POP MUSIC / Very singular - Very Pet Shop Boys

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The Independent Online
FORMAT

PET Shop Boys have released 'I Wouldn't Normally Do this Kind of Thing' on two CDs, cassette, 7in vinyl. They want to release a double 12in later on, even though this is against the rules.

NT: Since we came into the record business, the British Phonographic Industry has done two things: panic for several years about DAT and how it was going to kill off the industry - and in the end the public never bought it; and endlessly, but endlessly change the formats for singles. You're only allowed four now to count for the chart. We still release five formats - including two 12in which won't count towards the chart. We are releasing those 12in records because our fans still want music on 12in. The one we'd really like to get rid of is the cassette single because it's really hopeless. It's the most unreliable and worst sounding format. And consequently it's the most popular. The product manager here always gives us the breakdowns on sales for the different formats and we're always trying to prove that, ha] the cassette single doesn't sell. But it does. There's a generation grown up that thinks music is something which comes on cassette. I don't think that people generally are obsessed by sound quality. What people want is something that's dead handy. Cassettes are and CDs are and it's not an issue of sound quality at all.

And whatever they tell you, funnily enough, the 7in single really sells. That's the one thing no one's going to get rid of, because if you have a crossover hit - which doesn't just mean getting into the Top 10, it means getting into the Top Three - and the public really starts buying it, outside your fan-base, they zero in on that 7in single.

CL: We think the BPI should be abolished. All these restrictive practices. After all, book publishers don't say, 'I'm sorry - you can't have more than 10 chapters.'

PACKAGING

FOR the sleeve, Pet Shop Boys wore costumes designed by David Fielding, who has worked with English National Opera. The CD remix comes in a soft plastic package designed by Daniel Weil, whose 'Radio in a Bag' is exhibited in the Design Museum.

NT: We've always wanted to wear wigs. The inspiration specifically was the Byrds, or Rubber Soul-period Beatles, where the fringe comes down to your eyes. Though actually I think it looks very Pam Ayres. It's extraordinary how it changes your personality, wearing a wig.

We wanted to make all the singles look completely different and not like they're part of some monolithic album project. David Fielding comes in, totally excited - 'I've discovered this fabric' - and he throws it down, and it's this blue fabric which is something to do with hospitals. If you broke every bone in your body, they'd wrap you in something like this. It's a bit like bubble wrapping for human beings. As the song is a little Sixties, we thought it would be nice to have the transparent boots and gloves. One thing we've realised about these costumes is, you can't wear them in a naturalistic setting. We did the MTV Russia opening and assumed the press conference would be a glamorous affair, so we dressed up. Huge mistake. We looked ridiculous. Though I suppose that was the idea.

CL: It's a reaction against everything else that's going on - grunge and dressing down - we wanted to be outside that. Everyone's so miserable and the music's so whiney, and that's not what we're about. Also the sort of fashion that we used to be into hasn't been very interesting either. In the past we used to go into the shops, see what was around and wear that for photo sessions. But a lot of fashion designers seem to have lost the plot, got confused.

PRODUCTION

THE album version of the song was produced by Pet Shop Boys and Stephen Hague. The Beatmasters re-mixed and re-produced it for radio.

NT: Chris laughs at me, because I said, 'it should sound a bit like Wham]' And he said, 'I suppose you mean Tamla Motown.' And I said, yes, that's exactly what I mean. We've never written anything to that rhythm before. Of course, it's officially the sort of thing that we don't do because it's a bit retro. But that's how it came - I heard it to a Motown beat.

CL: The album version is under-produced for one of our tracks. We listened to 'Can You Feel It' by the Jacksons and built a rhythm track around that. We wanted to update it a bit, because it was sounding too pastiche-y, so we introduced garage house sounds and finger clicks and tried to make it sound a bit more contemporary. Then we tried to add a ravey sort of bit. And there's a Shamen-esque plinkety sequencer line.

The Beatmasters did the Shamen singles, which we've always liked, and they made it into what they thought a Pet Shop Boys should be - over-produced. They put on the psychedelic high trumpet and the false ending. It took a while to get used to, but we thought it was rather clever.

NT: On this single and on the album generally, I did a lot more work on the vocal sound - singing harmonies. Listen to our first album, it's just one vocal. And that was what we did until we worked with Trevor Horn on 'Left to my Own Devices' when suddenly, daringly, I tried a couple of harmonies. Before that I probably thought I couldn't do it, and I probably couldn't be bothered to do it. But I think the vocal arrangements on the single is really quite nice, although a critic would probably say it was my typically thin whiney vocals and wouldn't notice.

WORDS AND TUNE

'I Wouldn't Normally do this Kind of Thing' was written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe.

NEIL TENNANT: I thought of it while riding in a taxi to Heathrow, going to Edinburgh for the day - 'I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing'. And all day long, this bloody thing was going through my head. I couldn't wait to get home to sing it into a cassette recorder so that I could forget about it. Later, Chris wrote an instrumental section. And that was that, really.

CHRIS LOWE: I often dream that George Michael has written this brilliant song and I'm really pissed off that I haven't written it. And then I wake up and I can never remember anything about it.

NT: At one time one used to write things at the piano or on a synthesiser. Nowadays, you go in the studio, you play it into a computer. And then you never play it again. I could sit down at a piano and play a large portion of our first album to you. This album, I can't play anything, really.

I like the idea of the song - the reserved Englishman falling in love and going a bit potty. When I wrote the line, 'I feel like taking all my clothes off / Dancing to the Rite of Spring', I was just looking for a rhyme for 'thing'. And I was thinking of those cartoons by Feiffer that used to be in the Observer, in the days when one used to read the Observer - that woman saying, 'this is my dance for spring'. The first time I ever played the finished song to anyone outside our immediate circle, I played it to Johnny Marr in Manchester and he started to cry with laughter when he got to the 'Rite of Spring' line. He seemed to find it hysterically funny.

CL: Perhaps too funny.

(Photographs omitted)

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