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Not Fade Away 1990: Being Boring, Pet Shop Boys

"Pop music doesn't get any better, or any more beautiful, or any more self-regarding, than this.". - Paul Morley on Pet Shop Boys, Uncut, Setember 1997

"I came from Newcastle in the North of England. We used to have lots of parties where everyone got dressed up and on one party invitation was the quote 'she was never bored because she was never boring'. The song is about growing up - the ideals that you have when you're young and how they turn out". - Neil Tennant, Being Boring video.

The thing is in 1990 I wasn't necking Es at the Hacienda. I didn't have one of those curtain-style haircuts or go shopping at Joe Bloggs, or wear denim flares or wear a bucket hat, the kind of hat Reni wore.

I was amused by the Mondays, was largely indifferent to the Roses and thought Kylie was probably more fun than either of them.

So that year, while the music press was raving about Madchester, I was listening to the Pet Shop Boys. Truth is, I'd been listening to Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe from the start. But their 1990 album Behaviour turned out to be my favourite and Being Boring, a song about remembering being young and the increasing melancholy of those memories. (And at 27 I guess I was beginning to realise that being young was moving towards memory for me too.)

It was also a song about the HIV virus and the impact it was having. And it carries the weight of that beautifully. "For me it is a personal song," Tennant once said, "because it's about a friend of mine who died of Aids, and so it's about our lives when we teenagers and how we moved to London, and I suppose me becoming successful and him becoming ill."

In a way the persona that the Pet Shop Boys presented to the world was the closest model to the person I was still yearning to be. Smart, arch, sophisticated, literate, amusing, droll, melancholy and (and this is a hostage to fortune, I suspect) a bit English.

My heroes were nearly all English then - Nic Roeg, Bowie, Alan Bennett, Philip Larkin, Morrissey and Marr, as well as numerous other northern pop stars ("the story of pop is essentially a northern story," Neil Tennant, himself a Geordie, would say in 1995. I don't think he meant Shetland).

The Pet Shop Boys were, as they said themselves, "the Smiths you can dance to". And I did like to dance. If you wanted to construct a band who fitted the model of what I wanted pop stars to be it might look a lot like the Pet Shop Boys (despite the name). There is not, I grant you, a lot of grit and muscle there. But there is no shortage of grace. And for those who find Tennant's voice thin and vapid, I hear a rather sweet, imperfect humanity.

Being Boring - which was accompanied by a gorgeous Bruce Weber black and white video of beautiful models which offered the duo a sex appeal they didn't carry themselves - is one of their most realised and restrained songs. They could blast it when required. The evidence is there on It's a Sin and Left to My Own Devices. But Being Boring is all feather and hush. Even the wah-wah guitar is carried low in the mix. There's also plastic tubing being played at the beginning.

It was written in Scotland. The duo hired a studio in the west end of Glasgow and put down the music for it and a couple of album tracks, My October Symphony and The End of the World,

"We wrote it very quickly," Tennant said in liner notes for the album. "I can remember Chris deciding that the song itself should go up into the chorus like a Stock Aitken Waterman record - it's actually very influenced by them in the way it changes key completely, going up a semitone. The verse resolves on G and then it goes up to A flat for the chorus which is a very Stock, Aitken, Waterman thing to do. We were quite impressed by the way they'd always just shift up for the chorus.

"I'd got the idea of writing a song called Being Boring after someone in Japan said something about us being boring; it just seemed to be a very musical phrase and I wrote it down. And I liked the idea of confronting this image of the Pet Shop Boys being boring by actually writing a song called that."

He also told Q Magazine "If you ever want to write a classic pop song use these chords: A flat, B flat, G minor 7th, C minor. That's The Chord Change. You can't go wrong with that. A guaranteed worldwide hit."

Perhaps, but then Being Boring was one of their lesser hits. It peaked at number 20 in the UK, some distance from the number one slot they'd regularly claim during their "imperial phase" (1986-88).

No matter. It remains one of their most enduring songs. And the ache in it grows with each passing year.

All the people I was kissing/ Some are here and some are missing ...

Other Contenders

Kinky Afro, Happy Mondays

Mama Said Knock You Out, LL Cool J

Better the Devil You Know, Kylie Minogue

Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Saint Etienne

My October Symphony, Pet Shop Boys

There She Goes, The La's

Groove is in the Heart, Deee-Lite

Where Are You Baby?, Betty Boo

Hold On, En Vogue

Killer, Adamski

Higher Than the Sun, Primal Scream

The Ship Song, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Nothing Compares to U, Sinead O'Connor

The Only One I Know, The Charlatans

Then, The Charlatans

World in Motion, England/New Order

Vogue, Madonna

Lloyd Cole, Loveless

Velouria, The Pixies

Weather With You, Crowded House

Birdhouse in Your Soul, They Might Be Giants

John Peel's Festive 50 Winner: Bill is Dead, The Fall

NME Single of the Year: Groove Is In The Heart, Deee-Lite

And the best-selling single of the year: Unchained Melody, The Righteous Brothers

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