West End Girls

Album: Please (1984)
Charted: 1 1
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  • "West End Girls" is a journey through the club scene in London, where Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe spent many evenings. The glamorous West End is where the action was, contrasting with the rougher East End.

    There are a number of themes running through the lyric, which Tennant wrote, but a key idea is nightlife escape, the same thing Earth, Wind & Fire sing about in "Boogie Wonderland." In 2020, Tennant told The Guardian: "It's about the city at night. It's about boys and girls meeting to have fun and presumably to bond. It's about sex. It's paranoid."
  • One of the group's favorite hangouts gets a mention in the lines:

    There's a madman around
    Running down underground
    to a dive bar in a West End town

    The Kings Head and Dive Bar was the Chinatown section of London; upstairs was The Kings Head, and in the basement was the Dive Bar, which Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe haunted.

    "It was a very funny place where they used to play soundtracks or Barbra Streisand on a vinyl record player," Tennant told Phil Marriott. "There would be just a few guys singing. Then it got quite trendy when students started to go there because it was such a funny and unusual place."

    The place closed in 2004.
  • This was the breakout hit for Pet Shop Boys, a global smash that went to #1 in both America and their native UK. The hit version, thought, wasn't released until a year after the original.

    The group wrote the song in 1983 before they had a record deal. Neil Tennant was a writer for the UK music magazine Smash Hits, and used his position to get an audience with the American producer Bobby O (Bobby Orlando), who was on the cutting edge of synthesizer-based dance music - the kind Tennant wanted to make. Bobby O agreed to produce the group; they recorded "West End Girls" and got a deal with Epic Records to release it as a single. Issued in 1984, it did well in France and Belgium, but had little impact elsewhere. They parted ways with Bobby O on acrimonious terms and had to honor their contract by sitting out a year. In 1985, they signed with EMI and released "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)" as their first single on the label. It stiffed, but they still had hopes for "West End Girls" and re-recorded the song with producer Stephen Hague, who made it less clubby and gave it a slow build that added some depth and made the song more foreboding. This version was a huge hit, topping the UK chart in January 1986, and reaching #1 in America in May. The group went on to become one of the most successful and enduring British pop groups of their time.
  • "West End Girls" was conceived as a rap song in the style of "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. Neil Tennant was intrigued by the burgeoning rap scene coming out of America, and thought it would make quite an impact if they released a rap song with an English accent. It wasn't until they went in the studio that he decided to sing the hook in stead of rap it. The verses he does in more of a spoken-word style.
  • Vocals are delivered from various perspectives, creating a kind of collage. Tennant cites the TS Eliot poem The Waste Land as an influence for this approach.
  • The opening lines were inspired by a Jimmy Cagney movie Neil Tennant watched one night:

    Sometimes you're better off dead
    There's a gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head

    He doesn't recall which film he was watching, but it was certainly one of Cagney's gangster movies.
  • The music video was shot in London and directed by Andy Morahan and Eric Watson. It got a lot of airplay on MTV, which was the only place most Americans could see the group in action. Pet Shop Boys didn't tour until 1989, so their performances were limited to European TV appearances and other showcases. They earned a MTV Video Music Award nomination for Best New Artist, but lost to A-ha's "Take On Me" video.
  • In 1984, the Pet Shop Boys combined this with elements of the Corey Hart song "Sunglasses At Night" to create a track called "West End - Sunglasses" that they released as a 12" single in Germany.
  • There is a gay element to some Pet Shop Boys songs that Neil Tennant didn't discuss until he came out in 1994. Regarding the gay perspective in "West End Girls," he told The Guardian: "I think it has an outsider perspective. Ultimately, it's a celebration of heterosexuality! [laughs] Some of the East End boys might be getting together with West End boys. The idea is really that opposites attract, the glamorous posh girls and the beautiful rough East End boys all meeting in the West End and going clubbing or something. This was a very exciting time for clubbing in the West End of London."
  • This is an unlikely song to hit #1 in America because it's very British, with a title referring to an area of London and a singer with a British accent. But even though most Americans had never seen the West End, they could relate to the subject matter and appreciate the new wave sound of the music, which was trending at the time. Just a few weeks earlier, and even more unlikely song topped the Hot 100: the German-language "Rock Me Amadeus."
  • Neil Tennant was an assistant editor at the British music magazine Smash Hits when he formed Pet Shop Boys with Chris Lowe. When they had this smash hit, they made the cover. The headline was, "Pet Shop Boys: What Does It Take To Make These Men Happy?" a reference to their sourpuss TV appearances.
  • Pet Shop Boys were focused on singles, so they didn't release their first album until March 1986, months after "West End Girls" was released. They named it Please so fans could go into record stores and say, "May I have the new Pet Shop Boys album, Please."
  • The Guardian placed "West End Girls" #1 on their 2020 list of the top 100 UK #1 singles of all time.

Comments: 27

  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenAugusto, always amusing how the limousine lefties start griping whenever the common folk are given more freedom to spend their money as they wish. As liberal (but not loony lefty) Groucho Marx once put it, "Too many Hollywood types love to scream 'Power to the people!' in between laps around their swimming pools. They have no clue what it's like to be an ordinary joe."
  • Augusto from SantiagoThatcher was great for Britain, and we’re all sick of leftists trying to politicize everything. Being a drunk hussy in 80s London doesn’t make you a special person or high achiever.
  • Melinda from AustraliaAnd a perfect demonstration of what the cultural climate was in the mid 80’s when West End Girls came out is their other song, Opportunities. Or as it’s more known, Let’s Make Lots Of Money.
    That song perfectly describes the ruthless Thatcher era in the UK then. Where lots of ambitious London people were takin advantage of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s deregulation.
    A lot of morally wrong things went on in finance and property and National Assets then. It was crazy.
    The Pet Shop Boys are remembered for fun meaningless throw away pop.
    I disagree with this view. As I remember the era. And was young and I experienced living through that time in London. Like many people. And I tend to reflect and see clearly, The Pet Shop Boys were unique accurate story tellers.
    And their art was imitating life. They were politically bang on. But don’t get credit for it at all.
    They had unbelievable perfect style and taste too.
    And they often collaborated with the French, artistically. They were quintessential Europeans.
  • Melinda from AustraliaMarc Antonio

    You nailed it. You describe perfectly the facts. And ...that this song is about London.
    The West End. It was/is an affluent cosmopolitan district.
    And the East End, at the time this song came out and even in the 1990’s, was a White Working Class area nearby.
    But they all came together to the many clubs bars, pubs etc of the West End. On the weekend.
    The area is known as WC2 ...its the postcode And all of WC2 areas is what The Pet Shop Boys are singing about.

    And I ought to know, because in the late 80’s and early 90’s we used to go up to the West End. To get drunk and have fun. Like most young people living in London then. They still do.
    I lived in the Westend for a while too. It’s a stylish area I guess.

    West End Girls are those who actually come from there. Grew up there, in a nice house or old Georgian terraces and apartments. Rich girls...who spoke with perfect British accents and had education. And probably worked in the West End. Or the City, or Westminster.

    East End boys were solid working class boys. Who speak with their own style of London accent. Rough and pronounced. And some use Cockney slang regularly I guess too. And they come to the West End for a night out.

    Did those 2 classes of young people ...from vastly different backgrounds come together in the West End? Well maybe for night.
    But not permanently.
    Nice West End Girls didn’t marry East Enders. As a rule.
    They ultimately married rich guys.
    And this is partly what this song is about.

    ‘Running down underground’ refers to the Tube, or subway as people in the U.S call it.

    ‘How much have you got’ refers to the very distinct class system in the UK. But also I feel the lyric is a reflection of what’s was happening in the 80’s. It was a period when Greed was considered Good. Lots of excess going on.
    My own view is that the song really conveys well... the feeling of desperation that was going on at the time. The isolation as well. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and she was causing a lot of social upheaval. Change.
    Cause the issue was, as a British young person, if you were not born into money in the UK it was unlikely you would succeed.

    Because you didn’t...and still don’t, have the advantages and connections West End Girls have. Or West End boys for that matter.

    West End Girls used to dress differently too. Better? Well more expensively. And a lot more classically. Nice jewellery. Nice shoes. Nice coats. You could spot them a mile off really.
    Most London people dress well. Whatever class. But West End Girls had particular noticeable elegance.
    They probably still do.
    The song lyrics seem to yearn for them. East End boys could fancy them. But have them?
    Well that’s a different story.
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenSocs on one end, greasers on the other?
  • Jules from OregonOne of the greatest 80s songs. Everything about it is fantastic.
  • Big Dave from AlabamaIs that Annie Lennox form the Eurhythmics doing background vocals?
  • Rick from West Chester, PaBritish rock of the 80's is just so rich, I have secretly (even to myself) loved this song for years. I sort of rediscovered it again today on Sirius. There is so much hidden substance to it, reading the comments makes me appreciate even more how it fits together. Thanks for all your insightful comments about this great song, maybe The Song of the 80s. The video is awesome, just inspired and elegant.
  • Jacob Black from La Push, WaTo Barry from Newcastle: Sorry, mate, but the song is about how the working class men (in LONDON) pine for the rich girls on the west end.
    Not sure how you came up with the idea it was about Newcastle. Neil Tennant did live there but also says that the song refers to London. :)
  • Oliver from Rose Hill, Mauritiusi noticed this song in a simpson episode where homer was in a gay pub.lol..may be its related somewhere...
  • Bill from Bangkok, ThailandBarry from Newcastle, Sorry but the song "West End Girls" it is about the West End and East End of London. The video clearly shows this.
  • Austin from Seminole, FlThis song i like but, I wish it was faster instead of it being so peacefull.Who knows someone may try to tune it up, Like with you really got me
  • Steve from Tenby, UkAs well as the lyrics Marc pointed out on the original Bobby 'O' version, there's also the line "I've said it all before, I'll stay it all again, we're all modern men" before continuing to "we've got no future, we've got no past, here today, built to last".
  • Marc Antonio from Hollywood Hills, CaThe lyrics were written in the early 1980s and were influenced by the Grandmaster Flash rap hit "The Message", although they focus more on class issues in London than on the inner city problems depicted in Grandmaster Flash's song. The title and refrain refer to London's divide between the traditional and working class East End and the cosmopolitan, consumer-driven West End.

    Neil Tennant has stated, despite rumours to the contrary, that the lyrics do not refer to rough trade. The verses are fragmented stories, told from several different narrators' points of view - a form of verse influenced by T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land[citation needed].

    The lyric "From Lake Geneva to the Finland Station" refers to the train route taken by Vladimir Lenin when he was smuggled by the Germans to Russia during the World War I, a pivotal event in the Russian Revolution. Indeed, it is highly likely the lyric was inspired by the book To the Finland Station by Edmund Wilson, a very famous work on the history of revolutionary thought and Socialism that Tennant would have at least heard of, if not read, as a student. The Bobby Orlando produced version of the single included another line, "All your stopping, stalling and starting, / Who do you think you are, Joe Stalin?" which was removed for the 1985 version. Neil Tennant has a degree in history and his interest in Russian history is evident in many other Pet Shop Boys projects such as their soundtrack to the silent film Battleship Potemkin.

    The lyrics also mention '...a dive bar in a west end town'. This actually refers to a popular gay bar that was situated at one end of Gerrard Street in London's Chinatown. At the time this song was written it was called The Dive Bar. The bar has now shut down.

    During the intro of the song (where a woman in heels can be heard walking on the pavement on top of some street noise) there is a female voice asking "is that Sting?" approximately seven seconds into the original version of the song. The producer, Stephen Hague, who recorded the sound effect just outside the studio, apparently looked somewhat like him.
  • Nezir from Travnik, BosniaAlejandra, West End is a rich part of London, East End is a poor part of London. In West End you have areas like Covent Garden (many theaters), Leicester square (cinemas) and they are soft options as song say. For hard options you have Soho (many peepshows,gay bars, SM bars), but also many restaurants, pubs with all sorts of music and excellent coffee bars (italian). Excellent and very, very expensive at the same time for me to be honest (so, not much real choices you have as PSB say in their song). And it is pretty same in Paris but there it is north that is poor, and south that is rich, and the center that is very, very rich, or Istanbul with the rich right bank of Bosphor, and poor left bank of Bosphor and so on, and so on (like PSB say "Here today built to last (probably walls between rich and poor), In every city in every nation, From Lake Geneva to the Finland station"). It was a truth in 1987. and it is a truth in 2007.In Bosnia we have no such worries, only two classes exist, poor and very poor. Irony is that those poor think they are rich, until they visit places like West End.
  • Alejandra from Santiago, ChileI would like somebody to comment more about the hit West End Girls. Maybe Barry or Grace can talk about the content of the song. I heard that the West end girls were the rich girls in London. Am I right? and the East end Boys? Could somebody to help me to better understand? PSB were lastnight in Santiago,Chile in an amazing concert.
  • Farrah from Elon, NcCool song!!! It's one of the best songs of the 80s.
  • Barry from Newcastle, Englandthis song is actually about Newacstle upon tyne, England. neil tennant attended an all boys school in the east end of the city, where the boys would talk about the all girls school in the west end of newcastle. the boys school was st cuthberts grammar and is very much catholic. hence the monastic chants in the song. this song is CERTAINLY NOT about london. Sting attended the same school aswell as Dec from Ant and Dec fame.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesNearly 21 years after "West End Girls", the Pet Shop Boys are back in the UK charts with "I'm With Stupid" (no relation to Aimee Mann's 1994 album). They've now had nearly 40 chart hits in the UK, yet in 1985, the UK's music critics all said that PSB were a novelty act who'd soon disappear when the next electro-pop band came along and stole their crown. How wrong they were...
  • Sebastian from Providence, RiI love the new "West End Girls" by the West End Girls. Confuse? Search westendgirls on Google.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesPSB were one of the most successful bands of the 1980s in the UK, while in 1996-97 they sold more records than Oasis and the Spice Girls (then the two biggest UK bands in the world) put together!
  • Marlow from Perththis was my fav song for a while.. when i was about 14 when it was released.. still dont mind it now though
  • Grace from Fairfax Station, VaI like this song. It's cool how it seems like a fluffy pop song but really has meaning (it's about class tensions in London). I am confused, however, on which class is rich and which class is poor (the two classes mentioned are the East End boys and, of course, the West End girls).
  • Dave from London, EnglandMelissa, the song you title "Let's Make Lots Of Money" is actually titled "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)"
  • Melissa from Green Bay, Wi"Always on My Mind" and "Let's Make Lots of Money" (right title????) and "What Have I Done to Deserve This" were also top 10 in the US
  • Dave from Cardiff, Wales"It's A Sin" was also a big hit in the US, and the Boys have written many songs for other artists, including Liza Minelli, Carter USM and the late Dusty Springfield
  • Kian from Dublin, IrelandI think you'll find its called West End Girls. Pretty much the sole PSB song to make it big in the US, although they've had phenomenal sucess in the UK.
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