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West End Girls

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"West End Girls [1984 version]"
WestEndGirls.jpg
12" single cover
Single by Pet Shop Boys
B-side "Pet Shop Boys"
Released 9 April 1984
Format
Recorded Unique Studios, New York 1984[1]
Genre
Length 4:45
Label Bobcat Records
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s) Bobby Orlando
Pet Shop Boys singles chronology
"West End Girls [1984 version]"
(1984)
"One More Chance"
(1984)
"West End Girls"
(first release)
(1984)
"One More Chance"
(1984)
"West End Girls [1985 version]"
WestEndGirls-PSB21985.jpg
7" single cover
Single by Pet Shop Boys
from the album Please
B-side "A Man Could Get Arrested"
Released 28 October 1985
Format
Recorded August 1985[1]
Genre Synthpop, hip hop, new wave
Length 3:59 (7" version)
4:41 (album version)
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s) Stephen Hague
Pet Shop Boys singles chronology
"Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)"
(1985)
"West End Girls [1985 version]"
(1985)
"Love Comes Quickly"
(1986)
"Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)"
(first release)
(1985)
"West End Girls"
(second release)
(1985)
"Love Comes Quickly"
(1986)

"West End Girls" is a song by the British pop duo Pet Shop Boys. Written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, the song was released twice as a single. The song is influenced by hip hop music, with lyrics 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. In 2015 the song was voted by the British public as the nation's 12th favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.[2]

The song was performed by Pet Shop Boys at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony[3] and was included as part of the soundtrack of the 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V on the Non-Stop-Pop radio station.[4]

Background[edit]

Recording and production[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 1983–84, 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" 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] They re-recorded "West End Girls" with producer Stephen Hague, and re-released the song in late 1985, topping the charts in both the UK and the US.[12]

In an interview on BBC4's Synth Britannia programme (Video on YouTube at 1h 21m 19s), Neil Tennant explains the role of the then new sampling technology on the track and how every single sound came from the newly introduced E-mu Emulator keyboard.

Music and lyrics[edit]

"West End Girls" is a synthpop song[13] influenced by hip hop music.[12] 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,[12] 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".[14] 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][12] Tennant later said that some listeners had assumed the song referred to prostitutes, but was actually, "about rough boys getting a bit of posh."[15]

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 very 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?"[16] which was removed for the 1985 version.

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".[17] 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".[18] 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".[19]

Nitsuh Abebe from Pitchfork Media, 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".[20]

In 1987, "West End Girls" won for Best Single at The BRIT Awards,[21] and for Best International Hit at the Ivor Novello Awards.[22] 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.[23][24]

Music video[edit]

The video was directed by Andy Morahan and Eric Watson,[25][26] 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 two vintage dolls 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 walks imperiously while Lowe follows behind.

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.[27]

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.[28] 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.[28] 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.[29]

Chart 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,[30] and in some European countries, such as Belgium, where it debuted at number 24 on the VRT Top 30 chart on 28 July 1984,[31] peaking at 17 four weeks later.[32] In Canada, "West End Girls" first entered the RPM singles chart in April 1985, reaching a peak position of 81 in June 1985.[33]

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.[30] 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".[12]

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, becoming the first hip hop song to top the UK charts and the first British hip hop song to top a national chart.[34] It maintained the number one position for two weeks[34] and received a gold certification by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in January 1986.[35] Across Europe, "West End Girls" also topped the singles chart in Norway,[36] as well as peaking in the top three in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.[37][38][39][40][41]

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.[42] In the United States, West End Girls debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 71,[43] reaching the number one position on 10 May 1986, and remained on the chart for 20 weeks.[44] The song also peaked at number one on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart for two weeks.[45]

Formats and track listings[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Charts and certifications[edit]