May 10

PET SHOP BOYS – “Always On My Mind”

Popular110 comments • 13,234 views

#601, 19th December 1987, video

In the comics series Phonogram, there’s a scene in which the – kind of horrible – pop DJ Seth Bingo and his indie collaborator Silent Girl are struggling to work a recalcitrant dancefloor into life. Their solution? “Play the Blondie!” – a copy of “Atomic” which literally glows as it’s withdrawn from its sleeve.

Every club and every DJ has this kind of record – the song you put on as an act of faith to galvanise the night, or as an act of celebration to help it to its peak. “Always On My Mind” has been one of mine. There comes a point whenever I play pop music to a crowd that I want to play the Pet Shop Boys, and the next question becomes, well, why not play this? Those five seconds of groans and drum tracks to alert the lapsed or doubtful and then – boom! The mighty, unmistakable synthesiser fanfare which is the Boys’ great addition to the song, kicking off one of the most simply and sympathetically joyful tracks we’ll ever encounter, a gallop of sequenced Eurodisco drum lines and bright blasts of keyboard in service of the original track’s warm chords.

“It’s A Sin” found the Pet Shop Boys pushing their hi-NRG arsenal into the red, conquering pop by overloading it: “Always On My Mind” unleashes the same level of force but this time they’re handling it with happy precision, while somehow preserving the song’s humility under all the flashes and bangs. They manage this partly through another marvellous performance from Neil Tennant. He can’t compete with the arrangement’s fireworks so he stands back from them, making himself a calm, sincerely regretful presence in the middle of the track, and making “Always On My Mind” seem as heartfelt as it is grandiose.

Of all their big singles it’s perhaps their most relaxed – there’s no particular cleverness or conceit, no great message to take away, nothing ironic or ‘subversive’. Their other hit covers have points to prove: “Where The Streets Have No Name” is a bit of anti-rockist mischief making, “Go West” a defiant coming-out parade. Here they are making a huge technicolour hit simply because they’re pop stars and that’s their job: “Always On My Mind” has no real gameplan or reason to exist other than to delight people. It feels – appropriately for a Christmas Number One – like a gift, and I think that generosity is what makes a friendly dancefloor always respond so well to it. I don’t play “Always On My Mind” every time I DJ – there are always too many new and rediscovered peaks to fit in – but if the night’s gone well I always feel like I did.



  1. 1
    Tom on 4 May 2010 #

    Quick notes:

    – the video is from the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘interesting’ fillum project, It Couldn’t Happen Here, so maybe I am being slightly disingenuous in implying AOMM is an act of the purest generosity. But it’s long since shaken off any associations it had with that.

    – the extended mix of this on Introspective deserves, and may one day get, its own post.

    – I decided not to mention “Fairytale Of New York” in the blurb (partly because I half suspect it’ll end up getting to #1 EVENTUALLY). It is an excellent record, I do not enjoy it as much as this one but I do feel one of the four weeks “Always” was at the top could have been handed over. Oh well.

  2. 2
    Tom on 4 May 2010 #

    (And there have now been more 80s 10-out-of-10s than the rest of pop PUT TOGETHER! Anyone would think I grew up then or something.)

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 4 May 2010 #

    I’m not a huge fan of the PSB but I like this better than most of their stuff.
    I think Neil Tennant benefits from singing a lyric which he hadn’t written himself – and particularly one which is such an iconic song.
    The Elvis version is a camp classic with his intense, theatrical performance. PSB achieve a different sort of camp here with NTs almost affectless delivery contrasting with the frenetic pulse and synthetic brass flourishes of the music.

  4. 4
    MikeMCSG on 4 May 2010 #

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Tom that this originally surfaced in an ITV special to mark the 10th anniversary of Elvis’s death in September which, this song apart, was filled with dross (although Kim Wilde’s “One Night” was notable for non-musical reasons). Initially the PSBs seemed reluctant to put it out because they had one more single to come from “Actually” which we will get to shortly.

    I like it but wouldn’t give a cover 10.

  5. 5
    fivelongdays on 4 May 2010 #

    I’d argue that the marks for this and “It’s A Sin” are the wrong way round ;-)

  6. 6
    Lex on 4 May 2010 #

    I’m surprised you didn’t reprise what you said about this song a few years ago on ILX, Tom –

    this is one of Tennant’s finest vocal hours because in his slight diffidence you can hear exactly how and why he neglected his lover, and in the unstoppable synthesized beat you can hear exactly how he’s going to get him back

    ^^which is completely OTM, absolutely crucial to why this version succeeds, and a line I always think of whenever I hear or think about this song. It’s a difficult balancing act to pull off, to convey a character flaw like that without losing sympathy (or more precisely, without making the listener transfer their sympathies to the object of the song) – and MOST DON’T, especially the kind of passive-aggressive weedy boy who uses Tennant’s diffidence as a template. I think it’s because Tennant sounds resolved to actually rectify this flaw, or at least try.

    One who does succeed is Ne-Yo on “Part Of The List”, where you can hear this fastidious attention to minutiae that would have driven the girl away but which is also what makes the song so great as a crafted piece of work.

    Haha you also wrote (in Oct 2002), “I want this played at my wedding” – was it?

  7. 7
    Tom on 4 May 2010 #

    Oh – yes that is a good line! Well done me :)

    And yes it was played at my wedding, at least to the extent I can remember what was played at my wedding….

  8. 8
    Mackro on 4 May 2010 #

    I love both versions, but I prefer the PSB version only for this subtlety. At the end of the main chorus in the Elvis version, they hold that last note.

    The Pet Shot Boys pull a trick where they inject two new bass notes that bridge to the post-chorus. Those two notes are the ones that have hooked me into this song altogether.

    Oddly enough, whenever I go back to the Elvis version, I so want to hear Elvis’s band play those Two Crucial Bass Notes.

  9. 9
    tonya on 4 May 2010 #

    A well-deserved 10, although maybe not to the “Always in my House” version.

    Was the Willie Nelson version known in the UK at all? It was huge around 82-83 in America, and I thought of this as a Willie Nelson song when the PSB version came out. Willie also sings it in an understated way, which is probably the best way to approach a lyric that can come off as “things on my mind: we’re out of milk, you, my sister’s birthday is next week.”

  10. 10
    Pete on 4 May 2010 #

    Yes, I distinctly remember playing it at your wedding, in a bit of a rush when I remembered that the bride & groom shuffle off before everyone!

    Possibly not a ten for me (Always In My House might have been, but for annoying my sister reasons) but I love it and hear it probably as often as I need to (ie about once a month a Poptimism – of which there is one this Friday!)

  11. 11
    abaffledrepublic on 4 May 2010 #

    I was surprised by the 10 for this. It’s probably my favourite of the PSB’s number ones, but I still think they had stronger singles which didn’t get there. I love the weird roaring noise which opens the track, it gives me a shiver of anticipation for the rest of the song every time I play it.

    And I’m glad it blocked Fairytale of New York, which just irritates me.

  12. 12
    flahr on 4 May 2010 #

    (New here, by the way)

    I’m also with the less-than-a-ten crowd, probably around an 8, but I like what you say about it seeming like a gift – it’s a good way of getting across how at ease the record sounds.

  13. 13
    daavid on 4 May 2010 #

    Finally, a PSB single gets a 10! I was kind of worried, since I knew it was the only one left that had a chance.

  14. 14
    Greg Pallis on 4 May 2010 #

    This is, for whatever it’s worth, my favourite single ever – I remember the first time I loved it, on Fox FM in bright Oxfordshire sunshire and thinking it was Elvis; it’s as pure a translation of joy – as I understand & feel it – as any medium’s ever brought to me.

    I like what you said, once, about the note of triumph in “Gi-ive me…” – that Tennant is at that moment & for the first time totally certain that he’ll get his second chance.

  15. 15
    swanstep on 4 May 2010 #

    I find AOMM a big yawn, and the love for it expressed here quite baffling. The synth chords bludgeon (I swear this band’s arrangement and keyboard skills went backwards from their first album), the voice is thin, the rhythm track is unremarkable. I’d take True Faith (let alone Peekaboo – a genuine ’80s ’10′ in my view) by at least several points over this any day of the week. To me, AOMM sounds knocked out in about half an hour using It’s a Sin’s presets, which were lousy. I understand that I’m in the minority on this, but apart from people reliving youthful PSB-mania I don’t see how this can be seriously thought an especially delightful record, let alone one of the best ever made. Unwanted consistency watch: where does one begin? Perhaps with TomScore(Jailhouse Rock) = 7. I mean, good God. For me, AOMM can score no more than a:

  16. 16
    daavid on 4 May 2010 #

    No complaints from me. This is a solid 10. Not only one of the PSB greatest singles, but one of my favourite songs, period. Pure bliss!

    My favourite part, which, iirc, is absent from previous versions, is towards the end when Tennant sings “Maybe I didn’t love you…” omitting the following “quite as often as I could” line. I’m not sure if it was intentional but to me it suggests a shift towards a more genuinely reflective, rather than apologetic tone. As if all of a sudden he understands.

    BTW, I would’ve given “It’s a Sin” and “West End Girls” 10s too (although maybe the former deserves a slightly minor 10).

  17. 17
    daavid on 4 May 2010 #

    BTW this was a nice blurb and all but my favourite review of AOMM is still Tanya Headon’s, which I find remarkable not just because it’s ROFL, but also because I cannot object to a single thing she says about it. I was going to post a link but I can’t find it :(

  18. 18

    Tanya: written ten years ago just six weeks from now!

  19. 19
    Alan on 4 May 2010 #

    “The Pet Shot Boys pull a trick where they inject two new bass notes that bridge to the post-chorus.”

    I recall them saying in interview how they had deliberately simplified the song – reduced the chord sequence or something. What mattered to me was that it was at the RIGHT SPEED.

    I woke up in my first year college room, turned on the radio on my modular ghetto-blaster thing, and went back to sleep. I had a dream that went at a tremendous canter, and when i woke up again, this was the dream tempo on the radio.

    MY. FIRST. SINGLE. And the 12″ at that. which i still have.

    Not actually my first single – i’d had (eg) Rubber Ducky by Sesame Street bought for me when i was very small – but the first one i bought for myself. Which (if you know me) seems like a late stage, but before now I had been happy KILLING MUSIC BY HOME TAPING the top 40.

    As others have variously observed, I’d give either this or It’s A Sin a 10 depending on my mood that week.

    That year I thought xmo number one was going to be Barcelona.

  20. 20
    Steve Mannion on 4 May 2010 #

    Most predictable 10 ever! I love it but I’m a little sick of it I guess and several of the PSB’s excellent b-sides and album tracks from this time are still quite new to me so I’m spending more time and love on them.

    The spectral gusto of Horn and Lipson seems to be chief informant here as with It’s A Sin – the despairing other side of the drama-ramic coin to the euphoric immense sound of AOMM. In a particularly busy year of hit songs that aimed for enormity (IAS, China…, You Win Again) the apex arrived in this climactic affair.

  21. 21
    TomLane on 4 May 2010 #

    Elvis recorded it first in 1972. In the States, it was a b-side. Willie Nelson had the next biggest hit with it in 1982, peaking At number 5. But I was surprised to find that this version made it to number 4. Not as enthused as Tom’s 10, more like an 8. A good overhaul of what, at that time, was already an Adult Contemporary evergreen.

  22. 22
    thefatgit on 4 May 2010 #

    There is a moment in every pop music fan’s life that he or she is asked to consider 2 versions of the same song and decide which is the better version. “Always On My Mind” is one of those moments. Elvis’ version was imperious, untouchable. A piece of grand pop perfection, larger than the sum of it’s parts. Presley’s almost restrained vocal, the orchestraition that allows the song to build naturally, to suck you in emotionally, to feel what Elvis felt, what Willie felt, what Brenda felt…what Neil felt. Country music tells stories, conveys emotion to those who find emotion the hardest thing to convey. Elvis elevated it to high art, this conveying of longing, of yearning, of hope. It’s a boomer anthem. If you can imagine the postwar generation wondering for what, their parents and grandparents sacrificed in 2 world wars, and then the 60’s came with it’s paranoia and permissiveness and the other side of that, the 70’s almost nullifying the hippy philosophy with recession and energy crisis and Vietnam. AOMM through that lens becomes an apology, an act of contrition. An admission of guilt. For the next generation it shines. An achingly beautiful tale of lost love with the hope of love regained. A promise of a better tomorrow. And this is where Neil comes in. This is probably one of the most forward-looking nods to the past ever. It feels re-invented, re-imagined and new like all good cover versions should be, but always aware of its roots and origins. In the wrong hands, the song could have drowned in sparkly newness, but it’s much more deft and clever than you think. How do you speed up a slowie and keep it’s earnest integrity?

    Wiki states it’s all in the cadence:
    “The Pet Shop Boys version introduces a harmonic variation not present in the original version. In the original the ending phrase ‘always on my mind’ is sung to a IV-V7-I cadence (C-D7-G). The Pet Shop Boys extend this cadence by adding two further chords: C-D7-Gm7/B♭-C-G (i.e. a progression of IV-V7-i7b-IV-I).”

    The change allows for AOMM to accelerate into a higher tempo arena without it feeling rushed or clunky. The change allows this version to build with the drama and urgency necessary for a discoed up, camped up homage to Elvis, Brenda and Willie. Just a little tweak that makes all the difference. IMO, this elevates the PSB’s vesion to the top. Among the greatest cover versions ever made, and worthy of a 10 indeed.

  23. 23
    Tom on 4 May 2010 #

    Great comment thefatgit – was hoping someone would explore the covers angle in a bit more depth! (I’d forgotten the Elvis TV special entirely!)

  24. 24
    James on 5 May 2010 #

    Yes, in the U.S. the Willie Nelson version is the best known. Some may be dimly aware that it was recorded by Elvis first, but it is not associated with him at all.

  25. 25
    MBI on 5 May 2010 #

    I hadn’t seen Tanya’s review of this, but boy oh boy, she had it right on the nose. Given some space and restraint, this thing might have some impact, but as it is it’s an awful blaring piece of crap brought down by the fact that it’s exactly the kind of thing that Neil Tennant cannot be trusted with whatsoever. I genuinely hate this.

  26. 26
    Conrad on 5 May 2010 #

    Clunky, pompous and sung with all the emotional intensity of a man reading the classified football results. Both this and ‘Its A Sin’ share the same overbearing synth sound, and same propensity for ill-conceived drama of production. It leaves me cold, and genuinely dumbfounded by the majority of the comments.

    So, 4 – because it has a great melody to start with, some of which survives unscathed.

  27. 27
    punctum on 5 May 2010 #

    Maybe the truest version of the song was the quiet, shattered dignity of Willie Nelson’s acoustic reading, one of the legions of great singles released in 1982 but seldom acknowledged as such. Elvis sang it like a brute belatedly tamed, probing into his deepest, least hardened arteries to discover the core of tenderness which would still justify his asking “Love Me Tender” in Vegas, and as with most of his later work was interpreted as simply another chapter of signifiers in his dysfunctional descent.

    The Pet Shop Boys were asked to participate in a Granada TV special in the summer of 1987 to mark the tenth anniversary of Presley’s death. They settled for “Always On My Mind” with the declared intent of making it sound as little like Elvis as possible. On the programme they came across as a wiser and disillusioned Flanagan and Allen, mournfully bearing haversacks as they proceeded slowly down a back-projected railway track. As a performance it was as decidedly at odds with the relatively bland fare proferred by the other artists taking part as the duo themselves were defiantly at odds with the suffocating blandness of the upper reaches of 1987 chart pop. It elicited a massive response, and though initially reluctant to release it as a single, they went back into the studio with Julian Mendelsohn and recorded a full version; too late to appear on the Actually album (though it was added to later pressings), it was rush-released at year’s end and became the best Christmas number one since “Don’t You Want Me?” and possibly the best Christmas number one ever.

    In 1987 the Pet Shop Boys ruled pop – even if, other than New Order, the Smiths (defunct by year’s end) and SAW at their best, there was so little competition. The ingenuity, originality and genuine (not second-guessed from quarter-century-old soul sides) honesty of their work was enough to make most other mainstream pop in 1987 feel ashamed to call itself pop (particularly since, from Curiosity to D’Arby, they didn’t really want to be pop but soul, or at least pub rock). If one record were to be chosen which summed up the Thatcherite, post-Big Bang Britain of this period it would have to be Actually, the group’s second album; few pop songs of any era were as politely but brutally honest about the societal milieu from which they emerged than “King’s Cross” or, especially, “Rent” – the latter courageously released as a single (and it still made the top ten), a song so good that artists as diverse as Liza Minnelli and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine would subsequently be able to derive new meanings from it. “It Couldn’t Happen Here,” complete with an Ennio Morricone orchestral arrangement, is a noble litany for what could be Aids, or more likely Clause 28 – if only Kenneth Williams, then screaming towards the agonising end of his guilt-suffocated life, could have heard this music he would have understood it in a second.

    “Always On My Mind” follows the tried and tested Hi-NRG template of delivering ballads at ballad tempo while the rhythm exultantly rushes along at double speed, but the Pet Shop Boys do it with exceptional elan, complete with the triple tease of the delayed intro. Neil Tennant delivers the song in the persona of someone who knows he’s a bit of a shit (whereas Elvis simply sounds bemused and confused) but still needs that love, that company – he walks the sardonic/vulnerable tightrope with enviable skill, dropping down his “my mind” with the ingenious altered chord changes in the second half of the chorus as though challenging you to guess whether he has a mind, as such. As with Bernard Sumner, Tennant’s “soul” is latent and inherent in his vocal uncertainty; unable and indeed unwilling to emulate the howls, screams and other “soulcialist” memes deemed necessary to signify Soul Passion And Honesty (and predictably the Pet Shop Boys turned out to be more genuinely socialist than most of the “real” acts of the time), Tennant derives his vocal style from the unlikely sources of Donovan, Al Stewart and Jonathan King – verging on the deadpan but never less than tactile and, when he needs to be, extremely moving.

    But the little addendum incorporated into the final, most minute seconds of the record’s fadeout is one of the most chilling endings to any pop single; Tennant, strolling out of sight at the far end of the horizon, turning back briefly and saying, “Maybe I didn’t love you.” The portrait of the thrusting Thatcherkid too busy greedily sizing up his bonuses and stuffing himself with cold trinkets signifying nothing (see the song “Shopping”) that not only didn’t he have the time to say and do all those “little things,” but that he viewed the concept of “little things” with near-inexpressible contempt. Five years later, burned out in his bedsit, he suddenly wonders when the sun stopped shining in those now lonely, lonely times.

  28. 28

    I actually have a theory about this song and this reading of it, which I may commit to pixels at some point. For now I will just say that TV’s (and LaRoux’s dad) Joss Ackland doesn’t half ruin the video for me with his rubberised hamminess. And don’t the PSB’s look young! Blimes, as the yoof of today say.

  29. 29
    vinylscot on 5 May 2010 #

    I have to agree with the less enthusiastic posters – this really did nothing for me – it sounded disrespectful, both of Elvis and of the song itself. The PSBs didn’t do much for me overall – I could appreciate/admire what they were doing without actually liking much of it – to my mind Tanya pretty much sussed them, and I can’t help thinking that Tom maybe painted himself into a corner and had to give this a 10, which is quite frankly, a joke. If he’s going to maintain any sort of consistency, there are a hell of a lot of 10s to come (and a hell of a lot of re-rating previous entries)!

    (The?) One other highlight from the Elvis 10 year anniversary special was the Blow Monkeys surprisingly sprightly take of “Follow That Dream” – I don’t think they ever recorded it, but maybe one of you knows better?

  30. 30
    punctum on 5 May 2010 #

    They certainly did; it’s on the superb NME compilation The Last Temptation Of Elvis.

  31. 31
    vinylscot on 5 May 2010 #

    Thanks MC

  32. 32
    Tom on 5 May 2010 #

    Something which occurred to me, reading this thread, is that we’re maybe not quite there yet but we’re on the cusp of the period now where the canon of pop singles starts to break down a bit. Through the 60s – and even more so in the 70s and early-mid 80s – there are quite a few singles which are consensus classics, ‘natural 10s’ (even if they didn’t actually GET a 10).

    There are consensus-classic-singles from the 90s too but fewer of them got to #1, and the value of the stuff that did get to #1 is more in dispute, not settled yet. So I expect future threads where I give 10s to be more controversial. (To be honest I’m delighted so many people really love AOMM – I thought I was uncommon in thinking it’s a major PSB single)

  33. 33
    Tom on 5 May 2010 #

    (This is a Good Thing from my perspective – giving something a 10 and having people say WTF is more interesting than the dispiriting feeling of being chided for not loving an 8 or a 9 enough… ;))

  34. 34
    thefatgit on 5 May 2010 #

    Just a brief mention for FTONY…I think it’s another song that polarises opinion, chiefly because it’s either:
    i) a very finely crafted xmas song with just the right amount of seasonal pathos and humour. More importantly, it’s NOT by Shakin’ Stevens.

    ii) a complete sellout, an acknowledgment of seasonal commerciality and the need to cash in, betraying the punk/socialist ethos by suckling upon Thatcher’s capitalist teat. If I hear it one more time from November onwards, I’ll smash my radio.

  35. 35
    Tom on 5 May 2010 #

    One of the things that really gained momentum in the 00s – culminating in last year’s Xmas No.1, though it was building before Cowell got anywhere near the festive season – was a desire for “alternative” records to do well at Xmastime, and “Fairytale” has become enshrined as a kind of ultimate alternative Xmas record, while also having entered the traditional canon. It’s probably more popular now than Slade quite frankly.

  36. 36
    Lex on 5 May 2010 #

    @32 that’s a good point and something I hadn’t quite realised – despite the ’90s being the decade I grew up in and which shaped my love of pop music, there are surprisingly few No 1s I’d unhesitatingly give 10 to (only around 12 over the whole decade, and bear in mind how MANY No 1s there were towards the end of it), and I wouldn’t really call any of them “canonical” in the same way as some of the ones we’ve had (and of those 12, I’d only bet on one or two getting a 10 from Tom). (Obviously they SHOULD BE canonical.)

    Though looking ahead there were actually of REALLY AWFUL No 1s in the ’90s – how I grew to love pop music despite the surfeit of shite is a mystery in retrospect.

  37. 37
    Lex on 5 May 2010 #

    @35 it’s quite interesting that since the download chart was incorporated, the two old Xmas records to unfailingly chart highest every year are “Fairytale” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” – the former actively sets itself up as an “alternative Xmas” but the latter is oddly both trad and non-trad at the same time: it reels off every possible traditional Xmas association, but actually rejects them all; and while it sounds so much like a non-alternative ’60s Xmas standard that most people still think it’s a cover, it’s an original self-penned track that makes as much sense in Mariah’s personal canon.

  38. 38
    punctum on 5 May 2010 #

    Yes, I’d definitely agree with that. Can’t stand “FTONY” but then in my view the Pogues are the most overrated group in the history of pop.

  39. 39
    Tom on 5 May 2010 #

    One of the curious things about Fairytale vs Always is that it’s routinely mentioned as a controversial “denial of number one” scenario but you have to look quite hard online to find anyone who actually seems very upset by it or writes like it’s a safe assumption that the Pogues song is better than the Pets one – unlike Dolce v Ultravox or “Common People” v [NOT SAFE FOR BUNNY]. In fact the only person who seems cross about it is Shane “faggots with synths” McGowan.

  40. 40
    MikeMCSG on 5 May 2010 #

    #27 A rare opportunity to pull you up on the facts Marcello, Clause 28 wasn’t presented to The Commons until December 1987 the PSB’s could not have been writing about it in the summer.
    I think “It Couldn’t Happen Here ” (not their best song) is more generally about the breakdown of the post-war Keynesian consensus. We’ll find out in a couple of days whether we’re heading back to that particular wasteland.

  41. 41
    thefatgit on 5 May 2010 #

    If Dolce v Ultravox is top of the Premier League of “denied” #1’s, then Pets v Pogues is in the League 2 relegation dogfight area. I don’t recall any major murmurings in ’87 either.

  42. 42
    Erithian on 5 May 2010 #

    Count me among the doubters too. I think if the PSB version had been the original we’d find the same things to admire in it that we always admire – the sweet if diffident voice, the synth and rhythm making the whole thing pretty overwhelming, the scale etc – but if we’d then have heard Elvis’s as a cover version we’d have thought he’d found a whole new dimension to the song and that the more powerful vocal suited the sentiment perfectly. So I’m not at all saying it’s a bad record, just not as good as the original and I was on the Pogues’ side in that particular Christmas battle. (I misremembered slightly and thought that there’d been two great songs about the Celtic diaspora in that Christmas top five, but looking it up I see the Proclaimers’ “Letter From America” made number 3 at the end of November.)

    Re whether Fairytale will ever be a Christmas number one in its own right, I think if it was going to do so it would have been in 2005 at the time of the publicity boost for the Justice for Kirsty campaign, which sadly has now been wound down.

  43. 43
    Erithian on 5 May 2010 #

    re #39 – agreed, this was a cracking chart battle between two worthy contenders, of which I happened to prefer “Fairytale” – not a “classic v crap” encounter! Looking back to the last week of T’Pau’s reign, that was a battle and a half – Rick Astley’s “When I Fall In Love” in at 2 and Jacko’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” up from 16 to 3, with the PSBs in at four. The Pets won out and then held off all competition in Christmas week.

  44. 44
    Billy Smart on 5 May 2010 #

    Re: 41 Top of the denied number league is still Strawberry Fields vs Release Me, surely?

  45. 45
    Billy Smart on 5 May 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Pet Shop Boys twice performed Always On My Mind on Top Of The Pops;

    10 December 1987. Also in the studio that week were; Rick Astley, Johnny Hates Jazz and Alison Moyet. Mike Smith was the host.

    25 December 1987. Also in the studio that week were; The Bee Gees, Rick Astley, T’Pau and Johnny Hates Jazz. Mike Smith & Gary Davies were the hosts.

  46. 46
    glue_factory on 5 May 2010 #

    Re: 43, as I recall Astley was expected to progress to number one, but was denied when the original was re-released the next week, splitting his target constituency.

  47. 47
    swanstep on 5 May 2010 #

    Some of Elvis’s best records stalled at UK #2:
    (The wonderfully psychotic/suicidal) Heartbreak Hotel shafted by Pat Boone’s I’ll be home.
    (One of the greatest double A-sides) Hound Dog/Don’t be Cruel shafted by Frankie Laine’s A woman in Love

    Those are both dolce/ultravox, bunny/pulp -level pop injustices I reckon (Tom scored both of elvis’s nemeses as 2).

    Release me holding out PL/SFF isn’t quite as bad as any of these I reckon because Release me doesn’t strike me as completely horrible. I’m not a fan of AOMM but it’s certainly no stinker either. Of course, if you think AOMM is a ’10′ then the FtoNY case may be most analogous to The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows being shut out by Eleanor Rigby.

  48. 48

    some unhelpful facts about “Always on My mind’

    Aside from those mentioned I’ve found 28 — possibly 29 — other covers, mostly country-ish, some jazz, a handful of reggae (Dennis Brown’s probably the best known), and one that’s a kind of electro-jazz vocoder intrumental that may not be a cover at all (Xaver Fischer Trio come on down). The only foax to go the PSB route arrangementwise seem to be — slightly astonishingly but rather effectively — the Shadows.

    What I also found out is that “Always on My Mind’ (or some near variant of) is a VERY popular title-type: I’ve found more than 20 other distinct songs with something like this title (though some may be covers of each other, I got a bit muddled checking, esp.re the disco remixes and mash-ups). The one i most wanted to be our AoMM was Eek-A-Mouse’s, though his is excellent as you’d expect. Possibly my favourite is actually probably called “Always on my Own” sung by Cornell Campbell, which begins “I’m a lonely soldier, yes! Gosh!”

  49. 49
    DietMondrian on 5 May 2010 #

    Hello from a newcomer. I’ve been reading through all the number ones from the start for a couple of weeks, and have finally caught up – and it seems an appropriate moment, as I absolutely loved AOMM at the time. I would have given it a 10 back then – I’ve given it a 9 now, as I now find it a little OTT.

  50. 50
    thefatgit on 5 May 2010 #

    God Only Knows v Eleanor Rigby is indeed a battle worthy of toppling Dolce v Ultravox, most notably for the quality of both songs, but as I was a mere babe in arms at that time it was off my pop radar.

  51. 51
    koganbot on 5 May 2010 #

    I would like to take this opportunity to draw from my deep well and vast aquifer of social and musical knowledge to say… I never heard any version of this song in its time. I don’t think I even knew there was a Willie version until a couple of years ago. In early ’72 I was contemplating rock’s recent descent into dreariness and was working backwards through the Stones’ catalog in awe of Jagger for deliberately shifting the sands beneath my feet in “Under My Thumb.” In ’82 I was all hip-hop and salsa and whatever was bubbling under with “Planet Rock” and “Everybody” meanwhile running back to the Cleveland minefields of ’75 punk and grasping straws with the Fall. In ’87 I knew of the Pet Shop Boys but this song slipped by me and I’d have thought that Company B’s “Fascinated” and Exposé’s “Point Of No Return” cleaned its clock anyway.

    I love the fatgit’s writeup in #22 but the concept of a boomer anthem is fundamentally impossible. Not so sure of the concept “boomer,” actually – just because there was a baby bulge from ’46 to ’63 doesn’t mean that someone born in ’63 has much in common with someone born 17 years earlier (as opposed to someone born 5 years later). But more to the point, what in ’72 someone born in ’54 might have in common with someone else born in ’54 is schism and hostility and incomprehension, not an anthem. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to generalize anyway. But one thing “we” very much did not have in common, even as a touchstone, even as a divider, was Elvis, who for some people still resonated strongly, for others barely had a presence, e.g. me and I’d bet most people who graduated high school in ’72. Elvis has more presence now, I’d say, though I don’t know how much this presence has to do with him. (See my wonderings a couple of years ago (final paragraph), which I’m hoping that some of you will expand on someday.)

  52. 52

    One thing that Elvis has that makes him the centre of a certain “we” — whether it’s Lester Bangs’s or Greil Marcus’s or whoever’s really — is that he was a FAN: that he carried in him the knolwedge and love of a fvck-ton of pop records, and that these seemed to him and to the rest of the “we” (however big or tiny it turns out to be, and however weirdly it lays across other socials maps, like GREASER or SOLDIER or AMERICAN) to be very important to how he moved through his life.

    The actual set of those records is important in defining the “we”; viz it includes Big mama Thornton and Mario Lanza but not Wanda Landowska. But so is the the set of ways the records are likely to be put to use.

  53. 53
    LondonLee on 5 May 2010 #

    This is one I’ve grown to love more than I did when it first came out, back then I was little put off by the sense that they were taking the piss somewhat* (as they did to U2). Musically it’s a belter and I do prefer it to “It’s A Sin”, it seems less clattery.

    Glad it didn’t make ‘Actually’ either, it fits much better on ‘Introspective’

    *Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Elvis never meant shit to me and all that but it does change how you hear a record.

  54. 54
    inakamono on 5 May 2010 #

    This getting a “10” kinda devalues the entire Popular project, really. There have been some quasi rules of thumb here so far: for example that a cover version automatically loses a couple of points, or that a single doesn’t get a “10” if there’s a better single by the same artist that, for whatever reason, didn’t make it to No.1 — both of which “rules of thumb” should put a ceiling on this at a maximum of 8.

    I mean, it’s a nice song, and nicely performed; it’s thoroughly nice. In the context of being a Christmas No.1, it’s pretty tinsel to hang on the tree. But, to deserve a 10, it needs to be a bit more than tinsel: it needs to be subversive, or change the future of pop music, or offer a unique future that no previous single has ever promised… But this, sadly, does none of those things. It’s just “nice”, and has no special virtue to elevate it above many other “nice” singles, and many more that weren’t “nice” but were crucial turning-points.


    Seriously, how can this be a “10”?

  55. 55
    Tom on 5 May 2010 #

    I’d like to see where I laid down these quasi rules of thumb, inakamono, since I don’t remotely believe in either of them! “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” is a better single than “Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine”, for instance, and that was the second 10 I ever gave. You’d find a LOT of people willing to argue Dexy’s had better singles than “Eileen”, even if admittedly I wouldn’t be one of them. And anyway, this is in the pack of 4 or 5 PSB singles I can’t separate out as their very best – this, Can You Forgive Her?, Left To My Own Devices, What Have I Done, Being Boring are, off the top of my head, Pet Shop Boys singles I’d probably hand a 10 to.

    And the crucial-turning-point/subversive stuff is a red herring, too: “subversive” is a bit of a comfy concept when you’re dealing with 30-year-old pop music, isn’t it? I wouldn’t say I avoid taking importance into account, but it only matters when it gives the single an extra shiver in the spine in the moment of hearing it now. That’s the case with “Ghost Town”, say, but not really with “Hot Love”. For some singles the freight of importance turns me off them a bit, in fact. I’m more inclined to give weight to personal importance in the marking than wider ‘importance’ – though it’s then my job to explain it in the write-up, and I think in fairness I failed to do that here, given that “Always On My Mind” IS important to me (wait and see!).

    The impulse behind this “10” is probably the same as the impulse of the “10” for “Atomic” – whether it’s a cover version or not, important or not, this does what I need a pop record to do, perfectly and reliably. When you start saying “it needs something extra to be a 10”, what you’re doing is saying that joy on its own can’t be enough. I object to this idea. That objection can get misinterpreted as a hedonistic philosophy – that joy is always enough, pleasure above everything in criticism – but it’s not: of course pop can act in ways beyond simply ‘being pop’, how boring if it couldn’t! But I wouldn’t be much of a pop fan if I didn’t think that sometimes simply being pop IS enough to get the highest praise I can give.

  56. 56
    Tom on 5 May 2010 #

    (As for cover versions, I admit I don’t like many big hit covers but that’s not a point of principle!)

  57. 57
    thefatgit on 5 May 2010 #

    Koganbot, thanks for the comments. The way I felt about Elvis as a younger me is vastly different to how I feel about Elvis now. It’s a matter of maturity, when you align yourself to Chuck D in the 80’s as if to say “I’m different from you” in the same way perhaps an earlier generation aligned themselves to Elvis to set themselves apart from their own elders. You reach middle age and get the chance to stay around long enough to realise that the whole thing is cyclical and in the long run, incorrect. If you disregard what has preceeded your favourite artists, then you tend to disregard what your favourite artists grew up with and learned how to shape their own opinions about music and how they create what is new. Where would Neil Tennant be without Dusty, without Elvis? So how do I feel about Elvis now? What exists in my personal Elvis canon? I’m still learning, but one thing is for sure. When I think of the latter-day Elvis, the rhinestone jumpsuit, the Graceland excess, the Vegas shows with the backing orchestra, AOMM jumps immediately to mind closely followed by the pomp and folly of “An American Prayer”. I feel sorry for him, I mean genuinely sad. In a way I never expected to feel as a teenager or young adult in the 80’s. The generation who held Elvis closest to their hearts, I feel sorry for them too. To endure seeing an icon (and former iconoclast) decay in front of their eyes, must have been incredibly disquieting and uncomfortable at the very least. The closest I can equate to it is seeing Freddy Mercury’s demise, feeling that mixture of shock and disgust seeing that skeletal photo. But Freddy faded in a matter of months. Elvis’ fanbase had to endure years of decline into a bloated parody of himself. And it’s this that has made me reappraise the man. Working backwards from mess all the way back to messiah.

  58. 58
    wichita lineman on 5 May 2010 #

    Elvis’s other denied no.1 – by Two Little Boys – was Suspicious Minds written (don’t think anyone’s mentioned this yet) by the oddly obscure Mark James, who also wrote Always On My Mind.

    Re 57: The footage on 1981 biopic This Is Elvis of Are You Lonesome Tonight, at a show a few weeks before his death, is the single saddest pop clip I’ve ever seen. He’s laughing, babbling, but through the nonsense you can hear a man resigned to disappointment, waiting to die.

    Punctum – I always feel like I’m seen as either racist or stupid if I say I don’t rate the Pogues. So, thanks.

  59. 59
    Alan on 6 May 2010 #

    Knowing how personal a 10 this was gonna be for Tom I thought it might end up being the lowest ‘crowd sourced’ score out of his 10s. Ludicrously tho, come on eileen has been dragged down much lower. :-/

  60. 60
    punctum on 6 May 2010 #

    #55 – well, I think “joy” is in itself an “extra” (or a “p*nct*m”) as opposed to solemn, head-nodding appreciation (though there’s a place for solemnity too), but yes, this is de facto a personal exercise (admittedly involving a whole bunch of other people throwing in their perspectives) and Tom’s never pretended it’s anything else; certainly not an Authoritative Critical Slide Rule Bible to Great Pop Toppers (and who’d want to read the latter? Don’t stick your hands up all at once). It’s a challenge to received thought but not mechanically constructed as such; every one of us could/is entitled to do our own Populars but the value of such enterprises is that they provoke us to ask ourselves questions; do we believe that such and such is a great artist/record or do we merely believe that we believe that they’re great? Socrates enjoyed the questioning process much more than finding answers.

  61. 61
    pink champale on 6 May 2010 #

    Instinctively I wouldn’t have pegged this as quite a ten but having read the thread i’m thoroughly sold – ten ten ten. vote early and vote often. whatever the mark, it’s a total joy and surely the missing link between the Flying Lizards and DJ Sammy.

    I’m with lord s on Joss Ackland’s atrocious mugging in the video. has anyone actually seen ‘it couldn’t happen here’? (silly question, I’ll be the only one here who hasn’t). is it as bad as its supposed to be?

  62. 62
    Alan on 6 May 2010 #

    I saw it couldn’t happen here at the Cambridge Arts Cinema. I liked it more than I did the biopics of Wittgenstein or Shostakovich I saw that same year (IIRC). which is to say there were better songs in it. it’s an odd seaside-postcard via viz comic strip nightmare of a film — nonsense stringing together extended videos. ie, much as you’d expect. the only memorable bits are really tiny fragments.

  63. 63
    DietMondrian on 6 May 2010 #

    I had It Couldn’t Happen Here on video; the Boys’ acting wasn’t up to much, and everyone else mugged furiously. I wrote about it in a school magazine, a review that would make me die of embarrassment it it were to resurface.

  64. 64
    Alan on 6 May 2010 #

    (a quick google tells me i’m probably confusing something else with jarman’s 93 wittgenstein)

  65. 65
    Tom on 6 May 2010 #

    I watched ICHH when getting enjoyably drunk with a fellow PSBs fan, on an old videotape several years after its rubbishness mattered. This is, I feel safe to say, the very best way to watch it, in that I came away convinced it was a Good Thing and equally convinced I would never ever see it again.

  66. 66
    pink champale on 6 May 2010 #

    thanks all, pretty much as expected then. #63 – beware! my old school magazine has recently turned up online in googleable form. the horror…

  67. 67
    MikeMCSG on 6 May 2010 #

    #61 pc – last time I looked, all of it was on Youtube.

  68. 68
    pink champale on 6 May 2010 #

    cool, i might check it out tonight when the proceedings get too gruesome

  69. 69

    I see the Style Council’s Jerusalem is also on youtube! Its release date seems to be given as 1989. but I certainly saw a preview while I was still at NME, I would guess in 1987…

  70. 70
    Mutley on 6 May 2010 #

    Re #57 – the strength of Elvis as an icon is in his fallibility as much as in his outstanding talent. The lasting icons emerging in the 50s/early 60s are Elvis, Brando, Ali and Monroe (and possibly James Dean). In their different ways they all destroyed themselves (for good or bad), and they didn’t seem to really care about their fame. And they all gave the impression (rightly or wrongly) that they didn’t have to work at their art, but that it came naturally. Contrast this with other major artists such as, from that era, Paul Newman compared with Brando, or, in the world of music and somewhat later, Springsteen or Madonna compared with Elvis. Big and talented as these stars are, for me they do not achieve the ultimate iconic status of the earlier-mentioned. To reach that status your flaws have to be a prominent part of your iconography (I’m not talking about Madonna’s film career here!). There’s nothing new about this of course, ancient myths and legends abound with fatally flawed demi-gods – Achilles, Hercules etc.

    I’m not sure who else in pop/rock will achieve long-term ultimate iconic status that will last for 50 years or more. Dylan – probably, but somewhat lacking in the fallibility department? Michael Jackson? (possibly, but seems to have had to work too hard at his art); Lennon? (possibly fits the bill but is he a sufficient icon without the Beatles collective?). No one else springs to mind.

  71. 71
    punctum on 6 May 2010 #

    I only think of the terms “icon” and “iconic” in relation to Byzantine and Russian Orthodox art. Otherwise they seem to have become lazy shorthand for well-known people or movements, i.e. they don’t mean what most people think they mean.

  72. 72
    thefatgit on 6 May 2010 #

    Mutley, perhaps we’re not meant to find anyone (from today) to fit the bill. The iconic only remain that way, because they are a rarity. We’re meant to look upon them in awe for their otherness, and yes their flaws which make them more human and less “alien”. But then perhaps “icon” isn’t the correct terminology either. It feels like deification, which is something else entirely. “Canonical” doesn’t fit the bill either. Nor does “legendary” which is bandied about too often these days (I get called a legend if I buy someone a pint!). So “icon” seems to be filling in for another word which at this moment, I’m failing to grasp.

  73. 73
    Erithian on 6 May 2010 #

    #71 – I hear what you say and sympathise, Punctum, but language moves on and I fear that particular battle is lost. (What would you understand by “gay icon”?!)

  74. 74
    Billy Smart on 6 May 2010 #

    Icon is acceptable for any well-recognised image that is frequently reproduced, I’d say – but is lazy and inaccurate whenever applied to anything else.

  75. 75
    thefatgit on 6 May 2010 #

    Also “idol” feels somewhat cheapened, through frequent use and connotations with Simon Cowell. I’m coming to the conclusion that any alternative to the word “icon” loses a certain amount of impact. I’m willing to agree with Punctum that it’s proper usage should be in relation to the Orthodox depictions of Christ, but as modern language is such a fluid and ephemeral thing, then perhaps some compromise is required.

  76. 76
    koganbot on 6 May 2010 #

    The point I want to make to you guys about someone my age and Elvis is that during the years ’64 through ’76 or so it was easy not to have an opinion of Elvis, and if one did have an opinion of Elvis it was easy to think that the opinion didn’t matter, wouldn’t have an impact on my relations with others, or on how I viewed anything else. Whereas that wasn’t possible later. Of course this says something of my historical ignorance at the time, and my social ignorance as well (in fact Elvis was very present in the Sixties, in the music and the life of a lot of performers I liked, I just couldn’t recognize his presence, just as, say, Lex can’t recognize the presence of the Rolling Stones in a lot of what he likes today). But this is something it’s useful for people younger than I am to understand about the Sixties (which lasted well into the Seventies): I could get away with having no opinion of Elvis. Whereas in the ’80s I couldn’t have no opinion of Elvis. Nor could Chuck D: in fact he forced other people to have opinions of Elvis, too.

    Whereas I think Elvis is potentially potent now, still, for today, because he escapes the social map, doesn’t fit the map, doesn’t seem to fit history, hard to place, hence harder for me to pass over than he was 45 years ago. (Not that I’ve ever given his music the attention it deserves. A subject for further research.)

  77. 77
    koganbot on 6 May 2010 #

    Well, Fuller and Cowell et al. were just picking up the “teen idol” usage that had once been applied to Fabian and Bobby Rydell.

    Incredible as it seems, starting in ’64 it was possible to have no opinion of Fabian and Bobby Rydell. (Except I did have an opinion of Bobby Rydell, having seen him in Bye Bye Birdie back when I was a tyke. Thought he was OK.)

  78. 78
    Alfred on 6 May 2010 #

    For the record, America loved the PSB’s version almost as much as Nelson’s: a #4 hit, their last top ten, and the last of three. One still little-remarked on phenomenon is the PSB’s North American popularity, which never rivaled their overseas success but was nevertheless considerable (five top tens in 18 months). Then it all vanished.

  79. 79
    Alfred Soto on 6 May 2010 #

    I don’t understand complaints about Tennant’s voice here, since what he does it with it is everything the Pet Shop Boys have excelled at: confusing distance and immersion.

  80. 80
    swanstep on 7 May 2010 #

    @79. I’m one of the skeptics about AOMM, and I don’t take any of us to be harping on about Tennant’s voice here. I really just don’t hear this record as anything special – it’s not a close call for me that it’s not a ’10′ (I prefer the Aretha/George Michael collab to it, but that’s not close to a ’10′ either). Trying to make sense of how others could think/feel so differently, one kind of marches through the record’s components to see what one could possibly be missing. Since the song is a cover it’s natural to look at the vocals (many of the best covers/later versions of songs have some extraordinary vocal in their favor – Sinatra or Aretha just blowing the doors off the joint say – a great Porter or song has suddenly shifted from b/w into color is the effect). So, we alight on Tennant, and… no, it’s his usual thin stuff (which works well in West End Girls and Being Boring with their roving eye and commentary approaches). One looks then at the main synth figure – is it sounding as good and outright thrilling to some people as Telstar’s or Dancing Queen’s main melodies sound to me?

    That’s what I’m actually guessing is the case (I originally surmised that simple PSB-fan tribalism was afoot, and I hereby temper that surmise). I still can’t quite get my head around anyone thinking that AOMM is on a higher creative level than Grapevine, or Rhythm Stick or Space Oddity or I Feel Love or Hound dog/Don’t be Cruel, but a ‘magic, spine-tingling melody’ explanation *sort* of makes sense. (After all, I can’t really *explain* why Telstar gets me every time: I find it packs a wallop, but I understand that someone else might shrug – people divide over popular bits of Copland and Beethoven too!)

  81. 81

    […] Another superb piece by Tom at FreakyTrigger on the Pet Shop Boys’ “Always On My Mind,” the Christmas Number One of 1987 in England, where these things matter. What struck me most about Willie Nelson’s version, which I heard years after the PSB’s, was its guilelessness, humility. Nelson’s courtly delivery evoked the parable of the prodigal son — a rake who’d wandered the word from sin to sin and returned chastened, ready for the rest of his life. I hear little humility in Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s version; the hi-NRG beats and orchestral synths thrust Tennant’s thoughtlessness in listeners’ faces. It’s the character in “It’s a Sin” months later, having decided that decadence was awesome.  But he wants it all: he wants his partner to forgive him when he (inevitably) wanders off the reservation again. Tennant’s vocal here is extraordinary considering that anyone else would have gotten swamped by the arrangement. First he’s going nyah-nyah-nyah in his partner’s ear by switching from ascending to descending flat notes on the verses (“Maybe I-I-I-I didn’t treat y-o-u-u-u/Quite as G-O-O-D as I sh-ou-ou-ould…), then he rises to the challenge of those celestial synths on the chorus. He’s going to keep trying to become worthy of the attention lavished on him. In the comments section of Tom’s post, “punctum” nails perhaps Tennant’s greatest moment, which takes place as the song fades: “Tennant, strolling out of sight at the far end of the horizon, turning back briefly and saying, `Maybe I didn’t love you.’” […]

  82. 82
    Izzy on 8 May 2010 #

    ‘West End Girls’ is clearly the tenworthy Pet Shop Boys hit to me, I’m surprised it’s barely been mentioned. I like ‘Always On My Mind’ fine, but i always found it a bit throwaway. Plus I was utterly overwhelmed by the richness of Elvis’ version when I heard it years later, which I never was with this – so I’d probably be saying seven here. I like your reasoning though.

    And ‘icon’ is a fine word, there’re no complaints from me! I see it as bound up with struggle, of which vulnerability is the personal part* but not the whole. When the dust’s settled on pop, I think that for broader social reasons the black American tradition will be the icon production line, with the odd Elvis or Rolling Stones subsumed as part of that – and The Beatles as usual floating free as their own benevolent gods.

    * Jim Morrison, Kurt and Tupac have this sewn up by the way, unpalatable as that may be

  83. 83
    punctum on 9 May 2010 #

    I don’t quite get the equation of “icon” with “struggle” – isn’t the whole point of an icon, however you choose to define its parameters, that it’s invulnerable? – unless you mean as a symbol of the struggles of others (hence Guevara, Mandela etc.). Certainly have no idea what you mean by “icon production line”; don’t musicians deserve better than to be equated with IKEA furniture?

    Also, “subsumed” under what? “Floating free” of what, and if they’re “floating free,” how can they be “benevolent”? Most mythology defines its gods as irrevocably tied to their creations, whether they like it (“sport of the President of the Immortals” &c.) or not.

    Sorry to be so nitpicky here but language is the only tool we have with which to communicate so words and the way we use them are important.

  84. 84

    I assume this modern usage of “iconic” derives primarily from Charles Peirce’s semiotics, which categorises signs into three types (or modes): “symbolic”, “iconic” and “indexical” — semiotics being widely taught (or shall we say partially taught) in design and cultural studies courses, and hence a semi-analytical lingua franca for a lot of people talking about pop. An iconic sign is one in which the signifier is felt in some key way to resemble or imitate the signified: hence an icon (by back-formation) becomes a person (or picture) who is is a handy shorthand for a stance or type or discipline.

    (Also in computing, an “icon” is the image you click on to access a document or programme — though this seems less likely to be a source of what we’re discussing.)

    Icon is from the greek eikon, which i believe just means “image” in classical greek: it doesn’t have the religious connotation till later, I don’t think. Social sciences in the 19th century liked to pimp their scientificity by grabbing onto pseudo-Greek terminologies — not that this has lessened much, cv all those third-level critical theorists who talk about “jouissance” and “hedonics” and the “libidinal” when all they mean is “stuff we want” and “boy she’s hott”, except they want to sound like they’re wearing a white coat and discussing YOUR SYMPTOMS WHICH THEY AREN’T PUPPETS OF, OH NO.

    (Sorry, in my dayjob I have to sub a fvck-ton of bad art writing in this vein: I have become very out of sympathy with it…)

  85. 85
    koganbot on 9 May 2010 #

    My old, relatively purist American Heritage Dictionary gives as its primary definition “1. a. An image; representation. b. A simile or symbol,” with the religious usage only number 2 (“a representation or picture of a sacred Christian personage, itself regarded as sacred, especially in the tradition of the Eastern churches”). And the online Merriam-Webster gives these:

    Date: 1572
    1 : a usually pictorial representation : image
    2 [Late Greek
    eikōn, from Greek] : a conventional religious image typically painted on a small wooden panel and used in the devotions of Eastern Christians
    3 : an object of uncritical devotion : idol
    4 : emblem, symbol <the house became an icon of 1960’s residential architecture — Paul Goldberger>
    5 a : a sign (as a word or graphic symbol) whose form suggests its meaning b : a graphic symbol on a computer display screen that usually suggests the type of object represented or the purpose of an available function

    The word “uncritical” doesn’t seem right in number 3, since criticizing or trashing some versions of that sort of icon can be part of one’s devotion (I’m thinking of Johnny Rotten and ilk here).

    I have no problem in principle with how “icon” is being used on this thread, except that the word doesn’t take care of itself, needs more elaboration. So if you think of stars as quasi-deities who play symbolic roles (the roles often multiple and the symbolism often murky), then Elvis is an icon, Sarah Palin is an icon, Justin Bieber is an icon. Production lines come in handy for roles whose embodiments come with imminent use-by dates. As for multiple roles, think of Brando as simultaneously being smoldering ethnicity and critical cool, as emotional vulnerability and inaccessible hauteur. Struggle and defeat can be something we want in certain icons from whom we want to see blood, even if the blood is sacred. Deities need not be all-powerful, just special, or especially emblematic, even if what they’re emblematic of is pretty normal. (I’m thinking of June Allyson as a girl-next-door type.)

  86. 86

    the word doesn’t take care of itself, needs more elaboration: I think doubly so as — qwuite apart from ordinary usage — there are two rival technical usages (one from the history of religious art; one from semiotics) which, while connected, very much aren’t synonyms. Peirce’s terminology allows a huge number of basically very mundane things to be “iconic”, which very much conflicts with the Byzantine meaning. If you’re calling the signs for male and female toilets “iconic”, Peirce would know what you were talking about; Lord Clark of Civilisation would probably not.

    (Of course there are lots of religions in which godlings of small mundane items also proliferate: the Romansm being a practical lot, had their lares and penates, household microgods of the piano stool and what have you; animism is a generic terms for such theologies…)

  87. 87

    jouissance not actually pseudo-Greek in anyone’s language: you can see how cross this kind of thing makes me — incoherently cross :)

  88. 88
    koganbot on 9 May 2010 #

    Or Christianly cross, or additionally cross. +

    My post xposted yours, Mark. I’d say the usage on this thread combines Peirce and the Byzantines, since our icons – in the Elvis sense – function simultaneously as objects of devotion and as emblems of a stance or a type; and as such we can think of them not just being deities and emblems but as channeling something as well. That’s why I used the word “embodying.” Our icons don’t just resemble something, they act it out.

    (I’m influenced here by Michael Ventura in “Hear That Long Snake Moan,” where he’s arguing that Elvis et al. in singing and dancing didn’t just feel “possessed” – metaphorically – by the spirit of the music but derived from an African tradition where a god was assumed to literally intersect with or flow through someone. Except, so as not to mystify this, I’d say that for me “acting something out” just means being a part of the culture – but doing it in a way that attracts other people’s imagination.)

    Of course when I use the word “symbol” in my previous post I’m not being Peircean – don’t remember and may never have understood Peirce’s usage of the term, but I ran across it recently in Terrence W. Deacon’s The Symbolic Species. “Icon” and “symbol” are different things in Peirce’s terminology, whereas I say that we’re calling Elvis an “icon” because, among other things, Elvis functions as a symbol. From Deacon’s usage I was gathering (just barely) that Peirce’s concept “symbol” runs close to the concept “word,” at least nouns and verbs, meaning that it is a sign that is part of a linguistic system and so its role therefore is determined not just by whatever it stands for but by its relation to other words. (I’m not altogether convinced that my previous sentence means a hell of a lot. Deacon tries to explain why we can teach icons and indices to some monkeys and chimps, but why it is relatively rare for a chimp or monkey to grasp symbols (in the Peircean sense), and why the chimps and monkeys that did grasp them still only had a rudimentary ability to use them. An “index” is something that associates with something else, so smoke is an index of fire, and so is the word “smoke,” but the word “smoke” doesn’t become a symbol, hence part of language, unless it relates to other words. We humans apparently can shift our attention from what we’ve actually experienced as associating with something else and can overlay (or undergird) it with knowledge of what can associate with something else, whether we’ve seen it do so or not. This is special to language. But again I can’t see that what I’ve just written in the previous several sentences necessarily means anything or makes sense. Just typing something that I read recently.)

  89. 89
    thefatgit on 9 May 2010 #

    Are we to conclude then, that 3 of the greatest minds on this comments thread are unable to find a satisfactory replacement for “icon”? Where does this leave us?

  90. 90
    Paul U on 9 May 2010 #

    This is also very much my favourite song to DJ with, although in my experience the youngsters (which is to say, those between 20 and 27) aren’t really sure how to dance to the Pet Shop Boys.

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    swanstep on 9 May 2010 #

    @90. ‘Guru’ perhaps, e.g., here today. ‘Very naughty boy/girl’ even better perhaps. ;)

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    Matthew H on 10 May 2010 #

    I know it’s not this version (which is indeed fabulous), but the long-withheld synth fanfare on the Introspective cut is one of my favourite moments in pop. A little hint a few bars earlier, during the In My House acid workout, to make your heart beat that bit faster then the delirious rolling drums. I feel sick just thinking about it.

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    DietMondrian on 11 May 2010 #

    @92 – I invariably find myself playing air drums during that bit! Marvellous.

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    Rory on 11 May 2010 #

    What sold this for me was always the hi-NRG synth stabs in the lead-in – so exuberent, so at odds with the wistful lyrics. To my mind, it’s the definitive up-tempo Pet Shop Boys track, but I can see how a devoted fan might prefer others. Not a ten for me, but a solid 8 with an option on 9.

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    David Belbin on 11 May 2010 #

    Mark James, of course, wrote this with Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson and the Presley version was a B side in the States, hence his version is obscure there. James is still alive and, oddly, performs as Frankie “Uray” Zambon.

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    anto on 11 May 2010 #

    It Couldn’t Happen Here – a fascinating rock folly. I don’t know what they were thinking but there’s a part of me that relishes those moments when pop stars do think that way. Cool song. My fave Christmas number one.

  97. 97
    Martin Skidmore on 20 May 2010 #

    I’d have given this 10 too, despite probably preferring Willie Nelson’s version – that is one of my favourite recordings by one of my favourite singers, and if I had to restrict 10s to records I love that much there would be only a couple in the whole Popular project.

  98. 98

    […] music charts enjoy, like the annual race for a #1 Christmas single (which occasionally kicks up some golden dust). Like “Back Home” above, the first few FA-approved tracks were performed by the […]

  99. 99
    Lena on 23 Jul 2010 #

    The Christmas of ’87; one that in some ways brought me right to where I am, London, though at the time I had no idea, of course…

    My father was ill; all late summer and through the fall his short term memory began to falter, he got confused and thus angry, and eventually he went to bed and didn’t get out. Mid-December the ambulance was called, the diagnosis made: brain tumor. He was in hospital the last time I saw him, hallucinating that people from 30 years ago were all around him. I wondered if he would even remember me, recognize me, but he did; he couldn’t remember when I was to graduate, but he knew who I was. The operation the next day was not a success; he went into a coma and died in February the next year, alive but not alive…

    …and I remember this song in the swirling snow as I walked in Toronto that Christmas, the winter I couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep, the same winter I got a trip to London for Christmas. It said everything that would or could be said between us, me twenty and unsure of where I stood in relation to anything or anyone, including him.

    So this song is beyond any marks from me, though it’s a 10 beyond question; it is as infinite and deep as death itself to me, Tennant’s voice like a guiding hand through the snow.

  100. 100
    Billy Smart on 28 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch: Jonh Wilde, December 5 1987;

    “The greatest song that Elvis ever sang. The lousiest, most hamfisted idea that Pet Shop Boys will ever have. They’ve made it *scamper*! Imagine. Just when I was ready to watch Tennant completely melt with languid ease as he dreams of love’s banishment. Instead, it’s like UK Subs doing ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ with a particularly rude guitar-break after the large sigh in the second verse. I’m let down. They sound like they want to get it all over and done with so Neil can fit in his Xmas shopping. I’m looking for explanations for this slab of sacrilege. Anyone?”

    Wilde awarded single of the week to ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’ by New Order. Also reviewed that week;

    The Justified ancients Of Mu Mu – Downtown
    My Bloody Valentine – Strawberry Wine
    Cindy Birdsong – Dancing Room
    Rick Astley – When I Fall In Love
    Anita Dobson – I Dream Of Christmas
    Run DMC – Christmas In Hollis

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    MarkG on 12 Sep 2011 #


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    Lazarus on 5 Dec 2011 #

    This and the next Number One were the opening tracks on “Now …. 11” – appraised here by the Guardian’s Peter Robinson (not, presumably, the artist formerly known as Marilyn).


    Reading that set me wondering if there’s anyone with sufficiently catholic tastes to own all 80 albums in the series – I think I have three or four.

  103. 103
    wichita lineman on 5 Dec 2011 #

    Hands up. Though I still haven’t listened to no.79 yet, let alone no.80. They’re good for parlour games.

  104. 104
    hardtogethits on 5 Dec 2011 #

    I wish one could delete one’s own comments, rather than have to replace them.

  105. 105
    Nixon on 12 Sep 2013 #

    Good lord, that Melody Maker review @ #100.

    Years and years ago, my friend took me to see Hefner play live, and I thought they were unbelievably crap. My friend couldn’t understand how I didn’t instantly fall in love; to this day I remember the absolutely stunned, crestfallen, *disbelieving* look on his face when we got outside and he asked me what I thought.

    Always thought he was being a bit precious; surely nobody really believes that their opinion is actually universal? But reading that review, and some of the comments that don’t see anything special in this record, I’m pretty sure I’m feeling what he was feeling.

    This record – in its album incarnation, including the whole “In my house” section, which seemed so strange and bewildering to my tween self (even as a kid raised on a diet of Kraftwerk), and which being a pretentious child I likened to Halley’s Comet blazing out into the darkness of space but always on a fixed trajectory to come back, with the chest-bursting payoff (#92/#93) that marks its return to familiar skies – is probably responsible for almost every step of my musical fandom. I will love it forever.

  106. 106
    Phil on 16 Aug 2014 #

    The Introspective (“…in my house”) version is, indeed, a Great Moment in Pop.

    I haven’t read all the comments posted when this thread was new, but I see that somebody drew attention to Neil’s ad-libbed parting shot (“Maybe I didn’t love you…”). But I think that line’s wonderful, and not at all heartless. The thing is, this is actually a strange song (whether in this version, Elvis’s or Willie Nelson’s): the music (particularly under the chorus) gives you a lush celebration of sentimental love, while the lyrics (particularly the verses) return obsessively to guilt and self-reproach. In its conventional treatments, the song doesn’t quite resolve the gap between the two, leaving you with a rather queasy (but very C&W) sense of guilty sentimentality and/or sentimentalised guilt. The PSBs version does three things: in the choruses, the sentimentality is replaced with a heady rush of physical joy (the way those synth stabs come wham!ing in makes you smile before you know it); in the verses, all that lingering over guilt is replaced with an offhand reading of the charge sheet, as if these things were just something that we need to talk through before we go out; and in the fade, instead of ending on an obsessively stuck repetition of the things he didn’t do (or an equally stuck reassertion of his good intentions), the singer suddenly realises that none of this matters: Maybe I didn’t love you! That would explain it! It’s a weirdly liberating moment.

  107. 107
    mapman132 on 16 Mar 2015 #

    I’m often lukewarm about remakes, feeling they’re redundant unless they add something or significantly alter the original to “make it theirs”. This is an example of a remake that does that. I’ve listened to Discography so many times the only reason I might not give it a 10 is overfamiliarity, but I’ll give it a 10 anyway.

    Even though it reached #4 in America, the PSB’s AOMM unfortunately has never the achieved the canon status it appears to have in the UK. Here the only PSB tracks you ever hear in the wild are WEG and WHIDTDT, with “Opportunities” and “It’s A Sin” maaaybe showing up once in a while. Everything else is pretty much fanbase only.

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    Mark M on 2 Aug 2015 #

    A slightly belated (d. 20 July) RIP for Wayne Carson, one of the co-writers of this song – according to an obits, he was the one who came up with the initial idea. And was a big fan of the PSB version.

    He also wrote The Letter and Neon Rainbow, so a figure worthy of note, I think.

  109. 109
    paigejarvis on 19 May 2018 #


  110. 110
    Gareth Parker on 1 Jun 2021 #

    I’m not gonna argue with Tom’s 10/10 here. A cracking interpretation by the PSB in my view.

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