Actually, Annie Lennox wasn’t the only rock star singing Cole Porter in 1990. She was one of 20 artists to appear on the compilation album, Red Hot + Blue. The album was the first to be put together by the Red Hot Organization and the money made from it was donated to the battle against AIDS.
Cole Porter originally wrote the song in 1944. The song, which quickly became a jazz standard, is sung from the point of view of someone who is happy when they are with their lover but who, at the same time, is heartbroken when they’re separated. Lennox used her cover of the song to pay tribute to the filmmaker Derek Jarman, who would die of AIDS-related illness in 1994. In fact, Jarman was originally meant to direct the video but, when he became too ill, he was replaced by Ed Lachman. The home movies that appear in the video are of Jarman as a child.
For all the analysis that has been dedicated to this song and Neil Tennant’s reasons for writing it, Tennant himself has said that the song itself isn’t as a serious as everyone makes it out to be. As he explained it in a 2009 interview with Andrew Sullivan:
“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 then 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.”
Not surprisingly, the video is full of religious imagery, along with representations of the seven deadly sins. In the video, Tennant’s fellow Pet Shop Boy, Chris Lowe, plays Tennant’s jailer while the judge is played by the distinguished British actor Ron Moody. An Oscar nominee for playing Fagin in 1968’s Oliver!, Ron Moody also came very close to being cast as the Third Doctor on Doctor Who. Though the role was offered to him, Moody turned it down to focus on his film career. Instead, Moody’s friend, Jon Pertwee, received the role and Moody would often later say that the decision to turn down Doctor Who was one of his biggest mistakes.
This video was directed by Derek Jarman, the experimental British director who is perhaps best known for his adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II. A political activist and a pioneer in the British gay rights movement, Jarman would sadly pass away just seven years after directing the video but he left behind a body of work that continues to be influential to this day. Along with directing Laurence Olivier in his final performance (in War Requiem), Jarman is also often credited with having “discovered” Tilda Swinton.
It’s A Sin was one of the Pet Shops Boys’s biggest hits. Would it have been a hit without this video? Probably. But the video definitely didn’t hurt.