October 15, 2006

Illusions Shattered

Two simple facts on background:

  1. The first music video I ever saw was in the fall of 1979, on some late-night TV show ("Late Night Video" or some such imaginative title, if memory serves, hosted by some guy on some Max Headroom-like set running a fake video switcher console, apparently to show this new video stuff was fresh out of the cameras). I remember parts of the video distinctly; four guys, cardboard guitars and car grills, a catchy vid of four very English guys playing an aggressively catchy pop tune with a four-on-the-floor beat lifted from Stax/Volt and run through a New Wave homogenizer. I remembered, lo these last 27 years, the hook line - and not much else. I didn't catch the name of the band then, and for 27 years I had no idea who'd done the song or video.
  2. Second piece of background; I've never cared for XTC. The British art-pop band - who I listened to most often between about 1986 and 1990 - always seemed like what Elvis Costello would have been if he could've cracked the code on how to be even more baroque, picayune and dreary than he got after Armed Forces. Although guitarist/writer Andy Partridge was an interesting guy (or so he seemed after my conversation with him in the restroom at a radio station I worked at when I met him in 1989...), I had a hard time listening to anything by XTC for more than a minute or two.
Or so I thought.

Through the miracle of Youtube and a few moments of free time on a Sunday...the first video I ever saw...

..."Life Begins At The Hop" by...a very fun early version of XTC.

Who knew?

Posted by Mitch at October 15, 2006 01:56 PM | TrackBack

What a coincidence - while driving around today the radio played two XTC tunes. Hadn't thought about the band in years, and now we had a double shot of spaz/geek prog pop. (Not a broad genre.) It reminded me how much I didn't like the band, and how much I was *supposed* to like them. They were lyrically correct, impossible to dance to, and "smart" and "iconoclastic." I bought one album and never listened to it again.

That said, "King for a Day" is one of those songs I always turn up loud. Too bad the lyrics are about how people are greedy - which, in case you didn't know, is bad and makes Baby Lennon cry. If Elvis Costello appealed to the guys who actually looked like Elvis Costello, XTC appealed to the guys who could be beat up by the guys who looked like Elvis Costello.

Posted by: Lileks at October 15, 2006 06:51 PM

Hmmm you and Lileks don't like XTC or Elvis Costello ? I knew there was a good reason to doubt your sanity and political leanings, now I know to doubt your taste in music as well. The ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead, Mayor of Simpleton,Generals and Majors, Dear God, all great songs. Music that makes you think with great hooks. As to your disparaging fans over our lack of physical prowess I will have you know I can do four push-ups (admittedly the girly kind) and ten sit ups if my daughter helps pull me up for 7 through 10. I tried pull ups but I get dizzy when I get way up off the ground and it makes my elbows hurt.

Posted by: phipho at October 15, 2006 10:01 PM


That's exactly why I had such a hard time connecting the "lyrically correct, impossible to dance to, and "smart" and "iconoclastic" band knew from the late eighties with the band with the kinda fun vid from '79. If someone would have suggested "XTC" as the band, I'd have said "no - keep trying...".


"Dear God", "Simpleton" and "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" are precisely the stuff turned me off to XTC in the first place! It's stuff that makes Elvis's post-Armed Forces output seem positively accessible.

Your mileage may vary.

Posted by: mitch at October 16, 2006 05:28 AM

Partridge's main sin was not knowing when to end a song; his works seem to have 2 or 3 verses too many or, as in the case of "Jason and the Argonauts," an inexplicable instrumental break in the middle that seems to go on forever. He would've had more than a few radio hits had that not been the case. That being said I would judge him to be one of the most ingenious tunesmiths of his time, a possible heir to McCartney had the torch not been consistently fumbled due to label woes and Partridge's own curious idiosyncracies.

Posted by: Tim at October 16, 2006 08:33 AM

Uh oh..I liked "the mayor of simpleton".

I guess I should go shave my head now ;^/

Posted by: swiftee at October 16, 2006 09:37 AM

You guys didn't like "Senses Working O-ver-time"? That one wasn't bad. Can't dance to it though; you're right. Although it's not like I can dance to even danceable songs.
XTC seems like they were really close to being a cool pop band, but they were caught up in trying to be an arty pop band. Too much ahhhht, not enough pop.

Posted by: PaulC at October 16, 2006 12:16 PM

Elvis Costello is one of those guys whom I never understood the attraction to. He was one of those guys who the more serious musicians talked about liking, but to my ears there were no songs there.
Although I do like "What's so funny about peace love and understanding." To me that's his catchiest song and I can buy into that.
But stuff like "Every day I write the book"? Ah jes don' gettit. Oh well, more ahhht missed out on.

Posted by: PaulC at October 16, 2006 12:21 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?