Billboard’s Top 10 Alternative Songs, 11 September 1993:
1. The Juliana Hatfield 3, My Sister
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soul To Squeeze
3. Blind Melon, No Rain
4. Bjork, Human Behaviour
5. The Catherine Wheel, Crank
6. New Order, World (The Price Of Love)
7. Smashing Pumpkins, Cherub Rock
8. Pearl Jam, Crazy Mary
9. Urge Overkill, Sister Havana
10. Pet Shop Boys, Can You Forgive Her?
Yesterday, I mentioned that “What Have I Done To Deserve This” was my absolute favorite Pet Shop Boys song roughly half the time… The rest of the time, it’s this one.
1993 was an odd time for popular music, in both good and bad ways, as seen by this list of post-Nevermind alternative hits. (Yay, Catherine Wheel! Boo, Blind Melon!) It was also a good time (perhaps the first good time) for gay-identifying artists to start talking about their personal lives without being totally cagey in interviews.
Lesbians were the first to come out, actually. In the fall of the previous year a new singer-songwriter named Sophie B. Hawkins had a major hit with an explicitly lesbian (and wonderful) song called “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” Melissa Etheridge came out in January of 1993, shortly before releasing an album she very specifically titled Yes I Am. And that August kd lang, who had come out in a 1992 Advocate interview, appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair getting her face shaved by House of Style host Cindy Crawford. (Also, on a more personal level, I first fully realized that I was gay in late 1993, though it would be four years before I actually worked up the nerve to tell anybody.)
“Can You Forgive Her?” is a really unequivocally gay song, as are most of the tracks on Very, which was released in September of 1993. From the synthesized trumpets that kick off the album’s lead single through the campy (yet oddly heartbreaking) cover of the Village People’s “Go West” at the end, Very is a gay parade of found love, theatrical spectacle, intergenerational flirtation and Buckingham Palace fanfic. So in retrospect, it’s hard to believe that “Can You Forgive Her?” was released fifteen whole months before Neil Tennant publicly outed himself in a cover story for a then-new gay lifestyle magazine called Attitude.
Actually, in a move that angered Tennant, Attitude sent out a press release leaking the cover story ahead of time, and the story was technically broken by the Sunday Times, a Rupert Murdoch paper. Just one month previously, Murdoch’s News Of The World had run a full-page story with the awful headline “Pet Shop Boy’s Grief as Gay Pal Dies of AIDS,” a reference to the passing of Chris Lowe’s live-in friend (and presumably lover) Peter Andreas. (Chris, notably, has never publicly spoken about his sexuality at all, though you can, and should, read more about Neil’s coming out here.)
Not that lots of people didn’t already know that the Pet Shop Boys had a homosexual singer/lyricist, of course. If it wasn’t obvious by the lyrics of “It Couldn’t Happen Here” or the naked Adonis bouncing around on a trampoline in the NC-17 “Being Boring” video, a list of their collaborators over the years (Derek Jarman; Ian McKellan, out star of the “Heart” video; Liza freaking Minnelli, for God’s sake…) made things quite clear to those who cared to know.
Very is, I think, the Boys’ best album. In the UK it was also their most commercially successful, selling over five million copies and spawning five top 20 singles. The videos from that era, though, are pretty horrid-looking now: five different clips of Tennant and Lowe cavorting around in dunce caps and Crayola-colored overalls in front of some very, very primitive-looking CGI.