Go West

Writers - Belolo/Morali/Willis; additions by Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1993
Original album - Very
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, , Stephen Hague, Brothers in Rhythm
Subsequent albums - Disco 2, PopArt, Pandemonium, Ultimate
Other releases - single (UK #2, US Dance #1)

Neil has said of this track, "We tried to bring out the elegiac quality of a utopia that couldn't be realized." It was Chris's idea to cover this Village People semi-classic from 1979. Neil was reluctant at first, but he soon warmed to the idea and later conceded that, as usual, Chris's idea for a remake was right on target. They performed it live well before a studio version was ever released, having done so in 1992 at The Haçienda nightclub in Manchester for an AIDS charity benefit, where they had been asked to perform by Derek Jarman.

When it came time to record it in the studio, they did so with the help of an all-male authentic Broadway chorus, described by arranger Richard Niles as "very butch, very camp." In so doing, the Boys transformed the original celebration of the "Gay American Dream" of California sunshine, warmth, brotherhood, and sex into an intensely ironic yet assertive and strangely uplifting disco dirge haunted by AIDS. And in the process, the Pet Shop Boys elevated the Village People's semi-classic to full-fledged classic status, essentially making it their own.

Of course the Village People had successfully drawn upon the famous suggestion to "Go West, young man"—which, by the way, wasn't original with nineteenth-century American journalist Horace Greeley, as commonly believed, although he did popularize it. That certainly remains in the PSB rendition. But I can't help but wonder the extent to which Chris and Neil were also consciously drawing upon the ages-old cultural tradition of "going west," riding off into the sunset, being symbolic of death—an idea that surely wasn't in the minds of either Greeley or the Village People when they respectively appropriated the phrase.

Further, the video took an altogether different approach, applying the lyrics to an ironic commentary on the defeat of Soviet communism and the "westernization" of Russia. In this way Tennant and Lowe created several layers of meaning where only one had existed before. And they got a major hit single in the process. At least it was a major hit in Britain and much of the rest of the world. In the U.S. it was rarely heard outside of gay dance clubs, although a sound-alike instrumental track made a brief appearance in the background of a car commercial. Incidentally, the Pet Shop Boys noticed that the chord progression on which the original tune was based is that of German composer Johann Pachelbel's Canon, so they emphasized it in the opening phrases, thus further suggesting a dirge-like atmosphere. (Coincidentally, the music also resembles the former Soviet national anthem.)

Neil and Chris added the new middle section ("There where the air is free…," ending "We'll find our promised land"); Neil wrote the new words and Chris the additional music. Neil modified some of the original lyrics as well.

It may be worth noting that in the wake of the hit PSB remake of this song, it became a common "football [soccer] chant" in the U.K. and much of Europe, much as Queen's "We Will Rock You" became a sports "arena anthem" in the U.S. There's some intense real-life irony going on there in both cases, the nature of which I hardly need to describe in detail.

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