Two Divided by Zero

Writers - Tennant/Orlando
First released - 1986
Original album - Please
Producer - Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - Pandemonium
Other releases - (none)

The first track on the first album by the Pet Shop Boys was partly inspired by a "talking calculator" that Neil had bought for his father for Christmas; the song employs the "voice" of the calculator. (It was manufactured probably either by Texas Instruments or Sharp—the stories vary. Please see my first annotation below.) Also, as Neil states in the 2006 documentary Pet Shop Boys: A Life in Pop, he also drew inspiration from his teenage years in his hometown of Newcastle, where he and his friends used to visit the train station late at night and fantasize about hopping a train and escaping to London. This longing to escape pervades the song.

As any mathematician will tell you (or even anyone who ever paid attention in their arithmetic classes), you can't divide by zero. It's a nonsensical, meaningless proposition. How can you divide something by nothing? It violates the very definition of the word "divide." So with this underlying mathematical concept as his theme, the narrator tries to persuade his lover to "run away" with him to New York City. There's no reason for them not to since, after all, nothing (zero) divides them (two). In short, it's as absurd to try to keep them apart as it is to try to divide 2 by 0. It's an ingenious lyrical conceit, and although the music is hardly of the first rank, it's nevertheless an auspicious beginning.

One of my site visitors has suggested that the lyrical protagonists of this song might be criminals—criminals who also happen to be lovers—who are fleeing either the police or a rival gang. While I can't say that I necessarily ascribe to this reading, I can certainly see how many of its lines (such as "Or someone tipped them off" and "So why hang around for the deed to be done?") can readily lend themselves to such an interpretation.

The co-writing credit for the Boys' original producer, Bobby "O" Orlando, arises from the fact that Neil and Chris built the song around a basic backing track that Orlando had created. Bobby apparently didn't know what to do with it. But the Pet Shop Boys did. Most interestingly, however, Chris does not receive a co-writing credit.

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

Official but unreleased

List cross-references