8 perhaps surprising influences by the Pet Shop Boys on others

It's not at all surprising that the Pet Shop Boys have influenced many other artists. In addition to a host of synthpop bands, they have provided varying degrees of inspiration to such artists as Robbie Williams (who once referred to "Nervously" as his all-time favorite song), Madonna, George Michael, the Magnetic Fields, St. Etienne, and Belle & Sebastian. But I'm much more interested in the cases that really do surprise me, such as the following.

1. Guns n' Roses' "November Rain"

In what is probably the most surprising influence of the Pet Shop Boys on another artist, Axl Rose—lead singer of this notorious hard-rock group of the late eighties and early nineties—is an avowed PSB fan who has affirmed that his band's big 1991 hit "November Rain" (from the album Use Your Illusion I) was influenced by the Boys' "My October Symphony" and "Being Boring."

2. Post-Joshua Tree U2

As reluctant as many U2 fans are to admit it, there can be little doubt that Bono and company were somewhat perversely inspired by the double-edged deflation/inflation they received at the hands of the Pet Shop Boys, whose 1991 treatment of their "Where the Streets Have No Name" both deconstructed the burgeoning U2 mythology and emphasized its dance-rock potential. On their subsequent albums Achtung Baby and especially Zooropa and Pop, U2 set about deconstructing themselves and delving more overtly into dance rock.

It's also worth noting that, on occasion, Bono has taken even to incorporating fragments of "I Can't Take My Eyes Off You," à la PSB, into live performances of "Streets," such as at Glastonbury 2011: a winking acknowledgment.

3. The Bee Gees' "Fallen Angel"

While the Pet Shop Boys have acknowledged the Bee Gees' influence on them, Maurice and Robin Gibb readily acknowledged the "return influence" of PSB on this song from their 1993 album Size Isn't Everything. As Maurice stated simply, "I like the Pet Shop Boys," to which Robin added, "Although they are traditional dance grooves, there's something about Pet Shop Boys that American groups don't use in their grooves." Groovy!

4. Keane

One might think that a hot young "quasi-alternative" band like Keane (whose 2004 debut album Hopes and Fears, incidentally, is terrific) would eschew comparative geezers like the Pet Shop Boys—who are quite literally old enough to be their fathers. On the contrary! "We grew up listening to great eighties bands like the Pet Shop Boys," drummer Richard Hughes told interviewer Emma Swann, specifically citing our heroes as among their favorite recording acts and a major source of inspiration. "I guess it's classic songwriting that is the main influence…." In fact, in a separate interview he designated PSB as their "most favorite" band. Still elsewhere Hughes has stated how excited he is by each new PSB single release, noting that he finds their b-sides "superb."

And Hughes isn't the only fan in the band. Keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley feels strongly enough about it to have appeared in the documentary Pet Shop Boys: A Life in Pop discussing his great appreciation for them and their music. And vocalist Tom Chaplin has shown his own fondness by recording a rather informal cover of "Your Funny Uncle," which he posted on his band's official website.

5. Coldplay

Lead singer Chris Martin has said that when he was growing up he wanted to be "a cross between Bono and Neil Tennant." I can't quite visualize that, but I can hear it in their music.

6. The Killers

Among younger bands, it's not just the British on whom the Boys have left their mark. As noted in the October 12, 2004 issue of The Advocate, singer-keyboardist Brandon Flowers of the young American band the Killers cites both Morrissey and the Pet Shop Boys as particular influences. He also appears as a commentator in Pet Shop Boys: A Life in Pop. And it's not just Flowers; guitarist David Kueing placed "Home and Dry" in his iTunes playlist. And their band collaborated with Neil (along with Elton John) on their decidedly quirky 2008 Christmas tune "Joseph, Better You Than Me." I wouldn't have thought it of a band who call themselves the Killers. Nor would I have expected it in light of the apparent fact that Flowers is a practicing Mormon. Just goes to show how risky it is to ascribe to stereotypes.

7. Joy Electric

Speaking of stereotypes— In one sense, it's hardly surprising that the Pet Shop Boys are an influence on the one-man synthpop act Joy Electric, aka Ronnie Martin, formerly of the duo Dance House Children. But considering that Joy Electric makes overtly Christian music, the forthrightness with which Ronnie speaks of the Boys' influence on him may indeed be surprising. (Of course, just because an artist is outspokenly Christian certainly doesn't mean he or she is automatically a right-wing fundamentalist.) On his website he has cited them—along with New Order, the Smiths, After the Fire, Kraftwerk, and "old Christian/Gospel bands"—as among his primary influences. To quote him speaking specifically of the Pet Shop Boys on November 3, 2005:

I think they've been amazingly consistent over the years…. The early albums were obviously classics, but you'd be hard pressed not to find some absolutely great songwriting on Very and Nightlife. In my opinion, albums like Bilingual and Release showcased their weakest material overall, but even those albums have unarguable gems on them, like "Red Letter Day," for instance, off of Bilingual…. I bought PopArt on import when it came out and "Flamboyant" proves that they know how to write a perfect, no frills pop single when they feel like it.

He has also cited Neil Tennant as one of his favorite vocalists. To sum it up, he writes, "I've always been a massive Pet Shop Boys fan."

As a possibly relevant sidenote, in the mid- or late-1990s I made one of my occasional visits back to my home state of Virginia. While driving from the airport to my hometown, I quite by chance caught a dance track on the radio that sounded for all the world like it could have been lifted from the Pet Shop Boys' catalog, Very in particular. It was absolutely marvelous! Yet I knew full well that it wasn't PSB; for one thing, the lead vocalist sounded nothing like Neil. And it soon dawned on me, listening to the lyrics, that I was hearing an evangelical Christian dance song, with lines like "Dance with joy in the Lord" or something to that effect. I never did find out who the artist was (I still think that radio stations should be required by law to provide in a timely manner the names of the artists whose songs they play), but I often wonder whether it was Joy Electric, Dance House Children, or some other ensemble associated in some way with Ronnie Martin.

8. Bollywood

Several scores from the Indian film industry (aka "Bollywood") betray profound PSB influences. For instance, the soundtrack of the 1989 Indian film Love Love Love, written by veteran Bollywood composer Bappi Lahiri, includes two songs, "We Are in Love" and "Hum to Hain Dil Ke Diwane," with musical passages essentially lifted outright from "It's a Sin." One might say that, although the lyrics and primary melodies of those songs are original, they're more or less built around "re-recorded samples" of instrumental themes from that particular PSB song.

A much less blatant but still perceptible borrowing from "It's a Sin" can be found in the song "Phoolon Ka Yaaron Dekho Jigar" (composed and arranged, I believe, by Rajesh Roshan) from the 1991 film Swarg Yahan Narak Yahan. Another 1989 Indian film, Tridev, boasts an opening theme (composed by brothers Kalyanji Virji Shah and Anandji Virji Shah, working under the collective name Kalyanji Anandji) that borrows rhythmically and stylistically from the Boys' "One More Chance." And the 1992 film Vishwatma features a song titled "Saat Samundar," written by Viju Shah (who happens to be the son of the aforementioned Kalyanji Virji Shah), with an opening that bears a striking similarity to "Heart."

It's interesting that all three of these PSB songs are from the same album, 1987's Actually. I wonder whether that album was especially popular in India.