The History Mix: The Pet Shop Boys Cover “Streets”
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2018-10-22)
In 1991, British synth pop duo Pet Shop Boys released “How Can You Expect to be Taken Seriously?” as the third single off their Behaviour album. But a second song, which did not appear on the album, was also added to the package: a cover of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which was created as a medley with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” the 1967 hit made famous by Frankie Valli. “How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?” and “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” were released as a double a-side single on March 11, 1991.
Ten years later, in 2001, the first six Pet Shop Boys albums were reissued as 2CD expanded editions with the main album as Disc 1 and a selection of b-sides and remixes on the accompanying Further Listening disc. The 2001 reissue of Behavior included the extended mix, running 6:46, of “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” on the bonus disc. Those 2001 reissues eventually went out of print. However, they were reissued again in 2017 and 2018, along with the remaining Pet Shop Boys albums for Parlophone. For the 2017-18 reissues, the original albums were remastered again, but the accompanying Further Listening discs retained their 2001 mastering. So while PSB’s version of “Streets” has not been remastered for this 2018 release, it’s still a good opportunity to look back at this track, one of the more successful U2 covers that has been done.
VIDEO: Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)
How did the song come about? In the liner notes for Pet Shop Boys’ first hits collection, Discography, the band says that they wanted to turn “a mythic rock song into a stomping disco record.” The liner notes for the Further Listening disc of Behaviour offer much more detail.
PSB vocalist Neil Tennant begins, “We were releasing ‘How can you expect to be taken seriously?’ as the third single off Behaviour. However, we decided that wouldn’t be a big hit, and we needed a hit, so we released a ragga-style remix of that with [“Streets”] as a double a-side. ‘Being boring’ hadn’t been a big hit and we needed a big hit. It was absolutely shameless. Ages ago we’d had the idea of doing U2’s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ as a medley with ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, which we knew best as a high energy record by The Boystown Gang, because one day, when we were recording ‘I’m not scared’ with Patsy Kensit, Chris came in and said you could sing the one going into the other. And we also thought the guitar on U2’s record sounded like a sequencer. Our original idea was to do this with Patsy Kensit – it was going to be the follow-up to ‘I’m not scared.”
Chris Lowe, PSB’s programming and keyboard ace, continues, “Then we had the idea of doing a whole EP ourselves of rock classics to a high energy disco beat. ‘Stairway to Heaven’…‘She’s climbing! She’s climbing!…”
Neil finishes, “…a stairway! To heaven!’ And we were going to do ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ Then we just decided to do ‘Where the Streets…’ The extended mix [CD2 Track 7] really sounds like ZZ Top, I think. When I went to America to work for the American version of Smash Hits I heard ZZ Top for the first time, and there were two of their songs I particularly liked, ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and ‘Legs.’ I loved the combination of electric guitars and drum machines. Billy Idol had it as well. And I think this sounds a little bit like that. We had J.J. Belle playing rock guitar. When the single version came out, Bono said ‘what have we done to deserve this?’ And who can blame him?”
The song was recorded with producer Julian Mendelshon and engineered by Ren Swan. Sequencing was done by Dominic Clarke, with guitars by J.J. Belle and backing vocals by Tessa Niles.
A number of mixes of this track were done:
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (7-Inch Mix) (04:31) [Available on UK 7-Inch, USA 7-Inch, USA 12-Inch, USA CD Single, Cassette Single]
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (Extended Mix) (06:44) [Available on UK 12-Inch]
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (David Morales Remix) (06:24) [Available on UK 12-Inch] (This is the same mix as the Red Zone Mix)
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (12-Inch Dance Mix) (07:35) [Available on USA 12-Inch, USA CD Single]
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (12-Inch Dance Mix Edit) (06:30) [Available on French Promo]
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (Sound Factory Mix) (04:37) [Available on USA 12-Inch]
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (Red Zone Mix) (06:18) [Available on USA 12-Inch, USA CD Single] (This is the same mix as the David Morales Remix)
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (Eclipse Mix) (01:38) [Available on USA 12-Inch]
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (Ska Reprise) (02:59) [Available on USA 12-Inch]
- “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” (05:35) [Available on UK CD Single, commonly referenced as the “UK single mix”]
Was “Streets” the hit that the Pet Shop Boys were looking for? The song did well, reaching the top 10 in a number of charts, but failing to reach #1 in any of them. It did best in Finland, Spain, and Ireland, where the song reached #2. The song also reached the top ten in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK, where it peaked at #4. The song was not a big hit in North America, and only reached #72 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.
As the band predicted, however, “Streets” proved to be a much bigger hit than its companion a-side, “How Can You Expect to be Taken Seriously?” In fact, when the Discography compilation was released in 1991, it was subtitled The Complete Singles Collection—supposedly featuring every PSB single to date. Even so, “How Can You Expect to be Taken Seriously?” was left off the compilation while “Streets” was included.
“How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?” was itself a song that criticized a number of pop stars during the 1980s for their insincere humanitarian messages. That, combined with the fact that it was released with a cover of U2’s “Streets,” seemed to suggest that Tennant had U2 in mind with his criticism. Bono’s statement at the time, “What have we done to deserve this?” only added fuel to the fire. In a 2002 article in The People, Tennant suggested there had been issues at the time, but mentioned he had been able to patch things up with Bono after meeting him at one of Elton John’s homes in the South of France. In fact, the night in question ended with Bono, Tennant, and Lowe jumping into Elton’s pool from a first floor balcony!
“Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)” previously appeared on the compilation Discography, released in 1991. That album featured the 7-Inch version of the track, also known as the “Single Version.” The compilation PopArt: The Hits in 2007 would also use the single version of the song. The 2-disc reissue of Behaviour in 2001 featured PSB’s extended mix, which had previously only been available on 12-Inch vinyl versions of the single.
The 2018 reissue of Behaviour/Further Listening was released in September under the catalog number 0190295818852. As noted previously, the main Behaviour album was remastered again for 2018 but the bonus disc (including “Streets”) retained the 2001 mastering. Behaviour was also reissued on vinyl, but without the bonus Further Listening tracks, including the U2 cover.