Thirty-four years ago this very week the Pet Shop Boys shot to No.1 in the UK charts with It’s A Sin, the lead single from their Actually album in 1987, and an epic damning confessional to a Eurobeat concerning Neil Tennant’s Catholic education in Newcastle. It went on to become the seminal synth duo’s most covered song in their catalogue, with everyone having a go, from Paul Anka to JJ72 to Miquel Brown. That’s the super talented Sinitta’s mum, to you and me.
Zipping forward to 2021 and in January Olly Alexander of Years & Years released an elegiac piano ballad rendition of the song to tie in with Russell T Davies’s hard hitting Channel 4 series of the same name, which starred the happy camper in an acclaimed lead role.
Olly added, “I obviously love the Pet Shop Boys. They’re so iconic and I love that song. It’s such an up-tempo dance banger so I did the opposite and just made it an acoustic moment.” Olly said, “It’s A Sin is a real expression of the gay experience and it is so beautifully done. A lot of people wouldn’t realise it, but it’s a lot of coded language. It has been so influential to me.”
Olly also revealed that he had shared his cover of It’s A Sin with its lyricist prior to its release: “I thought, this would be a cool thing that they won’t get annoyed about. So I did it. I sent it to Neil Tennant and was a little bit nervous but he was so sweet. He was excited and supported it.”
Funny, vibrant, sexy and heartbreaking, as a five-part serial It’s A Sin was a fascinating if erratic study of gay men living and dying through the AIDS epidemic in 1980s London and deserved its many plaudits.
No stranger to erratic behaviour himself, even while sober, it can now be revealed that Elton John shocked his team of staff by personally picking up a telephone and using BOTH hands to call Olly, 30, to ask him to team up on It’s A Sin at the BRIT Awards recently.
On 11 May the twink/dad duo performed a hybrid version of the PSB’s disco stomper at the annual music awards ceremony, which was then released in support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
It can also be revealed that when Dame Elton called, the Years & Years frontwoman was heroic in his quick thinking and swiftly obliged and agreed to the performance.
Speaking to the downmarket Daily Star’s stimulating Wired column, the twinky winky said: “Elton phoned me and asked if I would be up for doing a special performance for the Brits. When I was on stage with him, I thought back to being a little kid watching him at the Brit Awards and I thought, ‘I just can’t believe I’m doing this’.’’
The duet started as a sedate piano track with a clearly constipated Elt looking like a bulldog in a wig, shouting the words loudly before transitioning into full on PSB electronica with accompanying backup dancers and scarecrow drag queens that included Princess Julia of Fade To Grey Visage video fame.
Ahead of the performance, Elton’s now well known and wealthy husband (my partner) David Furnish gave a moving speech in which he compared the HIV and AIDS crisis in the Eighties to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“When a new virus broke out in 2020, the whole world reacted immediately. Governments took action, cities closed down, scientists created vaccines, and we all talked about it night and day. Quite rightly, given the pain and suffering which has been reaped on so many people the world over. But when the same thing happened in 1981, there was silence. That was the year HIV arrived, but people with HIV and AIDS were treated with ignorance, fear, shame, and stigma.
“That silence allowed AIDS to grow into the greatest disease affecting our planet. But we fought back. Campaigners and activists and allies shouted down the silence and demanded to be heard. We refused to let men, women, and children die in shame, and by fighting together, we’ve changed the world.”
Not quite done with the fighting thing — and it wasn’t even a Saturday — it can also be revealed that Pet Shop Boys were, scheduled to be a part of the performance, but were unable to do so due to a shocking “contractual issue”.
The PSB social media account — in other words, Miss N Tennant — went on to clarify:
“The Sun newspaper is reporting that Pet Shop Boys “pulled out” of the Brits. This is not true. It is true that Pet Shop Boys had been asked to be part of the performance of their song It’s a sin (sic) with Years & Years and Elton John and that they co-produced the new version for the Brits with their long-term producer Stuart Price. It is not true that “creative differences” led to them not appearing. The staging and casting ideas were approved by PSB along with Olly Alexander and Elton John. The non-appearance of PSB was ultimately due to a contractual issue that proved unresolvable.”
Olly collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and even the other one, Chris Lowe, in 2019 on the pop duo’s single Dreamland, the first track to be taken off the Boys’ fourteenth studio album, Hotspot released in 2020, but even that wasn’t enough to persuade his heroines to cast aside issues over ego billing or money and join their gay club on stage.
As the pantomime dame of pop, Dame Elt has collaborated with Tennant lady and so Lowe on a few thoroughly forgettable tunes in the past, and has long been thought to have a personal friendship with the slightly younger Boys, yet, scandalously, he failed to mention them once in his 2019 autobiography, Me. Paper shortages seem the most likely explanation.
It seems doubly odd that there was no mention of Pet Shop Boys, either in their capacity of the song’s writers or producers at The Brits. You would have thought the fact that the song’s original writers had produced a new version for Elton and Olly would merit a call out, even if just to say “the two old queens had a hissy fit and limited their involvement, so here’s the other pair anyway. Don’t they make a lovely couple?”
In response, the PSB went flat out to not praise the performance, recording or singers. It’s a sad sad situation indeed.
Nevertheless, the studio recording of the collaboration that was issued immediately following the performance, reached the heady heights of No.47, with proceeds again going to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.