We get fairly drawn into those BBC4 Top of the Pops repeats every Friday night. Proustian rushes flood back with every hammered hook-line and high falsetto harmony; a gym hall full of pre-teen boys, drainpipes and white socks, comparing tasseled loafers as The Beat’s Tears Of A Clown rattles its hundred mile an hour skank to its brassy end. Bananarama’s Cruel Summer reimagined by three breathy and off-key girls at the back of Geography, Impulse deodorant cans redeployed as skinny microphones. A trio of girls (again!) ‘woah-ah-woah-ing‘ their way through Baltimora’s Tarzan Boy as they cut across me, arms interlinked, side pony tails a-swishing, to get to Mr ‘Shaky’ Stevens’ second year chemistry class. A trio of Bs, coincidentally, that teleport straight back to a place and time. I’m sure you’ll have your own examples.
Baltimora, but. Neil Tennant enjoyed a good hook as much as the next pop scholar and saw the value in the one hit wonder’s ‘woah-ah-woah-ing‘ choral refrain. Not content with pilfering the Supremes-ish ‘ooh-ooh-ee-ooh‘ hook to the Human League’s Mirror Man for his own Love Comes Quickly, Tennant took inspiration from the singability of Tarzan Boy when writing Pet Shop Boys‘ Paninaro.
Paninaro is prime Pet Shop Boys. Moody European orchestral synth dressed up as sophisto pop, cerebral, arch and knowing. Jammed full of era-defining Fairlight crashes and Juno modulations, its glacial synth lines glide through the verses as slowly as tectonic plates. the stately yin to the repetitive pulsing yang of its sequenced bassline.
Pet Shop Boys – Paninaro
Its name has given rise to a small faction of my team’s supporters. This group of Killie fans, in their Stone Island and box-fresh trainers and labelled and logoed expenso-wear named themselves Paninaro as a tenuous way of aligning themselves to their ’80s Milanese counterparts’ high sense of style and fashion.
But whereas those Italians had the scooters and haircuts and effortless chic mod-ability, these Ayrshire equivalents don’t. The youth of Milan hung out in coffee bars and sandwich shops – Paninaro comes from the word panini, meaning sandwich – and the Killie lot hang around The Coffee Club and Greggs the bakers, a tribute act a best.
The song though. Pet Shop Boys have always had their finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist and Paninaro is a great example of marrying youth culture to dance music. PSB revelled in the notion that the Milanese youth lived for Wham and Spandau and the non-stop flood of music from the UK while their elders sniffed their noses at what they considered a movement as shallow, vacuous and as temporary as the fashionable clothes the teenagers coveted. Fast fashion and fast food – that’s basically the mission statement of the Paninaro.
Neil Tennant appears only on the titular refrain, the bulk of the vocals delivered deadpan by Chris Lowe who, for once, has stepped out of the shadows to take centre stage.
The words are thrown out, as soulless as Teletext vidiprinter text, as arty and sloganeering as a Bartle Bogle Hegarty advertising campaign from the same era.
The spoken-word section in the middle is taken from a recording of an interview of Lowe in a 1986 US TV interview, perfectly bleak and perfect for the Pet Shop Boys’ art and ethos.
I don’t like country and western
I don’t like rock music
I don’t like rockabilly or rock ‘n’ roll particularly
Don’t like much really, do I?
But what I do like I love passionately…
It’s a great tune, one that is nearly always overlooked in favour of all those other great Pet Shop Boys tracks. Like all the best bands, Paninaro first appeared as a b-side (to Suburbia) but has since become a track the equal of any of their a-sides. I suspect you know-oh-oh that already.