For no better reason than the fact that that they’re one of Britain’s great underappreciated treasures, and it’s a sunny day where I’m sitting, here are five songs from XTC’s astonishing catalogue of giddy thrills:
“Are You Receiving Me?”
For their first couple of albums, none of the noises in XTC songs carried any sustain, and everything was played with the desperate clawing panic of a cat being held over a bath. The guitars scratch and swipe, the keyboard jabs and jolts, and Andy Partridge delivers his song in a strangulated yelp of the sort you could only fully replicate after filling a cup with instant coffee and sugar, pausing only to moisten with one drop of water, and then downing the lot in one go.
“Making Plans For Nigel”
This not only represents the band at the height of their (only slightly calmer) new wave pomp, but also plants a hefty crown atop the songwriting contribution of bass player Colin Moulding, the McCartney to Andy Partridge’s Lennon. Or the Beach Boys to his Beatles. Something grand like that, anyway.
“Senses Working Overtime”
On a good day, with the wind behind me and a decently hot sun in the sky, I’d be prepared to make a case for this being the best pop song ever made. It’s melancholy in the verses, big and breezy in the choruses, and manages to bring home the full gravity of a nervous breakdown – it was written about Andy Partridge’s prolongued panic attack, after his wife flushed away the valium tablets he’d been taking regularly since his early teens. The same panic attack which effectively ended the band’s touring career – while providing a catchy enough melody for the milkman to whistle. It is, in every respect, the British “Good Vibrations.”
“You’re A Good Man, Albert Brown”
And, fully indulging in a bit of a “Sgt Pepper’s” moment, the band put on the robes of a full and regal alter-ego, forming a psychedelic ’60s spoof combo called the Dukes of Stratosphear and releasing an EP and album. These were produced by John Leckie, and were so beloved of the Stone Roses, they resolved to record their debut album with him too. And this was just something the band did for a daft laugh, let’s not forget.
“The Mayor of Simpleton”
A perfect and simple pop song, in which all of the instruments once again refuse to say in one spot for longer than the briefest of seconds. It’s not unlike seeing the perfect souffle being delivered on the back of a million fighting ants.
Go on then, XTC addicts, add your own choices underneath: