Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1986
Original album - Please
Producer - Stephen Hague
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)
This almost painfully dolorous song, permeated by an air of deep longing and regret, was recorded "live" in the studio. Chris played piano and Neil sang while seated on a stool amidst dimmed lighting. British music journalist John Gill has pointed out the decidedly gay subtext, which Neil has confirmed: "This is the most gay song we've ever written, practically, and no one noticed at the time."
The predominant metaphor is that of an English boys' school, with its concomitant homoerotic undertones. But it probably is indeed just a metaphor for what's going on in the mind of the person Neil is addressing—most likely the narrator talking to himself: "He is the head boy of a school of thought that plays in your intentions ." The object of this person's affections isn't interested in him ("That boy never cast a look in your direction"), so from that perspective he's just a fantasy. As Neil would put it many years later, it's "about fancying a boy … and thinking how you'll never get to meet him." So what does one wait for "later tonight"? Masturbation, in all likelihood. The final words, after all, are "tonight always comes." It works either way.
One of my site visitors has offered the extremely intriguing theory that this song may be something of a response to the classic Kinks number "David Watts" from 1967, famously covered by The Jam in 1978. In that song the narrator similarly focuses on an unapproachable, seemingly perfect "head boy," expressing his envy at the way he is "so gay and fancy-free." The "Later Tonight" line about "the mod of your invention" may even be referring obliquely to the Kinks, who were early mod icons, and/or The Jam, its leader Paul Weller in particular, who adopted a latter-day mod image. But while "David Watts" is deeply and almost comically ironic, the Pet Shop Boys are not being particularly ironic in their track—which is somewhat ironic in and of itself given their early and, at least for them, frustratingly persistent reputation for irony. Rather, "Later Tonight" comes across as probably the single most sincere and heartfelt song on their debut album. Comparing the two songs is a fascinating exercise, regardless of whether the parallels between them are intentional on the Boys' part.
As an interesting sidenote, the song's original copyright and early sheet music lists Neil Tennant as the sole songwriter. Chris, however, received co-credit for the song on the album. So a very likely scenario is that Neil had indeed written "Later Tonight" on his own (he once noted that it had been written "on guitar," inspired by the sight of an attractive young man walking past the Smash Hits offices, where he was working at the time) and had copyrighted it as such, but that Chris had later made enough of a contribution to earn his collaborative credit.
- "That boy never cast a look in your direction / Never tried to hook for your affection" - One of my site visitors brought to my attention the fact that this couplet employs a simple, subtle, yet effective fishing metaphor ("cast… hook") that laments the way in which the second-person protagonist of the song ("you") is all but ignored by the schoolmate who is the object of his desire.
- "Dresses like the mod of your invention" – A marvelous turn of phrase that, as noted above, refers to the 1960s British youth subculture known as the "mods" (from "modern" or "modernists"). Mods tended to dress in fashionable suits, while their preferences in music leaned toward American R&B. The mods would almost certainly have been very much in the consciousness of a young Neil Tennant while he was growing up. Thus it's not surprising that such a reference would turn up in this song, which seems to draw much of its inspiration from his youth.
- "He is the head boy of a school of thought that plays in your intentions, night and day" – More wordplay that draws upon the song's extended boys' school metaphor. In many U.K. schools the "Head Boy" (or, for a girls' school, the "Head Girl") is an older student who is either elected or appointed to a coveted position very roughly equivalent to that of "student body president" in U.S. schools. The "Head Boy" would generally be highly respected—and sometimes downright idolized—by many if not most of the school's younger students. The phrase "school of thought" is a metaphorical idiom in English (and several other languages) that refers to a particular point of view or set of ideas held by someone, often (but not always) a group of people. This specific "school of thought" clearly refers to the obsession the narrator has for the young man he's singing about: he's always thinking about him, "night and day." We can imagine his "intentions."
- Mixer: Stephen Hague
- Album version (2:46)
Official but unreleased
- Mixer: unknown
- Demo (3:02)
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