All the songs of my life, #1: “It’s A Sin” by the Pet Shop Boys

It’s time to expand my blogging horizons outside of the gig world, for let’s face it, writing about gigs is a bit depressing in the current lockdown life! This is a new series where I will talk about all the songs which have impacted my life in one way or another, in roughly chronological order. First up: the song that is the beginning of music for me.

I call this song the beginning of music, but there was, of course, music in my life before the Pet Shop Boys. I have dim recollections of dancing to ABBA as a toddler in the vibrant yellow living room of our house in Canada in the late 70s. Then in Australia in the early 80s, I perused my mum’s single collection with interest, noting such delights as Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”. I myself was more interested in age-appropriate hits like “Mickey” by Toni Basil, or Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, though was never taken quite enough to actually need to own my own copy. Tumbling through time to the mid-80s, we were now in Singapore, and I soundtracked my homework sessions by once again raiding my mum’s collection, particularly enjoying a cassette of Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits.

All of this music was great, of course. But it was never more to me than an entertainment, a distraction. More often than not, if you’d asked me what I thought of music as an 11 or 12 year old, I would have sighed in despair at the thought of practising scales and arpeggios for my weekly piano lessons.

In the late 80s we were still living in Singapore, which was a bit behind the times when it came to the latest pop hits. The Pet Shop Boys released “It’s a Sin” in 1987 in the UK, but it’s 1988 that I remember being soundtracked by this song. I was intrigued by its aura of depth and darkness, which stood out starkly in an era of chirpily upbeat tunes like “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (both classics, of course, but far from anything the moody 13 year old me could relate to). It felt like the first time I’d heard a song tell a story that was not one of love lost or found, but something more profound and interesting.

My mum, ever with the excellent musical taste, was also very keen on this song. I remember her explaining to me how the supporting characters in the video represented the seven deadly sins, and remarking how sad it was that anyone could feel so bad about themselves as the lyrics of this song describe, that everything they would ever do in their life was sinful. I remember thinking, it’s not real though is it? It’s just a made up story. I hadn’t realised yet that pop music could in fact relate truths about the artists’ lives, or that even if the lyrics were just made up stories, the best ones would always hold truths for someone, somewhere. Even me.

All this would change once I’d listened to “Actually”, the Pet Shop Boys’ second album, for which “Its A Sin” was the lead single. I borrowed the cassette, of course, from my mum, and she never got it back. Listening to the songs on this album, I found something I hadn’t even realised I was missing – a sense of connection, of recognition. The realisation that other people felt in some way the same mixture of confusion and anxiety in trying to find a place in the world, while also expressing the adventure and excitement of the journey. But I’ll go into this more when I blog about that album – for yes, intrepid reader, the thrilling news is that I will also be commencing an All The Albums Of My Life series very soon!

It’s hard for me to listen to “It’s A Sin” now without feeling some awe at everything it brought to me. From here, my life as a music fan has brought me so many wonderful things, not least of which being the many gigs I’ve written about on these pages and will carry on doing so. It’s a brilliant song to be sure – dynamically thrilling with its peals of thunder and heaven-piercing synths, its sense of hopeless despair only intensified by the huge hooks and irresistible beat.

But I find it hard to focus on the bleakness of the song’s subject matter when I listen to it, because for me, it is so much more than just a song. It’s where my obsession with music began, which feels very much the same as saying where I began. Music has been, throughout my life, the greatest friend I could have, both comforting and inspiring, and a catalyst to many of the best decisions I have ever made. And all that makes “It’s A Sin”, for me, probably the most uplifting song in existence.

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