XTC is one of the best bands of all time. That’s an opinion I expressed in an earlier post. The Swindon band originally consisted of Andy Partridge (vocals, guitar), Colin Moulding (vocals, bass), Terry Chambers (drums) and Barry Andrews (keyboards). Andrews departed in 1978 to be replaced by Dave Gregory (guitars) while Chambers left the band in 1982 when he emigrated to Australia. The band was reduced to a duo for its final two albums, when Gregory parted ways with XTC in 1998.
In total, XTC released 14 albums – including an LP (and an EP) under the moniker of The Dukes of Stratosphear, as a pastiche cum tribute to 60s psychedelia. During its existence, the band released well-received singles and albums, peaking with English Settlement (1982). Partridge’s issues with stage fright and subsequent retirement from live performances had a negative impact on the band’s commercial viability.
However, XTC managed to achieve a revival of sorts with 1986’s Skylarking (produced by Todd Rundgren) and remained a critically acclaimed outfit until its final album – Wasp Star – issued 20 years ago. Now recognised as one of the most creatively accomplished bands ever, it is a good time to write up a top ten list of the best XTC songs, in my humble opinion. (In alphabetical order, as is my wont)
Dear Madam Barnum (Nonsuch, 1992)
A superb example of Partridge expressing his martial difficulties with vivid imagery. The circus motif is brilliantly conveyed in words and music.
Easter Theatre (Apple Venus Vol. 1, 1999)
A paean to the pagan festival of spring, ‘borrowed’ by the Christian church when Constantine converted to Christianity. Intricately crafted, an orchestral delight!
Making Plans for Nigel* (Drums & Wires, 1979)
XTC’s first major hit, about a young man with a future all marked out for him, despite himself. The memorable drum pattern propels the tune wondrously.
Mayor of Simpleton (Oranges & Lemons, 1989)
Presaging the 60s obsession of 90s Britpop, this catchy single was all jangly guitars and clever wordplay.
Senses Working Overtime (English Settlement, 1982)
XTC’s biggest hit (#10 UK). At that moment, a bright future seemed inevitable although it would go pear shaped for the band. A highly infectious confection.
Science Friction (White Music, 1977)
XTC’s debut single had all the manic energy of punk with the smarts of scifi geeks. A lethal combination that would serve them well.
That’s Really Super, Supergirl (Skylarking, 1986)
Partridge’s comic book obsessions would often seep into his songwriting and this is a delightful example — using Superman’s distaff cousin as a vehicle for his well-documented difficulties with the opposite sex.
This is Pop! (single, 1978)
Partridge did not associate XTC with punk or new wave but rather saw his band as ‘new pop’, hence the protestations of “This is Pop!”
Towers of London (Black Sea, 1981)
Probably my favourite XTC song as the band distills everything cool about 60s psychedelic-folk-rock to deliver a treatise on a famous English tourist attraction.
Wake Up!* (The Big Express, 1984)
With its unforgettable opening salvo of slicing and dicing guitar chords, Moulding introduces the listener to XTC’s most sinewy metallic album.
Of course, you do realise that this is really only the tip of the iceberg but I do hope that this list will inspire you to dig deeper into XTC’s fabulous discography. As usual, post your comments at the Power of Pop Facebook page.
… still there’s more …
All songs written by Andy Partridge except * by Colin Moulding.