Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2016
Original album - Super
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

Described in advance by the Boys as a largely instrumental track and debuted online a little more than a week before the album's release, this song opens Super with what Neil nevertheless refers to as a "truthful, philosophical statement"—just about the only lyrics, repeated several times along the way:

It’s a long way to happiness, a long way to go, but I’m gonna get there, boy, the only way I know.

The only variation comes toward the end, when Neil adds, "And when we get there is anybody's guess" (rhyming with the first clause's "happiness"), which casts a slightly darkened tint to the proceedings. In other words, he maintains that, yes, he's going to find happiness, but he's not at all sure when. It may take some time. As Neil mentioned to an interviewer in reference to this track, "As ever with the Pet Shop Boys, the happiness is still tinged with a tiny bit of melancholy."

In briefly discussing this song with another interviewer (for the U.K. magazine Attitude), Neil offered the curious suggestion that this track was partly inspired by "a mental image" he had while he and Chris were recording a different song altogether "of Leo Sayer in dungarees with a perm" singing that recurring line. Neil has noted that he didn't have a specific Leo Sayer song in mind, although the track "An Englishman in the U.S.A." from Sayer's 1979 album Here offers some intriguing parallels. (See my annotations below for the relevant lyrics from that song.) Neil does adopt—quite jarringly on first listen—an extremely unusual vocal style (at least for him) in this song. So perhaps the "Leo Sayer" reference, more than anything else, is to an Englishman adopting a stereotypically "countrified American" persona when singing, as Sayer was prone to do at times. (A good example can be found in his 1974 hit "Long Tall Glasses." Then again, that American "country" style does have its roots in the British folk tradition.) Coming in this case from Neil, I'm sure it will take most fans by surprise. In fact, shock may be more like it.

The music is similarly atypical for PSB. While the underlying bass synth line isn't unusual for them, some of the wilder, more dissonant synth embellishments (particularly near the end) and the scattered chopped-up vocal samples aren't what we've come to expect—though the subtly spelled-out H-A-P-P-I-N-E-S-S bits do evoke memories of "Shopping" and "Minimal." It does, however, seem a lot more fun than what we're accustomed to with this band. I imagine Chris and Neil themselves had a blast recording it.

These days, the blending of a somewhat "country-western" style with an electronic/synth dance style isn't nearly as anomalous as it may seem at first glance. Synths are downright commonplace nowadays among younger C&W-oriented performers, and there's a long tradition of dance music in the world of country music. Even many gay bars—at least here in the States (I can't speak for anywhere else)—either have a C&W theme or hold a weekly "country night" in which patrons take to the floor doing the two-step, polka, or line-dances, depending on the song. In fact, one of my site visitors has suggested that Pet Shop Boys themselves may have had country line-dancing in mind when they recorded this track. Even if they hadn't intended it, I personally don't think it would be the least bit out of place in that context.

Whatever the case, this opening song comes across as a light-hearted experiment, setting the stage for an album that delivers its share of surprises amidst the Pet Shop Boys' well-worn strengths.


List cross-references