“It’s a Sin” is a song by English synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys from their 2nd studio album, Actually (1987). Written by Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant, the song was released on 15 June 1987 as the album’s lead single. It became the duo’s 2nd #1 single on the UK Singles Chart, spending 3 weeks atop the chart. Additionally, the single topped the charts in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, while reaching #9 on the US Billboard Hot 100. A demo of the track was first cut in 1984 with Bobby Orlando, and the song’s form in the demo remained intact to the final version, although the released production is far more dramatic.
In this song, Neil Tennant describes some impressions he got from his time at the Catholic St Cuthbert’s High School in Newcastle upon Tyne. He ended up feeling that everything he had done or was going to do was a sin. Tennant has said that he wrote the lyrics purging his emotions in a moment of frustration and anger, but that it was not something serious:
People took it really seriously; the song was written in about 15 minutes, and was intended as a camp joke and it wasn’t something I consciously took very seriously. Sometimes I wonder if there was more to it than I thought at the time. But the local parish priest in Newcastle delivered a sermon on it, and reflected on how the Church changed from the promise of a ghastly hell to the message of love.
In the coda, Neil Tennant recites a part of the Confiteor in Latin, which translated into English is “I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, act and omission, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”.
“‘It’s a Sin‘, at its heart, is a heavy metal record,” Neil Tennant said. “There is a huge link between hi-NRG music and heavy metal: the urgency, the chords, the slightly histrionic melody.” The dramatic, overblown production style of the song, loaded with synthesizers, orchestra hits and bookended by a non sequitur sample of a NASA countdown, has come to exemplify the most theatrical extremes of the Pet Shop Boys‘ musical style. It remains a concert staple, being one of only two songs (alongside “West End Girls“) that has been played during every Pet Shop Boys tour.
The band stated at the time that they had been keen for Stock Aitken Waterman to produce the song, as they were huge fans. Neil Tennant has stated that Pete Waterman hated the demo, so they turned instead to SAW’s remix engineer Phil Harding to remix the song for the US release (which went uncredited on the sleeve). They would work with him again on “I’m Not Scared”, the single they wrote for the Patsy Kensit band Eighth Wonder and remixes of “Always on My Mind“.
At the time of the single’s release, British DJ Jonathan King accused the Pet Shop Boys of plagiarizing the melody for “It’s a Sin” from Cat Stevens’ 1971 song “Wild World”. He made the claims in The Sun newspaper, for which he wrote a regular column during the 1980s. King went so far as to release his own cover version of “Wild World” as a single, using a similar musical arrangement to “It’s a Sin“, in an effort to demonstrate his claims. While the Pet Shop Boys sued King, this single flopped, eventually winning out-of-court damages, which they donated to charity.
Directed by Derek Jarman, the “It’s a Sin” video marked the experimental director’s first of several collaborations with the band. It extended the lyrical themes of the song by showing Neil Tennant under arrest by an inquisition with Neil Tennant as his jailer and Ron Moody in the role of his judge, interspersed with brief clips of personifications of the seven deadly sins.