PSB songs that contain biblical allusions

I can attest from the many emails I've received since I first started this website that Pet Shop Boys fans are often surprised—and occasionally dismayed—by the number of biblical allusions in their music. But considering Neil's solid Catholic upbringing, including his having attended a Catholic school, it's hardly unexpected. To be honest, I'm surprised there aren't more of them.

Please note, however, that mere references to God, religion, heaven, hell, the devil, angels, Christmas, and the like aren't sufficient for a song to be considered containing a "biblical allusion" for the purposes of this list. There has to be a little more to it than that.

1. Birthday Boy

The central premise of the song relies upon Jesus's assertion, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40). Jesus himself is, at least metaphorically, the "birthday boy" of the song, which is set at Christmastime. The lines "A quick betrayal / A speedy trial / As before, complete denial" refer directly to Christ's betrayal by Judas, trial before Pilate, and denial by Peter.

2. The Clock 10/11/12

The first part ("10") of this segment from the Boys' ballet The Most Incredible Thing includes an appearance by Moses, followed by a somewhat abbreviated recitation of the Ten Commandments in reverse order, all stemming directly from the biblical book of Exodus and subsequently repeated in Deuteronomy. (And if you're wondering about "The Clock 1/2/3," please see the end of this list.)

3. The End of the World

The third verse contains several references that aren't exclusively biblical, but they're biblical nonetheless:

The prophets all predicted extinction
The Virgin spoke in apparitions
And if it all came to pass now
You feel we'd all deserve it somehow

Of course, prophets from more than just the Bible have "predicted extinction," and while the Virgin (Mary) speaking in apparitions is "extra-biblical" (alluding to, among other occurrenes, the especially famous 1858 "Marian apparitions" at Lourdes, France), the phenomenon obviously has biblical roots. Of course, the familiar phrase "came to pass" entered our vocabulary through its recurring use in the King James Version of the Bible. Finally, the very concept of "the end of the world," while by no means exclusively biblical, finds its most notorious western-civilization expression in Revelation (aka The Revelation to John and The Apocalypse of John), the last book of the Bible.

4. Gin and Jag

The narrator's line about there being "a lot of room at the inn tonight" sounds like an inverted takeoff on the biblical "no room at the inn," which led to Joseph and Mary taking overnight shelter in the stable in which Jesus was born (as related in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke). The implication could be that, if the night in which there was no room at the inn was the holiest of nights, then this night in which there's a lot of room is anything but holy.

5. If Jesus Had a Sister

Duh! Not only does it center on Jesus but it also mentions his mother Mary (without using her name) and toward the end reveals that Judas Iscariot is the narrator.

6. The Lost Room

This song refers to "never turn[ing] the other cheek" as part of the training at a boys' military school, which directly refutes one of the core tenets of the teachings of Jesus as expressed in his Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:38-30, KJV).

7. Love Came Down at Christmas

The Pet Shop Boys' 2021 digital Christmas card featured musical accompaniment in the form of this 24-second song-snippet, the lyrics of which (quoting from an 1885 poem by Christina Rossetti) clearly allude to the traditional Christian origins of Christmas as the festival of the birth of Jesus, regarded as the literal embodiment of God's love. Those lyrics mention "Love all lovely, love divine," a concept undoubtedly derived from the word agapē (ἀγάπη) frequently found in the original Greek texts of the New Testament (such as at John 5:42), which refers to a type of pure, sacrificial love that stems from God.

8. A Man from the Future

The final "title movement" of A Man from the Future concludes with a paraphrase from the Bible, specifically the Apostle Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, 3:6. In the King James Version it reads "…for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." (The word "letter" in this case refers to the law, as in "the letter of the law," and in some translations it is indeed rendered as "the law.") In "A Man from the Future" this is slightly modified to "The law killed, and the spirit gave life."

9. More Than a Dream

Neil has referred to the line "Though the mountains may divide, we can reach the sea" as "biblical." I haven't been able to locate any "we can reach the sea" reference in the Bible, but the book of Isaiah (54:10) does contain the words "For the mountains may depart…" (King James Version), which is rendered in some more modern translations as "For the mountains may divide…."

10. "Our Daily Bread"

This piece from Battleship Potemkin very obviously quotes from The Lord's Prayer, which appears in the Bible in two places in somewhat different forms: Matthew 6:9–6:13 (the longer and more familiar of the two) and Luke 11:2–11:4.

11. A Red Letter Day

The line "What on earth does it profit a man?" is clearly derived from the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (16:26): "What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

12. Searching for the Face of Jesus

The immediate reference is to Frank O. Adams's 1972 book about the Shroud of Turin, A Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus, which Elvis Presley was reading when he died. But, naturally, its roots can be found in the biblical story of Jesus of Nazareth as told in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

13. The Secret of Happiness

This song quotes Jesus's famous phrase "pearls before the swine" from Matthew 7: 6-7.

14. Skeletons in the Closet

It may be sheer coincidence, but the song's reference to playing something "loud and foolish" appears to echo the text of Proverbs 20:1 as it appears in the Good News Translation (aka New English Version): "Drinking too much makes you loud and foolish. It's stupid to get drunk." A better-known rendering of that same verse from the King James Version is "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise."

15. The Sodom and Gomorrah Show

Sodom and Gomorrah were the biblical "cities of the plain" that were destroyed by God for their wickedness, as described in Genesis 19:1-29. Though the song isn't "about" Sodom and Gomorrah, the reference is absolutely vital to its understanding.

16. Viva la Vida

Of course, Neil and Chris didn't write this song, which was composed by the members of Coldplay. But that doesn't stop it from boasting biblical allusions aplenty. The references to St. Peter (one of Jesus's disciples) and Calvary (the place where Jesus was crucified) are obvious. Only slightly more obscure are allusions to pillars of salt (the fate of Lot's wife), castles standing on sand (one of Jesus's parables), and having one's head on a silver plate (the death of John the Baptist). The lyric is both vague enough and rich enough to invite further—though far less certain—citations as well.

17. Your Funny Uncle

The lines near the end that begin "To wipe away the tears" and end "These former things have passed away" are directly adapted from the Bible—Revelation 21:4 to be precise: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (King James Version). Neil had read those very words at the real-life funeral service that inspired this song.

And, finally, I offer a few more "questionable" inclusions—

18. It's a Sin

I'm frankly reluctant to include this song in the list at all since it doesn't contain so much biblical allusions as religious and ecclesiastical ones. And, yes, there is a difference. But since those religious and ecclesiastical references ultimately stem from the Bible, I'll concede the point—especially considering that if I don't include it, I'll surely have to deal with repeat assertions that I've "forgotten" to include it. Incidentally, the words in Latin that Neil recites at the end (translated "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") come from one of the prayers that may be recited during the Roman Catholic mass, but not from the Bible itself.

19. The Clock 1/2/3

Being devoid of lyrics, this instrumental piece from The Most Incredible Thing earns its inclusion only from what's happening onstage during performances of the ballet: it depicts various aspects of the biblical creation story (including Adam and Eve), as told in the book of Genesis. But if you didn't have that to go on, it would be nearly impossible to realize there's anything "biblical" about it.

20. Joseph, Better You Than Me

It's not really a "PSB track" since only Neil, without Chris, was involved in this 2008 holiday-season collaboration with The Killers and Elton John. But there's no mistaking its biblical allusions. The Joseph of the title is Jesus's earthly father, stepping (albeit somewhat circuitously) from the pages of the Gospels. The narrator of the song compares himself to the carpenter of Nazareth, wondering whether his own faith in God could endure the sort of challenges that Joseph faced.

21. Dreamland

This PSB collaboration with Years & Years—with lyrics primarily by that band's frontman, Olly Alexander—includes a stanza that could be interpreted as an allusion to the biblical Garden of Eden, beginning with the lines "We’re falling for pleasure / In a garden where the sun still shines." Considering that it was Adam and Eve's "fall from grace" that directly led to their expulsion from the garden, the reference to "falling" heightens the possible allusion.

22. Were You There?

Just as with the aforelisted "Joseph, Better You Than Me" (see #15 above), this isn't a "PSB song" but rather a cover of a traditional gospel hymn by Diamond Version, for which Neil provides guest vocals. The entire song is of course one big allusion to the biblical story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

23. Living in the Past

The phrase "heart of stone," while dating back even earlier to Homer's Odyssey, probably owes its standing as an English-language cliché to its appearance in the biblical book of Job: "His heart is as firm as a stone" (41:24, KJV). It's probably a stretch, however, to consider this truly a "biblical allusion."

24. All Things to All Men

Not really a "PSB song" since it seems to exist only as a pre-PSB demo recorded by Neil, but the title phrase hails from 1 Corinthians (9:22, KJV): "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."

25. This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave

The line about "a litany of saints" is almost certainly an allusion to "The Litany of Saints," a particular formulaic set of recited petitions used in the Roman Catholic Church that lists literally dozens of saints by name. Some of these saints are biblical figures, though many of them are not. As in the case of "It's a Sin" above, I regard this as more a religious and ecclesiastical allusion than a biblical one.