Influential British band XTC has an extensive and varied discography spanning 40 years. Their lyrics were known for being cerebral and, at times, controversial. Originally signed to Virgin Records in the wake of the punk/New Wave explosion, XTC issued 12 highly acclaimed albums, plus two as their psychedelic alter egos The Dukes of Stratosphear, and a slew of great singles before finally calling it a day in 2005. During that time, songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding released hundreds of songs (and probably wrote a lot more) including numerous demos like Andy Partridge's soon to be re-released Fuzzy Warbles (9 disc collection). This is a short list of some of XTC's most well known and successful songs.
The last of 5 singles from the 1980 album Black Sea, "Respectable Street" was actually a street in the town of Swindon (where XTC are from) called Bowood Row according to an interview with Andy Partridge. The music has a rougher, more jagged sound to express Partridge's annoyance with the neighbors' hypocrisy.
"The Disappointed" was the first single off the 1992 Nonsuch album and nominated for an Ivor Novello award. The song has an upbeat sound in contrast to the unhappy subjects referred to in the title. Andy Partridge expressed some dissatisfaction in regards to the video, since he had his own ideas about how it should have been.
From XTC's 1989 album Oranges and Lemons, "King for a Day" reached #10 on the US Modern Rock tracks. The song's lyrics seem sort of about fame and money with a shimmering psychedelic sound throughout. Part of the US radio tour for the album included a performance of this song on Late Night With David Letterman.
The 2nd single from 1983 Mummer album (plus the only US single for that album), Andy Partridge described "Wonderland" as one of Colin Moulding's "most beautiful melodies." The video for the song seems to show Wonderland as a maze of superficial parties for upper class debutantes. It has a shimmery dreamlike sound consistent with the lyrics.
From 1992's Nonsuch album, "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" was XTC's second #1 hit on the Modern Rock Tracks after "The Mayor of Simpleton" in 1989. Andy Partridge has stated the title character is not a specific person, just a reference to anyone who had a mission to do good that ended up being brought to death by the government. Though the name was actually inspired by him seeing a rotted jack o'lantern after Halloween.
The first of 5 singles off the 4th album Black Sea, "Generals and Majors" is a playful sounding admonition of war loving military folk written by Colin Moulding. The song features Andy Partridge's chiming guitar and prominent whistling and humming, which was partly replicated by a synthesizer. The video featured Virgin mogul Richard Branson.
From 1982's English Settlement, "Sense Working Overtime" is a medieval sounding song with a staccato guitar opening and gradual addition of drums, percussion, and bass building to a boisterous rolling repeating tune. The prominent countdown (or up) was in reference to the five senses. The song was a top 10 hit in the UK and helped the album reach #5 in the album charts and was covered by Spacehog and Mandy Moore.
The opening track off XTC's 3rd album Drums and Wires (1979), "Making Plans for Nigel" was warmly repetitious track which reached number 17 in the UK singles charts (slightly higher than the album which reached #34). The song's reference to British Steel actually did upset the company, whose response was with a PR event interviewing Nigels who loved their jobs. The song was covered by many artists including Primus, Robbie Williams, and Nouvelle Vague.
2. "Dear God"
Easily one of the more controversial XTC songs from 1986's Skylarking album (though originally not on it), the song did not hide any anger or bitterness towards God in their usual pop stylings. The songs starts (and ends) as a letter from a child asking God about why certain bad things exist in the world and grows to building frustration from Andy Partridge (which could have partly resulted from working with Todd Rundgren as producer, known to have been a difficult time for them). Andy Partridge pointed out in a 2006 interview that it upset people and radio stations for the blasphemous sounding lyrics.
An album single, radio hit (#1 in the US Billboard Modern Rock tracks), and one of many great tracks off the 1989 album Oranges and Lemons, "The Mayor of Simpleton" is one of XTC's most memorable songs. Andy Partridge noted the song musically is like a Byrds-style version of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" in a 2007 interview. He also mentions in that interview that the song is semi-autobiographical about his decision to leave school early and instead go to art school (which he ended up leaving for music).
Andy Partridge discusses his songwriting in depth in a new book titled Complicated Game - Inside The Songs Of XTC, published by Jawbone Press (out March 31) and also available through Amazon (out March 22). Developed from a series of interviews with Andy Partridge conducted by Todd Bernhard, Complicated Game explores in detail some thirty XTC songs offers a unique insight into the work of one of Britain's most original and influential songwriters. The book casts new light on writing lyrics, the construction of melodies and arrangements, the process of recording, and the workings of the music industry. There are also many anecdotes on Partridge, his XTC bandmates, and their adventures around the world, all told with the songwriter's legendary humor.