||Throughout the making of the new
Pet Shop Boys album Neil, as usual, kept a diary. Neil and
Chris recently went through the diary with Literally and
recalled the album's making. It took place, bit by bit,
over two-and-a-half years. For much of that time they were
concentrating on their forthcoming musical, though some of
those songs were subsequently diverted into their own
record. Not all of the songs mentioned below will appear
on the finished album: the final track-listing and lyrics
to the songs will appear in the next issue of Literally.
October 5th, 1996.
Neil: That was our first day at
Childown. Chris: 1996! And it's 1999 now! God... Neil:
This album goes back a long way, because we started it
almost immediately after finishing Bilingual. We had a
house called Rocky Lane near Henley which we were renting,
and we knew we were going to start working on the musical
so we rented a house called Childown. Chris: Somewhere in
Surrey. Neil: Buckinghamshire.
Chris: It was Surrey.
Neil: It was Surrey! The nearest town was Working.
You're right. It was a house surrounded by hundreds of
acres of forest. We had our studio there. Jonathan Harvey
recent said in an interview that working with us was
really glamorous - he used to be picked up in a limo...
Chris: Chauffeur-driven limo. Neil: And driven down there.
Chris: Met by the housekeeper.
Neil: And then
you'd do some work in the afternoon and the next thing you
know you'd be watching television getting drunk. Do we
dispute the accuracy of this? Not at all.
Neil: We worked on a new song called "Vampires". This was
so long ago there was a new Absolutely Fabulous series
starting the same day. That's a different era.
Neil: Worked on a plot of the musical.
Watched TV and got drunk, probably.
Neil: Worked on a new version of "In The Club Or In
The Queue" which is a very old song from our original EMI
demo. It was in the first draft of the musical. Chris: It
was just gratuitous though, wasn't it? Neil: In our new
professional, ruthless world of musical-writing it's been
Neil: A power cut. We sat
around all day waiting for the flaming power to be
connected and it wasn't so we all drove back to London in
a bad mood. It was really annoying.
Neil: Back to Childown with Jonathan Harvey. Carried on
working on "In The Club Or In The Queue". Oh, great day
this. After dinner we got drunk in the studio and Chris
wrote music for "Call Me Old-fashioned".
Jonathan started singing. Neil: To this day he's still on
the demo doing backing vocals on that session. Good song,
that. And we also wrote what became "For Your Own Good" on
the same night.
Neil: Chris was in
bed with a hangover. During the day, I went into the
studio with Pete Gleadall and put the melody line and the
middle bit on "Call Me Old-fashioned", and also put vocals
and melody on "For Your Own Good". Chris went back to
London because he wanted to see Arsenal play Manchester
United and after dinner I got up his demo of the song
which became "In Denial".
Worked in the studio structuring and writing middle bit of
"In Denial". Chris came back and after lunch we did the
demo of "Friendly Fire". I wrote most of the lyrics for it
in the studio while we were doing the music. I went to the
ear doctor the next day. I wonder why I did that. That's
where I discovered I had perfect hearing, the hearing of
an 18-year-old. Which I'm very proud about.
Neil: We went to Childown to work on the musical but
we decided we were going to do the Savoy, decided we
needed a single, decided to do "Somewhere", chucked the
musical out of the window, and started on "Somewhere". We
did the basic arrangement in one day.
Neil: Carried on working on "Somewhere".
Neil: We were working on B-sides for "Somewhere" in
Metropolis, and we cut "Somewhere". We recorded "Disco
Potential" -we did it so quickly. Oh! We must remember
we've got that song we haven't put out yet, Chris's one
called "Nu Sleaze": 'You've got to get down to get up'.
That day we also met Sam Taylor-Wood at the Savoy Theater.
Then we went to Frankfurt that night. The next day we did
an Internet conference and the computers didn't work.
Nothing happens for ages on the album now because of the
Neil: At Childown we wrote a
song which was then called "Am I The Only One?" And the
same day we worked on the Elton John duet, "Believe" and
"Song For Guy". That evening we watched Tantrums And
Neil: We're actually
doing something, everyone. We're making a brief visit to
Childown with Jonathan Harvey. We discussed the musical.
Neil: We drove to the nearest town
and bought videos, and we watched Annie and Oiler! After
dinner we watched Carousel.
Neil: Working on the musical. After lunch we watched The
Sound Of music
Chris: We were analyzing things.
Neil: The use of the songs.
Chris: Annie was not as
good as I'd remembered.
Neil: Oliver! was good though.
In The Sound Of Music, every song is a song of
transformation. The characters are not the same at the
end. Chris: Something that we've not utilized in our
Neil: [laughs] We're not good enough. After
dinner that day, Jonathan read a synopsis of the plot and
we played cassettes of the songs.
Neil: We did "Sail Away" in Sarm West.
Neil: "Sail Away" again. And we did a quick version of
"It's Not Unusual" for the Stonewall Equality Show.
Neil: Still working on "Sail Away".
Neil: Finished "Sail Away".
Neil: Childown has now gone.
was a good investment, wasn't it? Neil: We're now in Pete
Gleadall's studio. That day we wrote and strutted to
record the Christmas song for our Christmas card.
Neil: Finished the Christmas song.
Neil: Worked on a new song for the
musical, "Night Life".
on two new songs for the musical, "Hedonism" and
April 7th, 1998.
Neil: Went to
Pete Gleadall's studio and put vocals on two demos for the
musical, "The Only One" and "In Denial".
Neil: Vocals on two more songs, "Call Me Old Fashioned"
and 'Night Life". The Noel Coward thing was happening then
- that's why there hasn't been a lot of Pet Shop Boys
Neil: We started the album
properly. We'd decided to work with Craig Armstrong, and
he came down to London at Westside and we started work on
the song "The Only One". He decided he'd rather work on
the songs back in his studio in Glasgow first, taking our
demos, with his programmer Richard Norris. We agreed and
he went back to Glasgow the next day.
Neil: We stayed on at Westside for the rest of that
week. We wrote a new song using a sample from TRex's "Get
It On". It's called "Little Black Dress". I went to dinner
and Chris wrote a song with the attractive title "Buggered
If I Know".
Chris: Good title. It could be "Buggered
(If I Know)". Neil: You wanted it to be like Divine, I
think. That was your idea, wasn't it?
Chris: Was it?
Neil: And it starts off with something like Edgar.
Chris: Oh, I vaguely remember that.
Neil: We wrote two new songs. One's called "Before My
Time" which was meant to sound like Air. The other song
was called "Playing In The Streets", which would later
become the intro of "Boy Strange", only then we eventually
took it off "Boy Strange" so it 5 still flying around. We
wrote "Playing In The Streets" because Chris wanted to
write something inside to impress a friend of his. And
indeed it did impress him.
Chris: It sounds like kraut
Neil: A bit like Bowie, I think.
not easy doing inside, actually. You basically need to be
a band to do it.
Neil: We went to
Glasgow to work with Craig. He had been working on
"Vampires" and "In Denial". We played them through and
gave him suggestions. We did the same for the next two
days, also working on "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When
Neil: We began working
in Chris Difford's studio in East Sussex with a programmer
called James Sanger and wrote the music for a new song, "I
Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More".
Neil: Wrote the music for a song for the
musical, "Tall Thin Men
Neil: Wrote music
for a song called "What Would I Know?". It's the worst
song I've ever written, but it's got a good middle bit.
Neil: Worked on a new song - I think it
was meant for Robbie Williams because he wanted to write a
song with us though it never happened -called
Neil: Back to
Chris Difford's. Sam Taylor-Wood came down and we worked
on "Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)".
Finished "Je T'Aime...", amazingly, and carried on working
on "Unbelievable Scenes
Neil: Worked on a
new song, "Footsteps", which was originally the bridge of
"Unbelievable Scenes" but it didn't fit in. May 21st.
Neil: Sam Taylor-Wood came down and did the vocals on "Je
Neil: Back to Chris
Difford's studio. Worked on "Boy Strange".
Neil: Finished demo of "Boy Strange". Put vocals
on "Little Black Dress". Started demo of "Love And War",
which we first demo-ed in Glasgow writing songs for
Behavior in 1990.
Neil: Put vocals on
"Footsteps". As you can see, we're still not really into
the full thing of doing the album.
Neil: Pete Gleadall's studio: wrote new song "Radiophone".
That night we went to Substation and played the
instrumental there. Chris: I enjoyed playing that there.
It sounded good, I thought.
Carried on working on "Radiophone".
Neil: Finished vocals on "Radiophone" and started a new
Chris: Why would we call a track
"Franglais"? It doesn't sound like our kind of title.
Neil: We were probably still trying to rip off Air.
Neil: Chris had been out the night before
and wasn't at the studio the next day. I worked on a new
track called "Silver Age".
Hello, proper recording. In Swanyard with Roll, working on
September 15th and 16th.
"Radiophone" with Roll.
Working on "For Your Own Good".
Neil: "For Your Own Good".
Neil: We'd been asked to do a song for the album to go
with the film Psycho, so we actually wrote it - the song
"Screaming" - from scratch then and there, with Pete
Gleadall and Tom Stephen.
Carried on working on "Screaming".
Neil: Swanyard with Roll, working on "Boy Strange" doing
guitar and vocals.
Strange". In the evening we went to see Depeche Mode at
Neil: Watched half of
Psycho on video and rewrote "Screaming". I wrote the
lyrics twice and I changed the whole melody because it was
too wordy and I didn't like it.
I went to Swanyard and recorded a guide vocal for "tall
Thin Men" for Richard Niles to do the arrangement to, and
then I recorded the vocals for "Screaming", then Tom and
Chris arrived and worked more on "Screaming".
Neil: Goetz mixed "Screaming" and while he did
the mix I wrote new words to the new verse melody. We
finished it that day.
went to Glasgow to Craig's studio. Chris: Nothing much for
us to do there.
Neil: We worked on
"Drunk". It was one of the most problematical songs to
record. Craig kept on trying to make it different to the
demo, but eventually one day when Craig was out of the
studio - he was worn out with it anyway - Chris and I
reprogrammed the original rhythm track. Chris: And he
Neil: But when it was mixed he suddenly
decided he really liked it. To his credit Craig Armstrong
was always trying to push us to make it more interesting.
This day Ah the guitarist came in - he was in the group
Hipsway. At one point I accused Craig, jokingly, of just
making a Hipsway album with me singing on it, because
there seemed to be so many ex-members of Hipsway involved
in the recording process. Anyway, he's really good. He
played bottle neck guitar on this.
Neil: Listened through to the tracks in Glasgow.
Neil: Worked on "Footsteps" and went
Chris: There's some fantastic shops for
clothes shopping in Glasgow.
Chris went back to London to go to America to see the
Prince Naseem fight. Ah put guitar on "Footsteps". Craig
and I went through all eight tracks he was working on,
discussing the orchestrations.
Neil: Chris starts working with David Morales in a little
studio in New York.
Chris: He had the idea of doing a
Village People type song, which became "New York City
Boy", and we worked on what became "Love Letters".
Neil: Chris with David Morales
Neil: I flew to New York.
Neil: Chris played me the tracks
and I wrote the words to "New York City Boy" - well, it
turned out all I'd written was the bridge, because we
changed it later - and we went the studio.
Neil: Went to Gemstone studios with David
Morales. I put a guide vocal on "New York City Boy" and
the vocal melody on "Love Letters".
Neil: Went to Quad studios. The reason why the lyrics to
"New York City Boy" go "where Seventh Avenue meets
Broadway", it's because that's where Quad studios is. The
corner of Times Square.
Chris: It's also where Tupac
got shot in the balls. Neil: That day we work on "Don't
Know What You Want" and "New York City Boy".
Neil: I did the lead vocals on "Don't Know What
You Want" and a vocal arranger called Danny came in to
discuss the backing vocals.
put the lead vocals on "Night Life" and then Chris and I
went to see the Mark Rothko retrospective at the
Chris: Bloody good.
Neil: . . .Because
we're very arty, as you know. Then we went back to Quad
and the backing singers did the vocals on "New York City
Boy" and "Night Life".
Neil: I put a
guide vocal on "Love Letters" and went to see Gods And
Neil: I put more vocals
on "New York City Boy".
Back at Swanyard in London with Rollo, working on "For
Your Own Good".
Neil: Finished "For
Your Own Good" and worked on "Boy Strange".
Neil: Finished the mix of "Boy Strange".
Neil: Worked on "Radiophone". This was
also one of the problematic tracks - Chris and I did it
deliberately as an Fighters thing, and Rollo didn't want
it to be Eighties and we never thought it quite got there.
The final version was the third version. It took a lot of
work, I think, because it's not much of a song really. We
wrote it as a track rather than as a song, which is quite
unusual for us.
Neil: Went to Air
Lyndhurst studios. The first day of recording strings, so
Craig was there. Recorded strings for "In Denial", "Closer
To Heaven" and "The Only One".
Orchestra played on "Drunk", "Friendly Fire", "For All Of
Us" and "Closer To Heaven". Then a choir sung on
"Footsteps" and "In Denial".
did the vocals on "Vampires" and "The Only One" at Sarm
Neil: Sarm West with Craig,
but I went home because I had a cold.
Neil: Backing vocals on various tracks,
"Footsteps" in particular, with Tessa Niles, Jay Henry and
Neil: With Craig at
Neil: Sarm West. Then
January 11th, 1999.
three. Back to Sarm. Did some work on "Vampires" and I
sang "Friendly Fire".
Neil: In Sarm.
Neil: Craig wasn't around - we did
some reprogramming on "Drunk".
Chris: The studio was
Neil: Tom Stephen came in - we'd decided
to do a dance version of "Drunk".
Neil: Worked on "For All Of Us".
January 15th. Neil:
Carried on on "Drunk" and "For All Of Us".
and I went to Olympic Studios where Mike "Spike" Stent was
mixing "Vampires", then we went back to Sarm and I did the
vocals for "In Denial".
Neil: At Sarm
and Olympic; at Olympic we heard the final mix of "The
Neil: Craig came in
with the finished mix of "Friendly Fire" and we worked on
"For All Of Us". That was a track we were always messing
around with, and in the end we went back to what the demo
was like, because there was nothing wrong with it really.
January 22nd. Neil: Sarm.
Sarm, working on "In Denial". Kylie Minogue came in and we
went for dinner to discuss whether she wanted to do a
Chris: It was a good laugh actually.
She just said she'd like to do it. She was very practical.
Chris: She's very sexy.
Neil: And also a nice person.
Neil: Craig came down and we worked
on "In Denial" and "For All Of Us" yet again.
27th. Neil: I had a cold for the rest of the week.
Neil: Sarm. Worked on "Closer To Heaven
editing it. There was a whole instrumental section we just
chopped out because it was too long.
Neil: Kylie came in and sang on "In Denial".
Neil: Finished recording "Closer To Heaven"
Neil: I did the vocals for "Drunk".
Neil: Went into Sarm, heard the
Neil: Went to the
Townhouse studios, heard mix of "In Denial".
Neil: Finished mix of "Footsteps" at Townhouse.
Bernard Summer phoned and came over. Bernard, Chris and I
watched some of the Brits awards on TV and went out for
Neil: At the Townhouse to
hear mix of "For All Of Us".
Sarm, remixing "New York City Boy".
Neil: Finished mix of "New York City Boy
Neil: Started reworking "Night Life" using both David
Morales's parts and the original demo arrangement.
Neil: Goetz started mixing "Night Life".
Neil: Finished mix of "Night Life". Alter
dinner we went back to the studio and started working on
Neil: Back in Sarm;
finished the mix of "Silver Age". We also started remixing
"I Don't Know What You Want" that day, going through what
was in David Morales's production and what we'd done.
Neil: Sarm. And we left Goetz to start the
mix of "I Don't Know What You Want".
Neil: Finished the mix of "I Don't Know What You Want".
Neil: Went to Swanyard to do another
mix of "Radiophone".
Neil: At that
point, I think, we thought we had finished the album.
Neil: We went to Metropolis studios to cut
the album, and Mitch and Merc came over with a Bottle of
champagne to celebrate. In fact we decided after that to
remix two tracks.
Neil: For "In
Denial" we thought the rhythrn track was stiff. Craig
Armstrong came down from Glasgow with his programmer Steve
and we remixed it. He changed the drum sounds and bass
Neil: Goetz was at Olympic
Neil: Went to
hear Goetz finish mix of "Footsteps".
Neil: Sarm West. Adjusting the mix of "I Don't Know What
You Want". There was a bit of the song that we were taking
out of it that went "If anyone can, the action man can".
Chris really hated it. That was the start of the whole
song, originally. Chris said, "right, if Barbie's a hit,
why don't we write one about Action Man?" Instead, I sang
the "don't know what you want bit in the middle and near
Neil: Finished mixing "I
Don't Know What You Want..."
We recut the album in Metropolis in a new order - that
evening EMI were having an international conference where
they hired a small club near Funham road to play to all
the international EMI staff. We went in to say hello.
Neil: Chris and I went to my house in the
North where our studio now is. The Americans didn't think
there was a single for America and so we decided to write
some new songs - we were quite keen to do that because we
hadn't really written anything for about a year. I'd had
this idea for ages to write something on this piece of
music by Rachmaninov, "Vocal's", and it became "Happiness
Is An Option". It's sort of Lauryn Hill-esque.
wouldn't describe it like that. Neil: It's got Sylvia all
the way through. Chris: It's more like Coo ho.
That whole hip hop thing.
Chris: And like Baz Luhrmann.
Neil: It's not like Baz Luhrrnann! Chris: I think people
will compare it to that. Neil: But it's not giving
instructions. Chris: It's spoken.
Neil: We've always
done that whole spoken word thing.
Neil: Carried on working on "Happiness Is An Option" and
started on a new song based on a sample from a Tamla
Motown song. It's called "Somebody Else's Business".
Neil: We worked again in "Somebody Else's
Business" and started work on another new song, "The Ghost
Of Myself', which is sort of a Britney Spears meets
Depeche Mode song.
studios with Pete Gleadall, working on "Happiness Is An
Option", adding a few new parts.
Recording "Happiness Is An Option" onto tape and I put the
vocals on. I had two lots of vocals and I tried to do it
like Eminem with a lot of words, but I found it hard to do
it fast without sounding American.
Chris then recorded
a guide vocal where he did less of the words to give me an
idea - it sounds more heartbreaking the way he does it -
and I re-recorded my vocal more like his.
Neil: Back to Sarm West with Goetz and Pete Gleadall,
finishing the mix.
May 25th, 26th and 27th.
Back in Sarm West, working on "The Ghost Of Myself'.
Neil: Finished the mix of "The Ghost Of
Myself' and I recorded a new rap for "Happiness Is An
Option" because I wasn't happy with the original one. I
did it in a different vocal style and put a few more words
in - it was a bit freeform before.
Went back to Metropolis and EQ'd "Happiness Is Not An
Option" and cut the album in a new order for the third
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1999: All Articles
Taken From Literally 1999 Issue 20