There’s always something special about when two artists come together for a duet, but it’s even more special when two queer artists join forces on a track.

Pet Shop Boys’ “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” featuring Dusty Springfield is one of these iconic duets, and stands as a testament to intention and nurturing one’s community.

Released as the second single from Pet Shop Boys’ second studio album, “Actually,” in 1987, the song not only marked Pet Shop Boys’ first collaboration but also solidified itself as one of the greatest queer duets of all time.

The song’s inception traces back to Christmas 1984, when Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, otherwise known as Pet Shop Boys, crafted the tune with the help of American songwriter Allee Willis.

Originally intended for their debut album “Please,” challenges arose in finding the perfect vocalist for the song to become a duet. The label wanted popular singers at the time to hop on the song, suggesting Tina Turner or Barbra Streisand, but when their manager’s assistant suggested Dusty Springfield, Neil Tennant was keen on having Springfield lend her vocals on the song, as her 1969 album “Dusty in Memphis” was one of his favorites.

Despite resistance from their label, Tennant was insistent on Springfield, whose soulful yet breathy quality of her voice was precisely what they were seeking for the song. Springfield was initially disinterested after sending a tape of the song to Springfield’s manager, so the song was left off Please. But when she heard the duo’s hit “West End Girls” on the radio and liked the song, several months later, the Pet Shop Boys’ manager heard back saying she wanted to do the duet.

Springfield’s career had waned since her 1960s heyday, with her last UK top 40 hit being “How Can I Be Sure” in 1970. The subsequent years saw a string of forgettable albums, accompanied by personal struggles involving substance abuse and other self-destructive behavior.

Despite this, and despite Springfield being without a recording contract at the time of their collaboration, Tennant remained firm in selecting Springfield for the song, insisting the track needed the singer’s “husky, breathy voice.”

Tennant recalls her arrival at the recording studio to be nothing short of legendary:

She arrived at the studio on time, in a black leather designer jacket and high-heeled boots, with blonde hair and black eye make-up, clutching the lyric-sheet of the song, annotated and underlined. Chris Lowe, Stephen Hague and I began to consult with the legend about how to sing our song and she was very nice, surprisingly a little lacking an self-confidence. As if by telepathy, a Dusty fan appeared on the studio doorstep and was invited in to listen. Her voice was the same as ever. When she sang her solo part – ‘Since you went away … ‘ – everyone in the control room smiled. She sounded just like she used to. Breathy, war, thrilling. Like Dusty Springfield.

“Dusting off a legend.” The Sunday Times. August 9, 1987.

Upon its August 1987 release, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” quickly reached the top of the charts.

In the UK, it peaked at number 2 and spent two weeks there. In the US, it hit number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Pet Shop Boys’ fourth top ten hit and becoming Dusty Springfield’s biggest US success. The song’s impact on Springfield’s career was significant, boosting sales and interest in her earlier works.

Dusty Springfield’s own journey as a queer woman added a layer of depth to the song’s current impact. While her sexuality was an open secret among the gay community, societal norms and homophobia of the time led to her private life being concealed from the public eye, creating a narrative that largely overlooked her queer identity.

Despite her relationships with women, including her unofficial marriage to actress Teda Bracci, Springfield’s story was often overshadowed by the sensationalism of media coverage of her dwindling career.

The Pet Shop Boys deliberately used gender-neutral language in their lyrics so that they could refer to any gender, creating a space for audiences at the time to interpret their songs in an open way. Neil Tennant, who neither denied nor confirmed gay rumors throughout the 1980s, “came out” in a 1994 interview for Attitude magazine, which only elevated the duo’s status as queer music pioneers.

Beyond “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” commercial success, knowing these two artists’ personal struggles with their own queer identity has made this song a powerful moment in LGBTQ+ music history.

In retrospect, the collaboration feels like a celebration of their identities. Springfield’s personal struggles, combined with her triumphant return to the music scene, mirrored the experiences of many within the LGBTQ+ community. With one artist (Pet Shop Boys) at the peak of their career, and during what seemed like a career low for the other (Springfield), the song embodies a message of solidarity, uniting for the sake of music without concern for societal norms or strategic career gains, speaking to the familial roots of queer community.

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