The third single to be lifted from Black Sea turned out to be the one that, at this point in time, provided XTC with their biggest hit:-
Released in January 1981, this Andy Partridge number spent a total of nine weeks in the chart, getting to #16 in mid-February. It was some thirty seconds shorteer than the album version. It was just reward for both the band and songwriter after so many great efforts hadn’t captured the imagination of a wider audience. The initial copies of the single came with a comic book illustrating the lyrics:-
Nice bit of marketing given of course that Sgt. Rock is a comic book character dating back to the late 1950s.
Worth mentioning too that of all the XTC songs he’s written over the years, this is the one that makes Andy Partridge squirm:-
“This song embarrasses the shit out of me. Of all the tunes that I’ve written, that made it to tape, this makes me cringe the worse. It’s not the music, that’s solid enough. All the instruments in the track mesh nicely enough, but the lyrical sentiment, oh dear. It was supposed to be ironic, you know, nerdy comic fan imagines two-dimensional hero can help him with his unsuccessful chat up technique. It did not work. It just came out limply crap. Virgin insisted it be included in this set, otherwise I’d gladly erase it from our history. We all make mistakes.”
No new songs were available on the b-side but there was a tremendous cut lifted from a live concert at the London Lyceum on 12 October 1980 featuring two of the tracks from Black Sea running together:-
Listening to that live track only heightens the loss from the understandable decision of the band to withdraw from playing live from early 1982 onwards with Andy Partridge suffering from crippling stage fright. And by crippling, I mean it literally.
It all began when he had a mental breakdown on stage in Paris in March 1982. It has been said that this was the result of him suddenly, and without warning, being separated from his ever-present Valium tablets. He had first been prescribed the drug as a teenager but had never been taken off it. His wife, increasingly concerned about the dependency with the band reaching new heights of popularity, threw his tablets away — without seeking medical advice — just before the Paris concert. Partridge particularly needed Valium to cope with what he saw as the grinding monotony of concert touring which he hated but took part in for the good of the band.
A few weeks later, XTC were scheduled to play at a sold-out show in Los Angeles but the audience was told that the show would not take place due to the illness of one of the band members. It was revealed some time later that Partridge’s ongoing stage fright was manifesting itself as leg paralysis. In the end, the rest of the American tour was cancelled as were all scheduled future dates in the UK and Europe. However, nothing could be done to resolve the problem and so XTC became exclusively a studio band other than occasional live-to-air performances from radio stations, and a handful of TV appearances.