Jack and Jill Party

Writers - Tennant/Lowe/Burns
First released - 2004
Original album - Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI (Dead or Alive/Pete Burns)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Release 2017 reissue Further Listening 2001-2004 bonus disc (PSB demo)
Other releases - single (UK #75) (Pete Burns)

After they wrote an early version of this song in 2003, the Boys realized that, in the words of Neil, "It'd be perfect for Pete Burns." For those who need an introduction, the late Pete Burns was the outrageously androgynous lead singer of Dead or Alive, best known for such eighties dance-pop hits as "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and "Brand New Lover." On February 13, 2004, Chris and Neil spent time in the studio with Pete recording his vocals—which Pete later superlatively described as the "most rewarding recording experience" in his life. In the process he contributed additional lyrics. Heavy with harsh bass-synths—betraying a strong "electro" influence while also harkening back to the early-eighties "Bobby O sound" (à la "Passion") that proved a powerful early influence on the Boys—the song appeared as a single, constituting the second release on their own Olde English Vinyl label (the first being their 2003 mix of Atomizer's "Hooked on Radiation"). But it didn't appear on any album for more than a decade, when it finally resurfaced in 2016 on Sophisticated Boom Box MMXVI, a career-spanning Burns/Dead or Alive retrospective consisting of no fewer than 19 (!) compact discs. Unfortunately, Burns passed away just five days before its release.

The title of the song is quite intriguing. According to The Gay Almanac (1996: Berkley Books), "Jack and Jill party" is a slang term from the late 1980s referring to a sex party in which both gay men and lesbians are equally welcome to participate. It's also used to describe a get-together in which both men and women, straight and/or gay, watch each other pleasure themselves, usually on a "look but don't touch" basis. (It doesn't take much imagination to figure out the origin of the term; simply consider one of the slang meanings of "jack.") The official PSB website offered yet another definition: "A man in a simultaneous relationship with a man (Jack) and a woman (Jill)." (That is, the relationship itself is the "party.") Neil referred to these multiple meanings in speaking to interviewer Ian Usher for a 2004 issue of Attitude magazine (issue 123), implicitly acknowledging that he plays with that ambiguity in the lyrics.

Speaking of which—the lyrical narrator brazenly and repeatedly asserts that he's indeed going to a Jack and Jill party and doesn't care who knows. In fact, he relishes the fact that he's being so upfront about it. "Nobody's gonna stop me!" he cries, virtually daring anyone to try. "I don't care what they say!" This devil-may-care attitude is itself the very heart of the song. In other words, it's not really about a Jack and Jill party, but rather about being open and honest about such things. In the song's most remarkable lines, Burns sings of "going to America" and walking "hand in hand" in public with his lover:

It's almost like I'm almost straight
And that's such a great substantial way
To deflect hate in the U.S.A.

It's somewhat reminiscent of Quentin Crisp's famous assertion (typically overstated but with more than a grain of truth) that one can regain one's "virginity" by appearing on television and talking about one's past, after which people are inclined to forgive you almost anything. Boldness, openness, and honesty, at least in this context, become purifying qualities that cleanse even the most shocking behaviors of much of their shock value.

One other thing to consider: Is it possible that the songwriters are suggesting that, metaphorically, the whole world is a vast "Jack and Jill party" in which we all—male and female, gay and straight—spend our lives watching each other? It's just a thought….

The Boys posted their demo of this track on their official website in December 2008 (and later included it with their 2017 reissue of Release), making for a fascinating contrast with the Pete Burns rendition. As expected, the demo's lyrics are a little different, although which variations can be attributed to Burns's input and which to Neil's own revisions is anybody's guess. An even more noteworthy difference, however, is that Neil sings most of the demo in a heavily "treated" falsetto—probably manipulated via Auto-Tune audio processing technology—resulting in a highly distinctive track.

Incidentally, an early 2007 news story regarding allegedly botched plastic surgery performed on Burns's lips (!) suggested that this unfortunate medical mishap had prevented Pete from recording an entire album with Neil and Chris, thereby leaving this one single as the legacy of their collaboration. It's unknown in fandom at this time whether this is actual fact or mere tabloid rumor.



Officially released

List cross-references