For a band that had suffered a series of hard-to-justify flops, the title and cover of the fourth XTC single is just genius.

XTC were ridiculously prolific in 1978, recording and releasing the album Go2 a mere six months after the debut. The album quickly became noted for the distinctive and unusual sleeve which consisted of a lengthy and witty essay printed in white text against a very black background. You get the gist from the opening few sentences:-

This is a RECORD COVER. This writing is the DESIGN upon the record cover. The DESIGN is to help SELL the record. We hope to draw your attention to it and encourage you to pick it up. When you have done that maybe you’ll be persuaded to listen to the music – in this case XTC’s Go 2 album. Then we want you to BUY it. The idea being that the more of you that buy this record the more money Virgin Records, the manager Ian Reid and XTC themselves will make. To the aforementioned this is known as PLEASURE.

The press release to accompany the album was designed in a similar style to the cover. The opening few sentences are superb:-

This is a record company biography which, unlike a real biography, tells you only what is convenient for you to know. Its style and appearance, which will be applauded by some as iconoclastic and dismissed by others as pretentious, corresponds closely to that on the cover of XTC’s new album ‘Go 2’. Its function is to provide information about the group for the recipient, usually a journalist, to employ when writing about them. Often, a biography exceeds that function by expressing carefully programmed opinions in persuasively vacuous biz-speak. This provides the company representative with some vague sense of purpose and the journalist with an opportunity to paraphrase the results without recourse to such tiresome activities as thought, the eventual intention being that the public should view the band exactly as wished by their record company.

It ends with the information that the 13 new songs on Go2 will be followed by an additional two songs as a single, before helpfully stating:-

Adjectives employed most frequently when describing XTC are ‘attractive’, ‘energetic’, ‘unique’, ‘bizarre’, ‘addictive’, ‘intelligent’, and ‘inventive’.

So here we go with the attractive, energetic, unique, bizarre, addictive, intelligent and inventive tale of unrequited love that was the 4th single, along with its b-side:-

mp3 : XTC – Are You Receiving Me?
mp3 : XTC – Instant Tunes

It flopped….but it did get decent reviews!



Two monumentally good bits of music had failed to provoke any interest in the record buying public. Nor had the debut LP, White Music, exactly set the heather alight.

The good news from the band’s perspective is that they had a record label who believed in their abilities and a number of champions within the music press consistently praising the records and giving positive reviews to the live shows.

It was the record company bosses who suggested that one of the tracks off the debut LP should be re-recorded for release as the third single. The band was teamed up with a different producer – RJ (Mutt) Lange – who at the time was relatively unknown but had some new wave credentials thanks to his work with The Boomtown Rats. As an aside, Lange would in later years become something of an uber-producer and make a fortune from his efforts with the likes of Billy Ocean, Bryan Adams and Shania Twain – but that probably don’t impress you much.

It has to be admitted however, that the results of what proved to be a one-off collaboration with XTC did result in one of the best non-hit singles of the era.

mp3 : XTC – This Is Pop?

It’s a fantastic lyric in which the point is made that, no matter the genre anyone ever tries to shoehorn a song into, if it becomes well-liked and celebrated (as was increasingly happening with punk and new wave) then by definition is has to be pop music being made by a pop band. It’s also a killer tune that somehow, once again, was ignored by mainstream radio on its release in April 1978.

Proof that Mutt Lange helped the band realise their potential can also be found in the two-minute ditty that was recorded for the b-side:-

mp3 : XTC – Heatwave

It’s not a cover of the Martha & the Vandellas song (as would be done by The Jam for the Setting Sons LP in 1979) but a Colin Moulding original which is far too catchy to have been wasted as a b-side. I don’t think I’m alone in reckoning it is similar in places to a big hit single from Elvis Costello & the Attractions.




In early 1978, there was a fair bit of excitement in the music press around XTC with some journalists boldly claiming that they were the sort of band that would have a future beyond that of many of their peers thanks to their ability to knock out the sort of catchy, upbeat tunes that had been evidenced on their debut single and which were very much to the fore on the follow-up.

Only problem though, was that the BBC Radio 1 refused to play it for reasons that, 40 years on, seem ridiculously petty, especially given the lyrics that freely get aired nowadays.

As Andy Partridge later observed, “A certain radio station banned it for its ‘risqué’ line ‘I sailed beneath your skirt’, whilst they played ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ in which Lou Reed’s characters are busy shaving their legs, changing their sex and giving each other head.”


mp3 : XTC – Statue of Liberty (single edit)
mp3 : XTC – Hang On to the Night

The single is about 30 seconds shorter than the version later included on the debut LP White Music. The b-side is another very fine new-wave number that would have got any audience all hot and sweaty as they pogoed away down the front. The two tracks between them barely scrape four and a half minutes.



I hummed and hawed about who to follow-up The Undertones with. Your offered suggestions of Joy Division/New Order, Big Dynamite, REM and The Cure were all very tempting but I felt would take forever to do…and when I had a look at the James singles a while back I did get a wee bit bored towards the end and I’d hate for that to happen again. But it may well be that I’ll have a look at all of said suggestions in due course.

So, as you’ll see, I’ve plumped for XTC. I have a number of their 45s in the collection as well as a pristine vinyl copy of a Singles/B-side compilation from the early 80s that offered some that I didn’t have. I’ve also been on to Discogs to fill in a few gaps.

One of the things that most attracted me to featuring XTC is that some of the 45s were non-album tracks or were different versions of songs on parent LPs along with the fact that a lot of the b-sides are quality offerings. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.

The debut EP appeared in 1977. Think about that. Fully 40 years ago. Hell, I feel ancient.

Two of the tracks had initially appeared as a 7″ single on Virgin Records but the decision was taken to withdraw it not long after it went into the shops and instead issue them along with a further track on a 12″ EP. Anyone who has the original single is sitting on a fairly rare and therefore valuable piece of vinyl.

The EP, like so many of the early recordings, didn’t ignite with the record buying public and failed to trouble the charts. It’s hard to see why lead track Science Friction was a flop as it’s a fantastic early example of what we would come to file under ‘New Wave’ – it bounces along at a frantic pace with a catchy tune and lyric. It was far from being a punk song but it had all the energy, enthusiasm, freshness and DIY-sounding values of the movement that had made it connect with so many:-

mp3 : XTC – Science Friction

The two other songs are hugely enjoyable if not quite as immediate:-

mp3 : XTC – She’s So Square
mp3 : XTC – Dance Band

The former has a tune that is reminiscent of early Squeeze while the latter, with its bass intro and weird keyboards always brings to mind a more pop-orientated version of The Stranglers. What all three songs did tell was that XTC sounded as if they could be great fun to listen to and keep an eye on.

All three versions are lifted from the Waxworks/Beeswax compilation LPs.

This, however, was lifted from elsewhere.  It’s a secret track on the 3D EP.  It’s not listed on the sleeve nor the label

mp3 : XTC – Goodnight Sucker

It’s less than ten seconds in length.  The creepy whisper is provided by Terry Chambers.




Absolutely chuffed that Johnny the Friendly Lawyer has again popped up with this particular contribution. It’s a follow-up to ICA 26…..

Greetings JC.

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:

1. Respectable Street.

As good a lead-off track as any, this one from 1980’s Black Sea. Also released as the 4th single from that LP.

2. Real by Reel.

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.

3. I’d Like That.

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.

4. Season Cycle.

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.

5. Senses Working Overtime.

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).

6. The Mayor of Simpleton.

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.)

7. Yacht Dance.

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.

8. No Thugs In Our House.

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.

9. Merely a Man.

An album side from Oranges and Lemons. Love the brass section competing with Gregory’s Hendrixish wah-wah soloing throughout.

10. Earn Enough For Us.

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…

Bonus Tracks:

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!




(also resurrected and featured on 21 April 2014)


There’s a terrific little song from the late Ian Dury called Their Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards in which a number of folk from the entertainment industry are given a loving name check. I’d like to think that if anyone was around willing to update the song, they would have a go at including the name of Andy Partridge.

He is of course best known as the guitarist and main songwriter for XTC. However, he’s also recorded songs under a string of aliases and worked with dozens of other acts either as producer, songwriter or performer. Away from music, he’s been an agony-aunt on a Radio 1 show, a panelist on quiz shows and he’s written a series of comedy sketches that have appeared on television in the UK. Oh and in doing some more research, I learned that he’s also had an uncredited one-off appearance as a cricket commentator in the cartoon series Family Guy.

Not bad for a guy who suffered from such appalling stage-fright that he insisted his band give up touring just as they were becoming famous – a decision which in all likelihood cost them a place at the top table of the very best of British pop groups as the opportunities to grow the fan base was limited to radio and the odd TV appearance.

And yet it may have been the ability to concentrate entirely on studio output rather than a live sound that made XTC so special to so many people as they released one excellent album after another over a fifteen-year period up to the early 1990s. And every album produced at least one humdinger of a single, even if many of them failed to trouble the higher echelons of the charts.

They first came to prominence in late 1979 with Making Plans For Nigel, a song on which the lead vocals were taken by bassist Colin Moulding, thus leading many newcomers to thinking that he and not Partridge was the main driving force behind XTC. The two follow-up singles in the early months of 1980, Ten Feet Tall and Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down were Partridge compositions and vocals, but both flopped. At this point in time, it would have been fair to think that the band could have quietly faded away having enjoyed their brief flirt with fame.

But later that year came the release of the LP Black Sea, a truly stunning and wonderful piece of work of which just about any of the 11 tracks could have been a hit single. In the end, four singles were released by Virgin Records, of which the biggest hit was, at long-last, a Partridge number – Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me)

With no tours to concern them, the band were soon back at work in the studio with Partridge promising that the next LP would be the one they would be best remembered for. The first taste of what was to come appeared in January 1982, with the release of the single Senses Working Overtime, which went Top 10. The LP followed a month later. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to Partridge’s pre-release claims.

Maybe the problem was that it was a double LP which was a bit of a rarity in the post-punk days (London Calling notwithstanding), with some songs stretching out to over six minutes in length, which again was unusual for the period in question. The follow-up singles Ball and Chain, and No Thugs In Our House also flopped.

Never slow to cash in on one of their acts having some time in the limelight, Virgin Records put out Waxworks, a collection of singles spanning 1977-1982 just in time for the Xmas market.

The band then recorded and released the LPs Mummer in 1983, The Big Express in 1984 and Skylarking in 1986 to little or no fanfare. But 1987 saw another upturn in their fortunes with the song Dear God, which began life as a b-side but was later resurrected as a single (shades of The Smiths and How Soon Is Now?). This period coincided with MTV in America picking up on the band, and the 1989 Double LP Oranges and Lemons, as well the singles King For A Day and The Loving sold as well as anything in their career.

Another double LP, Nonsuch, was released in 1992 at which point in time the band fell out with Virgin Records. As a consequence, it would take until 1999 before the next XTC album came out, although the intervening period was filled with yet more collections of hits and rarities.

I’m a big fan of just about any of the singles XTC released between 1977 and 1992. They were lyrically clever and the tunes were more often than not different from most of the pop fodder that was kicking around. Neither did the band didn’t stick with one particular sound throughout that period in time.

You should have spotted from the picture that accompanies this post that the song I most like is :-

mp3 : XTC – Senses Working Overtime

I love the really quiet acoustic opening and the gradual build-up in tempo and sound all the way to Andy Partridge calling out 1-2-3-4-5 and then the infectious chorus. There’s just so much to enjoy in this song with all sorts of instrumentation going on in the background. It’s fantastically produced and it has aged magnificently. I dare you to listen and not sing-along. I’m almost disappointed in myself that it only reached #40 in this particular rundown….

Three b-sides to enjoy:-

mp3 : XTC – Egyptian Solution
mp3 : XTC – Blame The Weather
mp3 : XTC – Tissue Tigers



Absolutely chuffed that Johnny the Friendly Lawyer has popped up with this particular contribution. He’s another who has contributed to both blogs on numerous occasions offering his views and thoughts on many a posting.  And unusually for an American legal eagle, he’s never once invoiced me!!!

An Imaginary Compilation Album: Colin’s Ecstacy

Of all the UK post-punk bands that should have hit it big in the States but didn’t—The Jam, Elvis Costello, the Bunnymen, Smiths, Magazine, and countless others—Swindon’s XTC are among the most criminally overlooked. Maybe it’s because they stopped touring in 1982, when principal singer-songwriter Andy Partridge was overcome by stage fright. Maybe it’s because they didn’t get the label support they needed from Virgin. Maybe it’s because American radio was then and remains to this day absolute crap. In any event, the reason is NOT because XTC didn’t have the tunes.

And the man responsible for some of the band’s best tunes is founding bassist and co-vocalist Colin Moulding. Partridge fronted the band and wrote the majority of its songs, including some all time classics (‘Senses Working Overtime’, ‘Respectable Street’ and ‘Mayor of Simpleton’ come to mind). But the less quirky, unprepossessing bassist wrote more than his share of classics. This imaginary compilation offers a modicum of recognition to one of the most unsung heroes of the era, Colin Moulding.

Side A

1. Life Begins at the Hop

Although the band had been around for a while and had already released two albums, XTC really clicked into gear when original member Barry Andrews jumped ship to join Robert Fripp and his League of Gentlemen (decamping soon thereafter to form Shriekback). In came guitar wiz/fellow Swindonian Dave Gregory and XTC’s two-guitar, pop-focused sound was nailed down. 1978’s White Music and Go 2 contained several Moulding songs, but nothing that compares to this masterpiece. It was released as a non-album single in 1979 but was included as the lead track on the American version of Drums and Wires, the band’s 3rd LP, but first minus Andrews and plus Gregory. Instantly catchy like all good pop songs, ‘Hop’ is the true beginning of XTC and the perfect re-introduction of Mr. Moulding.

2. Making Plans for Nigel

Another single and the opening track of the UK version of Drums and Wires. One of the band’s best known and loved songs, but what is it about, exactly? Parents planning their child’s future? A comment on English society’s emphasis on steady employment? Never been able to work that out, but I do love this number. Interesting to note that ‘Nigel’, ‘Life Begins at the Hop’ and the Moulding-written ’10 Feet Tall’ were all included on the American release, and were the only singles from the album.

3. Generals and Majors

The lead single from XTC’s 4th release, Black Sea. I was lucky enough to see the band during this tour, in a tiny club in my suburban hometown of Roslyn, Long Island, New York. A true shame that they stopped touring; they were an outstanding live act and were talented enough to play to perfection anything they recorded. (Although I was a tad disappointed to see that the ‘whistling’ on this track is played on a synth!)

4. Love at First Sight

XTC are, for lack of a better word, a singable band. This track, also from Black Sea, only has a few chords but the vocal line is so melodic it makes the song irresistibly catchy. Even the middle eight (“Mouse takes the bait…”), with its standard C-G-A-D progression, sounds fresh with Moulding singing lead, as he does on most (but not all) of the songs he wrote.

5. Ball and Chain

The second single from the band’s 5th LP, English Settlement. XTC have often been called ‘Beatle-esque’ and it’s sort of true with this track, which to my ears bears a passing resemblance to ‘Getting Better’.

Side B

6. English Roundabout

One of the charming things about XTC, for us in the colonies anyway, is how profoundly English they are. Maybe that’s the reason they never made it over here. I don’t know—I hear the opening line “People rushing round with no time to spare” and it reminds me of millions of people, swarming like flies round Waterloo underground. The pace of the song, the intricate guitar figures, the vocal melody—all these show a band at the top of its game. But, soon after this record, Partridge shut down the touring machine, drummer Terry Chambers left, and they lost the plot. It took them years to get it back.

7. Grass

Four years and two more albums to be exact. XTC released Mummer in 1983 and The Big Express in 1984, both of which sank without a trace. ‘Wonderland’ was a Moulding single from Mummer which many people liked (not me). But XTC found their feet again in 1986 with the brilliant, Todd Rundgren-produced Skylarking. Often described as a ‘pastoral’ album, Skylarking is terrific start to finish. Widely considered Partridge’s tour de force, the LP nonetheless contained four great Moulding tunes, including this one, the album’s lead single.

8. The Meeting Place

“And here’s yer other album single”, as our host might say. Little known fact: XTC made headlines with the controversial Partridge tune ‘Dear God.’ It’s a great song with an interesting video to match, but it first came out as the B-side to Moulding’s ‘Grass.’ It was only after U.S. college radio stations picked up on the song that it got its own single release, eventually replacing ‘Mermaid Smiled’ on later pressings of the LP. More trivia: the drummer on Skylarking was Prairie Prince, the original drummer of American corporate rock perpetrators Journey and later a member of art/glam/goof band the Tubes.

9. King For A Day

Second single off Oranges & Lemons, whose title I only recently learned was from an English nursery rhyme. Notice how we’re up to song 9 of the Moulding compilation and seven of the tracks were singles? Not bad for the band’s auxiliary songwriter.

10. One of the Millions

Here we are at the end of the set and I’ve yet to mention how great a bassist Moulding is! If it wasn’t obvious from the previous tracks it should be from this one, on which his melodic, fretless lines are themselves little songs. Had Moulding never written a note or sung a word, XTC wouldn’t have been complete without his exceptional bass-playing. I bought my first bass in 1980 at aged 17, and Moulding quickly became a personal hero, ranked only behind the remarkable Graham Maby (from Joe Jackson’s band) and the all-time best bassist of the era, the Attractions’ Bruce Thomas.

XTC followed Oranges & Lemons with Nonsuch in 1992, then went quiet for seven years, eventually releasing Apple Venus and Wasp Star in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Then they packed it in. Moulding wrote songs for all of the last three albums, but none, I think, that merits inclusion in place of any of my chosen ten. Haven’t a clue as to what Mr. Moulding is up to now.

Bonus Tracks

Indulging their 60’s psychedelia fetish to the extreme, XTC released an excellent EP and LP under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear.

What In The World??…, written under the name The Red Curtain (Partridge called himself Sir John Johns) appeared on 1985’s 25 O’Clock, his bass front and center in a McCartney/Taxman bounce.

The Dukes returned in 1987 with Psonic Psunspot, on which Moulding/Curtain’s Vanishing Girl appeared. The Dukes’ two releases were later compiled together as Chips from the Chocolate Fireball. This kitschy homage to Barrett-era Pink Floyd, the Beatles and the Beach Boys contains some of the band’s best work and is well worth a listen.


mp3 : XTC – Life Begins At The Hop
mp3 : XTC – Making Plans For Nigel
mp3 : XTC – Generals and Majors
mp3 : XTC – Love At First Sight
mp3 : XTC – Ball and Chain
mp3 : XTC – English Roundabout
mp3 : XTC – Grass
mp3 : XTC – The Meeting Place
mp3 : XTC – King For A Day
mp3 : XTC – One of the Millions
mp3 : Dukes of Stratosphear – What In The World??…
mp3 : Dukes of Stratosphear – Vanishing Girl

JC adds…..

There’s another good friend of mine called John who is also a huge fan of XTC.  He was a very regular contributor to the old blog and one of the annoying things about it being taken down without advance warning a few years back is that almost all the musings of Mr John Greer were lost.  But I was able to salvage his piece on XTC and Dukes of Stratosphear for re-posting in May 2014.  It’s well worth a read:-