1992 had been very quiet in the world of the Pet Shop Boys.   1993 started very quietly.  It took until the month of June before they popped their heads up above the parapet again.  The wait was worth it.


1 June 1993.  The first new material since the release of the Discography collection back in November 1991.   It was the longest they had been out of the spotlight since West End Girls had propelled them to superstardom. 

Can You Forgive Her? proved to be a tremendous return to form.  There is absolutely no messing around with this one.  The first note is bombastic, and it never really relents.   It’s the sort of tune that lends itself to a full orchestra, but somehow Chris Lowe manages, thanks to his keyboard wizardry and arrangement skills, to do it all by himself.  At just short of the forty-second mark, Neil Tennant joins in as the narrator of what turns out to be a desperately sad tale.

A man can’t sleep because he’s angry/upset that his girlfriend/wife has made a fool of him in public.  His mind then turns to the other humiliations he’s experienced at her hands, including the taunts about his sexual inadequacy.  Finally, the reasons behind it all are revealed, in that the man is, and has been since his school days, gay but is unwilling to face up to the fact.  His wife/girlfriend clearly knows the truth and piles on the misery by saying she will cheat on him and his mind turns to revenge…..except that he’s clearly too weak/cowardly to actually do anything. 

It might be a really sad and tragic set of circumstances, but it’s set to an absolute barnstormer of a tune.  One that went to #7 in the charts.


mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Can You Forgive Her?
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Hey, Headmaster

It’s a hugely enjoyable b-side.  It’s another sad tale, but this time it has the sad sounding tune to match.  I’ve often wondered if it was a close cousin to the A-side in that the headmaster in question was repressing his sexuality in order to maintain his position.  But then again, it might well be the tale of someone who is just fed up with his lot and is past the stage of caring about the school and the pupils who attend it.  All in all, this really is one of those occasions when a listener shouldn’t try to read too much into a song and simply enjoy the music and vocal delivery for what they are.


The next single was released on 6 September 1993. 

It wasn’t until doing a bit of research for this single did I learn the full backstory.

As we’ve seen, 1992 was a quiet year for PSB. However, on 13 May, they had accepted the invitation from filmmaker Derek Jarman to participate in an AIDS charity event at The Haçienda nightclub in Manchester. The duo decided that Go West would be the song of choice.

Neil and Chris later went into the studio with the intention of recording it as a stand-alone single, but having listened to the results, the idea was put on the back-burner.  It was revisited during the sessions for the next album, where it was decided that what was really needed was an all-male Broadway choir to get the message of the song across more fully.

It was an audacious move.  One that rode a very fine line between producing something that was genius or ridiculous.  Me?  I’m very much of the view it was genius – a sentiment shared by many others as the single reached #2 in the charts


mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Go West
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Shameless

This b-side is one of their very best.   An upbeat and very danceable number where the duo have their tongues very firmly in their cheeks:-

We’re shameless, we will do anything
to get our fifteen minutes of fame
We have no integrity, we’re ready to crawl
To obtain celebrity we’ll do anything at all

It really is hard to fathom why Shameless was thrown away as a b-side.  Not only would it have been a great track on any album, but there’s a real sense that it could have been lifted as a future single.

I bought Go West on the week of release.  Listening to it, and its b-side, and recalling the quality of both sides of the previous single, had me thinking that the upcoming new studio album, their fifth but first in three years, was going to be an absolute belter.

Very was released on 27 September 1993.  It did something no other PSB album had ever done in that it went to #1.  And the next part of this series will look at its later singles.

I’ll finish off today with a bit of footage that might bring back memories for some UK members of the TVV community and maybe put a smile on the faces of those who are seeing it for the first time.  It’s what I reckon is the definitive performance of Go West at the Brit Awards on 14 February 1994:-

Neil and Chris are in suspiciously clean overalls, while the backing vocals come courtesy of a Welsh male voice choir, all dressed as miners.  And given how many mining communities right across the UK had been decimated over the previous decade, it was a very poignant, powerful and moving sight. 


11 thoughts on “PET SHOP BOYS SINGLES (Part Ten)

  1. Go West remains poignant – the video performance only heightens that feeling for me.

    In 1993 I was volunteering for an AIDS charity (as they were called then). Any glimmer of hope, of support, lifted the spirits of the men, women and children that I was working with in a world largely embedded in homophobic hatred. As popular as they were to release Go West was, I believe , a risk for the Pet Shop Boys against a vocal backdrop of rabid right-wing media vultures. Moments like this should not be underestimated – a coming together for a second time of Welsh miners and gay men in an attempt to challenge prejudice.

    The performance makes me sad. It brings a smile. It makes me bubble with very mixed emotions.

    It makes me think of all those amazing people who came together to assist one another, of all of those who were kind enough to help me organise AIDS benefit nights in ‘straight’ venues in Glasgow and the wonderful support from local bands. It makes me think of those no longer here. It makes me think – pop music can change hearts and minds.

  2. Winding back to 1992 for a moment, the Pet Shop Boys produced a single which could have found its way into the series ‘It really was a cracking debut single’ or the series ‘Saturday’s Scottish song’. In my collection It nestles between ‘Black Man Ray’ and ‘(White man)…in Hammersmith Palais’. It is of course, Cicero and ‘Love is everywhere’. A cracking single and you get the PSB influence on the production, which helped to propel it into the top 20. His album ‘Future Boy’ was also produced by the PSB in 1992.
    The connection was formed in 1989 when he went to a PSB gig in Glasgow and gave a demo to their assistant.
    (PS Apologies if Cicero has featured before but I could not find any previous reference to him on the blog).

  3. Two songs that really show what PSB are about, without saying it directly. Actually the whole Very LP is quite like this – taking everyday subjects and weaving a back story around them.

    That performance is THE best thing that has come out of the Brits, bar one (Lorde doing Life on Mars? Even beats Bowie and Placebo).

    The b-sides are two of the best. Shameless really comes into it’s on when on stage in Closer to Heaven and Hey, Headmaster feels to me just as you explained – hiding a secret to keep a job.

    Well done JC. Can’t wait for the next couple of singles (still haven’t got to my favourite b-side yet).

  4. Go West had all sorts of messages didn’t it. The break up of the Soviet Union the year before and ‘the end of history’ ‘victory’ of liberal democracy is in there too I think.

    Can You Forgive Her is superb, one of their very best. The album was a stunner too. Liberation is gorgeous electronic pop and I assume coming up next week.

  5. There was another “b-side” to Can You Forgive Her? – the Brecht/Weill song What Keeps Mankind Alive? from The Threepenny Opera. Very Brechtian, very good.

  6. This is my favourite Sunday singles series yet, and I class myself as a number one Fall and B&S fan. Enjoying listening to the albums as we go along. Very / Disco 2 are pinnacles for me. Listening to Discovery, Live in Rio 1994, on repeat today on Spotify is now my current favourite.

  7. The PSB’s 1994 Brits performance was I think a reaction to the horror of 1993’s U2 Brits yawnfest (and a nod to The JAMMS 1992 shoot-out). PSB’s do a blistering version of “Go West” which stands up well next to the “Casablanca” disco-stomp stylings of the original Village People production from 1979. The song originally appeared on Village People’s 1979 elpee “Go West”. It wasn’t a song about AIDS, the fall of the Soviet Union or the closing of the UK mining industry (none of which had happened by 1979). It is a song about Hope for the future & love between people, pure and simple. It doesn’t say anything else. Jaques Morali (long-time Casablanca label disco producer) and Victor Willis (the cop in VP) wrote it. Another Pachelbel ‘Canon in D’ classic.

  8. Thanks Sid.

    I don’t disagree with a single word you’ve said in terms of what ‘Go West’ isn’t…..and I hadn’t thought about PSB using the 1994 Brits as their reaction to 1993 and 1992, the latter of which remains the finest ever live TV music performance I can ever recall.

  9. The choir dressed as miners certainly made an impact on my father, the last of seven generations to have worked as iron ore or coal miners in my family. Not a dry eye that night.

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