THE XTC SINGLES (Part 22)

It would be eighteen months before XTC released their next 45 in September 1986 during which period spin-off psychedelic band The Dukes of Stratosphear had issued six-track mini-album, 25 O’Clock, from which this was issued as a single:-

mp3 : The Dukes of Stratosphear – The Mole From The Ministry

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the band had been teamed up with American rocker Todd Rundgren to work on the new album which would be released with the title Skylarking. It’s a record I’ve never bought, partly based on some rotten reviews at the time and also the fact that I couldn’t understand why Virgin Records had thought an act so quintessentially English would get something out of working with someone I regarded as so antiquated and likely unsympathetic to the band. Turns out that Andy Partridge hated the idea too but not Dave Gregory as this excerpt from a 1990 magazine piece illustrates:-

“Todd and Andy were like chalk and cheese as personalities, they didn’t hit it off from the start. Things just went from bad to worse. Andy was saying how much he hated the album, and when we returned home, he was very depressed about it. My only misgiving was that it was badly recorded. Perhaps Todd was trying to recreate a Sixties sound to capitalise on our Beatles fixation: but having said that, Skylarking is probably my favourite XTC album. Personally, I like what Todd did with the songs.”

Here’s its first single and the bonus track on the 12″:-

mp3 : XTC – Grass
mp3 : XTC – Extrovert

The b-side to Grass was later re-released as a 45 in its own right and I’ll return to it in due course. For now, I’ll simply say that Grass (which JTFL had included as part of an ICA) it’s not as bad as you would fear – but it does sound a lot like Modern Life Is Rubbish-era Blur from a few year later. What it doesn’t sound like at all is XTC……unlike Extrovert but it suufers from having those awful 80s horns-sounding keyboards on it.

JC

7 thoughts on “THE XTC SINGLES (Part 22)

  1. One of my very favourite XTC albums. It’s interesting that Partridge didn’t rate it but then again musicians don’t always realise when they’ve struck gold – or something approaching gold.

  2. To really appreciate Skylarking you need full-range speakers with at least a 6-inch woofer. You’ll never really appreciate the beauty within on boombox-sized speakers.

  3. Now we’re talking. Maybe it took going off the map on the Dukes side project. Or maybe it was the tension between Partridge and Rundgren, which I read was fairly extreme. Perhaps the relief of not touring? Not sure how they found their way back but the results were tremendous. Skylarking is of a piece, the songs seamlessly flowing into each other. The band might have been unhappy with it but not us true believers. XTC sound relaxed, melodious, clever, and coming in from a new angle: the countryside. ‘Grass’ is a beautiful Moulding song. Like the rest of the album, it’s so timeless it could have been written yesterday. ‘Rotten reviews’ aside, Skylarking is a GREAT album and one of all time my personal favorites.

  4. For the first time since Black Sea, Skylarking was an album I could just put on and listen to from beginning to end. Loved this single, even the B-side, but the real moment from Skylarking that still grabs me to this day is Ballet For a Rainy Day and 1000 Umbrellas back to back. Yep, ripped off the Beatles big time with that one (particularly the strings of Glass Onion), but it’s so beautiful. Now I know which album I’ll be listening to this afternoon. I get where you’re coming from JC, but it sounds like we may be far apart on this one.

  5. I think andy p.had a go at producing a blur lp but it didnt work out as da felt he had made them sound too xtcy. Didnt like this single when it first came out but when i heard the lp it all made sense.

  6. Firstly, while I like Grass, it remains one of my least favorite singles put out by the band. I flew down the rabbit hole with The Dukes of Stratosphere and clawing my way up to the “grass” just wasn’t satisfying. Once heard on the album in it’s deliberately placed position, the song soars!!!
    My only quibble with my BFAM, JTFL is that as far as my ears are concerned XTC didn’t have very far at all to come back from, and The Dukes mini album and follow up Psonic Psunspot are all the groundwork one needs to know that a Sixties influenced work would be exactly where XTC would go.
    I too never quite got the reason Rundgren was chosen by Virgin/Geffen (maybe Geffen/Virgin to be honest) – he is really a Sixties pop footnote – but the tension had to have had a positive effect, even if it bruised egos on both sides of the sound board. The band would also continue an association with former Tubes drummer Prairie Prince after the Skylarking sessions. Partridge’s distain for the recording of Skylarking would be justified with the discovery 30 years later that the mastering polarity had been switched. This is why so many people advise to listen to Skylarking on prime audio equipment…it just never had the fidelity it was meant to have… I can’t stress how much of a revelation the remastered corrected polarity version released in 2016 is.
    Brian’s spot on with his choice of Ballet For A Rainy Day/1000 Umbrellas – it is really the key moment of the album. The Beatles influence is handled so deftly that even this open Beatles antagonist can’t fault them for “going there.”
    The song which shows the most association with the band’s past triumphs is Earn Enough For Us. That is was only a single in Canada and Australia again smacks of tight fists in record company corporate offices.
    But in the end, the most important thing that Grass may have provided was Dear God as the second B-side on the 12″ single. Radio across the US picked up on it at at time when MTV and “Modern Rock” was making real headway. Geffen would take full advantage of this and all of a sudden XTC was finally “discovered” in the USA.

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