It's a Sin

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1987
Original album - Actually
Producer - Julian Mendelsohn
Subsequent albums - Discography, PopArt, Concrete, Pandemonium, Ultimate, Release 2017 reissue Further Listening 2001-2004 bonus disc, Inner Sanctum, Smash
Other releases - 1987 single (UK #1, US #9, US Dance #3)

While appearing as a guest on the long-running British radio program Desert Island Discs in February 2007—more than two decades after the Boys wrote this song—Neil described it as having been inspired by his years in a Catholic school: "[It] always seemed to be taught that everything was a sin. Everything you wanted to do was a sin. And so I put that in a song."

If there's such a thing as an "accusational confessional," this is it. Neil confesses his many sins (or at least his many temptations to submit to them), but in his defense accuses the Church and/or God of making sins out of too many things. "Everything I long to do, no matter when or where or who … it's a sin!" Famous for its over-the-top epic production (complete with a non sequitur sampled NASA countdown just because it sounded so good), this, the first single from Actually, proved to be one of the Boys' all-time biggest hits. Its video, which became an MTV staple at the time, bore memorable images of Neil before the Inquisition (held captive by Chris in the role of his jailer) and personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Anger, Envy, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, and Greed).

The song attracted attention on a number of other counts as well. Some religious leaders actually praised it for raising and seriously discussing the subject of sin, rarely noted in popular culture. Meanwhile, British singer, songwriter, and producer Jonathan King, best known for his 1965 hit "Everyone's Gone to the Moon," publicly and repeatedly accused the Pet Shop Boys of stealing the melody from Cat Stevens's "Wild World." Neil and Chris sued him and, when it became clear that King wouldn't win, he settled out of court, thus prohibiting him from continuing to repeat his aspersions. At PSB's behest, he donated to charity a monetary award that otherwise would've gone to them. As the case revealed, a side-by-side comparison of the melodies of the two songs proves that, while there are superficial similarities, they are indeed different.

Neil, incidentally, is what is often quaintly referred to as a "lapsed Catholic." The text that he mumbles, almost unintelligibly, beneath the music at the very end comes from the Latin mass: "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti vobis fratres, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, opere, et omissione, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa," which can be translated as "I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, act, and omission, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."

By the way, Neil has said that it took only 15 minutes to write this, one of their biggest hits and, by far, the Tennant/Lowe song most frequently covered by other artists.. Such is the mystery of art and inspiration.



Pet Shop Boys rendition:

Officially released

Elton John/Years & Years rendition (produced by Pet Shop Boys and Stuart Price):

Official but unreleased

Performed by Pet Shop Boys:


List cross-references