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West End Girls

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"West End Girls [1984 version]"
WestEndGirls.jpg
12-inch single cover
Single by Pet Shop Boys
B-side"Pet Shop Boys"
Released9 April 1984
Recorded1984[1]
StudioUnique Recording (New York City)
GenreSynth-pop
Length4:45
LabelBobcat
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Bobby Orlando
Pet Shop Boys singles chronology
"West End Girls [1984 version]"
(1984)
"One More Chance"
(1984)
Music video
"West End Girls" on YouTube
"West End Girls"
WestEndGirls-PSB21985.jpg
7-inch single cover
Single by Pet Shop Boys
from the album Please
B-side"A Man Could Get Arrested"
Released28 October 1985[2]
RecordedAugust 1985[1]
GenreSynth-pop
Length
  • 4:41 (album version)
  • 3:59 (7-inch version)
LabelParlophone
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Stephen Hague
Pet Shop Boys singles chronology
"Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money) (first release)"
(1985)
"West End Girls"
(1985)
"Love Comes Quickly"
(1986)

"West End Girls" is a song by English synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys. Written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, the song was released twice as a single. The song's lyrics are concerned with class and the pressures of inner-city life which were inspired partly by T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. It was generally well received by contemporary music critics and has been frequently cited as a highlight in the duo's career.

The first version of the song was produced by Bobby Orlando and was released on Columbia Records' Bobcat Records imprint in April 1984, becoming a club hit in the United States and some European countries. After the duo signed with EMI, the song was re-recorded with producer Stephen Hague for their first studio album, Please. In October 1985, the new version was released, reaching number one in the United Kingdom and the United States in 1986.

In 1987, the song won Best Single at the Brit Awards, and Best International Hit at the Ivor Novello Awards. In 2005, 20 years after its release, the song was awarded Song of The Decade between the years 1985 and 1994 by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. A critic's poll in 2020 by The Guardian selected "West End Girls" as number one of the 100 greatest UK number one singles.[3]

The song was performed by Pet Shop Boys at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony.[4]

Background[edit]

Recording and production[edit]

Bobby O version[edit]

In 1983, Neil Tennant met producer Bobby Orlando, while on an assignment in New York interviewing Sting for Smash Hits. After listening to some demos, Orlando offered to produce for the duo.[5]

In 1983 and 1984, the duo recorded twelve songs with Orlando at Unique Studios in New York, "West End Girls", "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)", "One More Chance", "I Want a Lover", "Thats My Impression", "A Man Could Get Arrested", "I Get Excited", "Two Divided by Zero", "Rent", "It's A Sin", "Pet Shop Boys", and "Later Tonight". Orlando played most of the instruments on "West End Girls", including the jazz riff at the end. Lowe played one chord and the bassline.[6] It included a drum part lifted from Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", and an arrangement involving what Tennant called "Barry White chords".[7] Orlando was thrilled by the song's production; his idea was to make a rap record in a British accent.[8]

In April 1984, "West End Girls" was released, becoming a club hit in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and a minor dance hit in Belgium and France,[9] but was only available in the United Kingdom as a 12-inch import.[10] In March 1985, after long negotiations, Pet Shop Boys cut their contractual ties with Orlando, and hired manager Tom Watkins, who signed them with EMI.[11]

Stephen Hague version[edit]

An entire week had been spent re-recording and rearranging "West End Girls" with producer Stephen Hague at Advision Studios,[12] using Studio Two housed with an Otari 24-track tape machine and an SSL console.[13]

The song, according to engineer David Jacob, was musically "constructed with only four basic rhythmical patterns throughout", with no 'real' instruments production-wise except for one cymbal.[13] The rhythmic foundations were laid down with an Oberheim DMX drum machine.[13] In addition to that, the synthesizer strings that run throughout the song were created using a blend of string sounds from an E-mu Emulator I and an Emulator II.[13]

The bass part is a composite of different sounds from an Emulator II, a Yamaha DX7 and a Roland Jupiter-6, all of which were MIDI’d together. It had been played by hand to "lend more fluidity to the track", although initially there was a bit of difficulty in keeping the part in time with the drum machine.[13]

The song features a cowbell-like sound, which is in fact a combination of a cowbell and an Emulator II choir sound recorded into a Roland MSQ-700 sequencer, and spun in manually at appropriate places in the song.[13]

The trumpet solo in this version was played by Hague on the Emulator. According to Jacob, "it took about six hours to get the trumpet to sound genuine, purposely playing wrong notes to make it sound more 'jazz'".[13]

For the traffic noise that runs in the beginning, Hague recorded it using a Sony Professional Walkman out on Gosfield Street outside Advision.[13]

In addition to the rap verses and choruses sung by Tennant (each using different microphones - one for verse and another for choruses), singer Helena Springs was brought in to sing background vocals - parts of these were sampled into the Emulator to be used wherever wanted in the track.[13]

They re-released the song in late 1985, topping the charts in both the UK and the US.[14]

Music and lyrics[edit]

"West End Girls" is a synth-pop song[15] influenced by hip hop music.[14] The song's socially conscious streak, as well as the propulsive bass line, derives from Grandmaster Flash's protest rap song "The Message".[10] Lowe and Hague created a "snaky, obsessive rhythm punch" for the music,[14] replacing the song's previously sparse beats and minimal keyboard lines.[10]

Tennant started to write the song when he was staying at his cousin's house in Nottingham while watching a gangster film. Just when he was going to sleep he came up with the lines: "Sometimes you're better off dead, there's a gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head".[16] The lyrics were inspired by T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, particularly in the use of different narrative voices and arcane references.[10] The song's lyrics are largely concerned with class, inner-city pressure.[7][14] Tennant later said that some listeners had assumed the song referred to prostitutes, but was actually, "about rough boys getting a bit of posh."[17]

The lyric "From Lake Geneva to the Finland Station" refers to the train route taken by Vladimir Lenin when he was smuggled by the Germans to Russia during World War I, a pivotal event in the Russian Revolution. Indeed, it is highly likely the lyric was inspired by the book To the Finland Station by Edmund Wilson, a famous work on the history of revolutionary thought and Socialism that Tennant would have at least heard of, if not read, as a student. The Bobby Orlando-produced version of the single included another line, "All your stopping, stalling and starting/Who do you think you are, Joe Stalin?"[18] which was removed for the 1985 version.

Sound-wise, the 1985 version also features a considerably smoother arrangement than the 1984 version, trading out the collage of disjointed samples (such as glass breaking and Tennant shouting the word "I") in favour of soft synth pads and Hague's Emulator trumpet solo. At the same time, however, the 1985 version “starts off like a film noir",[12] opening with ambient traffic sounds not heard in the 1984 version. In the liner notes to the 2001 reissue of Please, Tennant noted that this was born out a desire for "filmic" music.[19]

Critical reception[edit]

"West End Girls" has been generally well received by music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic in a review of the album Please called the song "hypnotic", adding that "it's not only a classic dance single, it's a classic pop single".[20] In a review for the group's second studio album Actually, Rob Hoerburger from Rolling Stone magazine commented that "West End Girls" was "as catchy as anything on the radio in 1986", praising "its enticing bass line and foreboding synth riffs", but felt that it was almost "nullified by peevish spoken asides and the cryptic posturing of the duo's lyrics".[21] In a review of the live album Concrete, Michael Hubbard from musicOMH said that "West End Girls" was one of the songs that "round out a collection that never feels too long or superfluous", adding that it "goes some way to installing Tennant and Lowe as national treasures".[22]

Nitsuh Abebe from Pitchfork, in a review of their compilation album PopArt: Pet Shop Boys - The Hits commented that in the song "we meet Tennant not as a singer, but as a speaker", adding that "he mumbles the verses to us not like a star, but like a stranger in a raincoat, slinking alongside you and pointing out the sights".[23]

In 1987, "West End Girls" won for Best Single at the Brit Awards,[24] and for Best International Hit at the Ivor Novello Awards.[25] In 2005, the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters gave to West End Girls the Ivor Novello Award for Song of The Decade between the years 1985 and 1994.[26][27]

In 2015 the song was voted by the British public as the nation's 12th favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.[28] In 2020 The Guardian selected "West End Girls" as number one in a critics' poll of the 100 greatest UK number-one singles.[3]

Music video[edit]

The music video for "West End Girls" was directed by Andy Morahan and Eric Watson,[29][30] and consists of shots of the duo around London.

At the beginning of the video, noises from the city can be heard, a camera passes Lowe on the street, and focuses on mannequins in a shop window. Then appears a sequence of quick cuts with shots of the city's different sub-cultures; the video freezes and cuts to Tennant and Lowe, who walk through an empty Wentworth Street in Petticoat Lane Market. They stand in front of a red garage door; Tennant is in front dressed with a long coat, white shirt and dark necktie, directly addressing the camera, with Lowe standing behind him with a blank expression. Lowe is filmed in double-exposure and appears almost ghostlike. In other shots, Tennant power-walks imperiously while Lowe casually follows behind. While Tennant delivers the lyrics and chorus directly at the viewer, Lowe appears at times disinterested in the proceedings or preoccupied with other goings-on around them.

Then the video shows various shots at Waterloo Station, as the chorus starts. In slow motion, the camera pans across the WHSmith shop on the station concourse as the duo walk past. It cuts to a brief shot of a No. 42 red double-decker bus, showing the destination as Aldgate, also advertising the stage-show Evita, then black and white shots of the Tower Bridge, Westminster and the Westminster Palace Clock Tower from the sky. The duo poses on the South Bank of the River Thames in a pastiche of a postcard image, with the Houses of Parliament as a background.[31]

The camera shows shots of young women, and passes through arcades and cinemas in Leicester Square. The camera now passes South Africa House showing protestors in the Non-Stop Picket, an anti-apartheid vigil.[32] The video cuts to a closeup of Tennant singing the chorus, with a purple neon sign eerily passing across his face. At the end the camera passes again through Leicester Square, where people queue to see Fletch and Desperately Seeking Susan.[32] The video was nominated for Best New Artist in a Video at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, but lost to A-ha's "Take On Me".[33]

Commercial performance[edit]

"West End Girls" was first released in April 1984 through writer and producer Bobby Orlando's label. The song was a club hit in the United States,[34] and in some European countries, such as Belgium, where it debuted at number 24 on the VRT Top 30 chart on 28 July 1984,[35] peaking at 17 four weeks later.[36] In Canada, "West End Girls" first entered the RPM singles chart in April 1985, reaching a peak position of 81 in June 1985.[37]

Having signed with EMI, the group released their first major label single "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" in mid-1985, but it failed to attract attention.[34] The Pet Shop Boys then decided to re-record "West End Girls", and issue this new version as a single. Producer Stephen Hague helmed the new, re-recorded version of "West End Girls".[14]

The re-recorded version of "West End Girls" was released in the United Kingdom in October 1985, debuting on the UK Singles Chart at number 80, and within eight weeks of its release it had reached the top of the chart.[38] It maintained the number one position for two weeks[38] and received a gold certification by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in January 1986.[39] Across Europe, "West End Girls" also topped the singles chart in Norway,[40] as well as peaking in the top three in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.[41][42][43][44][45]

In Canada, where the original recording of "West End Girls" had already been a minor hit in 1985, the re-recorded version was issued as a single in early 1986. The re-recorded song entered the chart in March 1986, peaking at number one for one week on 17 May 1986.[46] In the United States, West End Girls debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 71,[47] reaching the number one position on 10 May 1986, and remained on the chart for 20 weeks.[48] The song also peaked at number one on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart for two weeks.[49]

"West End Girls" re-entered the charts in February 2021 as Pet Shop Boys received some exposure in early 2021 thanks to the premiere of the Channel 4 series It's a Sin, named after the song of the same name, and a popular Allstate Super Bowl ad featuring the song "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)". Consequently, several singles have re-entered the charts, with "Opportunities" having reached number one in February 2021 on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales chart and spending three consecutive weeks atop the chart. "West End Girls" re-charted with the latter song, re-entering the charts for the week of 27 February 2021 at number nine on the Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales chart, nearly having switched places in chart rankings with "Opportunities" from their 1986 entries. The song rose to number six on the chart for the week of 12 March 2021.[50][51][52]

Track listings[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

1984 Bobby O version[edit]

with:

1985 Stephen Hague version[edit]

with:

  • Stephen Hague - synthesizers, Emulator "trumpet" solo
  • Helena Springs - background vocal

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for "West End Girls"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[85] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[39] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

East 17 version[edit]

"West End Girls"
East 17-West End Girls.jpg
Single by East 17
from the album Walthamstow
Released14 June 1993
Recorded1992
Genre
Length3:59
LabelLondon
Songwriter(s)
  • Neil Tennant
  • Chris Lowe
Producer(s)
  • Mykaell S. Riley
  • The Groove Corporation
East 17 singles chronology
"Slow It Down"
(1993)
"West End Girls"
(1993)
"It's Alright"
(1993)

In 1993, British boyband East 17 covered "West End Girls" for their debut album, Walthamstow (1993).

Track listings[edit]

  • 7-inch single
A. "West End Girls" (Faces on Posters Mix)
B. "West End Girls" (Kicking in Chairs)

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for "West End Girls"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[95] Gold 35,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]