1988 Countdown #83: Pet Shop Boys, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

For those of you just joining us: I recently unearthed videotapes of MTV’s top 100 countdown from 1988, and I’m working my way through the broadcast one video at a time. To see all previous entries in this series, click on the “1988” category in the right-hand margin of this website; I predict you will be delighted and horrified.


At position #83, the countdown features its first repeated artist: the Pet Shop Boys, who we previously saw at #92 with “Always on My Mind.” This video is set in a Vegasesque theater; apparently, the Boys originally intended to film it in the actual Las Vegas, but stayed away when they heard U2 were making a video there. When they saw the results (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”), they were a bit flabbergasted that the Irish quartet had chosen to film on the city’s sidewalks and backstreets.

The Pet Shop Boys instinctively go for the glamour: in this case, a backstage drama surrounded by showgirls (in costumes recycled, no lie, from the James Bond movie Octopussy). Our video opens with a closeup on the unblinking right eye of Chris Lowe; the camera pulls back to reveal his stoic visage. We then pan over the spangly showgirls hanging out backstage, surrounded by men wearing tuxedos, apparently the musicians who play during their performance. One showgirl chats with a trumpet player. Another, a bit ludicrously, is handing a lightbulb to a technician. A third is wearing great mirrored sunglasses that appear to have been taken directly from Lowe’s personal collection.

The camera pans past a tuxedoed Neil Tennant, not even slowing down as he sings “You always wanted a lover,” instead moving on to a beautiful girl with eyeglasses on her nose and pink and orange feathers on her head. The showgirls get up, presumably to hit the stage; the bespectacled one looks over her shoulder meaningfully and takes off her glasses.


Around the time of this video, a director or a musician (I no longer remember who), speaking of his own promotional clip, said that the record company had issued the directive to make a video that would seem obviously gay to a British audience and obviously straight to an American one. I think the Pet Shop Boys (and director Eric Watson) pulled that difficult feat off here. There’s zero sexual tension between the vocalists (Tennant and Dusty Springfield), but there’s plenty of longing glances and ambiguous smoldering stares among Tennant, Lowe, and Eyeglasses Showgirl. From any sexual perspective, the video works, bolstered by the gorgeous melancholy of the song.

In a dressing room, musicians and dancers peel out, leaving Chris Lowe alone with his trombone and his black tie. Tuxedo-clad men with brass instruments stride across an empty stage. (Lowe and Tennant are perfectly cast as anonymous members of a pit orchestra.) Tennant lounges on a carpeted staircase doing the “I bought you drinks / I brought you flowers” rap while the showgirls glide down the stairs on either side of him. Lowe practices the trombone in the dressing room. A hunky stagehand pulls away a red curtain and we cut to the legendary Dusty Springfield, 48 years old at the time of this video, and unfortunately, looking a bit too much like a charismatic drag queen. (By the way: her original name was Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien.) In closeup, Springfield shakes her shoulders and sings her section of the song. (In its construction–various bits patched together, all catchy but with no obvious chorus–this song bears a surprising resemblance to the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.”)

Tennant sings alone backstage, standing right in front of a fire extinguisher. We see the showgirls dancing in silhouette against a lavender background. Back to Tennant, whose lonely expression is slightly undercut by his ’80s poodle haircut.


In the indispensable Chris Heath’s book Pet Shop Boys, Annually, the Pet Shop Boys talked extensively about Lowe’s dancing in this video. “For my dance I didn’t want to do just any dance,” said Lowe, who added that he had all the crew removed from the set while he did it. “In America it’s one of our most successful videos, mainly because of Chris’ dancing,” Tennant claimed.

So we come to the section where Lowe dances: He’s walking across the stage in a narrow passage between two curtains, invisible to the paying audience. He leaps in the air and does a 360–we see this in slow motion, plus his image is also projected somehow on the curtain to the left of him. He takes a couple of rhythmic steps, and then sticks out his arms and spins around like a top. The camera pans away and returns to find him still spinning. He nods to the right with a little flourish and then walks away, with shadows of showgirls on the curtain behind him. It lasts about twenty seconds (maybe ten without the slow motion), and after all the Boys’ buildup, is possibly the funniest dance routine I’ve ever seen.


Cut to the showgirls, spinning and strutting and sashaying. One of them has big dangly earrings flapping about. We see them in silhouette against lavender, and then against a scenic fly with a woodland scene. We pan across a line of dancers as they raise their heads and look into the camera, one by one. Tennant, with knitted brow, stands in front of Lowe, who appears to have removed the fire extinguisher from the scene as his competition for the non-performing partner of the Pet Shop Boys. Lowe then pretends to play the trombone, not particularly convincingly.

A royal red curtain with gold fringe lifts, revealing Tennant, Lowe, and Springfield. Muscled boys in tanktops backstage pull on ropes. More curtains rise. The camera spins through an array of musicians and showgirls. At the end, the stage is empty: Tennant and Lowe and a few other men with horns stand absolutely still. The only person moving is Springfield, who’s dancing like it’s her first Saturday night.

From Annually:
Chris: “I want to know why we didn’t do the story about the construction worker in Atlanta!”
Neil: “That would have been corny as a video.”
Chris: “It could have been like Dallas!

“What Have I Done to Deserve This?” hit #2 on the American pop charts in early 1988. It was Springfield’s last appearance on the charts before she died in 1999. You can watch the video here.

posted 4 September 2008 in 1988 and tagged , , , . 13 comments

13 Comments on 1988 Countdown #83: Pet Shop Boys, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    I still say it’s their best song ever. (Maybe it’s the odd, chorus-free song structure you highlight here.) The fact that there’s competition for that title really says something.

  2. Gavin Says:

    Part of the reason for that patched-together feel is that it was cowritten with Allee Willis (most famous for the Friends theme song, but also a cowriter of EWF’s “Boogie Wonderland”)–apparently it was a tense collaboration, but she came up with the bit that Dusty sang.

  3. Gavin Says:

    And I think “Rent” is still their best, but I agree that there’s a lot of contenders.

  4. Chris M. Says:

    WOW. That’s a good bit of trivia. I shudder to think of my favorite PSB song–with its wit, pathos and urbanity–sharing a writer with that bloody Friends theme, but it’s a reminder that writers can do “bad” and “good” things sometimes.

    (E.g., Will-I-Am: responsible for most of Fergie’s crappiest crap, but also the writer of a stunning John Legend single and that good-natured Obama video.)

    Clearly, it was Willis’s credits on those old disco songs (also EWF’s “September”!) that attracted Tennant and Lowe.

  5. Gavin Says:

    Chris Lowe on the “WHIDTDT?” writing sessions: “I walked out at one point. It was difficult. Allee Willis is very powerful and I can’t stand having to fight because I’m not pushy and I was having to fight to get to a keyboard. Anyway, eventually it was alright and you got three different bits by three different people which is probably why it’s not a song with a traditional verse/chorus structure.”

  6. Rob Says:

    I also think this is my fave PSB song. This video is a pleasure to rewatch. I think Eyeglasses Showgirl re-emerged ten years later in “Tubthumping.”

    It’s funny that the actual recording isn’t stronger. I wonder why New Order and Cure tracks from ’86-’87 sound so loud but the “Actually” tracks sound thin and dim in comparison. If you’re DJing a party you can put on “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Just Like Heaven” but this song sits everybody down. There must be some audiophiliac explanation.

  7. Gavin Says:

    Could it be as simple as “not enough bass”?

    I just listened to Actually again, and as brilliant as it remains, it is a bit trebly. With the exception of “It’s a Sin”–which I recommend the next time you’re DJing, Rob.

  8. Wayne Studer Says:

    Nice description of the video. A bit of PSB trivia: Although Chris is undoubtedly miming his playing of the trombone in the video, he actually can play trombone in addition to his usual keyboards. He comes from a musical family, and his grandfather played trombone in an old British band called the Nitwits.

  9. Andrew Shaw Says:

    Gavin and Rob Check out the extended mixes of the song, and pump the bass up. You will be happy!

  10. Jamie Levinsky Says:

    This song was totally AWESOME. I know the video is very simplistic without alot of high tech devices but thats what makes it work. The 80’s videos were just fun, light hearted, and simple. Now videos rely too much on advanced sounds and lights. Cliched, cliched, cliched. But this song is very dear to me because it was around the time I lost my mom. By any chance does anyone have any info on the chorus girls. Like what company they belonged to or how to find the names of them. I guess I became super curious about them.

  11. David PC Says:

    Great Video,PSB are the best,I think I”ll pick it up on iTunes , I still have the old cassette from back in the day!
    Just wondering,do you know who the beautiful eyeglass dancer was in the video?
    From the first time I remember seeing this video,the beautiful girls,she really stood out, maybe because I wear glasses as well,but
    she is beautiful,and it would be nice to know who she is!
    Thanks David

  12. Gavin Says:

    Hi, David–

    I agree she’s beautiful (although I suspect she didn’t wear glasses in real life). No clue who she is, though! Sorry.


  13. Boris Montoya Says:

    Hi friends:
    From El Salvador, a greeting David and G. I agree with the beauty of the girl, since 1988 many of us are in love with her, for too long we have searcher her name, without results….
    in Latin America has many admirers that video and her beautiful girl
    Good Luck!!!

    B.M. Fenix

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