10 perhaps surprising influences on the Pet Shop Boys

1. "California Love" by 2 Pac

This major rap hit was released while Chris and Neil were in the late stages of recording Bilingual. They've stated that it influenced the sound and style of the track "Electricity."

2. Coal Miner's Daughter

Neil saw this 1980 film biography of country music star Loretta Lynn shortly before he began to write the song "Betrayed." Hence he had originally envisioned it recorded in a country-western style, but it obviously came out quite differently in the final wash.

3. "Legs" and "Sharp-Dressed Man" by ZZ Top

Who would have thought that this blues-based, hard-rockin' trio would prove an influence on the Pet Shop Boys? Yet Neil has confessed that these two techno-boogie classics, in which the self-described "little band from Texas" successfully experimented with a synthesized rhythm track punctuated with guitar counterpoint, greatly influenced their rendition of "Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)." Neil has said that ZZ Top also influenced their recording of "Losing My Mind" with Liza Minnelli.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog and other video games

Chris has noted this influence on the overall sound and mood of the Very album—a fact given more or less direct attribution in the song "Young Offender."

5. Roger Scruton

In his 1998 possibly mistitled book An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture, this British philosopher/academician ignorantly stated:

Sometimes, as with the Spice Girls or the Pet Shop Boys, serious doubts arise as to whether the performers made more than a minimal contribution to the recording, which owes its trade mark to subsequent sound engineering, designed precisely to make it unrepeatable.

The Boys promptly sued him for libel. Within a few months they had won their case, with Scruton agreeing to pay them reported damages of £10,000 along with their court costs. Nevertheless, it seems highly likely that Scruton's statement influenced Chris and Neil to present themselves more obviously than ever before as musicians for their subsequent album Release and its accompanying tour. That is, if an intelligent man like Scruton could think such a blatantly untrue thing about them, then others could as well—so why not set about demonstrating just how very wrong they are?

6. The 1956 stage musical My Fair Lady

In the book Pet Shop Boys, Literally, Neil tells author Chris Heath that his occasional "speaking-singing" style (as heard in such songs as "West End Girls" and "Opportunities," among others) was influenced by the late, great British actor Rex Harrison's performance as Professor Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady. Harrison was by no means a great singer, but the musical's songwriting team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe knew that he was nevertheless perfect for the part. Thus they wrote "his" songs to accommodate a special style of blended speaking and singing that they worked with him in developing. At one time Neil lacked confidence in his own singing, so in many of their songs (particularly the early ones) he adopted a similar "speaking-singing" style. Years later, in a 2013 with Mojo magazine, Neil observed that his parents' copy of the My Fair Lady soundtrack proved inspirational in other ways as well: "I realised only recently, what an astonishing influence this soundtrack had been on me, as someone who writes lyrics. [Sings] 'Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak? This verbal "clarse" distinction by now must be antique!' Well I mean, it's practically the Pet Shop Boys, isn' it?" In the same interview Neil also notes that his fondness for My Fair Lady also contributed to his not being "afraid of humour" in songwriting.

7. The Mamas & the Papas

More than once Chris and Neil have cited this classic 1960s vocal group, virtual icons of pop/folk hippiedom, as major influences on the song "Beautiful People" from their 2009 album Yes. In particular, Neil has cited their first hit, "California Dreaming" from 1965, as a specific influence. I guess it's the strumming guitar and the sunny/sweet layered vocals, which more than one critic has described as a "California sound." To suggest a degree of parody is much too strong, but the lyric's indirect, backhanded critique of celebrity culture—few PSB songs have a more callow narrator—makes me suspect that something akin to cynicism is enmeshed with a genuine fondness for the music of Cass, Denny, John, and Michelle. Then again, it's hard to think of anything more callow than hippiedom.

8. "The Greatest Day" by Take That

When touring with the reunited former "boy band" Take That during the summer of 2011, the Pet Shop Boys were impressed with audiences' consistently enthusiastic response to their anthemic song "The Greatest Day." Chris suggested that he and Neil should take it upon themselves to compose their own "mid-tempo anthem." So they did so in their hotel in Manchester while still on the tour. The song "Winner" was the result.

9. "If You Leave Me Now" by Chicago

The Boys have said that their song "Breathing Space" was influenced by this 1976 hit by Chicago, written and sung by bass guitarist (and later solo star) Peter Cetera.

10. "Up, Up, and Away" by The 5th Dimenson

Neil and Chris told David Walliams that their song "Hold On," while based musically on a baroque composition by George Frideric Handel, was also strongly influenced by this huge 1967 pop hit, at least in the way the backup vocalists are used. A multiple Grammy-winner, it was the breakthrough single for the vocal group The 5th Dimension—though in the U.K. it was actually Johnny Mathis who had the greater chart ascendancy with it—as well as one of the earliest and biggest successes for the brilliant songwriter Jimmy Webb. I don't quite see the influence myself, which is why it qualifies as "surprising" in my book. Much less surprising is that the Boys also regard "We Are the World" as an influence on "Hold On": yes, that I think I can hear.