“It’s A Sin”: A Song About Shame That More People Should Take to Heart

It’s been nearly thirty years since the Pet Shop Boys’ Catholic guilt-laden single, “It’s A Sin,” from their second album, Actually, graced the top ten in the U.S. and the number one spot on the U.K. charts in 1987. Addressing Neil Tennant’s trauma after having experienced a “Headmaster Ritual” time at St. Cuthbert’s High School, the song offers confessional lyrics at their most shamed, evoking in the listener feelings of guilt of his own as triggered by sordid memories of the past.

Single cover
Single cover

As Neil Tennant emotionally opens with, “When I look back upon my life, it’s always with a sense of shame/I’ve always been the one to blame,” (a line that also, incidentally opens the 2011 novel, She’s Lost Control), we are immediately given insight into Tennant’s wounded disgrace-racked psyche. Exploring the notion that, at least by Catholic standards, everything one desires in life is sinful and in direct opposition to goodness, the track offers a fresh perspective in a world where it seems everyone has surrendered to their iniquitous whims.

Still from video
Still from video

Contrite lyrics like, “Father forgive me/I tried not to do it/Turned over a new leaf/Then tore right through it,” indicate our collective inner integrity that yearns to triumph over the evil of decadence, but can’t ever quite win against all its pleasurable temptations. While at the same time deriding his Catholic school upbringing and the eternal compunction it has caused him for committing even the most venial of sins, Tennant’s message is also one of illumination.

If others in this world were even half as rueful in their actions as he, we might be far less war-torn, murder-plagued and assaulted. By contemplating one’s sinfulness at all times (no matter how agonizing), our shame radar would prevent us from committing a great many egregious acts. And so next time you do something–anything–just remember that it’s a sin and you probably shouldn’t.