Let’s begin at the beginning.
In 1983, a young writer for Smash Hits magazine named Neil Tennant contacted an extremely prolific and probably insane dance music producer named Bobby Orlando about working on some songs with Tennant and his friend Chris Lowe, whom he had met and started making music with in 1981. Orlando, a former boxer, was an energetic and smarmy businessman who hated the gays but loved making money off them; he broke a lease at one point upon learning that the apartment’s former tenants were gay, but he had no qualms earning his living off Hi-NRG dance music produced largely for gay clubs. Orlando even wrote and produced several songs for Divine (“Shoot Your Shot” and “Blue Monday” clone “Love Reaction”) roughly around the same time that he was born again. (By the end of the eighties, Orlando gave up on music altogether to focus his energies on a book refuting Darwinism.)
Orlando liked the demos Tennant sent him, and he ended up producing the original version of “West End Girls,” a minor American dance hit in 1984 which is probably not the version you know, unless you are either a rabid Pet Shop Boys fan or you were out dancing in San Francisco in 1984. The version you know, the one on the radio and on the Please album, was produced by Stephen Hague and released in late 1985.
That second version of “West End Girls” was a #1 hit in the US, the UK and Canada, as well as a top 5 hit the world over. The juxtaposition between the sedately rapped verses and the more emotional (though oddly verbless) chorus is still a thing of wonder and beauty.
But I’d just like to make sure that you also know about “West End - Sunglasses,” a remix of the Bobby Orlando version which was released as the A-side of a 1984 12” on German label ZYX Records. Assembled by a DJ calling himself Mach 2, it’s a proto-mashup of “West End Girls” and “Sunglasses At Night,” but where Canadian heartthrob Corey Hart’s vocals are replaced with those of an uncredited German.
“West End - Sunglasses” is eight minutes of fantastically eerie Italo-inspired wonder, with Tennant’s perfectly enunciated English rather abrasively colliding against the “Sunglasses” singer’s heavily Teutonic pronunciation. It’s surprisingly minimal, hauntingly cheesy, and it is the sort of song that will really impress everyone at your next party.
I think the reason I like “West End - Sunglasses” so much, aside from the novelty factor and my own personal fondness for goofy European cultural exchange, is that the songs don’t really fit together at all, musically but also lyrically. “West End Girls” starts out with someone contemplating suicide, whereas “Sunglasses”, the first of Hart’s nine Top 40 hits in the US, is about… being cool? Preventing switchblade violence? I guess both songs involve weaponry, but who even knows why anyone thought to jam them together.