THE XTC SINGLES (Part 15)

The third and final single released from English Settlement didn’t get anywhere near the charts. It’s a song with a sound that harks back a little while to the  Black Sea era and was slightly at odds with the more acoustic and gentle material on the current album. But then again, its a tune totally befitting the tale of a nasty right-wing hooligan activist and a family who wouldn’t be out-of-place on Respectable Street:-

mp3 : XTC – No Thugs In Our House

Only released as a 7″ single, it came with elaborate packaging with the sleeve opening to form a theatre while you could utilise cartoon characters to re-enact the song lyrics which were re-produced in full on the reverse, along with to whom each line was attributed, in what was described as “No Thugs In Our House: A musical in three acts by XTC.”

You’ll also be able to make out from the back of the sleeve that three songs were made available on the b-side of the single:-

mp3 : XTC – Chain of Command
mp3 : XTC – Limelight
mp3 : XTC – Over Rusty Water

You’ll also see that the first two tracks were from the free single given away with the first pressings of Drums and Wires and therefore would already be well-known and likely owned by most long-standing fans.  The last track is an ambient instrumental lasting less than 90 seconds and is, again, very much for completists.

Maybe the fact that so little of the music was new contributed to the fact that the single sold poorly.

JC

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

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 13)

I won’t dwell too much on today’s single as I’ve featured it before as part of my 45 45s at 45 series.

Senses Working Overtime was released in January 1982. It remains XTC‘s biggest hit, reaching #10 in the singles charts as well as helping parent double album, English Settlement, hit #5, again the highest chart position of any of their LPs.

It was released on 7″ and 12″ vinyl. The 7″ had a slightly shorter version (by about 15 seconds or so) of the lead song along with two tracks on the b-side. The 12″ had the longer album version of the song plus one extra track on the b-side. It’s a long way from the sound of Science Friction but for me, it is one of the finest pop songs ever committed to vinyl by anyone. An absolute masterpiece.

mp3 : XTC – Senses Working Overtime (edited version)
mp3 : XTC – Egyptian Solution
mp3 : XTC – Blame The Weather
mp3 : XTC – Tissue Tigers (The Arguers)

Egyptian Solution is an instrumental and was the third in the Homo Safari series (see earlier postings).

Blame The Weather is a very fine, if slightly melancholy number dependant more on piano than guitar, written by Colin Moulding that reminds me of later-period Madness.

I’m a fan of Tissue Tigers and feel it could easily have been included on English Settlement in place of one or two of what I feel are a bit filler, as you would expect when a band releases its first ever double LP

The b-side cuts today are taken from the original vinyl singles and are a bit scratchy and hissy in places. I could have gone for cleaner copies via other sources but I thought what the hell…..it’s about keeping with the spirit of the blog.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 12)

One that I had to go and pick up from Discogs. And it wasn’t that cheap once I added P&P.

Respectable Street was and remains one of my favourites songs on Black Sea. It’s the opening song on Side A and it sets the tone for what turned out to be, at that point in time, the most tuneful, accessible and witty album by XTC. I loved the old-fashioned, crackly way that the song opened before bursting into a superb riff and, unusually, straight into the chorus before the first of the verses having its sly dig at behaviour in suburbia. But it had no chance of being a single thanks to a few ‘naughty’ words like contraception, sex-position and abortion, not to mention a couple of product placements for Cosmopolitan magazine and Sony.

Turns out the clever folk at Virgin Records had anticipated this and so had asked Andy Partridge to re-write some of the lyrics and replace some of the possibly offending words that could lead the BBC to refuse to air the song. The move turned out to be a waste of time and money as the different version still didn’t get played and the single flopped completely on its release in March 1981.  I still reckon much of that was down to forgetting to replace the product placement stuff:-

mp3 : XTC – Respectable Street (single version)

It wasn’t a 45 I bought at the time as, being of age when such things mattered, I hated the idea of the censored lyric. Turns out that it wasn’t included on the Waxworks compilation which is why I had to send off for it. The b-sides weren’t includes on Beeswax, the companion album to the compilation and so I never heard either of these songs until 36 years after their release:-

mp3 : XTC – Strange Tales, Strange Tails
mp3 : XTC – Officer Blue

The fact that this was the fourth single released from Black Sea and it managed to yield two new songs as b-sides when a previous single had relied on a live track should set alarm bells ringing. This was reaching down into the bottom of the barrel and scraping away. The band have publicly stated that they are among the worst things they have ever put down on vinyl.

The former sounds half-finished from a lyrical point of view and the tune veers all over the place as if it’s a jam gotten out of control. The latter is actually not all that bad in the grand scheme of things, but I suppose when you’ve been spoiling fans with the quality of the songs on the two most recent albums it will feel as if you’re now offering something a bit second-rate.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 11)

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:-

mp3 : XTC – Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)

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:-

mp3 : XTC – Living Through Another Cuba/Generals and Majors (live)

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.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 10)

Just as Towers of London was beginning to fall out of the charts a very peculiar decision was made regards the next single in November 1980.

A film called Times Square had just been released. It was not a critical or commercial success and you can read about it here. It’s not one I imagine many people can recall.

The film was accompanied by a 2xLP of 20 songs with what was mostly a mix of new wave and chart acts, mainly from the UK but also featuring NYC acts such as Talking Heads and The Ramones, and as part of the efforts to promote the movie and the soundtrack it was decided to issue a 7″ single. The tracks chosen were by XTC and The Ruts. The strange thing being that the XTC song was one that wasn’t available anywhere else while The Ruts effort had been a Top 10 hit only a year or so previously.

mp3 : XTC – Take This Town
mp3 : The Ruts – Babylon’s Burning

That it was released while the band were in the middle of their efforts to promote Black Sea seems baffling but then again it was a track that had been given to the film project some time previously and neither XTC nor Virgin Records were in charge of the timing of the release of Times Square.

The single was a flop. It’s not the band’s finest moment and was also out of step with much of the material on their new LP, albeit there was a hint of the ‘whistling’ that had helped make Generals and Majors such an enjoyable tune.

Worth saying that the song by The Ruts is still one of the best songs of the immediate post-punk era.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 9)

Black Sea had been released to high critical acclaim at the same time as Generals and Majors was denting the charts. Virgin Records decided to strike while the iron was hot by quickly releasing a second single from the album. It was a slight gamble in that it was going to have to be an Andy Partridge composition as he was responsible for nine of the ten tracks that were still a possibility; after all, none of his previously penned 45s had made the charts. It turned out to be sixth time lucky….

mp3 : XTC – Towers of London (single version)

As with many of the other singles, it was a slightly abridged version compared to the LP, this one being about 50 seconds shorter.

It later transpired that the band’s first stab at the song was a much slower, more acoustic and mournful take appropriate to the subject matter of the tens of thousands of unsung heroes whose blood, sweat and toil had shaped London in the Victorian and Edwardian era when so much of its infrastructure was laid and so many of its landmark buildings had been erected. It’s a version that would surface on Coat of Many Cupboards, a compilation LP of unreleased tracks and demos issued in 2002.

The b-side of the single was a live version of a song from the band’s debut LP White Music as captured by the BBC for an In Concert broadcast from The Rainbow Theatre in London in September 1979:-

mp3 : XTC – Set Myself On Fire (live)

The initial copies of the single came with a free 7″. One of the tracks on the free single was a live version of Battery Brides, a track on the band’s sophomore album Go2, and again recorded at the gig at The Rainbow. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of the free single and so can’t provide that particular song.

The other track was a Peel Session version of a track on the band’s third album Drums and Wires. The modern miracle of file sharing and the fact that so many folk do like to put Peel Session versions of songs out there means I have been able to track it down:-

mp3 : XTC – Scissor Man (Peel Session)

For my money, this faster and more frantic version is superior to that recorded for the album.

JC