THE XTC SINGLES (Part 31)

Give thanks to the internet for the remaining few weeks of this series as I know absolutely nothing about what happened to XTC after their departure from Virgin Records. From wiki:-

After leaving Virgin, Partridge had the band’s accounts audited and it was discovered that the company had withheld substantial royalty payments from them. The settlement of the accounts provided the group with much-needed cash flow, allowing Partridge and Moulding to install fully equipped studios and work comfortably at home.

Though able to record the majority of their work themselves, they also used major commercial studios (including Abbey Road Studios in London) for some sessions. Finally released from Virgin, they formed their own label, Idea Records, and embarked on the recording of the ambitious “Apple Venus” project, a collection of the best material written during the band’s dispute with Virgin. The band’s initial plan had been to record a double album, featuring one disc of acoustic and orchestral songs and one of electric songs. Financial constraints forced the band to abandon the double album plan and finish and release the first volume (released 1999) before completing the second (2000).

During the recording sessions for Apple Venus Volume 1, Dave Gregory left the band after 20 years’ service. Ostensibly, this was due to “musical differences”—Gregory was unhappy with the plan to record an album whose arrangements relied largely upon orchestral instruments and keyboards rather than guitars

There were two singles lifted from Apple Venus Volume 1, the first of them in April 1999 on CD single only. It didn’t chart:-

mp3 : XTC – Easter Theatre
mp3 : XTC – Easter Theatre (home demo)
mp3 : XTC – How Easter Theatre Came To Be

The single has its charms, but it isn’t really XTC is it?

The demo is incredibly Beatles-eqsue if you like that sort of thing.

The last of the tracks is 13 minutes long, and it’s simply a spoken-track in which Andy Partridge provides a very detailed explanation of the song…incredible to think part of it dates back to 1986!!

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 30)

The single that never was.

I mentioned last week that the spelling of War Dance as Wardance on the b-side of The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead was an indication of how little regard there was for XTC at Virgin Records in the early 90s. What happened next was truly appalling and was the catalyst for the band grinding to a halt for a considerable period of time.

It was agreed that a third single should be lifted from Nonsuch and released in September 1992. It was to be Wrapped in Grey, one of the best-received tracks from the album. A slower than usual number with an emphasis on piano and strings, it was a very different sort of XTC, but there’s no doubt it was a song that everyone was proud of.

Artwork was produced, b-sides identified and in due course, some 7″ and CD singles were pressed only for them to be recalled and destroyed by the label, who had unilaterally decided it had no prospect of charting. The very few copies that got out into circulation are now worth a fortune – the CD single goes for £200 upwards and the even rarer vinyl for at least double that.

mp3 : XTC – Wrapped In Grey

The other songs slated for the single were Bungalow, a track from Nonsuch and another example of a song that none of us who had grown up with the post-punk material would ever have imagined being recorded by XTC; the demo version of Bungalow and a demo of a previously unreleased song called Rip Van Ruben.

The pulping of this 45 was the last straw for XTC and they asked to be released from their contract. Virgin Records refused to do so. No new material was recorded but the label happily issued some compilations to keep the money coming in. The impasse would last for a number of years.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 29)

Wiki actually gives The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead an entry of its own:-

The song follows the story of Peter Pumpkinhead, a man who comes to an unspecified town, “spreading wisdom and cash around.” He is extremely popular with the people of the town, but extremely unpopular with government figures. In the end, Peter Pumpkinhead is killed by his enemies and, “nailed to a chunk of wood.”

The name Peter Pumpkinhead came about by Andy Partridge having carved out a Halloween jack o’lantern and, following the October festival, sticking it on one of the fence posts in his garden. Partridge walked past the pumpkin each day on the way to his composing shed and, feeling sorry for the increasingly decaying fruit head, decided to write a song about him.

Released in March 1992, it stuck at #71 in the UK charts, but did better in the USA, reaching #1 in Billboard’s Modern Rock Chart, just as King For A Day had achieved three years previously.

mp3 : XTC – The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead

The wiki entry, however, is more likely down to the fact that the song was given the cover treatment in 1994 by Crash Test Dummies for inclusion on the soundtrack to the hit comedy Dumb and Dumber.

As for the original XTC single, again it is nothing along the lines I expected from being so particularly acquainted with their late 70s/early 80s output. It’s a tune that reminds me of the sort of upbeat songs The The included on Dusk, and so I’m happy to give it a thumbs-up.

Now to your b-sides. This from the 7″ vinyl:-

mp3 : XTC – War Dance

A Colin Moulding composition. It’s another that reminds me of The The, thanks this time to the ambitious arrangement and the very clear anti-war sentiments contained in the lyric. Hugely enjoyable and far too good to be wasted simply on a b-side, so I was glad to see it was also included on the parent LP Nonsuch.

The fact that the song title does seem to have consisted of two words and yet the sleeve to the 45 has it as one word is perhaps an indication of how little care and attention was given to XTC by Virgin Records at this point in time.

Two more tracks were on the CD single:-

mp3 : XTC – My Bird Performs (Demo)
mp3 : XTC – Always Winter Never Christmas (demo)

The former is the early version of a song that I’m informed was recorded by the entire band and included on Nonsuch. It’s pleasant enough without being one that I’d go overboard about…mind ypu, there’s good bass playing on it as you’d expect.

The latter is more worked up than I imagined a demo could be which would indicate the band were on the verge of recoding it properly, either for the album or a ‘proper’ b-side. I’m hearing it as a sort of hybrid….there’s a touch of Faron Young by Prefab Sprout in the rhythm and beat…..but there’s also something akin to an afro-beat kicking around in there. It’s all just a bit too busy and undistinguished for my liking, but hey, it is a bonus b-side on a CD single from 1992 so nobody was ever making grandiose claims on its behalf.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 28)

The 90s dawned on us and the demand for idiosyncratic, guitar-led music was at it an all-time low since rock’n’roll had been ‘invented’ It was no real surprise that XTC battoned-down the hatches a bit and waited till February 1992 before emerging, blinking, into the daylight.

mp3 : XTC – The Disappointed

It’s unmistakably Andy Partridge on lead vocal and it’s a clever enough lyric, but the tune is a huge let down. Dull to the point of being a Tears For Fears mid-80s reject. But it did have its fans, reaching #33 in the UK singles charts and paving the way for the parent album Nonsuch to go Top 30 on its release a few months later.

The b-side of the 7″ was a Colin Moulding effort:-

mp3 : XTC – The Smartest Monkeys

I’ll hold my hands up and say that my first exposure to this was very recently as I had to go and find a lot of b-sides to complete the series.  If I had owned a copy of Nonsuch, I’d have been familar with it as it would later appear on the album.  I think it’s way superior to the a-side , but I’m afraid that’s damning it with faint praise as it’s not a patch on so much of the 70s and 80s output. They are both songs that would, I reckon, have had a live audience shuffling around the venue with boredom while waiting with anticipating for something more typical….so just as well then that the band didn’t tour!

The single also came out on 10″ format and on CD; it’s the latter I grabbed off Discogs a while back and here’s the other tracks:-

mp3 : XTC – Humble Daisy
mp3 : XTC – The Smartest Monkeys (demo)

Humble Daisy would also be on Nonsuch, and compared to the plethora a of otherwise unavailable b-sides in years gone by, this is also something of a letdown.

Nobody knew back then that this would be the final time XTC would ever have a hit single in the UK.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 27)

You’ll have spotted that I’ve been fond of the first two singles that were taken from Oranges and Lemons….and I’m happy to say that I give the thumbs-up to next 45:-

mp3 : XTC – The Loving

It wasn’t always this way. I didn’t take immediately to The Loving, but it’s one of those songs that I’ve grown increasingly fond of over the years. I was initially put off by its anthemic qualities and thinking it wasn’t distinct or quirky enough but as pop anthems go, it’s pretty decent. Another example of my tastes expanding as I get older.

It was released on 7″, 12″ and CD format. For once, there were no home demo songs. The common b-side to all three was also lifted from the album:-

mp3 : XTC – Cynical Days

Arguably, an even better song than the a-side, but far too complicated musically to stand any chance of getting radio play. Having said that, the fact that The Loving completely bombed means nothing would have been lost if this had been the band’s final single of the decade. It would have been an apt title.

The 12″ and CD contained a previously unreleased song:-

mp3 : XTC – The World Is Full Of Angry Young Men

It’s quite unexpected. But it has a sound I’m not that fond of…albeit I can see why some folk will think it’s a hidden gem.

It would more the best part of three years before XTC released their next batch of songs….but you don’t need to wait that long as I’ll be here next week as usual.

JC

 

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 26)

As mentioned last week, The Mayor of Simpleton, the first 45 lifted from the double-album Oranges and Lemons had taken XTC back into the UK Top 50 for the first time in almost six years and provided them with chart success in the USA.

Another excellent piece of radio-friendly pop was chosen as the next single in April 1989:_

mp3 : XTC – King For A Day

Given how often the Colin Moulding singles had hit payola in the past, it was something of a suprise and disappointment that this stalled outside the UK Top 75, albeit it fared better in the USA reaching #11 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart.

There’s an interesting and witty observation from Andy Partridge about this song:-

This is one of the three songs Colin wrote for Oranges & Lemons. All of them are rather down and dark but put to jolly music, which makes them even more poignant. The song’s about ass-licking and making a fool of yourself just to get fame and riches and success. The song’s a commando knife, dark and cutting. That’s a guess at what it’s about but I have seen the files and photographed them with my bow-tie camera so it’s an educated guess.

It was released on 7″, 12″ and CD. The 7″ and 12″ came with this b-side:-

mp3 : XTC – Happy Families

Another song that was, in a sense, wasted as a b-side. It’s a clever number that makes nice and subtle digs at the rich, famous and privileged.

The 12″ mix of the single comes in at more than seven minutes in length.  If you’re a fan of Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears then it’s likely for you.  That song’s absence from this blog over the years will give a clue as to where I stand on it…..it’s a single I have in the cupboard having picked up a second-hand copy a while back but it’s never been played much.

mp3 : XTC – King For A Day (12″mix)

The CD had, just like a number of recent singles, two home demos as the extra songs to the 7″ and 12″ versions of the single-

mp3 : XTC – My Paint Heroes (home demo)
mp3 : XTC – Skeltons (home demo)

The first is by Andy and the second by Colin.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 25)

It took a long time for the any new material to be released, but once again the alter-egos were busy with a second Dukes of Stratosphear album and single appearing just a month after Dear God in the summer of 87:-

mp3 : The Dukes of Stratosphear – You’re A Good Man Albert Brown

Maybe it was the fact the Dukes were getting more praise from many quarters, but the next XTC single and album come January/February 1989 were quite different in sound and look than any recent releases. There were more than a few hark-backs to 60s pop and psychedelia……..

The lead off single from what would subsequently the double-album Oranges and Lemons took the band back into the UK Top 50 for the first time in almost six years and would also provide them with their biggest chart success in the USA:-

mp3 : XTC – Mayor of Simpleton

It’s a real pop number with a catchy sing-a-long chorus. And a fine moment in the band’s history.

It was released in a number of formats here in the UK. This is the 7″ b-side:-

mp3 : XTC – One Of The Millions

A track that would also be included on the parent album on its release a month later. As a 7″ release, this makes for a high quality offer. Here’s the extra track from the 12″:-

mp3 : XTC – Ella Guru

This had originally appeared on the compilation LP Fast and Bulbous – A Tribute to Captain Beefheart released in June 1988. Not being a fan of the Captain, I can’t comment on how faithful or otherwise it is to the original. But I won’t be playing this version again after today. Made my ears hurt.

There was a second 12″ version also issued but all of its b-sides were previous singles – Dear God, Senses Working Overtime and Making Plans for Nigel.

A CD single was also available to buy. It contained two other tracks:-

mp3 : XTC – Living In A Haunted Heart
mp3 : XTC – The Good Things

Two demos, the first being by Andy and the second from Colin, recorded at their homes on four-track machines, much the same as the b-sides on the 12″ of The Meeting Place as featured in Part 23 of this series.

Neither song got developed any further.

JC