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Neil Tennant on West End Girls: ‘It’s about sex and escape. It’s paranoid’

Neil Tennant on West End Girls: 'It's about sex and escape. It's paranoid' thumbnail

We voted the Pet Shop Boys’ debut single the greatest British No 1 of all time. Their frontman remembers the clubs, pathos and serendipity behind the hit

We named West End Girls the greatest ever UK No 1. Did we get it right?
Well, I would have chosen Good Vibrations. It’s obviously intensely subjective. I can see that West End Girls is quite a lot of records in one record. It’s a dance record. It was actually written to be a rap record, back in the day. It’s a moody soundscape. It’s about the city at night. It’s about boys and girls meeting to have fun and presumably to bond [laughs]. It’s about sex. It’s paranoid. At the same time, its message is sort of like Dancing in the Streets – it’s about escape into the city at night, which is emblematic of pleasure.

When you were writing it, did you have a sense that these elements were potent ingredients for a pop song?
Oh, it was completely instinctive. It was written in early 83. I used to get the records ’cause of being at Smash Hits: Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa. One day I was at my cousin’s and we’d watched a Jimmy Cagney movie. Before going to bed, the opening lines came into my head and so I turned the light on and wrote them down. I got back to London and went with it and wrote a rap. These were the days when Chris [Lowe] and I used to make demos in a little studio off Camden Road. Chris was down from Liverpool University. We went into the studio, and I said to Chris and the guy whose studio it was: “I’ve written this rap!” Rather embarrassingly, I then performed it. Luckily, they were mildly impressed.

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