Meet England's Pet Shop Boys, Perhaps the Most Successful Band That Has Never Played a Concert

updated 09/15/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Three years ago, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, two unknown Brits who would become the Pet Shop Boys, entered a New York recording studio to cut two songs. "We had never even rehearsed," says Tennant. "We put down the chords whispering at each other—'What's the next one? What's next?' "

Today, the simple disco-style chord changes in one of those songs are easily recognized as the multimillion-selling, former No. 1 single West End Girls. And the two keyboard noodlers are stars, known instantly to millions of American kids thanks to endless, high-rotation exposure on MTV.

Tennant, 32, and Lowe, 26, are rock stars despite the fact that they've never performed live onstage. They are so secure in their famedom that they recently canceled British and American tours, citing financial concerns and their wish to get back into the studio to record a follow-up to their gold debut LP, Please. Once a writer for the popular English rock magazine Smash Hits, lyricist Tennant is a college grad and former London editor of Marvel Comics from Newcastle who says, "It was always in the back of my mind to be in a pop group." Lowe, in a reversal of common rock-'n'-roll lore, resisted his mother's urging that he make music his career. "I didn't want an insecure job," he says. "I wanted to be an architect. I never thought I would end up in a pop duo. Funny, life."

The real giggles began in August 1983, when Tennant, on assignment in New York to interview an old schoolmate named Gordon Sumner, now known as Sting, impressed producer Bobby Orlando with a tape he and Lowe had made. After signing with Orlando, they began calling themselves Pet Shop Boys as a tribute to friends who worked in a pet store. Although the Boys wound up in litigation with Orlando and saw their recording contract change hands, their ascent has been, for the most part, quick and painless—a powerful example of how, in the world of programmed synthesizers and MTV, it's now possible to become a rock star without setting foot in public. Intelligent and a bit droll, Tennant and Lowe are neither unaware nor unappreciative of that fact. As they sing in their follow-up hit single, Opportunities:

I've got the brains
You've got the looks
Let's make lots of money.

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