Skylarking is XTC's eighth studio album, released on October 27, 1986. Considered by many to be their finest album, 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".
The album was produced by Todd Rundgren, a gifted guitarist/singer/songwriter in his own right, after the band chose his name from a list of potential producers submitted by its label, Virgin Records. The recording sessions took place in the spring of 1986, at Rundgren's upstate New York recording studio. Rundgren convinced the band that the songs Partridge and Moulding wrote would form as a concept album. The sessions were fraught with tension, due to creative differences between Rundgren and XTC's main creative force, Andy 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.
However, 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 the Song Stories book, Partridge's bandmate, Colin Moulding, called the finished product "my favorite album so far", even twelve years (and several more albums) after Skylarking's release.
Most versions of the album contain XTC's biggest hit song in America, "Dear God", a pointed, anti-theistic song. The track was originally the B-side to the single "Grass", but due to its popularity, the album was reissued in the US, with "Mermaid Smiled" cut from the album and "Dear God" added in its place. In Canada the album was reissued without cutting any songs, but with "Dear God" added to the end (the same 15 song order as the 2001/2002 reissue). Some compact disc versions of the album include both tracks. Many artists have covered the song, including Sarah McLachlan. On May 28, 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 singles from the album were "Grass" (released August 16, 1986), "The Meeting Place" (released February 2, 1987), "Earn Enough For Us" (in Canada and Australia only) and, due to its massive popularity arising out of college radio as the last song on the "Grass" UK 12" single, "Dear God" (released June 1 1987). "Dear God" reached No. 15 on the Billboard Rock Album Tracks chart and received the Billboard Best Video award for 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" 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.
Despite the album's poor sales and the band's initial dislike of the record, Skylarking is seen by many fans and critics as their finest work, citing Rundgren's innovative production and the cohesive nature of the album as its strengths. In 1989, it was ranked #48 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.
The album reached No. 90 on the UK album chart and No. 70 on the US album chart.
Track listing (2001/2002 reissue order)Edit
All songs written by Andy Partridge, except where noted.
- "Summer's Cauldron" – 3:19
- "Grass" (Colin Moulding) – 3:05
- "The Meeting Place" (Moulding) – 3:14
- "That's Really Super, Supergirl" – 3:21
- "Ballet for a Rainy Day" – 2:50
- "1000 Umbrellas" – 3:44
- "Season Cycle" – 3:21
- "Earn Enough for Us" – 2:54
- "Big Day" (Moulding) – 3:32
- "Another Satellite" – 4:15
- "Mermaid Smiled" – 2:26
- "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" – 3:24
- "Dying" (Moulding) – 2:31
- "Sacrificial Bonfire" (Moulding) – 3:49
- "Dear God" – 4:24
- The tracks on the original UK album were the same, without "Dear God" (i.e., 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14). The tracks on the original US release were the same, except that "Mermaid Smiled" was removed and "Dear God" placed after "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" (i.e., 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-12-15-13-14).
- Andy Partridge – vocals, guitar
- Colin Moulding – vocals, bass, and bonfire
- Dave Gregory – vocals, guitar, piano, synthesizer, chamberlin], string arrangement on "1,000 Umbrellas" and the odd tiple
- Prairie Prince – "the part of the time bomb (i.e., drums)"
- Beech Avenue Boys (i.e., XTC) – backing vocals
- Todd Rundgren – orchestral arrangements, computer programming, keyboards and backing vocals
- Engineered by Todd Rundgren
- Additional engineering by Kim Foscato and George Cowan at Utopia Sound Studios
- Mastered 1986 by Greg Fulginiti at Artisan Sound Recorders
- Remastered 2001 by Ian Cooper at Metropolis Mastering
|1987||The Billboard 200||70|
|1987||"Dear God"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||37|