PSB songs based on classical compositions (and some others with "classical connections")

1. Delusions of Grandeur

The chord progression is derived from the first movement Ludwig van Beethoven's 1802 work Piano Sonata Opus 27 No. 2, better known as the Moonlight Sonata. In fact, the Boys' pre-lyric working title for the track was "Moonlight."

2. Go West

Courtesy of the Village People, the chord progression and melody of this song are derived from the well-known Canon in D by the 17th-century German composer Johann Pachelbel.

3. Happiness Is an Option

The music playing behind the spoken verses is from Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov's 1915 work Vocalise.

4. Jack the Lad

Neil describes the opening piano motif as "a pastiche of Erik Satie," and indeed that as well as the song's overall chord progression are highly reminiscent of Gymnopédie Number 1—one of the Trois Gymnopédies written in 1887 by French composer Satie. In addition, the melody bears a passing similarity to that work, but closer comparison reveals that the melodies are not at all the same.

5. A Red Letter Day

The chord structure comes from the choral "Ode to Joy" in the fourth movement of Beethoven's Symphony Number 9 in D Minor (1824). Chris has stated how much he dislikes Beethoven's Ninth, the "Ode to Joy" portion in particular. (As he once put it, "You can tell he was deaf when he wrote it.") But that obviously didn't stop him from making use of its chord structure.

6. Liberation

This one stretches it, but Neil has noted that the first two notes of this song—"just the first two notes"—were taken from the theme for Friar Laurence in the ballet Romeo and Juliet by the twentieth-century Ukrainian/Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. Neil was listening to it while taking a bath at home, when those two notes "triggered" in his mind the melody for "Liberation." This caused him to leap from the tub and rush downstairs to his piano. Must've been an interesting scene.

7. Time on My Hands

Neil has said that the strings heard in the background of this track are based on Gustav Mahler—as he put it, "a few bars from the adagio of one of his symphonies." Although Neil stated that he's unsure which one because he chose it "at random," one of my site visitors has positively identified it as Mahler's Fifth Symphony, familiar to many as the evocative music used extensively in the 1971 film Death in Venice starring Dirk Bogarde.

8. All Over the World

The Pet Shop Boys have noted that this song on their 2009 album Yes was written by them "with a little help from Tchaikovsky." They specifically borrowed the fanfare (slightly slowed down) from the March from The Nutcracker (Op. 71:II), which opens the song and pops up again from time to time. They also make use of the March's chord progression. The "new version" of the track released on the Boys' Christmas EP incorporates a few additional melodic themes from The Nutcracker as well. As a sidenote, it's worth observing that early in their career Chris Lowe told an interviewer that he used to imagine that the spirit of Tchaikovsky composed music through him.

9. King of Rome

It comes only at the very end, but I guess that's enough to earn a place in this list. Neil has noted that the concluding chord changes of this song are taken from a portion of Metamorphosen by the German composer Richard Strauss.

10. Hold On

This song from the album Elysium is, as Neil stated in a 2012 PSB interview for Mixmag, "based on this piece of music by Handel that I heard on the radio." The specific composition turned out to be "Eternal Source of Light Divine," the opening section of Handel's 1713 work Birthday Ode for Queen Anne. Neil had originally intended that he and Chris should write a new song based on only the first eight bars. But Chris ended up using "Handel's 64 bars of chords," though composing a completely new melody on top of them. He also turned a trumpet obbligato from the original into a recurring synth line. In the interview, Neil added, "By the way, Handel's chords are fantastic, amazing."

11. Love Is a Bourgeois Construct

This song has the distinction of being based on classical compositions "squared," so to speak. That is, it's based on the piece "Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds" from the 1982 film score for The Draughtsman's Contract by the contemporary British composer Michael Nyman. And "Chasing Sheep…" itself is based on a melodic theme from the Prelude to Act III, Scene 2 of English composer Henry Purcell’s 1691 opera King Arthur. The Pet Shop Boys and the Electric album's producer, Stuart Price, even employed Purcell's sheet music in creating the song's introductory passage.

12. The Dictator Decides

The arpeggios and chord sequence upon which the verses of this song are built are derived from eight bars of Introduzioni al Miserere - Filiae Maestae Jerusalem (year of composition uncertain) by the Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi.

13. Twenty-something

Like "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct" before it (see #11 above), Henry Purcell’s 1691 opera King Arthur proved a source for this song as well. In this case the Boys adapted the chord structure of "The Cold Song" from that opera for the song's verses.

14. Motoring

The instrumental opening of this track and its reprise at the end—most notably its rhytmic pattern—were inspired by The Rite of Spring (1913) by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

15. Wedding in Berlin

This closer to the album Hotspot incorporates the familiar opening phrase of German romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" in C major, likely written in 1842 but not published or performed publicly until the following year. It was originally part of his suite of incidental music (Op. 61) written for theatrical performances of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. After Queen Victoria asked that it be performed at the 1858 wedding of her daughter Victoria, the Princess Royal, it became a standard piece of music performed at weddings in the United Kingdom and, soon after, the United States and elsewhere.

16. Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)

Although it wasn't a PSB original and wasn't written by the Boys—its composers instead being Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe—the melody and chord progression of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (its original title, without the "I") bear a pronounced similarity to the introductory theme of Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from the 1954 ballet Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian. Whether Gaudio and Crewe knowingly borrowed the music in this manner has not, to my knowledge, ever been addressed.

… and a few others that, while not based on classical compositions, nevertheless have distinct "classical connections":