Not all famous artists write their songs themselves – but there’s a lot that do. And although I’m really interested in the “who wrote what”, there’s of course many where I don’t know that they were written by somebody else. Shame on me, I only discovered after his death, that Prince wrote The Bangles’ “Manic Monday”.
One of my favorite synthpop bands are Pet Shop Boys, and although I knew the obvious songs they wrote for other artists like Liza Minelli (“Losing My Mind”) and Dusty Springfield (“In Private”), there are more songs besides the big hits, that they wrote and not always recorded themselves later.
“I Want You Now” – Liza Minelli
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe produced a lot of songs with Liza Minelli, most famous probably the hit single “Losing My Mind” (written by Stephen Sondheim). All songs on her album “Results” were produced by Pet Shop Boys (with their then production partner Julian Mendelsohn) and most songs were written by the duo. It seems to me, they mixed Minellis reputation in more cabaret/swing style songs (if I may call it that) with the signature Pet Shop Boys sound, and that made for a great combination.
The one that stands out for me is “I Want You Now”, as it is more left of center, has eerily haunting strings, is a bit more experimental and generally not your typical, simple stuctured pop song. And Minella can show how good a singer she is with all the ups and downs in the melody.
“Listening” – Morten Harket
Two of the biggest synthpop bands (of the 80’s, maybe forever?) together – not all of their members, but Pet Shop Boys music combined with the voice of a-ha should be a pretty good fit.
And yes, it is – although I would like the song to become even bigger towards the end. But that’s a matter of taste. The song itself is a nice, melancholy pop song, but what intrigues me is the bridge leading into the chorus: The last bars of the bridge remind me very strongly of Mott The Hoople’s “All The Young Dudes” (when he sings “…talk… just talk…”). And everytime I hear this, I want to start singing “All the young…” but I get thrown off, because this chorus here is of course different. But maybe it’s a little hommage to a great song? Or just a coincidence? With the Pet Shop Boys you never know 😉
“The Loving Kind” – Girls Aloud
Ok, something simpler in between. Pet Shop Boys and a girl group? Yes, might be a good fit 😉 And although I’m not a big fan of casting shows and their “products”, this band here had their 20th Top Ten single with the Pet Shop Boys song. Can’t be all bad, right?
Oh, and like it is with top hits nowadays, this song wasn’t written solely by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, they had Miranda Cooper, Brian Higgins and Tim Powell “help them” 😉
“Occupy Your Mind” – Dusty Springfield
After the Pet Shop Boys helped Dusty Springfield back into the Top Ten with their duet “What Have I Done To Deserve This”, they wrote four and produced five songs for her album “Reputation” (again together with Julian Mendelsohn). And this one is a quite classical, very electronic song, reminiscent of the early albums “Please” and “Actually” (and also a bit “Disco”).
I especially like that it defies the typical pop song structure a bit, being more like an extended version of the song with several breaks and changes.
“The Performance Of My Life” – Shirley Bassey
Shirely Bassey’s no stranger to electronic bands, already having recorded “The Rhythm Divine” with Yello in 1987. And while that song combines the synths, rhythms and sound textures of Yello with the powerful, musical-trained voice of Bassey, this one here, written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, has all the pathos and theatrical feeling of the most melancholy PSB songs. Actually it reminds me a just little bit of their song “Jealousy”.
Perfect for Bassey, and somewhat close to her 1972 song “The Greatest Performance Of My Life” – not only in the title, it can be seen as an hommage to a great artist. Neil Tennant said that it was about a diva, who lived her life on stage, but was not specifically about Bassey. And Bassey remarked that the lyrics hit close to home and moved her to tears during recording.
For what it’s worth, did you notice that the two albums the Boys produced in the 1980’s for other artists are called “Results” (Liza Minelli) and “Reputation” (Dusty Springfield)…