If you haven’t had your heart broken into smithereens by the Channel 4 sensation It’s A Sin yet, why the bloody hell not? The five part drama is a beautiful homage to the vibrant, vivacious gay scene of 1981-1991 London. It celebrates the incredible individuals living through the horrors of the HIV/AIDS crisis and focuses on a group of loveable friends sharing a flat. Based on writer Russell T. Davies’ own experiences at the time, it even features the real life Jill playing her mother. It is so intensely personal, and in this it enraptures its audience as though we know the residents of the Pink Palace ourselves. It’s the most electrifying television I have seen in years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so connected to a programme before. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s real. But I think that the most poignant part about it all is that above all, It’s A Sin is more about living than dying. It’s a colourful, joyful blur of discos and dancing and just pure, unadulterated love. All of the most gorgeous features of life. And how exactly does this marvelous miniseries convey this sense of vitality? Through its explosive eighties soundtrack.
The name of the series comes, of course, from the eponymous Pet Shop Boys record. A dramatic tour-de-force of a song, it lends itself incredibly well to the series – though it only features once, it packs a punch. It would have been remiss of me to not mention this song. The Pet Shop Boys classic simply highlights just how pivotal the soundtrack is to the series, it is the backbone of it. To really evoke the era, selecting the right music was essential. The sonic glue to the series, if you will. I decided, after a frenzied hankering at 2am to re-watch the series in full, to rank the top ten best tracks of the series. This does not necessarily mean they are my favourite songs (it is a near perfect soundtrack, thus I have painstakingly omitted some absolute facemelters!) Rather, I have selected them based on how well they help to reinforce the setting of the series and how they enhanced certain emotional elements. I decided to not use the aforementioned title track, as I felt it was a bit pedestrian of me. So, without further ado, here are the 10 best sinful songs from It’s A Sin.
WARNING: If you haven’t finished the series yet, here is your CHECKPOINT. There will be slight spoilers…
10. Heaven Is A Place On Earth by Belinda Carlisle
Alright, hear me out on this one. This song is often dismissed as a bit of a cringey school-disco banger; pretty meaningless in its sentiment and fairly repetitive. However, make no mistake. This is a seriously beautiful song beyond its anthemic soulless reputation. In the context of the series, it is incredibly apt. It’s a joyful, carefree and effervescent celebration of freedom and finding sanctuary in your own safe spaces – exactly like Ritchie and the gang do in each other and the gay clubs and bars that they frequent. Carlisle’s first single post Go-Gos, she has said in interviews of the song that “[it] is a kind of hopeful song. I think it’s saying you can create your own piece of heaven on your own patch.” In Episode 4, just before the song is played at the credits, Ritchie is coming to terms with his AIDS diagnosis. He proclaims triumphantly to his friends – “I’m going to live.” Ritchie makes the absolute most of his short time left, and lives life to the absolute full. The song perfectly encapsulates Ritchie’s strength and vitality in the face of such devastating news. The series has now successfully made a special place for this song in my heart.
9. Freedom by Wham!
Now here is a song that is nothing short of an exuberant exclamation of its mission statement and what Michael himself wants. I’ve always had a soft spot for Wham!, who are undoubtedly one of the sedimentary artists of the charts during the mid eighties – that which they dominated with their infectious hooks and intelligent lyrics. It’s obvious really that Wham! would make this list, with George Michael firmly solidified as one of the biggest gay icons of all time. Ridgeley and Michael’s music was played frequently in most of the nightlife spots the gang in the series would frequent. But in context of the series, I think it fits perfectly. While it was used in a scene where Colin begins his new job. The song is about a woman Michael is dating who wants a more casual arrangement, while Michael is stating that he doesn’t want this ‘freedom’ –“all I want right now is you!” While likely not deliberate, I found the lyrics to echo the relationship between Ash and Ritchie. Both loving one another all along, both unable to control their promiscuity, with the dynamic between constantly changing. Perhaps this is the former English Literature student in me, but this emotive link was immediately clear to me. A great choice by Davies to include this number.
8. Reward by The Teardrop Explodes
“Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news!” Now that’s an opening line and a half. Your attention is grabbed from the get-go with this new-wave classic. It’s been said that a good soundtrack can really mold and solidify a world that the characters inhabit. This song is absolutely no exception to the rule. The trumpet in this track makes the tempo of it a perfect track to tap bedazzled toes in London’s Heaven. The Teardrop Explodes hit No 6. in the charts with Reward, a song that encapsulates the feeling of male inadequacy and having to settle with the “reward” of normalcy. All of the men in It’s A Sin move to the city not just in pursuit of freedom, but with lofty career ambitions. Roscoe tells Jill: “I’m moving up”. In the end, though they all do achieve some of their goals, most dreams remain sadly unfulfilled due to the AIDS crisis. But through it all, they have each other. This is sort of the essence of Reward in my opinion. It’s the accepting of how things really are, no matter how tragic. The gang have no choice but to accept their circumstances – they have each other through it all at least, and love each other fiercely. Their ‘reward’ is each other in all of the misery. Perhaps this is just my interpretation of this record and I’m way off the mark. I suppose subjectivity is the beauty of music analysis, right?
7. Enola Gay by Orchestral Manouevres In the Dark
A complete classic. I really do miss pulling some serious shapes to this in Deaf Institute on a Saturday night, let me tell you. I couldn’t in good conscience omit this elite track from the list. Why is it relevant to It’s A Sin though other than the fact it was a chart-topper at the time? Well, for me it’s about the lyrical content. An anti-nuclear anthem written during the period that Thatcher lobbied to station nuclear missiles in Britain is the perfect soundtrack to a series that features a character urinating into the Iron Lady’s cuppa. Enola Gay is a rebellious, riotous track that caused a lot of controversy in its time due to its dark subject matter. It was even banned from airplay a few times. A synth-pop cheery tune about a nuclear bombing that vexated Thatcherites. Pretty unique stuff, and a song I’m certain Roscoe would have approved of (Ritchie too, even though he voted for her…) More than anything, it’s played during the scene when Ritchie leaves behind the Isle of Wight. It signposts a moment of rebellion personally for him, and I can’t surmise a more perfect song to aid this representation.
6. Feels Like I’m In Love by Kelly Marie
Disco-dancers and glitter-ball babies are no stranger to this 1979 banger. The song was originally written by the lead singer of Mungo Jerry for – curiously – Elvis Presley! It’s difficult to imagine how different the song would have been had the King not passed prior to him recording it. The record fell into Scottish singer Kelly Marie’s hands and the rest, as they say, is history. The song is played at our very first meeting of the series’ most vibrant character, Roscoe. It was the perfect song to introduce such a vivacious and sparkling person. He is working on a construction site with the radio blasting. The song is Roscoe’s personality to a T – contrasted with an occupation that Roscoe clearly doesn’t suit. It’s a song I was never particularly fond of, but now find myself humming to now and then. Thankyou Roscoe for your love of Miss Kelly Marie!
5. Do Ya Wanna Funk by Patrick Cowley ft. Sylvester
New York, New York. If you want a song that transports you into the thriving American EDM scene of the 1980s (cool clubs frequented by gorgeous people in gorgeous attire) then this is easily a standout record. The AIDS crisis in both San Fransisco and New York is touched on a few times during the series, particularly when a beautifully innocent Colin visits with work and is advised to not “go to bed with any boys”. Do You Wanna Funk? is not just a jubilant song to dance to. It’s much more important a stitch in the rich fabric of eighties music than that. Patrick Cowley has been credited (alongside Giorgio Moroder) as one of the main pioneers of EDM music. Sylvester was a R&B singer. Their blending of genres inspired a whole host of records designed to be blissful celebrations of the community. Both collaborators sadly passed away from AIDS, also, with Cowley sadly passing the same year of the record’s release after he began to feel increasingly unwell on a tour with Sylvester. The tragic deaths of both artists to the disease It’s A Sin concerns makes the song even more meaningful in the context of the series. It’s a very important record in my opinion, not just in amplifying the setting of the series, but in terms of defining genres that ruled the decade also.
4. I Feel Love / Johnny Remember Me by Bronski Beat ft. Marc Almond
Our first Bronski Beat entry is a blistering medley of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Love To Love You Baby interspersed with Johnny Remember Me by John Leyton and the Outlaws. I’m ashamed to say I had never heard this record until the series – nor was I aware that another gay icon, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, featured on it. It’s not played for long in the series, and yet the impact it had on me was massive. Bronski Beat are a perfect blend of disco, synth-pop and new wave magic. By covering a disco icon like Summer and collaborating with a new wave legend like Almond, the result was bound to be glorious. And glorious it is. I was absolutely floored by this discovery and have smashed it every day since (it’s a favoured dancing round the kitchen in my pyjamas track). Something about that discotheque driving beat that really transports me to some of the settings Ritchie and the gang thrive in. It makes me ache and long for nights spent dancing with strangers in sweaty gay clubs until 7 in the morning. The feeling of almost having a family in the people you’re grooving with is one I think is shared by the characters in It’s A Sin. It’s an absolute powerhouse of a pop record, and it’s not the only Bronski Beat classic on this list.
3. Only You by the Flying Pickets
It would truly be a sin of me (sorry!) to omit the song that is central to one of the most poignant scenes in the series. I’ll be honest, I’ve never hugely cared for this song – or at least, the Yazoo iteration. It’s a song that’s sadly been relegated to adverts and ‘hold’ music. As a result, I think the meaning of the record was completely lost on me. And then I heard Jill and Ritchie sing it together on karaoke. The version they sing is the Flying Pickets’ 1982 acapella cover – supposedly Thatcher’s favourite song ironically for a group so entrenched in socialism and miners’ rights. This scene was yet another part I found myself welling up at. Maybe because it’s about a relationship coming to an end, about the longing for a person after they’ve departed from your lives – just as Gloria had passed. The scene then sharply cuts into the tragic scene of Gloria’s family burning his family photos. That quick transition from the lovely union of Jill and Ritchie to the cold, broken household of Gloria soundtracked with “want you near me“. Somehow, this song has now been transformed into a beautiful parting song for me. It’s so final and moving, yet something feels so…hopeful about it. I really have to applaud the series for making me come around to records I once dismissed.
2. Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat
Bronski Beat’s second appearance on this list, I regard this as probably one of the greatest songs of all time. This is not an exaggeration, either – soaring falsetto vocals weaving between a disco discordance make for a record unique to any I have ever heard. In relation to the series, this very nearly made my Number 1. It epitomizes the experience of so many young ostracized gay men: having to flee small mining towns to liberation in more tolerant cities. It’s a semi-autobiographical song; Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat himself moved from Glasgow to London to escape the struggles of being a “pushed around and kicked around, [always] a lonely boy”. It basically epitomizes the entire premise of It’s A Sin. The song is used at the end credits of the first episode – a closeted Ritchie has left the Isle of Wight for the big city, Colin has left a tiny Welsh town a bit unsure of himself, Roscoe has strutted triumphantly away from his extremely religious family. The gang find their family and freedom in each other, in the gay community, in the city. I’m not sure a song more perfectly encapsulates this. Just gorgeous.
- Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) by Kate Bush
I knew all along that my number one selection would be this. When I look back on this series and the incredible impact that it had on me, I am reminded of this incredible song. It is so evocative of the pain and yearning that countless men in Ritchie’s position felt. To “make a deal with God and swap places…” When this song was played over clips of Ritchie taking his medication and struggling through his illness I’ll be honest, I completely broke down. I’ve been a Kate Bush fan for virtually my entire life, so perhaps I am biased in this assertion – but she is a total total genius, particularly lyrically. And it is the lyrics of this track that make it so perfectly suited to this drama. I think that even though the song is originally about the differences between men and women when in love, the raw sensuality and emotion is still applicable to the context of the drama. In fact, it is applicable to most situations. This is testament to Bush’s empathetic writing style. One reviewer in the eighties, Amy Hanson, summed up the song better than I ever could – “always adept at emotion and beautifully able to manipulate even the most bitter of hearts, rarely has Bush penned such a brutally truthful, painfully sensual song.” And that’s exactly what It’s A Sin is – truthful, sensual, painful, visceral. It’s everything. It’s life. That’s why, for me, Running Up That Hill is undoubtedly the best song from the drama.
It’s A Sin‘s five episodes are now available to stream on All4.