I'm restricting this list to what I refer to as "performance parodies," where somebody performs a parody of the Pet Shop Boys in audio and/or video format as opposed to static text, imagery, or some other "non-performance" piece that parodies or satirizes them. I do this simply to make my life easier; surely if I were also to embrace those other items this would be a much longer list and more difficult to manage.
1. Spitting Image - "How the Hell
Do We Keep Getting Away with This?"
most elaborate PSB parody ever, originally appearing as the closing bit on a late
1993 or early 1994 episode of the hugely popular U.K. satirical television show Spitting Image (which ran for eleven years starting in the mid-eighties).
A pair of typically grotesque Spitting Image puppets of Neil and Chris
perform this full-length original number, clearly based on "Go
West" and its video, in which they marvel at how they keep "getting
away" with having hit after hit, just doing what they do. The chorus includes
How the hell do we keep getting away
How the hell did I make a career as a vocalist?
How the hell
can we keep getting away with murder?
How the hell can our clothes get any
How the hell can all the songs be quite so duff?
How the hell
can people actually like this stuff?
Despite the barbs, the
Boys could only have been extremely pleased. As one commentator has put it, "You
knew you'd arrived when you became a Spitting Image puppet."
2. French & Saunders - "It Pays Our Rent"
Brint and Rowland Rivron, regulars as the duo "Raw Sex" on the U.K. French & Saunders show, performed an ingenious parody of "Rent"
during the second series (1988). The chorus goes like this:
But you just stand behind me
With a TV and a keyboard
That someone has
You're good at standing still
I'm quite good at singing
They love it
It pays our rent
The skit also featured the
"Chris" character picking his nose out of boredom. Fortunately, the real Chris reportedly found it hilarious! And
you can watch it, too.
3. Saturday Night Live -
The "Napster Hearings" sketch
premise of this sketch from the March 10, 2001 episode of the long-running U.S.
comedy show is that a group of allegedly has-been eighties pop stars (including
"David Lee Roth," "Toni Basil," and "Corey Hart,"
among others) are testifying before Congress about the harm done to their careers
(and bank accounts) by illegal file-sharing on Napster. Program regular Jimmy
Fallon appears as Neil Tennant, whose testimony begins
Neil Tennant: I'm
Neil Tennant. I used to be a part of the Pet Shop Boys.
Evan Bayh: Right. And what do you do now?
Tennant: These days, I work in an actual pet shop. But I'm planning a big
comeback. "In a west end town, a dead-end world. The east end boys and west
Senator: Please, sir, stop singing.
Tennant: "What have Iwhat have Iwhat have I done to deserve this?"
Female Senator: I said stop singing.
Tennant: I wasn't singing! I'm flat broke, and I work in a pet shop! What
have I done to deserve this?
Trent Lott: Next witness!
Of course, this portion
of the sketch wouldn't make much sense in much of the world, where the Pet Shop
Boys have continued to enjoy a hugely successful career well beyond the 1980s.
It's only in the U.S. that they're considered a "has-been eighties band."
In short, the sketch is provincial at best, and arguably downright ignorant. (And
it's worth noting that in the live broadcast, Fallon mistakenly identifies himself
as "Nigel Tennant." This has been corrected in the syndicated
rebroadcasts of this episode, in which a superior dress-rehearsal version of the
sketch is used instead.)
Incidentally, there were apparently no hard feelings since the Boys would turn up years later to perform "Love etc." on a 2009 episode of Jimmy Fallon's own late-night TV show.
Morris - "The Unofficial Pet Shop Boys Xmas Record"
Morris is a highly controversial British satirist and media personality who
broadcast this musical PSB parody in the early 1990s. Aside from opening with
a few bars of "Good King Wenceslas" vaguely in the style of "It's
a Sin" and making brief references in the third verse to "Noel"
and Santa Claus, it's really not a "Christmas record." It probably is,
however, the single most puerile item in this list. It makes unwarranted stabs
at the Boys' musical talent, belabors such clichés as the similarity of
Neil's voice to Al Stewart's (although the singer, whether it's Morris or a hireling,
sounds like neither Tennant nor Stewart, thereby rendering the parody singularly
ineffective on this point), and devotes the entire second verse to the
already-by-then tired rumor about the alleged "kinky" origin of the
name "Pet Shop Boys." I must admit that the outrageous pun referring
to Richard Gere as "an officer and a gerbil-man" is both clever and
mildly humorous, if borderline libelous. And the recurring line, "We litter our songs with this irritating noise"—accompanied by a few of those orchestral synth chord blasts so ubiquitous in the eighties—evokes a smile. Still, it's hardly worth more than a single listen.
5. The Mary Whitehouse Experience - on several occasions
In both its October 20, 1990 and January
3, 1991 episodes, this British comedy show aired PSB parodies. I don't know anything
yet about the second episode, but, in the first, comedian Rob Newman specifically
parodies Chris in a sequence that alternates between him and actual TV footage
of the Boys performing "So Hard."
As Neil sings, "Chris" constantly whines and complains, trying to get
Neil to switch places with him so that he can get to spend some time in the spotlight
for a change. For instance, he mentions that he has recently had a talk with "the
ugly one in Tears for Fears" and notes how he gets to sing
now and then. (There were slightly different television and radio versions of
this sketch. You can listen to the radio version online if you visit this
site devoted to The Mary Whitehouse Experience and scroll down until you find
the link to the October 20, 1990 episode. The PSB parody is at about 20:45, roughly
two-thirds of the way through the recording.) In addition, a 1992 novelty single
titled "Milky Milky (Take Me to the Fridge)," performed by Hugh Dennis
as the recurring Mary Whitehouse Experience character Mr. Strange (billed
as "Mr. Strange and the Lactose Brotherhood"), has also been described
from a stylistic standpoint as a Pet Shop Boys parody.
The Majesticons - "Brains Party"
Perhaps not so much
a parody as a blatant appropriation for satirical purposes. Each of the fifteen
tracks on Beauty Party, this rap act's 2003 exercise in relentless satire,
is titled "[Something] Party." One of them, "Brains Party,"
boasts the following chorus borrowed and adapted from the Pet Shop Boys' "Opportunities
(Let's Make Lots of Money)":
got the brains, you've got the looks
Let's make lots of money!
the game, we are the crooks
Let's take all their money!
serves as part of a running commentary on both the extreme overuse of sampling
in contemporary popular music (rap and hip-hop in particular) and the overarching
materialism of the artists involved. By engaging in "lyrical sampling"
while criticizing music sampling, the Majesticons pull the neat trick of backhandedly
demonstrating the very thing that they're implicitly attackingand getting
away with it.
7. Steve Wright/BBC Radio 1 - "U2's Live
Steve Wright, a popular BBC Radio DJ since
1979, has long been known for his on-the-air music parodies and practical jokes.
One of them, from around 1991, simultaneously poked fun at U2 and the Pet Shop
Boys. The premise of the parody was a live "retaliation" for PSB having
recently recorded "Where the Streets Have
No Name." Allegedly in concert at Madison Square Garden, U2or,
more accurately, a singer mimicking Bonoperforms a medley of the PSB songs
"Rent" and "Shopping"
blended with the gay anthems "Y.M.C.A." and "It's Raining Men,"
thereby cleverly parodying Bono's singing style (breathily overdone just enough
to be comic) while satirizing the scarcely concealed "gay undercurrent"
of the Pet Shop Boys' music. Notably, this was a couple of years before Neil made
that undercurrent "official" by coming out. And it may also have inspired
U2 to satirize the Village People (not to mention themselves) in their 1997 video
for "Discotheque." At any rate, Wright's parody was sufficiently well
executed that it has managed (via online circulation) to deceive many into believing
it's a genuine live U2 recording.
8. Walliams and Lucas - "I'm
with Stupid" video
can't very well ignore the Boys' own "self-induced parody"their
video for "I'm with Stupid,"
starring David Walliams and Matt Lucas, best known for their hit comedy series Little Britain. With Walliams as "Neil" and Lucas as "Chris,"
the two mime the song while parodying the famous Very-era
videos for "Can You Forgive Her?"
(complete with orange jumpsuits) and "Go West."
Tennant and Lowe themselves appear "tied up" at the end, depicted literally
as a captive audience. A sly commentary on their public role as pop stars, perhapsas
"captives" of their own image and/or fame?
Walliams and Lucas (again) - Rock Profile "Vox Pops"
in 2001, before they hit it really big, Walliams and Lucas made two series
of programs on the UK Play network called Rock Profile, where they relentlessly
spoofed rock and pop stars. Each episode focused on one or two particular artists,
usually portrayed by Walliams and Lucas themselves (sometimes with the assistance
of others). Considering that the two of themand Walliams especiallyare
major fans, it's surprising they never did an episode focusing on the Pet Shop
Boys. But on at least three occasions they portrayed our heroes in short vignettes
called "Vox Pops," a regular feature in which "other stars"
commented on those at the center of attention. "Neil" and "Chris"
(Walliams and Lucas, respectively) appear briefly in three episodes focusing on
Take That, Blur, and Duran Duran. In the latter they're pointedly complaining
that they haven't had their own episode yet.
10. Walliams and
Lucas (one more time) - "I'm Gay"
Yes, there's certainly
an element of PSB parody in this 2006 novelty track, but since the Boys themselves
were at least indirectly involved, it merits its
own separate entry on this website.
Digitale - "England, We Can Win It"
in time for the 2006 World Cup matches came this delightful PSB parody by comic
duo Brainstopping (Matt Bowdler and Ben Manning) in the guise of music duo Cabaret
Digitale (Ian Significant and Dave Bass). Got that? The music itself is somewhat
in an early Pets style, coming across as the slightly backward offspring of an
illicit tryst between "What Have I Done
to Deserve This?" and "Go West"although
Matt has cited "The End of the World"
as the biggest influence. (It also bears the marks of—and parodies—past English World Cup anthems, most notably New Order's "World in Motion" from 1990 and, to a far lesser extent, the Lightning Seeds' "Three Lions" from 1996.) But it's the video that really plays it up with some
good-natured ribbing of assorted bits of PSB imagery and iconography, such as
"Chris" playing his keyboard with one finger. Check
it out for yourself!
12. Fast Forward - "What
Have I Done to Be Served This?
The popular Australian sketch-comedy
show Fast Forward (1989-1992) once ran an "advertisement" for
a "joke album" titled Pat Cash's Greatest Hits (Pat Cash being
an Australian world-class tennis champion). One of the album's songs was a PSB
parody titled "What Have I Done to Be Served This?" As a brief snippet
of it played, we see "Pat Cash" swinging and badly missing a tennis
13. Full Frontal - "Go
After Fast Forward ended in 1992, it was succeeded by another sketch-comedy spinoff, Full Frontal, which aired from 1993 to 1997. In 1994 it ran a full-blown
parody of "Go West" and its videoobviously
popular targets for joshingincluding tacit commentary about the homoeroticism
of both the song and the video itself. But it does far more than poke good-humored
fun at our heroes' "gayness." It's actually a double-edged satire that
also levels a more barbed critique at Tasmania, which, unlike the rest of Australia,
still at that time had laws on the books criminalizing homosexuality. Dubbed "Go
Hetero," the premise of the satire is that "the Boys," in order
to increase their popularity in Australia, are going to stop trading in "ambiguity,"
would "go hetero"at least as far as their public image is concernedand
had decided to relocate to Tasmania in order to confirm their new "straight"
status (or to deflect suspicion). A strange premise, to be sure, but it makes
its point. I'm not sure whether this aired shortly before or after Neil's official
"coming out" but, whatever the case, it was timely. And, fortunately,
Tasmania finally got around to decriminalizing consenting adult same-sexual behavior
within a few years after this parody was made. Incidentally, "Neil"
is potrayed by the openly gay comedian Glenn Butcher, "Chris" is played
by John Walker, and future film star Eric Bana appears as one of the "Russian
marchers"; all three of them were Full Frontal regulars.
14. Adam & Joe - Pet Shop Droids
comedy duo of Adam & JoeAdam Buxton and Joe Cornishhad their own
hit show on UK Channel 4 from 1996 to 2001. Self-confessed "popular culture
junkies," they specialized in using toys to satirize various aspects of modern
life and entertainment. In one particularly creative segment (most likely from
1996) they managed to parody scads of pop-culture icons in one fell swoop by using Star Wars action figures to lampoon Stars in Their Eyes, a popular
game show in which contestants imitated famous entertainers. They called it Star Wars in Their Eyes. A Darth Vader figurine does a parody of Grace Jones's
"Slave to the Rhythm," retitled "Slave to the Dark Side."
And R2D2 and C3PO figurines, appearing under the moniker "Pet Shop Droids"and
wearing orange jumpsuits and pointy caps à la the "Can
You Forgive Her?" videoperform a blatant takeoff of "Se
A Vida É" seemingly titled "R2D2, Touch Me," with lyrics
suggesting that C3PO is very much in love with his much shorter partner. Layers of satire at work there, folks! You can check
it out on YouTube if you like.
15. Trilambs - "Gay
The 2001 album It Wasn't Not Funny by
the Los Angeles comic hiphop/rap troupe Trilambs features liberal (and apparently
unauthorized) samples and recreations of classic pop-music riffs from such artists
as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, the Temptations, Dire
Straits, U2, Simon and Garfunkel, Cyndi Lauper and, of all things, Sarah Brightman
(in the hilarious "Smoover Jams," which satirizes hiphop makeout music).
Included amongst this illustrious company are the Pet Shop Boys, whose "West
End Girls" gets the appropriation treatment in a bit titled "Gay
Ass Club." An openly gay member of Trilambs, who goes by the moniker Gay
Jamie, sings to the familiar melody of the WEG chorus:
a West Hollywood gay ass club
This is the song that you all love
point of the track (if there really is one) seems to be a snide putdown of the
dance/disco musical tastes of an older generation of gay men. Of course, the young
always seem to rebel against the tastes and values of their elders, so why should
gay youth be any different?
of the Conchords - "Inner City Pressure"
in "Bret Gives Up the Dream," the second episode (first broadcast on
June 24, 2007) of the HBO comedy series Flight of the Conchords, "New
Zealand's fourth most popular folk-pop duo" launch into this delightful musical
and visual parody of "West End Girls."
Living in New York and forced by their desperate poverty to eat discarded sandwiches,
they rap about contemplating prostitution and "second-hand underpants"
as well as how "no one sympathizesyou just stay home and play synthesizers"
(a flawed rhyme, but a terrific one nonetheless). At one point they even stand
in front of a corrugated steel backdrop as Bret raps and Jemaine "fades"
like Chris. Priceless! ("Inner City Pressure"
can be found on the duo's 2008 eponymous debut album.)
Sniff Petrol as "Pit Stop Boys" - "(It's Just That You Remind Me
of) Alain Prost"
Sniff Petrol is "a satirical British online magazine written chiefly by Richard
Porter, with contributions from James May and others, dedicated to automobile-related
humour." Since early 2006, it has had a regular segment on the popular automotive-themed
Jones on Speed, hosted by Welsh producer and media personality Gareth Jones. The
October 10, 2007 episode concluded with Sniff Petrol's performance, in the
guise of the "Pit Stop Boys," of an affectionate PSB parody titled "(It's Just
That You Remind Me of) Alain Prost." (Prost is a great French Formula One
racecar driver of the 1980s and '90s, a four-time world champion.) Sniff Petrol
makes little attempt actually to sound like the Pet Shop Boys; the vocal,
for instance, sounds nothing like Neil Tennant. The music, which is entirely original,
could be described as "primitive synthpop"sort of how you might
imagine an early PSB demo would soundand the equally original lyrics nod
to the literate yet offhanded insouciance that a casual observer might regard
(superficially, to be sure) as typical PSB. The chorus goes:
you know I love you
And without you I'd be lost
It's just that you remind
Quite a lot of Alain Prost
The very existence
of such a parody indicates just what an institution the Pet Shop Boys have
become in contemporary British culture. Besides, Richard Porter and his cronies are professed "huge Pet Shop Boys fans" who have parlayed their Pit Stop Boys guise into an actual series of tribute/parodies available for your listening pleasure on Soundcloud.
Mel & Sue - "Decorating"
several years the British comedy duo of Melanie "Mel" Giedroyc and Sue
Perkins hosted an early evening show on U.K. Channel 4 titled Late Lunch,
during which they performed comedy sketches, commented satirically on current
events, and interviewed guests. Neil Tennant was one such gueston their
second episode, in fact, on April 1, 1998. In his honor (and quite appropriately
enough considering it was April Fool's Day) they aired a brief video they had
made of a song apparently titled "Decorating." An obvious takeoff on
"Shopping," the music is virtually
identical, while the running gag of the lyrics is the increasingly ludicrous (and
lengthy) home-decorating terminology that they spell out, right down to S.P.O.N.G.E.E.F.F.E.C.T.I.N.G. Neil seemed to enjoy it thoroughly, commenting with typical understatement, "I
thought it was quite amusing."
Die Prinzen - The video for "Alles Nur Geklaut"
extremely clever music video for the German quintet Die Prinzen's 1993 single
"Alles Nur Geklaut" parodies a wide assortment of famous pop acts, including
AC/DC, Depeche Mode, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Robert Palmer, Queen, U2, and ZZ
Top, among others. They don't forget the Pet Shop Boys, either, with brief segments
parodying their "Can You Forgive Her?"
video. All of this borrowed imagery is highly appropriate considering that the
lyrics of "Alles Nur Geklaut" (translated: "All Just Stolen")
semi-satirically comment on how rock and pop stars invariably "steal"
from their predecessors in the music business.
Chas 'n' Dave vs. PSB on The Ant & Dec Show
The Boys should have known—and they quite possibly did know—that their Very-era costuming would prove an irresistible draw for comedians. The May 2, 1996 episode of the U.K. TV program The Ant & Dec Show featured a unique bit where the comic/music duo of Chas 'n' Dave, dressed in those "Can You Forgive Her?" orange jumpsuits and pointy hats, pretend to be the Pet Shop Boys. Hosts Ant & Dec deny this, saying that they aren't PSB. But Chas 'n' Dave hold their ground, insisting that they are the Pet Shop Boys. To "prove" that they are, they proceed to perform portions of "West End Girls," "It's a Sin," and "Go West," heightening the absurdity of it all by sounding nothing like PSB but rather like typical Chas 'n' Dave. To cap it all off, the real Chris and Neil—not dressed, by the way, in orange jumpsuits and pointy hats—then make their entrance as guests on the show. When the Boys assert who they are, nobody onstage believes them.
Katy Brand - "It's a Song"
On the October 8, 2009 episode of Katy Brand's Big Ass Show, the British comedian and her cohorts conduct a dual parody of the Pet Shop Boys, visually mocking the "Go West" video while musically spoofing "It's a Sin." She sings, "When we consider our career we never cease to be amazed at just how much we've been praised." She even ludicrously suggests PSB songs "could be written by a child" and that "a chimp could do a better job." In one of two instances of bathroom humor—the lowest form of comedy, puns notwithstanding—she also asserts that they "could go Top 10 simply by farting." Perhaps someone should inform Katy that satires and parodies are generally most effective when their implicit charges are justifiable. Besides, could she be more dated? She treads extremely well-trod territory, drawing inspiration (as it were) from material 16 and 22 years old, respectively. It's already been "done"—repeatedly—and much, much better. But, worst of all, she commits the cardinal sin of omission when it comes to parodies: it's not funny. If this is a typical example of what appears on Katy Brand's Big Ass Show, then it's no wonder that critic James Donaghy of The Guardian (September 12, 2009) described it as "comedy's Pearl Harbor.… historically bad television."
22. Los Especial del Humor - "Los Pitcho Boys"
A prime candidate for the single most bizarre PSB performance parody ever. On the October 24, 2009 episode of the Peruvian comedy show Los Especial del Humor, a pair of comedians who go by the names Don Bieto and Rómulo Ratón parodied an appearance by the Boys exactly one week earlier on another Peruvian show, El Show de los Sueños, right down to Chris's mirrored jacket. Brandishing long, thick, rat-like tails (which the two of them apparently do on a routine basis; after all, "ratón" does mean "rat"), they called themselves "Los Pitcho Boys" ("pitcho" seems to mean something in Spanish, but I haven't been able to figure out what; it could be slang or some sort of Peruvian idiom). After cavorting with the host (a heavyset man in appallingly bad drag), they ridiculously mimed—if you can call it that—a rendition of "Always on My Mind." I'll be charitable and call it extremely broad humor.
23. Nathan Jay - "The Pet Shop Boys Blocked Me on Twitter"
You don't have to dress up like them to create a first-rate parody. And Nathan Jay—a man who already had several PSB-inspired and Tennant-sampling tracks to his credit—has come up with one of the cleverest of all: his 2010 original (and absolutely delightful) song "The Pet Shop Boys Blocked Me on Twitter." Not only does he manage to sound quite a bit like Neil (if I do say so myself), but he also squeezes in numerous PSB song titles and references into some marvelously playful lyrics. You can watch it on YouTube—not so much for the largely irrelevant video, but rather for the audio and the printed lyrics—for at least as long as the link remains valid. I can virtually guarantee you'll enjoy it!
24. Shooting Stars - Sex Shop Boys, "Hot City Action"
The August 3, 2010 episode of the U.K. comedy show (disguised as a game show) Shooting Stars featured a brief skit by hosts Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, and Angelos Epithemiou portraying the "Sex Shop Boys"—a "man band" as opposed to a "boy band"—performing a crude electro-rap number called "Hot City Action." Even discounting that there were three of them, they didn't look or act a bit like the Pet Shop Boys, and the song (if you can call it that) didn't sound much like them, either. But considering the choice of moniker, there can be no doubt that PSB was an at least a glancing target of the joke. The real object, however—aside from the singularly strange humor routinely exhibited on this show—is anyone's guess.
25. The Misdips - "No can dip"
Stepping back once again to the late 1980s, a TV commercial for the British snack confection Choc Dips was quite obviously a PSB parody, right down to the relative subtlety of the way the song's title is capitalized. Far less subtle was the performance itself, a nondescript synthpop mini-track by the ad's duo "The Misdips," playing up on the Pet Shop Boys' slightly geeky-cool image at the time. You can catch it on YouTube for as long as the link remains valid.
26. Russ Abbot - "The Plumbers Song"
U.K. comedian Russ Abbot parodied the PSB rendition and video of "Go West" on ITV's The Russ Abbot Show in 1994. The actual target of the parody seems more to be the plumbing profession (which doesn't come off looking very good at all) than our musical heroes, with the Boys being more the means to an end rather than the end itself. In fact, it's difficult to see why the "Go West" style and imagery was used at all—but it works, and that's what counts.
27. Eden - "If I Was a Pet Shop Boy"
Clearly working with a limited budget, these guys nevertheless manage to pull off a very effective and quite amusing parody of the Pet Shop Boys in their video for this song. In fact, you might say "parodies" plural since they do takeoffs of several "PSB looks" through the years, including the Actually cover, the "Can You Forgive Her?" video "cone hats," and the "Absolutely Fabulous" video "baker-dervish" costumes. It's a very affectionate parody, to say the least, one that might more accurately be termed a tribute. Speaking of which—
28. Crackòvia - "Mou, res!"
In April 2011, the Spanish/Catalan TV sketch comedy Crackòvia parodied both the "Go West" video (obviously a comedy favorite) and the football (soccer) manager José Mourinho—a Portuguese nativel but currently managing in Madrid—who's apparently notorious for his temper and at times controversial behavior. The repeated title (translated as "Mou, nothing!"; "Mou" is Mourinho's nickname) alludes to denying championships for his team this year—which, as it turned out, proved to be only wishful thinking in that, not too long after this parody aired, Mourinho's Real Madrid team won the King's Cup. As for the parody itself, the main performers don't much bother trying to look or act like Neil and Chris, but they do a pretty good job of parodying the core imagery of the video.
29. Kruyf Shop Boys - "Mourinho on My Mind"
I know nothing about the origin of this one—only that it turned up on YouTube apparently in the wake of the Crackòvia parody just above and that it, too, comes from Spain. Again the satirical subject is soccer manager José Mourinho, and again PSB is the vehicle, but this time the parody springboards from "Always on My Mind." The perpetrators do a slightly better job of mimicking the Boys—but just slightly. It's billed as by the "Kruyf Shop Boys," an allusion to legendary soccer player and coach Johan Cruyff, who has a long history with Futbol Club Barcelona (as a star player in the 1970s and as an equally successful coach in the 1990s).
30. The Plum Thunder - "Boys Without Girls"
This Canadian comedy team unveiled their outstanding parody of the Boys—specifically of the "West End Girls" song and video—in 2012. If you like, you can see it on YouTube. The music is essentially identical to that of WEG, but the new lyrics are original—and absolutely delightful.
31. Harry Hill - "It's a Sild"
A March 2000 episode of the third series of the British sketch comedy show Harry Hill featured a brief bit in which Hill and one of his cronies assumed the Pet Shop Boys' recent Nightlife attire and performed a takeoff on "It's a Sin," substituting "sild" for "sin." (Sild—a type of sardine popular in Norway—was the source of a running joke on the show and could be counted on to be mentioned in at least one skit each week.)
32. Harry Hill/Little and Large - "Little and Large Sing the Pet Shop Boys"
On an earlier episode of Harry Hill, from October 30, 1998, there was a bit that really wasn't an outright parody, but close enough, I think, for inclusion here. The guests on that evening's show, the comedy duo of (Syd) Little and (Eddie) Large, did a brief rendition of "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)." They made no attempt whatsoever either to look like the Boys (if you don't count one bowtie) or actually to sound like them, noe was there any pretense of them "being" Chris and Neil. So it wasn't so much a parody as just a few rather silly moments. But I think I would be remiss not to make note of it.
33. The Pie Shop Boys- "Wigan Girls"
Under the category of "thoroughly non-professional but surprisingly good" we have a 2013 excerpt from what appears to be either a talent competition or some other sort of amateur variety show, in which a couple of guys calling themselves "The Pie Shop Boys" perform a takeoff on "West End Girls." You can catch it on YouTube, which was just made for things like this. Too bad the combo of setting and "Flasher Neil's" thick accent renders his vocals all but unintelligible to non-British ears like mine. (Wigan, incidentally, is a town in Greater Manchester in northern England.)
34. Petshop Men - "Congratulations"
The April 10, 2013 episode of U.K. Channel 4's Anna & Katy show, starring comedians Anna Crilly and Katy Wix, concluded with a skit in which the hosts assumed the guise of morning show presenters. They introduced a "Pet Shop Boys tribute act" called "Petshop Men," who proceeded to perform a repetitive ditty (in a vaguely PSB style, of course) with the recurring line "Congratulations, you're the best. So much better than the rest," as Anna and Katy's characters indeed congratulated various people, including the crew who worked on the show. Cone-shaped hats rank right up there as "PSB signifiers," don't they?
35. The Sword and the Dope - "A Servant's Lot"
Written by Michael Horspool, the British stage musical comedy The Sword and the Dope (described by more than one critic as "Monty Pythonesque") includes a Pet Shop Boys takeoff in the form of the song "A Servant's Lot." Backed by a simple synth accompaniment, its two performers adopt an exaggeratedly deadpan/blasé "PSB demeanor" as they bemoan the hard life of a servant in medieval England and long for a better time—such as when a couple humble guys like them might be able to form a synthpop duo. A couple other guys, stepping outside the medieval setting, have also performed it on YouTube backed by what sounds for all the world like a Casio keyboard from the early 1980s. Mildly amusing, but missing its mark somewhat, it doesn't strike me as a particularly good parody. But that's only judging by this YouTube rendition, which I admit may be somewhat misleading.
36. Victoria Wood - "The Smile Song"
British comedian Victoria Wood released this song in 1991 as a Comic Relief charity single, in which she parodied an assortment of pop music artists, styles, and "looks" from the preceding decade. In both the track itself and its music video, the very first artist/style/look to receive such treatment is the Pet Shop Boys. Not only does the arrangement and mood of the song at that point make it quite obvious (being most evocative of "It Couldn't Happen Here" and "King's Cross"), but she also sends up the PSB visual style of the period as she plays the roles of both Neil and Chris. If there were any doubt about it, a couple years later she confirmed in an interview that, indeed, she was parodying PSB. But she nails the eighties in general pretty darn well, at least in my book.
—plus some borderline cases:
Sometimes there's a fine line between
"tribute" and "parody." While there's almost always at least
some element of tribute, if only backhandedly, in any parody, elements of parody
can also appear in even the most heartfelt tributes. Perhaps the chief signifier
Back in 1993, shortly before the release of Very, the Pet Shop Boys were interviewed in their "Can You Forgive Her?" guises on the BBC2 music show The O-Zone. The interviewer, Andi Peters, wore an orange shirt and "dunce cap" while interacting with them in the video's computer-generated otherworld. As a result, he seems to be "semi-parodying" them—at least as they appear in that video—although, more than anything else, it simply comes across as some good-natured fun to which the Boys had given their complete blessing. By the way, it's a delightful interview, which for the time being you can watch on YouTube.
Alastair Douglas and Rhys Evans, collectively known as The MFA—which reportedly stands for "Mother-F**king Allstars"—are a U.K. synth duo of a younger generation. The Pet Shop Boys have clearly served as inspirations to them. The MFA have paid tribute in various ways, including their music video for "Throw It Back (We Will Destroy You)," which is very clearly an homage to the "West End Girls" video. (It perhaps, to a much lesser extent, draws upon the "Love Comes Quickly" and "So Hard" vids as well.) Although visually it covers similar ground as the Flight
of the Conchords' "Inner City Pressure," discussed above as an outright parody, the MFA song itself betrays no elements of PSB parody at all. That just leaves the video, which, at least to this observer, seems much too direct and affectionate to be called a "parody"—even if The MFA do have a reputation for being a bit "daft."
All three members of the band Keane are professed PSB fans. In an extremely informal "mini-doc" that appeared both on the official Keane website and on YouTube in April 2009, lead singer Tom Chaplin does his off-camera vocal "impression" of Neil singing bits of "Opportunities," "Rent" (getting the latter lyrics wrong), and—if you stick around until the very end and the screen has gone black—"Always on My Mind." Frankly, I don't think he sounds much like Neil at all, but it certainly cracks up his bandmates. I guess you had to be there. It's an affectionate bit of goofing around, to be sure, though perhaps not elaborate enough to be considered a true "parody."
Reportedly no longer active, the tribute band Pet Shop Noise clearly paid homage to the Boys,
but from what I gather (I never saw nor heard them myself) overt humor wasn't
a major aspect of their performances. So the term "parody" probably doesn't
apply well to them.
In the same category I'd place a comparatively new tribute band (apparently starting around 2009) who call themselves—are you ready for this?—Pet Shop Boys Tribute Band, or just Pet Shop Boys Tribute for short. I'd have to say that they make up in accuracy what they may lack in imagination. At least I've been able to find a picture of them—something I'd never been able to do for Pet Shop Noise. From what I've heard of them (on YouTube), they do a more than passable job of replicating the "PSB sound."
then there's the case of Isabelle and Rosanna, the West End Girlsa
Swedish female duo who (at least to date) perform nothing but PSB covers, pattern themselves after Neil
and Chris, and have adopted PSB iconography lock, stock, and tongue-in-cheek barrel.
The transposition of "PSB semiotics" to women strongly suggests an inherently
funny form of "faux drag," made all the more humorous by the intently
straight-faced demeanor of the Girls in question, the occasional tongue-sticking-out-of-cheek
notwithstanding. So is it tribute or parody? No law says that it can't be both.
If you're interested, their debut album, Goes Petshopping (retitled We Love Pet Shop Boys in the U.S.), was released
in June 2006. And it's not bad at all.
It wasn't really a parody, and it was of only half of PSB, but I'd truly hate myself if I didn't mention TV writer Andy McNally's impersonation of Neil Tennant on a 1999 episode of the British TV show Stars in Their Eyes. Frankly, I don't think he actually looked or sounded much at all like Neil, but he had the costuming—borrowed from the final numbers of the Boys' classic Performance show—fabulously down pat. And, to his credit, I think his heart was in the right place. That is, he appears to display genuine affection for the subject of his impersonation. And apparently this wasn't the first time someone had paid tribute to Neil on Stars in the Eyes. One Adrian Pye reportedly appeared in the role of Neil singing "Go West" on a 1995 episode. I don't have any photos of his performance, however.
Another quasi-parody/tribute occurred on the 1990s German television show Mini Playback, the premise of which was to feature children mimicking pop music stars and lipsynching to their music.The Pet Shop Boys were of course ripe for this sort of treatment. And, sure enough, one episode—the precise date and even the year of which I'm unsure, although it obviously had to be after the 1993 release of "Go West"—saw a couple of youngsters assume the costumed roles of Chris and Neil, accompanied by an equally "mini" black Statue of Liberty and, far more inexplicably, a cadre of dancing kids dressed in American football uniforms.
In January 2014 the Italian sports/entertainment TV show Quelli che... il Calcio ("Those Who… Enjoy Football") featured an execrably bad parody—in fact, I'm not even sure it merits that desgination, which is why I'm listing it here among the questionable "also-rans"—again based on and miming to "Go West," only this time performed (and I use that word loosely) by adults. (What's up with the twenty-plus-year-old pop culture references?) It's so lame that I must assume it was meant to be "so bad that it's good." But, if that's the case, I don't believe they're very successful even in that. Maybe it was more amusing for the live studio audience, many of whom indeed seemed amused—though, to be sure, many others simply appeared bewildered.
I'm not sure it actually qualifies (is it really a "PSB performance parody?"), but I nevertheless feel obliged to mention the "Go East" recording and video created by the staff of the Edinburgh Evening News to celebrate the 2012 all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup Finals (football/soccer). True, the video has little if anything to do with the Boys—unless you regard the two dancing pandas as their stand-ins—but the music is indisputably done in the style of their classic rendition of "Go West," which itself has long been a staple at U.K. sporting events. It may not remain available for long, but at least for the time being you can watch it on YouTube.
there's the unique tale of British songwriter and producer Jonathan King's 1987
remake of Cat Stevens's "Wild World" in the style of the Pet Shop Boys'
"It's a Sin." King's point wasn't so much to parody PSB as to support his repeated public contention
that Tennant and Lowe had plagiarized the melody of the Stevens song. To further
his point, the single's cover art parodied the cover of Actually (with a "constructed" image of King himself and Stevens substituting
for Chris and Neil) and featured the words "actually, It's a sinto
steal." (King also offered a bit of guilt-by-association evidence in the form of the b-side: the old Chiffons hit "He's So Fine"
performed in the style of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." These two songs had been at the center of a notorious legal case more than a decade before, in which Harrison had been found guilty of unintentionally plagiarizing
the older song.) At any rate, the Boys sued King and The
Sun, which had published King's allegations. The case was settled out of court
to the Boys' advantage, and they donated the undisclosed sum awarded them to charity.
All this aside, although parody may not have been the objective, it was,
in essence, a side-effect.*
the way, in case you're wondering whether I believe King's allegations
had any merit, let me put it like this. His rendition of "Wild World" à la "It's a Sin" underscores both the similarities and
the differences of the two melodies. That is, yes, they're similarthere's
no getting around it. But they're also sufficiently different to completely absolve
Neil and Chris of plagiarism. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.
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