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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, Geffen
Producer Todd Rundgren
XTC chronology
25 O'Clock
Psonic Psunspot
Singles from Skylarking
  1. "Grass" / "Dear God"
    Released: 16 August 1986
  2. "The Meeting Place" / "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul"
    Released: 2 February 1987
2010 remaster cover

Skylarking is the ninth studio album by the English rock 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.[6] 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".[7] Skylarking is generally regarded as XTC's finest work.[8]

The album's music style reaches beyond the new wave/post-punk sound that XTC were associated with for years before,[4] and similar to their previous album 25 O'Clock (1985), was influenced by elements of the 1960s psychedelic era.[9] Most of its recording was at Rundgren's Utopia Sound Studio in Woodstock, New York. Rundgren played a large role in the album's sound design and drum programming, providing the band with string and brass arrangements, as well as an assortment of gear. However, the sessions were fraught with tension, especially between Rundgren and bandleader Andy Partridge, and numerous disagreements arose over drum patterns, song selections, and other details. Partridge blamed Rundgren for improperly engineering the album with a reversed sound polarity, resulting in a "thin" mix. The problem was not addressed until 2014, when Partridge independently issued a remastered version of the album with corrected polarity.

Upon release, Skylarking reached No. 90 on UK charts and No. 70 in the US; both of its lead singles "Grass" (backed with "Dear God") and "The Meeting Place" peaked at No. 100 in the UK. Early sales of the album were hampered by the omission of "Dear God" from the album's original pressings.[10] Following the song's growth in popularity among American DJs, it was the subject of controversy in the US, inspiring many angry phone calls to radio stations and at least one bomb threat.[11] Later, Skylarking was listed on "100 greatest albums of the 1980s" lists by Rolling Stone in 1989[6] and Pitchfork in 2002.[12]


Skylarking producer Todd Rundgren, pictured in 1977

By the mid 1980s, XTC had a personality and sound that was at a marked contrast from the ironic punk rock they were known for in the 1970s.[11] In 1985, the band released the British-only EP 25 O'Clock as "the Dukes of Stratosphear", an homage to 1960s psychedelic music that outsold XTC's previous album The Big Express (1984). Songwriter Andy Partridge remembered: "That was a bit upsetting to think that people preferred these pretend personalities to our own personalities ... they're trying to tell us something. But I don't mind because we have turned into the Dukes slowly over the years"[13]

Virgin Records believed that the problem was that the group sounded "too English".[14] According to guitarist 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 [Rundgren]'s."[10] Bassist Colin Moulding added: "He said he could do it all for $150,000, so we said OK."[8]

The collaboration with Rundgren proved to be difficult, especially for Partridge, and numerous disagreements arose over drum patterns, song selections, and other details.[15] Gregory intimated that "Todd and Andy were like chalk and cheese as personalities, they didn't hit it off from the start. Things just went from bad to worse."[16] According to Rundgren: "Essentially, it was kind of preordained by me what the record was going to be, which was something they never endured before. I think 60 percent of the band trusted me, but Andy never did."[10] Even though the collaboration was "forced", Rundgren says that "it was such a combination of situations ... that created, ultimately, an album that sounds like we were having a great time doing it. And at times we were having a good time."[15]

Songs and production[edit]

Concept and recording[edit]

[Todd] was so bloody sarcastic, which is rare with Americans. He's got it down to an extremely cruel art. ... 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.

—Andy Partridge[17][nb 1]

Skylarking contrasts with previous XTC albums by featuring more mature themes and lush arrangements. Partridge surmised that this was partly a result of his "coming off—rather abruptly—of 13 years of valium addiction". He had also recently become a father and began listening to numerous Beach Boys albums, before which he had only been familiar with their singles.[19] Rundgren convinced the band that the songs they had written could form a concept album.[15][10] Partridge was annoyed by the suggestion, remarking that "you hadn't spoken to the bloke for three minutes, and he'd already been hacking and throwing your work in the bin, y'know?"[20]

The recording sessions took place in early 1986, largely at Rundgren's Utopia Sound Studios in Woodstock, New York. Rundgren played a large role in the album's sound design and drum programming, providing the band with string and brass arrangements, as well as an assortment of gear that included a Fairlight CMI, Yamaha DX7, E-mu Emulator, pre-MIDI LinnDrum, and a Prophet-10 bought especially for the album. The only instruments the band had brought with them to the US were "about eight guitars".[19] Moulding remembers that "one track ran into another. No edits. Todd had a very unorthodox way of recording—15 ips. I think we got it all on one reel of tape, and done very quickly. Second takes were uncommon, but it was all charming in a way.[19] Partridge considered this a "money-saving ruse."[19][nb 2] During the sessions, the band used Rundgren's LinnDrum, which Gregory says "sounded very stiff and lifeless". Real drums were overdubbed in San Francisco by the Tubes' Prairie Prince. Gregory says "it was only then that the album started coming to life".[14]

The ending of side one, "Season Cycle", was prominently influenced by the Beach Boys, but was not initially planned as a pastiche of the band; "in fact, it started out very much like a folk song, very strummy. And just to kind of tie things up, I tried to do some other things going on at the same time, 'cause we're cross-melody maniacs in this band, but I thought it would be fun. Then I thought, 'Shit, this really does sound like the Beach Boys. Yeah, I'll make it sound a bit more like the Beach Boys!'."[21]

Side two begins with "Earn Enough For Us" and "Big Day", which Stannard calls "typically breezy XTC power-pop nuggets" that are followed by "the mordant, chiming rebuke" of "Another Satellite", which "signals a shift into darker, more personal areas. The jazzy aquaphilia of "Mermaid Smiled" provides momentary respite, but it's with Skylarking's final four songs that a nocturnal chill creeps in."[20]

"Dear God" and final mix[edit]

Original pressings of Skylarking omitted "Dear God", an introspective, agnostic song. Partridge explains that while the song was always intended to be on the album,[8] it was left off because a Virgin Records executive was concerned about the album's length, and advised that the song may upset American audiences; "I reluctantly agreed because I thought I hadn't written a strong enough take on religion. I thought I'd kind of failed".[22] Rundgren had a different recollection, and said that Partridge demanded that the song be pulled because of a problem related to the mastering: "[Andy] was afraid that there would be repercussions personally for him for taking on such a thorny subject. ... What a pussy. ... I called them and said, 'This is a mistake.'"[23]

On the request of XTC and Virgin Records, Rundgren submitted three different mixdowns of the album before quitting the project.[20] According to Partridge, both the label and the band were dissatisfied with the final mix; "We all thought [it was] poor and thin ... There was no bass on it, no high tops, and the middle sounded muddy."[22] Gregory similarly recalled believing that it was badly recorded.[16] Decades later, it was discovered that the album's master tapes were engineered with an incorrect sound polarity.[22] Rundgren referenced the issue: "I think it's total bullshit. But if such a thing existed, it's because they changed the running order on it and had to remaster it – and I had nothing to do with it. What a prick."[23] Mastering engineer John Dent, who discovered the flaw in 2010, attributed it to a wiring error between the multitrack recording and stereo mixing machines, which would not have been aurally evident until after the tapes left Rundgren's studio.[24]

Moulding said of the album: "Perhaps it lacked the polish of some of the other recordings we had made, but it was the character that was sewn into the record which was its strength. ... Positively naive at times."[19] Gregory[not in citation given] called the finished product "probably my favourite XTC album", expressing appreciation of how Rundgren handled the songs.[16] In a promotional insert included with their album Nonsuch (1992), 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."[15]

"Dear God" was ultimately released as the B-side to the UK lead single "Grass", but due to its popularity with American DJs, the album was reissued in the US, with "Mermaid Smiled" removed and "Dear God" cross-faded into the following track, "Dying", giving the second edition of the US album a revised track sequence.[10] Partridge commented: "When 'Dear God'... became a hit something had to go and so I took off the shortest song."[25]

Music 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. In 1987, the "Dear God" video received the Billboard Best Video award and was also nominated for the categories Best Director, Best Concept, and Best Innovation for the MTV Video Music Awards.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[2]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars[26]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[27]
Mojo 5/5 stars[28]
Q 4/5 stars[29]
Record Collector 5/5 stars[30]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[31]
Uncut 9/10[32]
The Village Voice A−[33]

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."[34] 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."[35]

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."[5] 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."[36]

Retrospectively, in 1989, Skylarking was listed at number 48 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.[6] 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.[12] Slant Magazine listed the album at 67 on its list of the "Best Albums of the 1980s".,[37] 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".[38] PopMatters's Patrick Schabe cited it as the album where XTC "blossomed into full maturity",[39] 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."[20]

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.[40] 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.[41] This "corrected polarity edition" was released on CD on 14 April 2014.[42]

Ape released Skylarking as a CD+Blu-ray edition on October 10, 2016. The Blu-ray Disc features 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".[43]

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]


Adapted from the AllMusic credits.[44]


Additional musicians

  • 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"


Chart performance[edit]

Skylarking spent one week on the UK album charts, reaching No. 90 in August 1986.[45] In the U.S., the album spent 29 weeks on the Billboard 200 album charts and reached its peak position of No. 70 in June 1987.[46] In that same month, the single "Dear God" was released in both markets, reaching No. 99 in the UK,[47] and No. 37 in the US.[48]


Year Chart Position Citation
1986 UK Official Charts 90 [45]
1987 US Billboard 200 70 [46]


Year Single Chart Position Citation
1987 "Dear God" UK Official Charts 99 [47]
1987 "Dear God" US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 37 [48]



  1. ^ At one point, Partridge says, "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.'."[18]
  2. ^ Accordingly, "He didn't wanna spend out on reels of tape".[20]


  1. ^ Pollock, Bruce (2011). If You Like the Beatles ...: Here Are Over 200 Bands, Films, Records and Other Oddities That You Will Love. Backbeat Books. p. 198. ISBN 978-1-61713-070-0. 
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  3. ^ a b Jackson, Josh. "The 50 Best New Wave Albums". Paste magazine. 
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  6. ^ a b c "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. November 16, 1989. 
  7. ^ a b Partridge & Bernhardt 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Zaleski, Annie (27 October 2016). "30 Years Ago: XTC Finds Pop Perfection with 'Skylarking'". 
  9. ^ Gibron, Bill (14 February 2010). "Parcels from a Patchouli Past An Interview with Andrew Partridge". PopMatters. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Nelson, Terry (October 26, 2016). "TRIBUTE: Celebrating 30 Years of XTC's 'Skylarking'". Albumism. 
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  12. ^ a b "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s". Pitchfork Media. 20 November 2002. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  13. ^ Hunt, Chris (1989). "Andy Partridge Interview". Phaze 1. 
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  15. ^ a b c d Parker, Adam (February 6, 2016). "Rundgren still bangs the drum all day Rock and roll titan to play at Music Hall". The Post and Courier. 
  16. ^ a b c Ramon, Gary (November 1990). "XTC Recording History". Record Collector. No. 130. 
  17. ^ Farmer 1998, p. [page needed].
  18. ^ Farmer 1998, p. [page needed].
  19. ^ a b c d e Amorosi, A.D. (28 March 2016). "The Making of XTC's "Skylarking"". Magnet. Retrieved 2017-03-13. 
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  21. ^ a b Bookasta, Randy; Howard, David (1990). "Season Cyclers". Contrast (7). 
  22. ^ a b c Litton, Dave (March 22, 2016). "Andy Partridge Calls Todd Rundgren 'Bitchy' for Remarks About 'Dear God'". Ultimate Classic Rock. 
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  28. ^ IH (January 2017). "XTC: Skylarking". Mojo (278): 115. 
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  31. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon & Schuster. pp. 890–92. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 
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