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For other uses, see Skylarking (disambiguation).
Studio album by XTC
Released 27 October 1986 (1986-10-27)
Recorded 1986
Studio Utopia Sound Studios (Woodstock, NY); The Sound Hole Studios (San Francisco)
Length 45:47
Label Virgin Records/Geffen Records
Producer Todd Rundgren
XTC chronology
25 O'Clock
Psonic Psunspot
Singles from Skylarking
  1. "Grass"
    Released: August 1986
  2. "The Meeting Place"
    Released: February 1987
  3. "Dear God"
    Released: June 1987
Alternative cover
2010 Remaster LP cover

Skylarking is the ninth studio album by the English band XTC, released on 27 October 1986. Produced by American musician Todd Rundgren, Skylarking is a loose concept album centered around various cycles in life, such as the seasons, days, and years.[5] The title was chosen as a double entendre, referring to a type of bird (skylark), as well as the British navy term "skylarking", which means "fooling around".[6]

The album was listed on "greatest albums of the 1980s" lists by Rolling Stone in 1989[5] and Pitchfork in 2002.[7]

Recording process[edit]

The album was produced by Todd Rundgren after the band chose his name from a list of potential producers submitted by its label, Virgin Records. According to Dave Gregory, "We were called in and told: 'Look lads, your career's down the toilet unless you start to sell records in America.' So we were given this long list of American producers, and the only name on it I knew was Todd's."[8] The collaboration with Rundgren proved to be difficult, especially for Partridge[9] but ultimately very satisfying for the band.[citation needed]

The recording sessions took place in early 1986, at Rundgren's upstate New York recording studio. Rundgren convinced the band that the songs which Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding wrote would form a concept album. It was recorded track to track on one reel of 2 inch tape. The segue between "Summer's Cauldron" and "Grass" was performed in the studio.[10] The sessions were fraught with tension, due to creative differences between Rundgren and Partridge. In the book XTC: Song Stories by Neville Farmer, Partridge says:

(Rundgren) was so bloody sarcastic, which is rare with Americans. He's got it down to an extremely cruel art. He'd ask how you were going to do the vocals and you would stand in front of the mic and do one run through to clear your throat and he'd say, 'That was crap. I'll come down and I'll record me singing it and you can have me in your headphones to sing along to.' I just thought it was so insulting. ... He did do great things musically. The arrangements were brilliant and I don't know how he came up with them... The bloke is ludicrously smart when it comes to certain things.[full citation needed]

Elsewhere, in Song Stories, Moulding called the finished product "my favourite album so far", even 12 years and several more albums after Skylarking's release. In a promotional insert included with their album Nonsuch, Partridge wrote "Musician and producer Todd Rundgren squeezed the XTC clay into its most complete/connected/cyclical record ever. Not an easy album to make for various ego reasons but time has humbled me into admitting that Todd conjured up some of the most magical production and arranging conceivable. A summer's day cooked into one cake."[full citation needed]

Most of the album was recorded at Rundgren's studio in Woodstock, with Prairie Prince's drums being recorded in San Francisco. Partridge admitted that this caused some problems when recording "That's Really Super, Supergirl" due to the snare being sampled from Utopia's Deface the Music, forcing both Prince and Moulding to play around the beat.[11] The solo was played by Gregory on Eric Clapton's psychedelic Gibson SG The Fool (guitar).[citation needed]


The singles from the album were "Grass" (released 16 August 1986), "The Meeting Place" (released 2 February 1987), "Earn Enough For Us" (in Canada and Australia only) and, due to its popularity arising out of college radio as the last song on the "Grass" UK 12" single, "Dear God" (released 1 June 1987). "Dear God" reached No. 37 on the Billboard Rock Album Tracks chart and received the Billboard Best Video award in 1987.

Promotional videos were made for "Grass" and "Dear God" (both directed by Nick Brandt). The Channel 4 music program The Tube also produced videos for "The Meeting Place" and "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" filmed in Portmeirion with the band wearing costumes from The Prisoner. The "Dear God" video was also nominated for the categories Best Director, Best Concept, and Best Innovation for the MTV Video Music Awards for 1987.

Original versions of the album contained 14 songs but omitted "Dear God", a pointed, anti-theistic song. This track was originally the B-side to the UK single "Grass", but due to its popularity with American DJs (who "flipped over" the record to play "Dear God"), the album was reissued in the U.S., with "Mermaid Smiled" cut from the album and "Dear God" cross-faded into the following track, "Dying", giving the second edition of the U.S. album a slightly revised track sequence. (Despite the extra airplay and availability, "Dear God" missed the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, though it did make it to #37 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.)

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[2]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars[12]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[13]
Q 4/5 stars[14]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[15]
Uncut 9/10[16]
The Village Voice A−[17]

Upon release, Rolling Stone's Tim Sommer called the album "the most inspired and satisfying piece of Beatle-esque pop since... well, since the Beatles ... More precisely, Partridge/Moulding (the album's dual songwriters and vocalists) have imagined the Revolver/Rubber Soul-era Beatles playing Pet Sounds and Village Green. ... XTC didn't just record the best songs they had lying around, they recorded the best album they had lying around."[18] Creem's referred to it as the band's "masterpiece" and a "somewhat baroque and ethereally-textured collection ... It would be lovely to hear XTC’s distinctive and intelligent pop songs permeating the radio, although it’s bound to be a sporadic occurrence, since the lads' sound is probably too different to sit well with contemporary radio programming standards. Another irony, since XTC is constantly being compared to one of the most successful groups in pop history, the Beatles."[19]

Also from Rolling Stone, Rob Tannenbaum's 1987 review called the album's craftsmanship "a remarkable achievement", but decried: "This trading of the acute modernism that marked such classics as 'This Is Pop' and 'Making Plans for Nigel' for domestic solitude dampens the band's punk-roots energy and also limits its emotional spectrum. ... Partridge complains. But then he apologizes to his ex for being "rude" to her. Being rude is the point of breakup songs, and a shot of rudeness is just what XTC could use now."[4] Billboard reviewed: "The overall tone here is less hard-edged than in past work; the band never takes the easy way out, however, employing unique sounds and unexpected melodic twists to wonderful effect."[20]

Retrospectively, in 1989, Skylarking was listed at number 48 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.[5] The staff at Pitchfork Media placed the album at 15 on their November 2002 list of the "Top 100 Albums of the 1980s"; Dominique Leone felt that Rundgren's production added warmth to the band's "clever-but-distant" songs.[7] Slant Magazine listed the album at 67 on its list of the "Best Albums of the 1980s".,[21] Mojo's Ian Harrison wrote that regardless of the "businesslike-to-hostile rather than chummy" relationship between Rundgren and the band, "the results were sublime".[22] PopMatters's Patrick Schabe cited it as the album where XTC "blossomed into full maturity",[23] while Uncut's Joe Stannard called it as "the album that tied up everything great about Swindon's finest into one big beautiful package of perfect pop, saving their career in the process."[24]

Reissue history[edit]

In Canada, the album was reissued without cutting any songs, but with "Dear God" added to the end of the CD version (the same song order as the 2001-02 reissue.) On 28 May 2001, Virgin Records released a remastered version of the album in the UK with "Dear God" added; this was released in the US in 2002 on the Caroline Records imprint. The b-side "Extrovert" was also recorded in these sessions and later appeared on the 1990 compilation Rag and Bone Buffet.[citation needed]

In 2010 Andy Partridge's APE House label released the album exclusively on vinyl, with a standard release and deluxe board book edition. The album is spread out over two discs and cut at 45 rpm to "make the high end clearer and smoother." The release also features the cover art planned for the album's original release that was "banned" by Virgin.[25] The album has been remastered by engineer John Dent for this release. Dent discovered that the album's original mix had reversed sound polarity and was able to fix this error.[26] This "corrected polarity edition" was released on CD on 14 April 2014.[27]

Ape will release Skylarking as a CD+Blu-ray edition on October 10, 2016. The Blu-ray Disc will feature new 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo mixes by Steven Wilson created from the original multitrack tapes, the original (uncorrected polarity) stereo album presented in high resolution, the original (corrected polarity) stereo album presented in high resolution and instrumental versions of all the 2016 mixes in high resolution, a complete alternate demo version of the album, numerous demos and outtakes from the album sessions as well as promo films for "Dear God" and "Grass".[28]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Andy Partridge, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Summer's Cauldron"     3:19
2. "Grass"   Colin Moulding 3:05
3. "The Meeting Place"   Moulding 3:14
4. "That's Really Super, Supergirl"     3:21
5. "Ballet for a Rainy Day"     2:50
6. "1000 Umbrellas"     3:44
7. "Season Cycle"     3:21
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Earn Enough for Us"     2:54
2. "Big Day"   Moulding 3:32
3. "Another Satellite"     4:15
4. "Mermaid Smiled"     2:26
5. "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul"     3:24
6. "Dying"   Moulding 2:31
7. "Sacrificial Bonfire"   Moulding 3:49

The tracks on the original Geffen Records U.S. album release (GHS 24117) was identical to the Virgin Records album. However the album was quickly reissued with the track "Mermaid Smiled" removed and "Dear God" placed after "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul".[citation needed]

2001 Virgin reissue[edit]

2014 Ape reissue[edit]



Additional personnel

  • Prairie Prince – "the part of the time bomb" (i.e., drums)
  • Beech Avenue Boys (i.e., XTC) – backing vocals
  • Todd Rundgrenorchestral arrangements, computer programming, melodica on "Summer's Cauldron", keyboards on "Grass" and "That's Really Super Supergirl", and backing vocals
  • Mingo Lewis - percussion on "Mermaid Smiled" and "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul"
  • John Tenney - violin
  • Emily Van Valkenburgh - violin
  • Rebecca Sebring - viola
  • Teressa Adams - cello
  • Charlie McCarthy - alto and tenor saxophone, flute
  • Bob Ferreira - tenor saxophone, piccolo, bass clarinet
  • Dave Bendigkeit - trumpet
  • Dean Hubbard - trombone
  • Jasmine Veillette - vocals on the first verse and final line of "Dear God"

Production credits

  • Produced and engineered by Todd Rundgren
  • Additional engineering by Kim Foscato at The Soundhole Studios and George Cowan at Utopia Sound Studios
  • Mastered 1986 by Greg Fulginiti at Artisan Sound Recorders
  • Remastered 2001 by Ian Cooper at Metropolis Mastering
  • Remastered 2010 by John Dent at Loud Mastering
  • Additional engineering by Chris Anderson



Year Chart Position
1987 The Billboard 200 70


Year Single Chart Position
1987 "Dear God" Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 37


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  2. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Skylarking – XTC". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Mendehlson, Jason; Klinger, Eric (April 24, 2015). "XTC's 'Skylarking'". PopMatters. 
  4. ^ a b Tannenbaum, Rob (26 March 1987). "XTC: Skylarking". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. November 16, 1989. 
  6. ^ Partridge & Bernhardt 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". Pitchfork Media. 20 November 2002. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  8. ^ "Reel by Real: XTC: "Grass"". Chalkhills. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  9. ^ "XTC: Skylarking". Chalkhills. 2013-02-02. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  10. ^ Interview of Colin Moulding Rundgren Radio (fansite), 7 December 2008, Retrieved 9 December 2008
  11. ^ [1][dead link] Andy discusses "That's Really Super, Supergirl"
  12. ^ Kot, Greg (3 May 1992). "The XTC Legacy: An Appraisal". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 22 June 2016. 
  13. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-857-12595-8. 
  14. ^ Sutcliffe, Phil. "XTC: Skylarking". Q. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  15. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon & Schuster. pp. 890–92. ISBN 0-743-20169-8. 
  16. ^ Wirth, Jim (18 June 2014). "XTC – Skylarking". Uncut. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 
  17. ^ Christgau, Robert (24 February 1987). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  18. ^ Sommer, Tim (1986). "Brian's Children". Rolling Stone. 
  19. ^ Schlosberg, Karen (July 1987). "XTC: Celestial Postcards". Creem. 
  20. ^ "Skylarking". Billboard. 1987. 
  21. ^ "Best Albums of the 1980s". Slant Magazine. 5 March 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  22. ^ Harrison, Ian. "XTC: Skylarking". Mojo. Archived from the original on 22 May 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  23. ^ Schabe, Patrick (20 February 2003). "XTC: Skylarking". PopMatters. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  24. ^ Stannard, Joe (August 2004). "All-Time Classics: Skylarking By XTC". Uncut (87): 124. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  25. ^ XTC Skylarking Vinyl Update Ape - News, 7 September 2010, Retrieved 24 October 2010
  26. ^ XTC Skylarking Better Than You've Ever Heard It Ape - News, 30 June 2010, Retrieved 24 October 2010
  27. ^ "Ape". Retrieved 2014-04-26. 
  28. ^ "Skylarking Pre-order via Burning Shed". Retrieved 2016-07-28.