release date: 24. March 1986
chart: UK #3, US #7
Please, the first Pet Shop Boys album, was released in March 1986. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe had met in London during August 1981 and began writing songs together soon afterwards, eventually settling into a routine of regularly demoing new songs in a Camden recording studio owned by Ray Roberts. In August 1983 - when Neil was working at the pop magazine Smash Hits and Chris was studying architecture - Neil was sent to New York by Smash Hits to interview The Police and took the opportunity to play some songs to the cult disco producer, Bobby Orlando, whose records Chris and Neil admired. Bobby 'O', as he was known, announced that they would make a record together. The first Pet Shop Boys single, the Bobby 'O'-produced version of 'West End girls', was released in April 1984 and was a modest underground dance hit, at the time satisfying their one stated ambition: to have a twelve-inch single available on import in the trendiest London record shops. A second, 'One more chance', followed. By March 1985 the Pet Shop Boys were extricated from their Bobby 'O' contract and signed to EMI Records' subsidiary, Parlophone. A single, 'Opportunities (Let's make lots of money)', was released that August but, to their disappointment, only reached number 116 in the British charts.
When they began to plan their first album, the Pet Shop Boys decided they wanted to work with the producer Stephen Hague, because of his recent work with The World's Famous Supreme Team ('Hey DJ') and Malcolm McLaren ('Madame Butterfly'). Their manager, Tom Watkins, suggested, amongst others, The System and a newly-successful British production team, Stock Aitken and Waterman, who were working with another of his acts, Spelt Like This. EMI also had doubts about Hague and made other suggestions, but it was agreed they could record a new version of 'West End girls' as a trial track with Stephen Hague, after which they were given the go-ahead for the album.
Please was recorded with Stephen Hague at Advision studios in London between November 1985 and January 1986, working from midday until midnight, breaking mid-evening to visit Efe's Turkish kebab house down the road. "We would drink a bottle of retsina, if not two bottles, and come back half-drunk," says Neil. Occasionally they would take time off to perform 'West End girls' on Top Of The Pops and Wogan, as it slowly rose to number one in the British chart. At one point during the recording, the studio manager said, "So you're the singer, Neil? I thought you were the manager".
They decided the album would include ten songs, already written, and set aside a number of other contenders, including 'It's a sin' (which Hague said they should leave to their next album), 'Rent' (which programmer Blue Weaver thought had too similar a chord change to 'I want a lover'), 'What have I done to deserve this?' (they had yet to persuade their chosen collaborator Dusty Springfield), 'Jealousy', 'One more chance' and 'In the club or in the queue' (which the Pet Shop Boys would revisit in 1999 but which remains unreleased). Please was recorded on a tight deadline. 'West End girls' had already been finished, and they already had recordings of 'I want a lover', 'Opportunities...' and 'Why don't we live together?' which Stephen Hague would do further work on, but they were still under time pressure. The last song they finished, 'Suburbia', was a straightforward remake of their demo version partly because there was no time to do anything else.
Though it was hardly a concept album, as the Pet Shop Boys recorded Please, they realized that the songs they had chosen could be sequenced to form a loose storyline. "We had the idea for the album that it was sort of linked together," says Neil. "They run away in the first song, they arrive in the city ('West End girls'), they want to make money ('Opportunities'), they fall in love ('Love comes quickly'), move to suburbia ('Suburbia'), go out clubbing ('Tonight is forever'), there's violence in the city ('Violence') and casual sex ('I want a lover'), someone tries to pick up a boy ('Later tonight')... It does sort of work."
During the recording, there was much talk of how the first Pet Shop Boys album sleeve should look. "One of the great strengths of our relationship with Tom Watkins is that there was a lot of negative energy in it, and Chris and I would react against Tom," says Neil. "It really worked in a quite a positive way, creatively. Tom spent the whole time we were in Advision saying he was coming up with this amazing packaging idea: paper engineering. Finally one day he comes in and says, 'Right, I've got it, the mock-up of the album cover, it's unbelievable'."
"He'd been describing this in words for ages and you just couldn't imagine what it was," remembers Chris. "Every copy of the album, would be unique. It was these folds of paper that came together. It was basically a latticework."
"We looked at it and thought it was ridiculously complicated," says Neil. "As a result we and Mark Farrow promptly came up with the idea of having a white sleeve with a tiny picture of us. As ever, we didn't have a photo." (Mark Farrow, a designer who at that time worked in Tom Watkins' office, has worked on every Pet Shop Boys sleeve since.) Most of the existing Pet Shop Boys photos had been taken by Eric Watson, a photographer friend Neil had known since his youth. They chose one, which had already been printed in Smash Hits news section, Bitz, in which they were draped with white towels. "Eric's never been very happy with it because if you look at it it's not completely in focus," says Neil. "We whacked it on the front cover simply because the towels were white."
"At the time," says Chris, "it looked completely different from everything else."
Still, in an era where most record sleeves were fussy, garish and cluttered, not everyone appreciated its minimalism: their American record company insisted that the title and their name be printed at the top of the sleeve so that it could be easily identified in the racks, and the French record company, to the Pet Shop Boys' fury, simply redesigned the sleeve using a much larger photo. Later, when it was released on CD, the Pet Shop Boys didn't scale down the photo in the same ratio as on the album sleeve, and they have always felt the CD sleeve doesn't work so well.
On the album's inner sleeve, they used 98 more photos, mostly from the many sessions they had done with Eric Watson, though one - Chris's self-portrait in a mirror - was taken in Neil's New York apartment in 1984 when Neil was launching Smash Hits' American version, Star Hits, and Chris had been flown over by Bobby 'O' so that the Pet Shop Boys could do more recording.
After 'West End girls', three more singles were released from Please. 'Love comes quickly' came out in February, before the album, the updated version of 'Opportunities' was released in May, and an EP centred around a re-recorded version of 'Suburbia' came out in September. (They also released an album of six dance mixes, Disco, in November.)
The Pet Shop Boys had come up with the album's title fairly early on. Though Neil thinks Chris probably suggested it, it derives from the habit at Smash Hits magazine of saying 'pur-leaze! 'at the end of sentences. "I think if you look at my obituary when I left Smash Hits it quotes me as saying 'such and such, pur-leaze'," says Neil. "Meaning, 'for goodness sake'. It seemed to be associated with me. It was just a weak joke, that you could go into a record shop and say, 'have you got the Pet Shop Boys, please?' Not even a joke, really."