Last night I was screwing around on last.fm, seeing what comments people had made about particular tracks, seeing who was listening to the same track as I was, etc. Anyway, I stumbled across someone whose musical favorites had a lot of overlap with my own. What really stood out to me was that she liked XTC, because despite the fact that they’ve been one of my favorite bands since I was a teenager, surprisingly few people have even heard of them, much less are into them. That would be understandable if they were some low budget, indie, obscure act. But they had achieved a fair level of popularity in the UK in the late 70’s and into the 80’s. I’ve heard a lot of musicians either cite XTC as an influence, or describe themselves as fans. And, of course, their music is fantastic. But some things did conspire against them. For one thing, their front man, Andy Partridge, basically had a nervous breakdown on tour in the early 80’s and refused to tour thereafter. Perhaps in part because of this, but also because they disagreed with the sort of music they should make, their label didn’t do a good job of promoting them. Not just that, but they screwed the band over financially and behaved so badly that starting in the early ’90s, the band refused to make any more records until they were released from their contract. Plus, XTC’s sound has continuously evolved since their inception back in the 70’s. Although their music is recognizable throughout, their early albums are almost a different genre of music than their later ones. I’m sure all of those things contributed to XTC”s absence from the general music consciousness.
Anyway, I befriended this woman on last.fm, and we got to talking about XTC. She feels the same way I do about their lack of popularity, but I also learned that she hadn’t been able to listen to any of Andy Partridge’s solo stuff (most of it is only available in the very expensive and no longer easy to find Fuzzy Warbles boxed set). I told her I’d upload some tracks for her to check out. That got me thinking, though, that I could kill two birds with one stone by making a blog post which talks a bit about XTC and gives samples of both XTC tracks as well as side projects. THIS IS THAT BLOG POST!
Here I will list for you the XTC-related stuff that I’ve been able to find. If it’s still available to be purchased, I’ll try to include links for that. And in some cases I will link to select tracks from that release. I in no way claim that this is an exhaustive list. If you know of anything I’m missing, please let me know!
FIRST, A WORD ABOUT EMUSIC
You may notice that a lot of this stuff is available in mp3 format on emusic.com. emusic works a little differently from Amazon, iTunes, etc. You don’t just purchase individual mp3s or albums. Well, you kind of do. It’s a monthly subscription service, which then allows you to purchase a certain amount of mp3s per month. So why would you want to do this instead of just buying things as you think of them on the pay-as-you-go sites? There are three main reasons. First, emusic is almost always cheaper. Most tracks cost between $0.49 and $0.89. The most they cost is $0.99, which is usually the least they cost anywhere else. And on top of that, there are often additional discounts if you purchase an entire album, instead of an individual track. The second advantage over some other sites is that emusic uses DRM-free, high quality mp3s. Would I prefer they use FLAC? Sure. But short of that, this is as good as I’ve found. This is mainly an advantage over iTunes, since Amazon also has high quality DRM-free mp3s. The third advantage is really only going to apply if you are someone who is really into music, not just a casual listener. I find that emusic has helped me discover a lot of bands that I’ve since come to love. How does it do that? Two ways. First, like most internet stores these days, it will show you recommendations based on the music you’ve already purchased or rated. As well, any time you look at an artist or album, it will show you links to other related music. And of course there are user reviews available which will compare a given album to another album with which you may be unfamiliar. So there’s all of that, but as I say, that’s fairly standard these days. The other way it encourages discovery is based on it being a subscription service. Depending on your exact plan, you have some amount of money to spend on mp3s each month. For the most part, this money does not rollover from one month to the next (small amounts will, maybe under $1). So this forces you to download music every month, even if you weren’t looking for something specific. And this more than anything is what led me to discover new music. ANYWAY, I highly recommend the service, but it isn’t for everyone. If you decide it doesn’t sound up your alley, then you can ignore the emusic links scattered below, since you can’t buy music from them unless you subscribe.
- XTC contributed the track “The Good Things” (mp3 link) under the pseudonym “Terry & The Lovemen” to the XTC tribute album “A Testimonial Dinner”. This album has some good covers of XTC songs by They Might Be Giants, Joe Jackson, and others. It can be bought in CD format on Amazon, in mp3 format on Amazon, or in mp3 format on emusic.com.
- Prior to being named XTC, the band was briefly known as Star Park. They have no real releases, but there is a CD of some of their tracks included with “A School Guide To XTC”. One such track is “Neon Shuffle” (mp3 link), an early version of the track which ended up on “White Music”. The CD (plus accompanying booklet) are available on Amazon.
- In the mid-80’s, XTC paid tribute to 60’s psychedelic music by putting out some releases under the pseudonym “The Dukes Of Stratosphear”. These tracks have been collected into two CDs: “25 O’Clock” (CD available on Amazon) and “Psionic Psunspot” (CD available on Amazon). Here is the title track from “25 O’Clock” (mp3 link), and the track “Collideascope” (mp3 link) from “Psionic Psunspot”.
Andy Partridge solo stuff
- In the mid’90’s, the Hello CD Of The Month Club put out a disc of Andy Partridge’s solo work. This CD is long out of print, so here are the 4 tracks from that disc: “Prince Of Orange” (mp3 link), “It’s Snowing Angels” (mp3 link), “Candymine” (mp3 link), “Some Lovely (My Brown Guitar)” (mp3 link).
- The previously mentioned Fuzzy Warbles Boxed Set (Amazon CDs) is made up of 9 CDs. The set is very expensive and difficult to find, but 8 of its discs are available to be purchased individually. The 8 which are available separately are: Volume 1 (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3), Volume 2 (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3), Volume 3 (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3), Volume 4 (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3), Volume 5 (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3), Volume 6 (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3), Volume 7 (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3), and Volume 8 (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3). The 9th CD, “Globe Hinges”, is exclusive to the box set. Here are a few tracks from the collection: “Goosey Goosey” (mp3 link) from Volume 1, “Blue Beret” (mp3 link) from Volume 4, and “Cherry In Your Tree” (mp3 link) from Volume 7. There is some great stuff in this collection, but I’d recommend it mainly for completists, given the total cost to buy all of it, and the fact that a great deal of it consists of demos and home recordings of tracks which later made it to albums.
Andy Partridge collaborations
- In 1993, Andy Partridge paired up with Martin Newell to put out the album “The Greatest Living Englishman”. Andy served as the producer, and from what I understand, contributed in other small ways like playing drums or other instruments. As far as I know, the songs were all written by Newell. I enjoy this CD, but it’s hard to say if Andy Partridge’s influence is responsible for this or not. The album is still easy to find (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3), so you can check it out for yourself. Also, feel free to listen to the title track (mp3 link).
- In 1996, the Talking Heads minus David Byrne released an album as “The Heads”. From what I understand, The Heads composed and recorded a bunch of instrumental tracks, and sent them off to various other musicians to compose and perform vocals. The resulting album was “No Talking Just Head”, and included the Andy-Partridge-vocalized track “Papersnow” (mp3 link). Sadly, this album is becoming hard to find, but you can buy it used on CD on Amazon. Even apart from the Andy Partridge track, I would recommend buying this album. Some of the other collaborators are Gordan Gano (of the Violent Femmes), Debbie Harry (of Blondie), Johnette Napolitano (of Concrete Blonde), Shaun Ryder (of the Happy Mondays), and Ed Kowalczyk (of Live). Note: I should mention that this album doesn’t really sound anything like the Talking Heads (which makes sense, given David Byrne’s absence from it). It’s good, but don’t buy it only if you are looking for Talking Heads stuff. It has a lot more in common with the Tom Tom Club, as you’d expect.
- In 2004, Andy collaborated with Peter Blegvad to release “Orpheus The Lowdown” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3). While my understanding is that this is a true collaboration between the two, the result is certainly unlike XTC or any of Andy’s other solo work or side projects. None of the vocals (that I’ve noticed) are by Andy. Off the top of my head, I’d describe the music as almost jazz-like, experimental spoken word. It’s not as bad as that may make some of you think, but it’s also not the sort of thing that will immediately have you tapping your foot and singing along. You can listen to the track “Night Of The Comet” (mp3 link) for a sample.
- In 2005, Andy Partridge and Harold Budd released “Through The Hill” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3, emusic mp3). The music is ambient, a bit sparse, almost dark. So…not much like XTC! I like it, but don’t purchase it due to Andy’s involvement, just on the strength of liking XTC. You should definitely sample it first. You can listen to the title track here (mp3 link).
- 1978: “White Music” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3)
- 1978: “Go 2″ (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3). Listen to “Are You Receiving Me?” (mp3 link) from this album.
- 1979: “Drums And Wires” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3)
- 1980: “Black Sea” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3). Listen to “Burning With Optimism’s Flames” (mp3 link) from this album. Also, emusic doesn’t have XTC in their catalog, but they DO have the Hot Fuzz soundtrack (emusic mp3), which features the excellent song “Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)” from Black Sea.
- 1982: “English Settlement” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3). Listen to “Snowman” (mp3 link) from this album.
- 1983: “Mummer” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3)
- 1984: “The Big Express” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3). Listen to “Reign Of Blows” (mp3 link) from this album.
- 1986: “Skylarking” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3). Listen to “Dear God” (mp3 link) from this album.
- 1989: “Oranges & Lemons” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3). Listen to “Poor Skeleton Steps Out” (mp3 link) from this album.
- 1992: “Nonesuch” (Amazon CD, Amazon mp3). Listen to “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead” (mp3 link) from this album.
- 1999: “Apple Venus Volume 1″ (Amazon CD). Listen to “Greenman” (mp3 link) from this album.
- 2000: “Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume 2″ (Amazon CD)
So, hopefully there’s something here for existing fans and newbies alike. A final note about my track selection from the actual XTC albums (the final list above): I just tried to pick a representative sampling of songs which give an idea of the different types of music that XTC has made over the years. This was done completely off the top of my head, and certainly does not imply that those are my all-time favorite XTC songs. Finally, the fact that I didn’t provide tracks for some of the albums does NOT indicate that I like those albums any less than the others. I made a conscious decision not to provide a track from every album. Anyway, I can’t think of any artists who both haven’t released a mediocre album much less a bad one, and whose albums are solid from first to last track.