Since I don’t like to combine letters in this series, today’s post covering the letter X is, well, tiny. Sorry, no X-Japan, Xavion, Xavier, Xyster, or Xymox here, but we do have XTC, so enjoy one track from the bottom three-fifths of the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1980s.
“Mayor of Simpleton” — 1989, #72 (download)
As many of you know, the letter X provides me with one of my most hated moments of the decade: during Toni Basil’s “Shopping From A to Z,” in which she recites her shopping list, she gets down to X and says, “Nothing!”
As I’ve said many times in the past, if you couldn’t come up with anything for X you never should’ve recorded the damn song in the first place. Thankfully, XTC makes up for Basil’s shit stain on the decade more than a little bit. (She could have said, “X: XTC cassette.” I mean, that’s as likely as shopping for “zippers.”)
XTC released their first album in 1978, and throughout the years made excellent album after excellent album. Though they’re a group I rarely go back to, it’s mainly because my tastes have changed over the years, not a reflection on their music. Their 1982 release, English Settlement, is a great record, featuring one of their best songs, “Senses Working Overtime,” and 1986’s Skylarking, produced by Todd Rundgren, contains another favorite, “Dear God.”
XTC was never about singles, though — they’re one of those bands where success certainly can’t be measured by chart performance. Even in their native England they didn’t have a whole lot of chart success, and in the U.S. they were only able to crack the Hot 100 once, in 1989.
When Oranges & Lemons came out, XTC consisted of Andy Partridge on guitar and vocals, Colin Moulding on bass and vocals, Dave Gregory on guitar, keys, and vocals, and Pat Mastelotto on drums. “Mayor of Simpleton” was certainly the most radio-ready song the band had recorded up to that point, and its success led to “King for a Day” actually reaching the rock charts. Oranges & Lemons had a third single called “The Loving” that didn’t chart, and it contained an excellent track called “Chalkhills and Children.” (Be sure to check out Will Harris’s interview with Andy Partridge from last June to get a glimpse of the man himself.)
I thought it would be cool, since we’re only featuring one song this week, to include some others’ thoughts on “Mayor of Simpleton,” so here are a few from a friend and a couple loyal readers:
“I have always liked the song (and XTC in general). They were great at combining pop songwriting with very cerebral and experimental creative choices. This song definitely leans more heavily on the straight-up pop sound, and there is nothing wrong with that, though I think it is a crime that this and not ‘King for a Day’ was the song that charted. That song is such a smooth-ass pop song it’s disgusting.” —Bastard No. 3
“I’ll always equate ‘Mayor of Simpleton’ with the long tardy arrival of cable television to my backwoods neighborhood in May of 1989. To this music-head, the natural focus was MTV, which I’d only been able to glimpse beforehand via friends, relatives, and motels. My Sunday nights were spent with a fresh tape in the VCR to catch the latest modern-rock offerings from 120 Minutes, where the ‘Mayor’ video was screened with almost weekly regularity. The single soon joined ‘Dear God’ in my seven-inch collection, followed shortly thereafter by the full Oranges & Lemons CD. That album (spaced over two discs in its vinyl configuration) gets soggy towards the middle, but the first half (and the closing ‘Chalkhills and Children’) make it a worthy possession.
“Although ‘Mayor’ was the only single from the other Partridge Family to crack the Hot 100, they came close in 1981, when the superb ‘Generals and Majors’ (an RSO release!) bubbled under at #104. And I can’t talk up XTC without also mentioning ‘Making Plans for Nigel,’ Skylarking, or the Dukes of Stratosphear. But those are other stories.” —King of Grief
“One of the many bands often described as ‘they would’ve been huge if only…,’ but in XTC’s case it’s more true than most: a case of stage fright for co-bandleader Andy Partridge in 1982, just as they were on the brink of stardom, prevented them from touring ever again. But it likely enabled them to spend more time in the studio perfecting two of their greatest albums.
“Where to begin with XTC depends on one’s personal tastes: 1979’s Drums and Wires and 1980’s Black Sea are edgy postpunk classics, 1986’s Skylarking and 1989’s Oranges & Lemons are psychedelic-revival masterpieces, and 1982’s English Settlement is about halfway in between. ‘Mayor of Simpleton’ is not really representative of what XTC is capable of, but it’s still quite a good single, kind of an ‘80s update of Sam Cooke’s ‘Wonderful World,’ with the oh-so-ironic ‘I don’t know how to write a big hit song’ one of the many things the song’s protagonist doesn’t know.” —smf2271
Best song: XTC, “Mayor of Simpleton”
Worst song: XTC, “Mayor of Simpleton”
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