Thursday 10/6/22 8:15pm ET: Feature LP: XTC – Skylarking (1986)

Skylarking is the ninth studio album by the English rock band XTC, released October 27, 1986 on Virgin Records. Produced by American musician Todd Rundgren, it is a loose concept album about a nonspecific cycle, such as a day, a year, the seasons, or a life. The title refers to a type of bird (skylark), as well as the Royal Navy term “skylarking”, which means “fooling around”. It became one of XTC’s best-known albums and is generally regarded as their finest work.

Like XTC’s previous Dukes of Stratosphear side project, Skylarking was heavily influenced by the music of the 1960s. 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 orchestral arrangements and 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. In 2010, it was discovered that a wiring error made during the mastering process caused the album to have a “thin” sound. The problem was corrected on subsequent remasters.

Upon release, Skylarking was met with indifference in the UK, rising in the album charts to number 90, while both of its lead singles “Grass” (backed with “Dear God”) and “The Meeting Place” peaked at number 100. Early sales of the album were hampered by the omission of “Dear God” from the album’s original pressings. In the US, the song became a college radio hit, causing US distributor Geffen Records to recall and repress Skylarking with the track included, and propelling the album to number 70. Following the song’s growth in popularity, it was the subject of controversy in the US, inspiring many angry phone calls to radio stations and at least one bomb threat. Skylarking was later listed on “100 greatest albums of the 1980s” lists by Rolling Stone in 1989 and Pitchfork in 2002.

  1. “Summer’s Cauldron” 3:19
  2. “Grass” 3:05
  3. “The Meeting Place” 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
  8. “Earn Enough for Us” 2:54
  9. “Big Day” 3:32
  10. “Another Satellite” 4:15
  11. “Mermaid Smiled” 2:26
  12. “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul” 3:24
  13. “Dying” 2:31
  14. “Sacrificial Bonfire” 3:49
  15. “Dear God” 3:40

Andy Partridge – vocals, guitar
Colin Moulding – vocals, bass guitar (also credited with “bonfire”)
Dave Gregory – vocals, guitar, piano, synthesizers, Chamberlin, string arrangement on “1000 Umbrellas” and “Dear God”, tiple
Todd Rundgren – producer, engineer, melodica on “Summer’s Cauldron”, synthesizers on “Grass” and “That’s Really Super, Supergirl”, backing vocals, orchestral arrangements, computer programming (also credited with “continuity concept”)
Prairie Prince – drums (credited as “the part of the time bomb”)
Mingo Lewis – percussion
Jasmine Veillette – vocals on “Dear God”
John Tenney – violin
Emily Van Valkenburgh – violin
Rebecca Sebring – viola
Teresa Adams – cello
Charlie McCarthy – alto and tenor saxophones, flute
Bob Ferreira – tenor saxophone, piccolo flute, bass clarinet
Dave Bendigkeit – trumpet
Dean Hubbard – trombone