THE XTC SINGLES (Part 14)

In last week’s look at Senses Working Overtime, I made the suggestion that its parent double-album English Settlement had a little bit of filler, a line that led Echorich to, rightly, ask me to justify such a view.

What I would like to say at the outset is English Settlement is a wonderfully and occasionally eccentric record packed with great, idiosyncratic and beautifully crafted songs. All these years on, I reckon it’s the best of the first five albums released by XTC in terms of how it has really stood the test of time since its release back in 1982. Of its fifteen tracks, there are maybe four that I haven’t ever quite taken to – All Of A Sudden (It’s Too Late), Fly On The Wall, Down In The Cockpit and Snowman – but at the same time they’re not the sort of tracks that I ever skip on the few occasions I listen to the album these days (and it is one I have on vinyl and CD).

The reason that I suggest its the best of the first five albums and not the best ever XTC album is simply down to me not being in a position to express any opinion as, sad to say, I don’t actually own copies of any LPs they released after this…but that’s something I’ll come back to in a future point in this series.

The success of Senses Working Overtime removed any pressure to have a hit single which is probably just as well as not all that many of the rest of the songs on the album were really the poppy sing-a-long sort you’d expect to hear much on daytime radio stations; one of the exceptions was this catchy sounding ditty which castigated urban development:-

mp3 : XTC – Ball and Chain

Turned out to be the first real flop single attributed to Colin Moulding, only reaching #58 in March 1982. Unusually, the single version was no different from that on the album. It was released on 7″ and 12″ formats and these were your b-sides:-

mp3 : XTC – Punch and Judy
mp3 : XTC – Heaven Is Paved With Broken Glass
mp3 : XTC – Cockpit Dance Mixture

Neither of Punch and Judy and Heaven Is Paved With Broken Glass would have sounded out-of-place on the parent album but I’m guessing the thinking was that some new songs had to be kept back for b-sides….in this case very superior and enjoyable b-sides.

Cockpit Dance Mixture was the extra track on the 12″ and is an experimental take on the album track Down In The Cockpit. One for the curious and completists.

There’s a short postscript required today…..

It turned out that the folk at Virgin Records, having heard early versions of the new material had been really keen to have Ball and Chain, together with Punch and Judy, released as an advance double-A sided single but felt the band should work with uber-producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley for the optimum results. The group and producers entered into the studio in March 1981 but within a few minutes sparks began to fly and Langer walked out on the recording leaving Winstanley behind to try to salvage something.

The results were deemed more than acceptable but by the time they went into the studio with Hugh Padgham to record the other songs for English Settlement it was decided it wouldn’t make sense to have a one-off single with different producers standing out like a sore thumbs and so both tracks were re-recorded.

The Langer/Winstanley versions eventually saw the light of day on a 4xCD compilation box set released in 2002 that pulled together demos, rarities and live tracks amlongside some band favorites.

mp3 : XTC – Ball and Chain (Langer/Winstanley version)
mp3 : XTC – Punch and Judy (Langer/Winstanley version)

Andy and Colin both feel these versions are superior to those which were released back in the day. It’s fair comment as they are punchier and more radio-friendly.

JC

8 thoughts on “THE XTC SINGLES (Part 14)

  1. Of the four “lesser” tracks you mention, two (Snowman and Fly on the wall) are among my favourites on the album, and I also love All of a sudden.
    Between us, that leaves only one track to make it a perfect record, and I’m sure someone will step up to support Down in the cockpit…!
    Cheers,
    JC Brouchard

  2. Always loved this , remember hearing it first on the tube , but this maybe memory playing tricks as not sure the tube was on tv at this point. Re the lp not only would i lose a couple of tracks but some of them could use trimming. The more rhythmic songs with the repeated chorus lines go on a bit

  3. Surprised at your relative indifference to All of a Sudden – one of the album’s highlights for me. You may also be interested to know that in article about comedians and their favourite XTC songs in the forthcoming XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls (http://xtclimelight.com), Phill Jupitus has chosen Snowman – in particular the live version on Coat of Many Cupboards when he was in the audience. It was the moment he fell in love with the band. Just been catching up with your XTC Singles series and really enjoying in thanks.

  4. These last two are one of many reasons to have the Coat of Many Cupboards box. That producing duo was in the midst of conquering the world. I’m not too surprised Clive felt like he could walk out with ease.

  5. Love this version of Ball and Chain. Both the lead and backing vocals are better and more prominent in the mix.

  6. I think it’s just difficult for me to find fault with English Settlement. I have a 75 track playlist of XTC on my iPhone which just got me down to Miami this past Saturday morning for 4 days of sun and fun…the sun seems to have missed its flight…and when any of the tracks from English Settlement came on they were sung in full voice down I-75 and Alligator Alley. All Of A Sudden is one of the album’s highlights for me and the playlist opens with one of my all time favorites Jason An The Argonauts. It’s an album that showed a great deal of collaboration between Moulding and Partridge – it can be difficult to discern which song was written by which songwriter. Ball and Chain has that collaborative spirit about it in spades.

  7. Oh and I will certainly pick up a sword to defend down in the cockpit!!! En garde!!!

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