Number Ones: #147


  • PET SHOP BOYS Left To My Own Devices (Parlophone)
  • Week Ending 26th November 1988
  • 5 Weeks At #1

Pet Shop Boys began the year as top dogs, on the official UK singles chart and my own, courtesy of Always On My Mind. They would enjoy a second #1 in 1988 on both charts, but with different singles. Heart became the duo’s 4th UK chart-topper in just 6 releases before March was over, yet it wasn’t until the end of November that Neil and Chris returned to the summit of my Top 40 with the second single from Introspective.

And what a record it was. PSB team up with Trevor Horn. Take my money, whydontcha!

Left To My Own Devices opened the Introspective mini-album as an eight minute epic, an October symphony of dramatic strings and minor chords. The tension created by the arrangement is juxtaposed with Neil Tennant’s emotionless delivery of some brilliantly mundane lyrics (written in a hurry); “turn on the news and drink some tea, maybe if you’re with me, we’ll do some shopping”, and further on “when I get home it’s late at night…I pour a drink and watch the fight..”.

The original demo was, according to Neil, “much more moronic“, and even on the finished version there’s a louche undercurrent to the way Tennant builds the picture of this singleton whose focus appears to be spending nights out with a “party animal” and pleasing himself rather than showing any great interest or commitment in anything or anyone else. 

That unspecified someone else is clearly the target of Left To My Own Devices‘ chorus, with the payoff line “I could love you if I tried, and I could…and left to my own devices I probably would”. Ouch!

Darker PSB was (nearly) always my preferred setting; from Two Divided By Zero ,the very first track on the debut album Please, through Violence, and numerous B-sides from the early years (In The Night, Don Juan, You Know Where You Went Wrong). In some ways Left To My Own Devices was a Pet Shop Boys B-side in spirit, but given the sheen (and the hookline) of an A-side. 

Naturally the 7″ (a new mix rather than an edit, which entailed going back into the studio with Horn’s trusted lieutenant Steve Lipson) sacrificed some of the elongated intro which does so much to set the scene, yet it still clocks in at almost 5 minutes. The arrangement is also beefed up a little to make it more radio friendly. It does, however, still adhere to the “Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat” maxim – a phrase itself inspired by Trevor Horn during the recording sessions. 

The aftermath of Actually’s massive success – which I covered in a detailed look at Introspective a few years back on the blog, proved trickier to navigate than might have been expected but Left To My Own Devices was one of the unquestioned triumphs of that period. Plus, if you count the perfect pop of I’m Not Scared as effectively a Pet Shop Boys record (which I do) then that’s three #1s on my chart in 1988 and two absolute classics within the space of twelve months. Devices… also stayed at the summit long enough to be the Christmas Number One, but couldn’t manage a 6th week which would have seen it remain on top until the end of the year.


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