West End Girls

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1984
Original album - Please
Producer (album version) - Stephen Hague; (original version) - Bobby Orlando
Subsequent albums - Disco, Discography, PopArt, Concrete, Pandemonium, Ultimate
Other releases - 1984 single (UK #121); 1985 single (UK #1, US #1, US Dance #1)

The Pet Shop Boys' first (and biggest) true hit single is famous for its unforgettable bass-synthesizer hook, its ambisexual lyrics (not only the "East End boys and West End girls" reference but possibly also the ambigious line "Which would you choose, a hard or soft option?"), and its "Brit-rap" innovation. The lyrics are at times cryptic and full of relatively obscure references that betray a variety of far-flung inspirations. Neil has stated that he wrote the lyrics as a stream of consciousness with different narrative voices, influenced in this respect by T.S. Eliot's great poem The Waste Land. He has also cited the influence of the early (1982) rap hit "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Not only is there a stylistic influence—"The Message" seminally influenced all rap and "rappish" tracks that followed—but a lyrical one as well, with both tracks graphically depicting urban decay, particularly in their respective first verses. And the ominously suicidal opening lines—

Sometimes you're better off dead
There's a gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head

—were inspired by an old James Cagney gangster film that he watched at his cousin's home one evening in the early 1980s.

Certain lines in "West End Girls" seem to reflect an aimlessness and lack of identity ("We've got no future, we've got no past") commonly felt by members of the Boys' generation in the 1980s. That decade's rampant acquisitiveness ("How much have you got?") is touched upon. Neil also plays around with apparent opposites: rich and poor, upper class and lower class, London's East End and West End. As he noted in a 1986 interview on Japanese television, much of the song concerns the contrast between "bright lights and dull lives," the dream of "escaping the ordinary, everyday life to the kind of fantasy of a city at night, with all the neon lights and stuff." Certain lines ("Have you got it? Do you get it?" among others) also seem to refer to the growth of street drug culture in Thatcherite Britain.

Meanwhile, Neil's well-known interest and background in history (his major in college), particularly that of Russia, is evident in the line "from Lake Geneva to the Finland Station," which refers to the train route taken by Lenin when he was smuggled by the Germans to Russia during the First World War, a pivotal event in the Russian Revolution. Some of the lengthier mixes include additional Russian references, such as the bizarrely comic "Who do you think you are—Joe Stalin?" (Speaking of mixes, "West End Girls" has the distinction of being the PSB song with the greatest number of "official" remixes: at least twenty, maybe more.) What all of these references have to do with the song's primary scenario of social and sexual conflict in London is, however, anybody's guess. Perhaps they're simply meant to evoke images of revolution.

At any rate, "West End Girls" was first recorded with American producer "Bobby O" Orlando and, in that version, became a minor hit in some countries (most successfully in Belgium). It was subsequently re-recorded and released after the Boys moved to EMI, and this second version proved a huge international success, hitting #1 in many nations, including the U.S. and Britain.

Annotations

Mixes

Officially released

Official but unreleased

List cross-references