What Is Their "Signature Song"?

For Shirley Bassey it's "Goldfinger." For Tony Bennett it's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." For Queen it's "Bohemian Rhapsody." For ABBA it's "Dancing Queen."

Many artists have what is generally referred to as their "signature song." But just what is a "signature song"? Like your own handwritten signature, a signature song serves as a sort of identifying mark, something that more or less represents the artist in question. It's the song that an artist is best known for, or at least with which they are most closely identified, even if they have scads of other popular songs to their credit. When you hear that song, even if it's performed by someone else, you generally think of that artist. And when you think of that artist, you more often than not also think of that song. Think of it this way: if they appear as a guest on a television talk show and the band plays a brief snippet of music to introduce them as they walk onstage, it's the song they'll most likely play.

So do the Pet Shop Boys have a signature song? Despite their literally dozens of hit singles (at least in much of the world, particularly their native U.K.), I believe you can make a very strong case that, yes, they do have one. But there are several strong candidates. I'm going to suggest that five songs in particular have the strongest claims to being the Pet Shop Boys' signature song. I'll explain why I believe each can lay claim to that title, but I'll also suggest one or more arguments against it. Ultimately, however, I'm going to designate one of them as having, in my opinion, the strongest claim of all: the Pet Shop Boys' signature song.

In chronological order based on their original release date, here are my five candidates:

  1. West End Girls

    The song that introduced the Pet Shop Boys to the world: their first and biggest hit. Not only did it hit #1 in their native U.K. and in quite a few other countries, but it's also the only one to reach #1 on the mainstream singles chart in what has been, for most of our lives and the Boys' career, the world's largest market for pop music, the United States. In addition to it being their most successful single, it has also often been cited by music journalists and critics as an especially timely and innovative record. Its importance was recognized quite early on. It was designated Best Single at the 1987 Brit Awards and, that same year, Best International Hit at the Ivor Novello Awards. Nearly two decades later, in 2005, it was declared the Song of The Decade for the period 1985 to 1994 by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. It was chosen to be performed by the Pet Shop Boys in the tribute to U.K. music during the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. And a music critics' poll by The Guardian in 2020 selected "West End Girls" as the all-time greatest U.K. number-one single. It's one of only two songs (more about the other one shortly) that Chris and Neil have performed on all of their concert tours. To many non-fans, many of whom seem to regard them (quite unjustly) as a "one-hit wonder," it's the PSB song.

    Why it may not be their signature song – It's very difficult to think of any good reasons against it aside from the following arguments in support of other songs.

  1. Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)

    Although it wasn't as successful as "West End Girls" (nor a few other PSB records), this is nevertheless one of their biggest hits, and the only one that was even bigger in the United States than in Britain. It's the song that had the effect of giving them two very distinct and, in many ways, diametrically opposed images that have, in most casual music fans' minds, "stuck." Those who took the song completely at face value saw it as an exemplar of 1980s Thatcherite/Reaganite greed-is-good materialism, acquisitiveness, and hedonism. The refrain, after all, is "Let's make lots of money." Yet to those who took the song as satire—quite rightly, I should add—it saddled the Boys with a reputation as arch-ironists whose songs and performances could never be taken at face value, but always to be viewed through a prism of suspicion, sarcasm, and dry wit. In other words, it seemed to indicate, one way or the other, who they are. It's no accident that the song acquired a new lease on life in 2021 when it was used in a popular television ad for Allstate Insurance that gained massive exposure by debuting during the Super Bowl, after which it re-entered the Billboard charts and remained there for several weeks. Suddenly, for a whole new generation, it became the Pet Shop Boys song.

    Why it may not be their signature song – As already noted, it's not nearly their biggest hit. Besides, it really doesn't "typify" them in the way a good signature song should. (A lot of people may think it does, but it doesn't.) The Boys have repeatedly expressed their displeasure at being considered, above all, ironists, and "Opportunities" is undoubtedly one of their most ironic songs. If it were their signature song, I suspect they themselves would be mighty unhappy about it.

  1. It's a Sin

    The lead single from the Pet Shop Boys' second studio album, a big international hit, and the Boys' second U.K. #1, proving that they were far more than a flash in the pan. In effect, it established them. It also kicked off their "imperial phase," during which it seemed they could do no wrong. It's the only song aside from "West End Girls" that they've performed on all of their tours. But more than that, it is far and away the most-covered Tennant-Lowe song of all time. "It's a Sin" boasts more remakes than of any of their other songs, and it has proven especially appealing—in fact, all but irresistible—to artists in the heavy metal genre, at least among second- and third-stringers. Its appeal is obvious from a psychocultural perspective. It expresses (or at least seems to) the rebellious, downright prideful-in-badness attitude traditionally embraced in rock music and essentially fetishized in heavy metal. To many, it appears to celebrate sin (though I would say that it simply acknowledges how unavoidable it is without actually "celebrating" it). That being said, far more than just metal artists have chosen to record it. I mean, both Paul Anka and the London Symphony Orchestra have covered it, for gosh sakes! New remakes continue to appear well over three decades after its initial release. It seems destined to go down in pop-music history as the premier, go-to Tennant-Lowe song to remake. And its somewhat autobiographical subject matter only enhances its potential signature status.

    Why it may not be their signature song – The very fact that so many other artists have seen fit to cover it actually argues against it being the Boys' signature song. In other words, if it were very deeply regarded as particularly "theirs," others might be far more reluctant to attempt a remake. I mean, who sings "Goldfinger" except Shirley Bassey and people who've had a few too many drinks in a karaoke bar? OK, there've been a few, but seriously—it's hers.

  1. Being Boring

    Regarded by a great many fans and music critics—and perhaps by Neil and Chris themselves, although they're probably not likely ever to say such a thing within earshot of anyone else—as their masterpiece, their crowning achievement in terms of songwriting. A deeply moving snapshot from the height of the AIDS epidemic, it's especially treasured by their gay fans. What's more, its deeply autobiographical nature, which has been forthrightly asserted by Neil from the get-go, makes it a strong candidate as their signature song. Its comparatively poor showing as a single (getting no higher than #20 on the U.K. chart) inspired them to leave it off the setlist of their 1992 Performance Tour, yet popular demand soon made them realize that doing so had been a mistake. Hence, they've performed it quite regularly in their concerts ever since, ending with it, using it their "farewell song" of the show, more than a few times. While a number of artists have indeed covered it, not nearly as many have compared to various other PSB songs, which may suggest that it's more highly thought of as exclusively "theirs" than, say, "It's a Sin," "Rent," "Heart," and "Domino Dancing." Then again, maybe not as many other artists like it enough to cover it. Whatever the case, when you get right down to it, it's hard to think of another song that, at least among their more thoughtful fans, might be more "typical" yet, at the same time, highly personal and absolutely unique than "Being Boring."

    Why it may not be their signature song – It's by no means one of their bigger hits. As already noted, it didn't even reach the U.K. Top 10 and just barely made to the Top 20. It wasn't a mainstream pop hit at all in the States, where it only appeared on the dance charts, and not a very high placement even there. When you get right down to it, most Americans—those who aren't PSB fans—aren't familiar with it, maybe even haven't ever heard it.

  1. Go West

    Although this PSB remake of a Village People original didn't hit U.K. #1, it just missed, becoming the Boys' final #2. Thanks at least in part to this success, it became a bona fide "sports anthem" in the U.K. and various other European countries, especially in soccer (football), often sung by legions of fans from their stadium seats. Although, unlike "West End Girls" and "It's a Sin," the Boys haven't performed it on all of their concert tours, they have performed it on all that occurred after its 1993 release. Neil has referred to it as possibly their "albatross," a song so closely identified with them that they will forever be associated with it for better or worse (and he seems to think it for worse). Might it therefore be regarded as something of a "negative signature"? But, then again, I personally fail to see much of anything truly "negative" about it. It's one of those cases where an artist has taken a song written and first recorded by someone else and has thoroughly, all but completely, made it their own, as Aretha Franklin did with Otis Redding's "Respect." Today "Go West" is far more closely associated with the Pet Shop Boys than with the Village People, who have to content themselves with their own signature song in the form of "Y.M.C.A." (although personally I would much prefer "Macho Man" to hold that distinction).

    Why it may not be their signature song – The Boys didn't write it themselves, and while nowhere is it written that an artist's signature song must be self-composed (in fact, there are many examples where that's not the case, such as the aforementioned "Goldfinger" and "Respect"), it would certainly be ideal for a prolific songwriting team like Tennant and Lowe. Indeed, it would be a crying shame if the PSB signature tune were not a Tennant-Lowe song. If they would be unhappy about "Opportunities" being their signature song, they would probably be downright appalled if it were "Go West."

Now, before I reveal my final verdict, I offer a few honorable mentions:

  • Paninaro – In Italy, almost certainly, but just as almost certainly nowhere else.

  • Always on My Mind – Regarded by many people as one of the greatest remakes—if not the greatest—in the history of pop music. (I wouldn't say so myself, but lots of folks feel otherwise, especially in Britain.) And it kept "Fairytale of New York" out of the U.K. Christmas #1 spot, for which persons of good taste should be eternally grateful.

  • Domino Dancing – An excellent candidate for their signature song in Latin America. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser when performed live.

  • Left to My Own Devices – Just because it's so damn epic.

So, my final choice for their signature song:

"West End Girls"

Was there ever really any doubt about it? Although my heart might lean toward "Being Boring"—which is, after all, my own personal favorite Pet Shop Boys song—I had to be more objective and let my head make the final decision. Each of the songs above can lay some claim to signature status, but convincing cases can be made against all of them, too—except "West End Girls." It's the only one that doesn't seem to have any strikes against it. Therefore I have to admit that, in my studied opinion, "West End Girls" is the Pet Shop Boys' signature song.

If you disagree—and I imagine many of you will—please don't hate me for it. Hey, I don't even care for my own handwritten signature, but I'm stuck with it. And I don't lose any sleep over it, either.