Absolutely chuffed that Johnny the Friendly Lawyer has again popped up with this particular contribution. It’s a follow-up to ICA 26…..
I suspect you’re probably inundated with proposed ICA’s these days, but this one was meant as a companion to the one posted about Colin Moulding’s XTC songs last year (ICA #26). On the one hand I was really happy to pay tribute to the under-acknowledged bassist–a true musical hero to me. On the other hand it was a bit cowardly to avoid an ICA drawn from all of XTC‘s material. So many great songs to choose from over so many years! In other words, I had a Clash problem on my hands. (It’s awesome, by the way, that ‘Clash problem’ has entered the ‘net vernacular.)
So I sat on it. But now, with the popularity of the imaginary comp series and everyone finding reasonable justifications for their selections, I’m finally sending this one along. It’s not a representative survey of Andy Partridge‘s XTC songs or a chronology or anything like that. Nope, this is just a good old fashioned list of favorites. I’m sure a few tunes would be found in a lot of XTC fans’ top picks, but surely not all of them as half are album tracks. And, I skipped right by several LP’s without a backward glance (my apologies to everyone with favorites on White Music, Go 2, Mummer, The Big Express, Nonsuch and Wasp Star.). So, without any fanfare, here are my personal favorite XTC songs by Andy Partridge, in no particular order:
As good a lead-off track as any, this one from 1980’s Black Sea. Also released as the 4th single from that LP.
Album side off 1979’s Drums and Wires. I wrote in the Moulding comp that the band really came into their own on this album after two previous LPs. (That’s why this ICA doesn’t include earlier Partridge standouts like ‘Are you Receiving?‘ and ‘Statue of Liberty’). XTC were excellent musicians but the introduction of guitarist Dave Gregory game them a legit virtuoso. His brief solo on this song, at about the 2:30 mark, is just perfect.
1979 was a banner year for post-punk guitarists; the likes of Magazine’s John McGeoch, PiL’s Keith Levene and Gang of Four’s Andy Gill served up stellar work on Secondhand Daylight, Metal Box and Entertainment!, respectively. Gregory never got their level of recognition, but his fretwork was equally significant. ‘Real by Reel’ is also noteworthy in that Moulding played the bassline somewhere in between ska and reggae time, thereby inventing skeggae.
XTC released the sub par Nonsuch in 1992 and then went silent. For seven years. Then they returned with Apple Venus, a so-called ‘pastoral’ album that sounded (to me) as a sequel to Partridge’s 1986 masterpiece, ‘Skylarking’. Older, mellower, sophisticated and acoustic, the group still sounded relevant after more than 20 years on the job.
Speaking of Skylarking, here’s an album track from that LP. Producer Todd Rundgren gave Partridge a lot of stick for rhyming ‘cycle’ with ‘umbilical’, but it’s just the sort of silly, unusual couplet that I always found endearing rather than ridiculous.
Sings for itself. One of best, if not the very best, of all XTC songs. Released as a single from 1982’s English Settlement LP. Unbelievably, it is the band’s only top 10 single (reaching number 10).
Another single, this one from 1989’s Oranges and Lemons, perhaps the group’s last great LP. This one features terrific basslines from man of the match Mr. Moulding, who also provides solid backing vocals. As a rule, the songwriters usually sang lead on their songs, but Moulding’s voice was always present in the mix, much like how The Jam’s Bruce Foxton co-sang along with Paul Weller on the majority of that band’s songs. (Let’s add Foxton to the list of under-appreciated musicians from the era, while we’re at it.)
More evidence of Dave Gregory’s talent. The modest guitarist had this to say about his beautiful nylon-string acoustic work: “It sounds difficult but it wasn’t. I just worked out these little phrases that sounded like what the song needed.” Simple as that! An album track from English Settlement.
A rocker, as it were, with agitated lyrics snarled by Mr. Partridge. I wonder if Partridge’s unorthodox vocal delivery might have factored into XTC’s lack of success over here in the States? He’s often described as a ‘quirky’ singer, which can translate to ‘oddly irritating’. Not sure about that, but I do love this gem, another single and album track from English Settlement. Note the variety of the 3 songs on this ICA from that one LP.
An album side from Oranges and Lemons. Love the brass section competing with Gregory’s Hendrixish wah-wah soloing throughout.
Saved the best for last. Another album side from Skylarking and my all-time favorite XTC song. If I could have written only one of their tunes, this is the one.
Amazing that most of these songs are well over 30 years old…
Partridge recorded (as Sir John Johns) in XTC’s psychedelic side-project The Dukes of Stratosphear. Two of his best tracks are found on 1987’s Psonic Psunspot LP:
Brainiac’s Daughter – Meant to sound like a Sgt. Pepper outtake.
Pale and Precious – Kind of a lost Beach Boys track, but from Swindon instead of LA–right down to the ‘Good Vibrations’ background vocals and theremin!