I was a devoted Metaller thru most of my school days, which made acknowleging the genius of artists in other genres an exercise in losing face, if not an outright no-no. Two ‘bands’ stood out from my hard-rockin’ playlist (not that I thought of it as such back then) Pet Shop Boys – from whom I first learned to love music – and The Sisters Of Mercy – who served as a kind of transition band who lead me from being a fan of chart music towards a more ‘hard rock’ direction.
I put bands in quotes, because at the time neither were bands in the traditional sense: both were duos and drawing on the emerging – into the mainstream – electronic music tradition. The original line-up of The Sisters had imploded whilst ‘living above the chemist’ and PSB were one of seemingly many acts eschewing the established vocals-guitar-bass-drums format in favour of newly-affordable sampling and sequencing technology. The Sisters had, since their inception made something of a feature of their ‘drummer-less’ line-up, relying on the talents of the so-called Doktor Avalanche.
More pertinently, both acts were unashamedly musical, not afraid to straddle the purported divide between striving for popular success and demonstrating intelligence and knowledge of pop history. Can you imagine a band like SoM receiving airplay today? Maybe you can, though – look at The Arcade Fire. I discovered them (SoM) tuning into TotP to hear the new PSB single, as it happens. Music was relatively hard to come by back then: you either had to tune into TotP or the radio at the right time or take a chance on a CD (or more likely an LP or MC) purchase. When Brandon Flowers (of The Killers fame) inducted PSB into The Brits award ceremony he spoke of having to choose between buying The Smiths and PSB‘s hits compilations: YouTube was some ways off. Thinking of that reminds me of another song that made my original top ten all-time greatest, so I’m gonna include it here as a seasonal bonus along with the alternative Sisters take below… Despite having abandoned my slavish, juvenile devotion to genre and its social trappings, I’m not a lover of The Smiths first album – though the following three are excellent and I remain a devoted Johnny Marr fan, His ‘new’ album has really grown on me, and he’s played lots with the PSBs, doncha know – but What Difference Does It Make is a killer track; one of the all-time great rock riffs.