Later Tonight

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.

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