Soundtrack of my life: Neil Tennant

He heard his first pop hit at eight,

had his first kiss at nine and used the pay

from being a film extra to buy his first album.

The Pet Shop Boy shares his memories with Will Hodgkinson

The first song that made me notice pop music

Telstar, The Tornados (1962)

It was the first pop record I was really aware of. I was eight, and I couldn’t work out what this strange electronic sound in it was, but I knew it was the future. It came out at the beginning of the space age and it was a complete break with what had gone before: studio-created music that could not be played live, which was fascinating for me. And then of course there is the story of the record’s producer Joe Meek: killing his landlady and then himself.

The first album I bought

The White Album, The Beatles (1968)

In 1968, scenes from the film Women In Love were shot in my home town of Newcastle. I got to be Urchin Six in a few of them, for which I got paid the huge sum of £3 a day. That allowed me to buy The Beatles double album for £4. What I really love about it are the sophisticated McCartney ballads: ‘I Will’ and ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ are just gorgeous, full of blissful major seventh chords. I learned to play guitar by studying Beatles’ songbooks, and that led to a musical I wrote when I was nine called The Girl Who Pulled Tails. Looking back, I suppose that title was rather Freudian.

When the Pet Shop Boys met Dusty Springfield

I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten, Dusty Springfield (1968)

I fell in love with Dusty’s voice when I first heard it, aged 10, and I particularly like this song because it uses the quiet/loud style that was later taken up by Nirvana – it starts as a tender piece that builds up into something grandiose – and it has an incredible piano sound. And working with Dusty is one of the things of which I’m most proud. When Chris Lowe and I met her she had hit rock bottom: she was living in a pay-per-day motel in West Hollywood and cutting herself. But Neil and I, who bonded over our love of the album Dusty In Memphis, were just going: ‘It’s Dusty! I can’t believe it!’

When I met Chris Lowe

Bedsitter, Soft Cell (1981)

We were both living in bedsits in London and this song described our lives at the time. I was working at a book publishers and we were totally outside of everything: we hardly knew anyone, and we would go clubbing to Camden Palace just to look at people from the side of the dancefloor, which is a much better place to be than in the VIP area sipping champagne. The early singles by Soft Cell sum up a time in London when clubbing was creative and music was dominated by art students – a great period, in other words.

When I worked at Smash Hits

Planet Rock, Afrika Bambaataa (1982)

The Smash Hits days were the days of free records, so I would listen to songs that I normally wouldn’t encounter. This was one of them. I liked its energy, and its simplicity, and the fact that it was in thrall to Kraftwerk. Then I went to New York for the first time, and was picked up from the airport by Mike Rutherford of Genesis, whom I was there to interview. The car went through the midtown tunnel, and just as we hit the toll station ‘Planet Rock’ came on the radio, and I was sick with excitement. New York was scary back then, and you heard ‘Planet Rock’ everywhere you went. It was wonderful.

Strange put possibly true

1. Soft Cell’s Dave Ball went to the same Blackpool grammar school as the Pet Shop Boys’ Chris Lowe.

2. Neil Tennant was such a fan of EF Benson’s comic novels, which concern high society shenanigans in prewar Rye in Sussex, that he bought a house there.

3. Tennant formed his first band, Dust, in 1975. Perhaps surprisingly, they were chiefly influenced by the Incredible String Band.

4. Tennant’s first job after completing his studies at the Polytechnic Of North London was at Marvel Comics. His tasks included toning down the suggestive costumes of certain superheroes.

5. A first kiss for Tennant came courtesy of one Frances Macdonald, in the book cupboard of St Oswald’s primary school, Newcastle, aged nine. He says of the experience: ‘I quite enjoyed it.’

Taken from: The Observer
Interviewer: Will Hodgkinson