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XTC Tag

This morning were the preliminaries for the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee, with the semifinals and finals tomorrow. In honor of this occasion, we’re presenting a mixtape featuring songs that spell out the song title (or other words) in the lyrics. When I suggested this idea to my fellow Popdose compadres, I found out two things. Firstly, there are a lot more songs that work for this than I thought, and secondly, some of these songs are pretty filthy. (I’m looking at you, Wu Tang Clan!) I was originally going for spelled out song titles, but too many artists cheated on this. (Hall and Oates refusing to spell the word “modern,” the Ames Brothers spelling “Rag Mop” with two g’s and two p’s, even though Rag Mop isn’t that difficult to spell.) Note: this mixtape should be mostly safe for work, except for XTC’s “Your Dictionary,” which does have a couple of bad words. However, they get a free ride because, in the spirit of the mixtape, the bad words are spelled. Enjoy, and best of luck to all the spellers!

Last time, I hinted that Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery wasn’t going to be on this list. Perhaps an explanation is in order. First and foremost, this list is about some of the prog albums that stay in high rotation with me. Even at their most self-indulgent, there will be something about the songs on them that can grab me with little coercion. I need to be in a very specific mood to listen to Brain Salad Surgery and, to be blunt, I haven’t been in that mood for almost ten years now.

Also, the bands that show up on this list, even though some might dabble in a rock arrangement of a classical composition here and there, butter their bread with original compositions. ELP is primarily known for recasting those pieces and not so much for their originals. Do I think all three members are tremendous performers? Sure. Do they perform, as a unit, in service of the song? Rarely. Will “Karn Evil 9” get no love from me? Someday, but not this time out.

Personally, I like the Emerson, Lake and Powell edition the best, but don’t tell anyone I said that.

Now, 31-40.

40. Camel – Stationary Traveler (1984) Last time out, I said that the Alan Parsons Project had no direct descendants, but in their most popular and profitable phase, they did have bands that followed their lead. Although Camel had been around a while, their sort of long form conceptual work (i/e The Snow Goose) was not getting them very far. Band leader and multi-instrumentalist Andy Latimer tried a more streamlined, pop sound prior to Stationary Traveler on The Single Factor (which, all considering, is as honest a title as he could have offered up.) He even enlisted longtime APP vocalist Chris Rainbow, but the songs missed more than they hit.

Stationary Traveler remedies much of this with really good, if somewhat mellow, tracks like “West Berlin” and the sexy “Fingertips,” while Rainbow offers vocals for “Cloak and Dagger Man” and makes the tune nearly a lost cut from APP’s Ammonia Avenue album. The overall concept, tales from the divided Germany, is strong but never so overbearing that it beats you over the head with it. The sound is inextricably ’80s, and the wall is down and Germany is reunified, so consequently this is an album of its time, but it remains an enjoyable Ala — uh, Camel album.

Direct descendants – As it was with Parsons and Woolfson, Camel’s sound here has not spawned a lot of devotees. The same can be said of Camel’s core sound, primarily instrumental, except in the rockier moments of Vangelis and Kitaro’s new-age work.

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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.

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“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.

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Last year, I was feeling all boo hoo about the fact that no one, and I mean no one comes to our house on Halloween.  Call it fear of strangers with candy (who might shove a razor blade in that Snickers bar, or snap off a hypodermic needle in that family size peanut butter cup), or, more realistically, it’s the fact that I live in a condo complex where the motto is “A place for the newlywed … and the nearly dead.”  Yeah, there really aren’t any kids around here, so we just gave up buying candy for those non-existent trick or treaters.  So, that leaves me with you, dear reader and lover of the ye olde Mix Six, to spoil you with musical treats. So grab a mug of bitches brew and get ready for a Mix Six Six Six for ’09!

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“Freaks Come Out At Night,” Whodini (Download)

You can’t always start out a mix with a top of the hour cooker.  Nope, sometimes you gotta dig a little deeper and find a song that signals the keynote of the mix in a “deep cut” kind of way. Sure, this tune by Whodini has a pretty long shelf life because, well, the title of this song pretty much guarantees that it’s going to end up on a Halloween mix.  And look: it did!

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Call this mix the postscript of Beatles Week at Popdose … a postscript that’s a couple of weeks late! But better late than never, right?  There’s been a lot of talk about the marketing savvy of Beatles merchandise, and it’s pretty damn impressive. I mean, getting people to buy remastered recordings they’ve probably had in their collections for years (and I’m talking about vinyl, cassette, 8 track, CD, and mp3s) is no easy feat – unless the product really is superior to what came before.  And yes, the remasters did live up to the hype.  But if I may start a second sentence with a conjunction, what also lives up to the hype is the long shadow of the Beatles’ style of music on popular recording artists.  Billy Joel, Andy Partridge, Roland Orzabal, Jeff Lynne, Neil Finn, and the Gallagher boys must have all, at one point or another, fantasized about being “The 5th Beatle” while singing along to one of the Fab Four’s songs.  So much so, that they all wrote songs that were unabashedly Beatlesque.

“Scandinavian Skies,” Billy Joel (download)

Billy is certainly a singer/songwriter who doesn’t need to copy the style of musical giants since, well, he’s in that pantheon.  I’m not a big fan of his music, but The Nylon Curtain was, for me, the most impressive of his catalog.  The sappy love songs were absent and the themes tackled were certainly a step up from what came before and after this album — and having several nods to the Beatles only added to the depth of this album.

Hey Hey JulieTwo years ago, when I was working on this column’s debut, I wrote about Bruce Springsteen’s “Book of Dreams” and what the song means to Julie and me. During the first month of our courtship I created my first mixtape for her, entitled HEY, HEY, JULIE! On that tape was the Springsteen song, one that’s grown to have profound meaning in our relationship.

We began dating in August of 1992, and soon thereafter, I threw this tape together in a flurry of inspiration, wanting to give Julie something that came from my heart. I don’t recall the actual minutes spent in my parents’ basement picking the songs or laying them down on a Maxell cassette (my brand of choice), but looking back on the list of songs, I’m happy to see they still add up to 90 quailty minutes of music.

Before Nick Hornby wonderfully wrote about what makes a good mixtape in High Fidelity, I assembled exactly the right combination of hip, well known and somewhat obscure songs from my small music collection. Combining big hits like “Learning to Fly,” “What I Am,” and “All This Time” with lesser-known songs by popular artists such as “Until the End of the World,” “Shining Star,” and “Getting to Know You,” while tossing in some hard to find (at the time) songs like “Baby Mine” and “Wild Night” made this tape eclectic, but still enjoyable to listen to and quite accessible.

61D9kn-ws3L._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]Two of pop’s most studious classicists, Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) and Thomas Walsh (Pugwash), converge on what could only be considered a monumental summit for UK pop fans, bestowing on the listening public a concept album – about cricket. Not about some girl named Cricket, but the veddy European sport thereof.

This could be very bad.

Fortunately it isn’t; in fact, it’s very good, and good news for anyone who likes their music tasty on the ear and cheeky with the tongue. The very notion of a conceptual album devoted solely to cricket as being a ridiculous idea is not lost on the boys, but at the same time, they are respectful and reverent to the whole thing, playing it less like a Monty Python farce and more like a Rutlesian good-natured poke in the ribs. They came not to bury but to praise. The Rutles inference is apt as both Hannon and Walsh have appropriated the Beatlesque in the past, and the opening “The Coin Toss,” for all of its minute and eight seconds, knocks your guard down straight away. After that, “The Age of Revolution” slips into a fine groove complete with a skiffle-jazz sample and a treatise on how the upper-crust sport of cricket opened up to the common man and the fields at Lord’s were never the same.

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In 1988, Leslie Phillips turned her back on a successful career as a Christian Contemporary artist, changed her performing moniker to “Sam,” and recorded her first mainstream pop album, The Indescribable Wow, with producer and soon-to-be husband T Bone Burnett.  It was a bold move that paid off critically, if not commercially.  The album sold a fraction of Phillips’ Christian work, but her inventive songwriting and unique voice won her a new cult of fans.

But it was her third secular album that saw Phillips come closest to breaking through to the pop charts.  1994’s Martinis & Bikinis was packed with Beatles-esque hooks, clever wordplay, and sterling production by Burnett and XTC’s Colin Moulding on key tracks.  Lead single “I Need Love” got some Modern Rock radio love, but it was the second single, “Baby I Can’t Please You” (download) (one of the Moulding tracks, a fact that becomes quite obvious upon listening), that got the most attention.  Besides a video that made regular rotation on MTV’s 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation, it was also featured on the Melrose Place soundtrack compilation that sold quite a few copies.

He denies being the man who murdered love, but he is one of the men who served as a member of XTC. That’s right, he’s Andy Partridge, and this upstanding musical legend was kind enough to take on the daunting task of answering the questions of the Popdose readership…questions which, it must be said, ranged from the obscure to the ridiculous and hit virtually every spot in-between. Mr. Partridge was a gem throughout the conversation, however, and endured them all with great aplomb, never failing to come back with a witty retort.

(“You bastard” still counts as witty, right?)

Join us now as we enter into the Popdose Interview with the one and only Andy Partridge…

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First off, let me say that “Y.M.C.A.” didn’t make the cut on this mix. Yeah, it’s a fun song, but chances are you’ve heard it a million times, and it’s such an earworm that it really belonged on last week’s mix — but I didn’t have the heart to do that to you. Clearly, I did have the heart to foist Billy Joel and Neil Diamond on you, but that’s because I have so much love in my heart.

This week, we’re spelling it! Yep, for some reason songwriters will often spell words in their songs, and sometimes it works, and other times, well … no so much.  Oh, and for those of you who actually listen to the full mix  you’ll get some humorous drops culled from the wilds of You Tube that just helps me state the obvious in this mix.


“C.I.T.Y.,” John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (download)

This is the tune that started me thinking about songs where spelling seems to count for something.