“Take Off to Big Bucks”: The Pet Shop Boys’ “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)”

By on December 22, 2017

We’ve come to the end of another tumultuous week in late 2017, and so we thought it’d be another good opportunity to share Night Flight’s “Take Off to Big Bucks” episode again, as it features music videos focusing on the ’80s’ infatuation with wealth, excess and greed, none of which seem to have gone out of fashion. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

This episode originally aired on “Tax Day” (Friday, April 15, 1988) during President Ronald Reagan’s last full year in office, and we’ve already previously told you about some of the other videos featured here (by Steinski & Mass Media and the Pheromones).

Today, we’re focusing on the Pet Shop Boys’ “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” video, directed by Andy Morahan and Eric Watson, the band’s main photographer.

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We’re sharing this episode at a time when the Republican leaders in both houses of our kleptocratic Legislative branches have just passed a tax bill which will hand over billions in unnecessary tax cuts to the ultra-wealthy.

This $1.5 trillion tax package — possibly the worst piece of major legislation in a generation, and a revival of Reagan-era trickle-down economic policy ideas that have never worked — will ultimately be paid for by raising taxes on the poorest people in the country.

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Back in 1985, when “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” was first released as a single, their true target was actually ’80s yuppies, in addition to being an inside joke about the way they’d looked at their own career at the time (Neil Tennant being the “looks,” and Chris Lowe being the “brains”), and not the ultra-rich.

We’d like to think that the greed of the rich could have just as easily provided the impetus for their darkly cynical ode to making a lot of money.

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In 1987, in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) gave an insightful speech in which he says:

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

Gekko also says, “The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars.”

Sadly, thirty years later, not much has changed, except that his percentages were a bit off: The wealthiest 1% of American households actually owns 40% of the country’s wealth.

Read more about the Pet Shop Boys’ “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” below.

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The first Pet Shop Boys’ “Opportunities” video featured Tennant in a dark underground parking garage, popping up from a rectangular hole in front of an expensive Cadillac. He’s wearing a long black coat, designed by British fashion designer Stephen Linard, which he’d borrowed from Eric Watson.

The video ends with Tennant disintegrating into dust and the Cadillac driving away (meaning having lots of money still won’t save you from your eventual fate, which is death).

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Watson has said that the character Tennant is playing in the video conceptually resembles the preacher Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) from the Church of Truth Without Christ from John Huston’s Wise Blood, the 1979 film based on Flannery O’Connor’s novel of the same name.

“Neil’s character reminds me of the main character in the film and the novel,” Watson said, “Standing on the street corner, saying they believe in God but just getting money out of people. At the time I was so cynical that I just believed that everybody who was involved in culture was just making a fast buck.”

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Tennant and Lowe — both interviewed in 2004 for the This Is Not Retro blog — have said that the idea for the song’s sardonic hooky chorus (“I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks/Let’s make lots of money”), was actually inspired by Jon Voight’s and Dustin Hoffman’s characters (Joe Buck and Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo) in Midnight Cowboy.

Tennant also says “We always had the impression in America it was taken un-ironically.”

The song certainly helped establish their tradition of satirical pop songs that took jabs at social issues.

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Andy Morahan was by then well-known for directing music videos for a diverse bunch of ’80s artists, including Ozzy Osbourne, Luther Vandross, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Guns N’ Roses and many more.

Eric Watson, meanwhile, was the Pet Shop Boys’ main photographer and their video director (or co-director) from 1984 to 1991.

He also directed videos for “Suburbia”, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”, “Domino Dancing,” “DJ Culture,” “Left to My Own Devices,” “It’s Alright,” and “So Hard,” as well as “What Have I Done to Deserve This?,” their 1987 collaboration with Dusty Springfield.

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From 1981 to 1985, Watson was also one of the main photographers for the UK’s Smash Hits music magazine, where Tennant was an assistant editor.

His work as a popular pop music photographer led to him working with Spandau Ballet, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and lots of other ’80s acts, and his work was later exhibited at the Blue Gallery in London and in the “Icons of Pop” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

Watson died on March 18, 2012, after suffering a heart attack.

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“Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” — written during the Pet Shop Boys’ formative years, in 1983, by Tennant, Lowe and Stephen Hague — was first released as a single in ’85 (charting only at #116 UK).

A second and newly-produced version was released in May of 1986, and it proved to be more popular, charting at #11 (UK) and at #10 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 in the U.S.

There was a second video too, shot by celebrated video director Zbigniew Rybczyński.

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to Big Bucks” on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.