NFB Listens To Number Ones: “Heart” – The Pet Shop Boys

This one came out in a very competitive year of 1988, where the majority of number ones held that spot for only one or two weeks – “Heart” for three – which might explain why it is a song I can not say I have ever heard before. That might seen strange given the relatively high profile of The Pet Shop Boys as one of the 80’s most recognisible bands, but there it is: amid the likes of “Desire” by U2 and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” from the same year, “Heart” appears to have been swallowed up and left behind by subsequent radio play, with even the band itself dismissing it as second-rate in subsequent recollections (perhaps because it was originally designed for Madonna of all people). This relatively simply song – an anthem for club romance that’ll work in a venue catering to any sexual orientation, which basically repeats itself in full after the halfway point – just didn’t have it in it to clamber on top for long enough.

Oh, but it’s a good one though. The way that the song opens up with the continual adding of layers seems positively amateurish from the perspective of modern EDM, but really fits for the time and place. The way we go from synth to more synth to lyrics and then even to orchestra is really effective, and all of it in step with everything else. That, and the relentlessly fast pace, with the song starting hot and never slowing down. This is one that you will be nodding your head along to for the whole four minutes. From the more human perspective, Neil Tennant will always have that unique voice, that helps to elevate otherwise unexceptional lyrics, that from another throat would be just accompaniment to the music. That goes especially for the late “BEAT, BEAT BEAT HA-HEARTBEAT” refrain, which added a bit of a silly sheen to proceedings. But even before the end The Pet Shop Boys have the nuance to understand that “Heart” needs a little something, so we get a sudden pause, silence, then the song starts up again to go into its finish. It’s the kind of idea that should seem almost a bit desperate, but instead fits really nicely.

The music video is something else, a sort of demented take on the 1922 film Nosferatu, starring none other than Ian McKellan as the titular monster who seduces the wife of Tennant (Chris Lowe gits gipped as their chauffeur). McKellan even sings some of the song. It’s such a weird idea to go with for this kind of song, which really does not scream “Vampire drama”, but you can’t deny that it stands out. Or, at least it does to me: just like the song, I get the sense that the music video just isn’t that well-remembered, even with the big name that has the starring role. Anyway, I loved this one, and was humming it for days afterwards. It’s just what I started this project for.

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