired by watching the Strokes perform at the famous nightclub Heaven. He has also noted that it took a very long time to write because he was "always changing the lyrics."

The Boys had originally planned to include it on Release—it was slated to be the ninth track, situated between "Here" and "The Night I Fell in Love"—but they changed their minds because they felt it didn't fit with the rest of the album. To be sure, the sunny, rollicking, upbeat sound might have seemed somewhat out of place. On the other hand, its "rock guitar sound" certainly wouldn't have been inappropriate, and it would at least have provided a refreshing contrast to the rest of the album's rather somber mood. I personally think it would have made a terrific album closer—not to mention an equally terrific single. In fact, Neil has since stated on more than one occasion that he, too, now regrets having removed it from Release. There's simply no other recording in the entire PSB catalog quite like it.

The aforementioned "sixties-ish" style (which reminds me more of the Monkees than anything else) is no accident. The track features a sample from an obscure 1967 pop record titled "Father's Name Is Dad" by the band Fire. This explains the authoring co-credit for Dave Lambert, the writer of that song. The lyrics, which take the form of a morose reverie arising from hearing some unidentifed music, sound intensely autobiographical, including such lines as—

I live my life on a stage
Put it down on the page
I didn’t get where I am today
Without writing a résumé

—that "résumé" presumably being his body of work. In marked contrast to the happy sound of the music, the overall mood of the lyrics is one of profound regret ("deep inside you’re sinking without a trace"), largely the result of missing chances for personal happiness while pursuing and gaining worldly success. In other words, it's the familiar story—and the lyrics recognize it as "that old cliché"—of someone who appears wildly successful to the outside world but who's actually miserable inside. But, cliché or not, he seems as surprised at this incongruity as anyone else.

The narrator is, in Neil's words, "an exaggeration of me" that's meant to be "jokey." Regardless, it's a fascinating study in contrasts—downbeat words juxtaposed against such upbeat music—that practically begs for an ironic interpretation.


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