The new ULTIMATE that I really want to talk about is ULTIMATE PET SHOP BOYS and for once it really is. The Pets have been going for about 25 years and have clocked up so many hits and are still hugely popular all over the world, they tour a lot, as per their website. Originally part of the electro-pop scene of the early '80s they have transcended that with their engaging music and different work as they mature (they are in their 50s now) - Neil Tennant's vocals are as engaging as ever and I just like their 'look', often using sets by architect Zaha Hadid for instance. Over the years I have seen them at The Savoy in London, at Clapham Common gay pride, at Brighton for their 1999 tour, and at The Tower of London a few years ago. To be fair they have not re-packaged themselves too much - there is one collection of all their singles "Discography" and the 3-disk definitive "Pop Art" collection, various concerts like last year's at the O2 with accompanying dvd, and the 2-disk concert at the Barbican "Concrete" etc., as well as their "Battleship Potemkin" soundtrack, their musical "Closer to Heaven" and I like their "Back to Mine" disks of personal favourites, as well as their studio albums.
This new one really is the ULTIMATE - a cd of 19 hits, starting with - of course - that intro into "West End Girls" and ending with a new song "Together" - but also a terrific three-hour dvd of their BBC appearances, covering their 90 minute concert at Glastonbury this summer which was terrific (with new arrangements of those songs we love and very visually staged too) and 27 other video clips from shows like "Top of the Pops" most of which I had not seen - fascinating seeing those early versions of "Love Comes Quickly", "Being Boring", "Paninaro" etc - and their lovely version of "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" with a fabulous looking Dusty Springfield at the Brit Awards in 1988 - the only time they did it live with her (apart from the pop video). (They now do it live to a ghostly video projection of her). 20+ years ago I was living a different life in a different city with someone now no longer with us and Pet Shop Boys was the soundtrack to all that. So, in all, this is one ULTIMATE worth having. (I saw Dusty too back in 1969 recording one of her BBC weekly shows at the old Golders Green Hippodrome - something went wrong with the first number and she had to do it again, so there was a little drama...!)
The cover of the original issue of "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" and Neil and Dusty doing it at the Brit Awards in 1988. Top: at Glastonbury 2010
And now Leon ! How great to see Leon Russell back - with that mane of white hair and beard! His new album with Elton John THE UNION is also a tasty treat. Leon was a favourite of mine back in the late '60s, his honky-tonk piano and bluesy voice were great on tracks like "Stranger in a Strange Land" or "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it takes a Train to Cry" and of course his "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour with Joe Cocker. He wrote one of my favourite songs "A Song For You" which it seems everyone has covered - Donny Hathaway's version being the ultimate for me (up there with Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover"). We loved Elton's first albums too - that "Your Song" one, the glorious sound of "Tumbleweed Connection" [Dusty on backing vocals!], "Madman Across The Water" (with "Tiny Dancer" etc) but then the glitz took over, so its good to see Elt going back to his roots in this collaboration with Leon. They have been doing the rounds so hopefully this will be a hit - now I must go and savour it again....[back in my '70s life I lived off the Kings Road in Chelsea and got to know Elton slightly as he used to visit Noel Edmond's record shop where he would chat and sign records, and we met in Harrods once, plus there was a nice early concert with Marc Bolan guesting...but those are other stories, like when I met Freddie Mercury at Heaven (as I knew Jim Hutton.]