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

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 21)

The third and final single lifted from The Big Express was a Colin Moulding composition. Given it was the opening track on the album it was always a reasonable bet that the record label had it down as a potential single from the off. It’s a song that makes a promising start with the late 70s/early 80s era choppy guitars but it doesn’t really develop all that much with changes in tempo and volume proving to be a bit distracting:-

mp3 : XTC – Wake Up

The single version was about a minute or so shorter than the album version (which itself featured on the 12″ release). The b-side of the 7″ was a very old track, and indeed Take This Town featured earlier in this series as one half of a split single with The Ruts. Oh and there was a second b-side made available:-

mp3 : XTC – Mantis On Parole (Homo Safari Series No. 4)

And so, after six years the Homo Safari series was finally out there for all to appreciate…..

The 12″ contained all three of the songs on the 7″ but threw in three additional tracks. Only thing was, they were three of the earlier and better known singles – Making Plans For Nigel, Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me) and Senses Working Overtime – as if somehow folk buying Wake Up were completely new to the band.

A #95 flop in February 1985

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 20)

One look at the 7″ sleeve (pictured up top) tells me that I’m about to listen to an anti-nuclear song.

And sure enough, the second single to be released off The Big Express proves to be such:-

mp3 : XTC – This World Over

In an era when the protest song was again becoming hugely fashionable, XTC did things in a really understated way in which there was no rabble-rousing or sing-a-long chorus;  instead it’s a melancholy and resigned number that sadly looks back at the aftermath of the bomb dropping on London as a parent tried to explain the madness of it all. It’s very listenable and has dated ok, but I should add it reminds me a bit of later-era The Police.

The 12″ had an extended version of the song and was housed in a sleeve that disguises somewhat the subject nature as the sleeve uses an old-fashioned passenger request button once commonly found on buses.  But the ‘Push Once’ message is very clever and subversive:-

mp3 : XTC – This World Over (full length mix)

The same b-side was on both releases:-

mp3 : XTC – Blue Overall

It’s a bit meh… but I do accept it’s a bit unusual for a song reflecting on a relationship gone wrong.

In an era of an expanded singles chart, this one managed to find itself at #99 for one week before disappearing to the bargain bins.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 19)

I mentioned a while back that I was going to run into difficulties with the series due to the fact I had stopped buying XTC singles and albums after English Settlement. I did at least manage to hear the singles off Mummer back in 1983 but by the time of the release of The Big Express the following year and later on I was hardly listening to any radio outside of Kid Jensen and John Peel and so wasn’t remotely aware of what the band were up to. As a consequence, the next three singles in this series, and their b-sides, are all new to me.

September 1984 saw the pre-album single written by Andy Partridge:-

mp3 : XTC – All Your Pretty Girls

It was released on 7″ with this b-side written by Colin Moulding:-

mp3 : XTC – Washaway

While the 12″ had this extra Partridge composition:-

mp3 : XTC – Red Brick Dream

I’m listening to these while thinking back to the singers and bands who were making waves in 1984 and realising just how of kilter these are with all that was going on. The single isn’t very good and the b-side sounds like a demo tune written by the boys of Abba. The extra track on the 12″ is probably the best of a bad lot.

There was still enough of a fan base to take the single to #55 in the charts.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 18)

Mummer, the sixth XTC album, had come out to a great deal of indifference in August 1983. For the first time, there was some negative press around the band in the weekly papers. It could be down to the sort of critical backlash that tends to come the way of most bands and singers when they get to this number of recordings although another factor was likely that thet were no longer playing live/touring which meant journalists were being fed only studio material and press releases.

Out of all this came an unlikely minor hit with the third single lifted from the album reaching #50 in the charts. It’s a superb piece of music – not the most obvious of singles – with a gentle almost folk-like tune that sounded as if it should be the background music to some sort of classic BBC TV children’s animation show like Camberwick Green or Trumpton.

mp3 : XTC – Love On A Farmboy’s Wages

It later transpired this song was the straw which broke the camel’s back as far as drummer Terry Chambers was concerned. He has been increasingly frustrated by the lack of live shows and perhaps he was hopeful that something would happen to promote the release of Mummer. It soon became clear that no such plans would be hatched and the record label wasn’t going to insist on it either. When he was asked to play in a jazz-style for this song he refused to do so and quit there and then, leading to Peter Phipps being drafted in to join the band. Who’d have thought that one of the former stickmen with The Glitter Band would end up in XTC? Not me….

The real irony in terms of the release of Love On A Farmboy’s Wages is that it was issued as a 2 x 7″ pack and in 12″ format; the former offered one b-side lifted from Mummer along with two new recordings while the latter was a reminder of XTC as a live force, with three songs from the gig at the Hammersmith Odeon, London back in May 1981.

mp3 : XTC – In Loving Memory Of A Name
mp3 : XTC – Desert Island
mp3 : XTC – Toys
mp3 : XTC – Burning With Optimism’s Flame (live)
mp3 : XTC – English Roundabout (live)
mp3 : XTC – Cut It Out (live)

All picked up for use in this series.  Second appearance for Cut It Out as a b-side in a 2 x 7″ release.   It’s actually an instrumental version of Scissor Man, as found on Drums and Wires and under which name the Peel Session version was issued in the Towers of London double-pack.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 17)

The next single came out at the height of the summer of 1983 at a time when I was gearing up to move out of the parental home and into my own space within student accommodation. It was also when The Smiths, New Order, Aztec Camera, The The, Billy Bragg, The Style Council and The Go-Betweens were increasingly becoming the bands of choice.  XTC were old hat…..

I will however, say in defence of this Colin Moulding composition, is that I should have bought it back in the day as it would have fitted beautifully onto the compilation tapes that I was making at the time…it’s a gentle and lovely song that has dated fairly well.  But at the time, having only heard it once via radio, I dismissed it immediately and didn’t seek it out.

mp3 : XTC – Wonderland (single edit)

My first exposure to the b-side came as I put this posting together.  It’s certainly a big improvement on the tracks on the previous single and initially I thought it was nothing that I’d come back to all that often.  But three or four listens and it is growing on me.  It’s a good solid b-side.

mp3 : XTC – Jump

I think this was the first XTC single to be issued on Picture Disc.

JC

 

 

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 16)

Now we get into the section of the series where I will struggle a bit.

You might recall a couple of weeks back my passing comment that I don’t own any XTC albums after English Settlement. This is partly down to the fact that 1983 saw me fall head over heels for so many other great bands and singers that there was no room for XTC anymore; it wasn’t helped by me being bitterly disappointed by the singles that were released to support their next album, and none more so than this from April 83:-

mp3 : XTC – Great Fire

I thought it limp and uninspiring on its release and I haven’t changed my mind since.

It was released on 7″ and 12″ in two different but equally appalling sleeves (as you can see above). The 12″ enabled the continuation of the Homo Safari series that had begun back in 1979 on the flip side of Making Plans For Nigel. Nos 1-3 had been released previously so it begged the question about what happened to No.4 (it turns out this would eventually appear in 1987)

mp3 : XTC – Gold
mp3 : XTC – Frost Circus (No. 5 In The Homo Safari Series)
mp3 : XTC – Procession Towards Learning Land (No. 6 In The Homo Safari Series)

Crap single. A ‘trying too hard to fit in with contemporary pop’ B-side – complete with horns – that seemed so alien to the sound of XTC and two boring instrumentals. File under inessential recordings.

I’m sure at least one of my regulars, to whom I am both grateful and of whom I am always in awe of, will drop by with a wonderfully-worded and persuasive contribution that proves my opinion, in this instance, is wrong!

JC