Those of you who have been paying attention to my Patreon campaign will know that one of the rewards offered to patrons is the ability to determine which 5 for Friday posts will be among those I blog each month. Thanks to patron Colin Sharpe, this week I’ll be discussing five of my favourite songs by those master of British pop perfection, XTC.
Back in the 1980s, among the Chock Solid Block of Oz Cock Rock on which I was weaned, I uncovered a deep and lasting love for those British songwriters who defined the world in acid-etched clarity and humour: Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Madness and the Specials all retain a special place in my heart. And alongside them, XTC, and three songs in particular that were FM radio staples– Senses Working Overtime; Making Plans for Nigel; and Generals and Majors are magnificent songs that remain close to my heart, and I could probably wax on about them until we’re both blue in the brain. (If you haven’t heard them before, follow the links now, then come back. We’ll wait, ready with a hearty I KNOW, RIGHT? at your return.)
I KNOW, RIGHT?
Now, in all honesty, we could begin and end right there, but those gateway drugs of songs were only the beginning of a life-long love. So here are five other songs that hit me right in the frontal cortex, and which I’ll be humming as they carry me to my grave.
Next week, thanks to patron Narrelle M Harris, I’ll be discussing five TV comedies that have influenced my approach to writing, performance, and public speaking. But for now, get out the headphones and sink into 15 minutes of musical bliss as Andy and Colin do what they do best: swan around being brilliant.
LIKE A 5 FOR FRIDAY IN A FURNISHED CAGE
1. Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
In the days of radio mixes and lying awake at night with my fingers pressed against the play and record buttons hoping I still had enough tape left for one more song, XTC were one of those bands I always, always, stopped to listen to. Then I moved out of home, University took over, and for a while, my musical experiences became more alternative, and live. It wasn’t until I spent a disastrous six months desperately trying to escape the housemate from hell (a story for another time), that I came across the 1992 album Nonsuch— one of exactly 2 albums she owned, and God knows why this was one of them. It’s one of the most beautifully produced albums I’ve ever listened to. The tracks are finely crafted, the balance between whimsy and acid superb, and in this song, it has an absolute masterpiece: not quite Andy Partridge’s magnum opus on the subject of the evils of religion (more on that later), but a pretty definitive statement nonetheless. Thankfully, the housemate situation was binned, but the love of this album, and this song, has remained.
2. No Thugs In Our House
My favourite XTC album is undoubtedly their 1982 effort, English Settlement. From the beautiful and distinctive cover art, to the new wave edginess of the content, it hits so many of my musical and aesthetic buttons it isn’t funny. It spawned the magnificent Senses Working Overtime, which will forever be one of my favourite songs, but I also have a massive love for this buzzsaw indictment of the British justice system and inherent racism within urban culture. It’s a brilliant post-punk anthem, articulate and acidic in equal measure. And it deserves to be played loud.
3. I’m The Man Who Murdered Love
It’s been 18 years since Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol 2, and I think we can safely say the history of the band finished with this beautiful, elegiac album. Several tracks are among my absolute favourite XTC tracks, particularly You and The Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful, and We’re All Light (No-one writes a love song quite like Andy Partridge). But as the perfect closing argument for Partridge’s unparalleled ability to combine whimsy, acerbus, and deeply personal self-reflection, it’s hard to go past this joyous condemnation of the power of love. It’s a heraldic declamation of loneliness and bitter self-aggrandisement rolled into one, and it’s an absolute delight.
4. All You Pretty Girls
The most famous moment on the band’s 1984 album The Big Express, one of the few albums I wasn’t able to pick up when the band’s back catalogue underwent a massive reissue in the early 2000s. It’s a rollicking, jaunty, ode to a solitary man’s need for love: an earworm of massive proportions that will have you desperately trying to remember which order the girls come in so you can sing along. It’s pure joy encapsulated in three minutes of shared fun.
5. Dear God
There’s an argument that the 1986 album Skylarking is XTC’s creative high point. While it’s not my favourite– the previously mentioned English Settlement occupies that position– there’s no doubt that the running order is bursting with songs that are essential components of my playlist. And then, above them all, there’s Dear God. Musically, and lyrically, it’s a masterpiece. And for me, there’s an extra element: I’m a lifelong atheist. Religion is not only illogical and unreasonable, it’s utter nonsense, and more often than not, malevolent and evil nonsense. Whatever your God, your obeisance reveals only your unreasoning fear and superstition.
If there’s ever been a more beautifully tuneful expression of the nonsense that is a belief in God, and the metal and spiritual knots in which it can twist an otherwise reasonable human, I’ve never found it. It is a stunning piece of angry philosophy, wrapped up in three minutes of pop perfection.
There you have it. My thanks, once again, to Colin Sharpe for his patronage and his vote. If you’d like to influence the course of future 5 for Friday posts, head on over to my Patreon page and have a look at the levels of patronage available. You’ll always be welcome in my house……