Skylarking

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Skylarking
Studio album by XTC
Released 27 October 1986 (1986-10-27)
Recorded 1986 at Utopia Sound Studios, Woodstock, NY and at The Sound Hole Studios, San Francisco
Genre Psychedelic pop, New Wave
Length 50:09
Label Virgin Records/Geffen Records
Producer Todd Rundgren
XTC chronology
25 O'Clock
(1985)
Skylarking
(1986)
Psonic Psunspot
(1987)
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 and produced by American musician Todd Rundgren. Skylarking is a "life-in-a-day" semi-concept album which displayed songwriting and arranging heavily influenced by The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Kinks. The title of the album was inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem To a Skylark and many of the songs expand on the pastoral themes of their 1983 album Mummer, most notably "Summer's Cauldron" and "Season Cycle".

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."[1] The collaboration with Rundgren proved to be difficult, especially for Partridge[2] but ultimately very satisfying for the band.

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.[3] 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."

In the same interview, Partridge acknowledged Rundgren's contributions to the album, saying:

"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."

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."

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.[4] The solo was played by Gregory on Eric Clapton's psychedelic Gibson SG.

Multiple versions[edit]

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.)

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.) Other artists have re-recorded the song, including Sarah McLachlan. 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.

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.[5] 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.[6]

This "corrected polarity edition" will be released on CD on 14th April 2014.[7]

Singles[edit]

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 for 1987.

Videos[edit]

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.

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars [8]
Mojo (favourable) [9]
PopMatters (favourable) [10]
Q 4/5 stars [11]
Robert Christgau A− [12]
Rolling Stone (favourable) [13]
Uncut (favourable) [14]

In 1989, it was listed at number 48 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s (despite having panned the album in a 1987 review). The staff at Pitchfork 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.[15] Slant Magazine listed the album at 67 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[16]

Chart position[edit]

The album reached No. 90 on the UK album chart and No. 70 on the US album chart.

Track listing[edit]

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

Virgin Records LP: V 2399[edit]

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".

2001 Virgin Records Remastered CD: CDVX2399[edit]

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
8. "Earn Enough for Us"     2:54
9. "Big Day"   Moulding 3:32
10. "Another Satellite"     4:15
11. "Mermaid Smiled"     2:26
12. "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul"     3:24
13. "Dying"   Moulding 2:31
14. "Sacrificial Bonfire"   Moulding 3:49
15. "Dear God"     3:34

Personnel[edit]

with:

  • 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 Ferriera - tenor saxophone, piccolo, bass clarinet
  • Dave Bendigkeit - trumpet
  • Dean Hubbard - trombone
  • Jasmine Veillette - vocals on the first verse and final line of "Dear God"

Credits[edit]

  • 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

Charts[edit]

Album

Year Chart Position
1987 The Billboard 200 70

Single

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Reel by Real: XTC: "Grass"". Chalkhills. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  2. ^ "XTC: Skylarking". Chalkhills. 2013-02-02. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  3. ^ http://www.blogtalkradio.com/runt/2008/12/07/Rundgren-Radio Interview of Colin Moulding Rundgren Radio (fansite), 7 December 2008, Retrieved 9 December 2008
  4. ^ https://www.myspace.com/xtcfans/blog/378138793 Andy discusses "That's Really Super, Supergirl"
  5. ^ XTC Skylarking Vinyl Update Ape - News, 7 September 2010, Retrieved 24 October 2010
  6. ^ XTC Skylarking Better Than You've Ever Heard It Ape - News, 30 June 2010, Retrieved 24 October 2010
  7. ^ https://www.burningshed.com/store/ape/product/351/5557/
  8. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Review: XTC - Skylarking". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  9. ^ Harrison, Ian. "Review: XTC - Skylarking". Mojo. Bauer Media Group. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Schabe, Patrick. "Review: XTC - Skylarking". PopMatters. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  11. ^ Sutcliffe, Phil. "Review: XTC - Skylarking". Q (Bauer Media Group). Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  12. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Review: XTC - Skylarking". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  13. ^ Tannenbaum, Rob. "Review: XTC - Skylarking". Rolling Stone (Jann Wenner). Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  14. ^ Stannard, Joe. "Review: XTC - Skylarking". Uncut (IPC Media). Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  15. ^ Dominique Leone (2002). "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s | Features | Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  16. ^ "Best Albums of the 1980s | Feature". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 

External links[edit]