My fellow writer here Lisa recently pointed out how overwhelming it is to try and pick just ten songs to put the spotlight on when there are so many, countless thousands of great ones. Even picking ten great artists would be nearly impossible and inevitably lead to exclusion of a ton of worthy ones. So as we roll towards the end of this great event, I have about 200 songs I want to get to, and four more slots to actually write. So it’s not only a bit of a spin of the wheel to see which ones I’m going to choose, but even what decade or genre. Today’s pick is from what I think was at its best the most exciting musical decade to me – the ’80s – and one of its best, but under-appreciated bands. Let’s hope there are “No Thugs In Our House”…but at least some XTC records!
“No Thugs In Our House” was the third single off the band’s fifth, and most ambitious to that point, album, 1982’s English Settlement. XTC were, as allmusic rightly put it “one of the smartest – and catchiest – British pop bands to emerge from the punk and new wave explosion of the ’70s.” Starting out as a rather simple new wave act, they’d grown increasingly experimental with their sounds and instruments while never letting go of a great Beatle-sque grasp of catchy riffs and melodies. I’d been a fan since their Drums and Wires album three years prior and its ahead-of-their-time singles “Life Begins at the Hop” and “Making Plans for Nigel.” The quartet were all talented, but unquestionably their ship was captained by the lead singer Andy Partridge, who also played some guitars and wrote most of their material. This ended up being a bit of a problem for XTC, as Partridge was riddled by a number of mental issues such as severe social anxiety, stage fright and a fear of flying…not good for a band trying to breakthrough into international markets. In fact, Andy said they pushed the boundaries on English Settlement because “I got into my head that I wrote an album with a sound less geared towards touring, there maybe would be less pressure (from the record company) to tour.” That backfired. The record’s good reviews and adequate sales outside their native England made the need to tour North America greater. Which all proved too much for Partridge. “In L.A., I cracked up completely,” he told The Quietus. “I believed I was going to die. It was that bad.” He packed his bags and headed home from California, scrubbing a good chunk of their tour and creating a rift with the record company which would cost them in terms of royalties and PR efforts down the road. They still created some great records, but never toured again, and never really broke through into the mainstream despite very loyal fans and great record reviews.
There are so many good XTC songs to listen to, picking one is pretty difficult. And while many are musically quite complex, “No Thugs In Our House” is comparatively straight forward, with Andy singing and playing acoustic guitar, Dave Gregory on lead guitar, Colin Moulding on bass and Terry Chambers behind the drums. Partridge says the basic tune was meant as a bit of an homage to Eddy Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” It’s an eminently catchy little tune that rocks but the lyrics and Partridge’s vocal delivery put it over the top. “No Thugs In Our House” demonstrates his great talent at wordplay – “a boy in blue is busy banging out a headache on the kitchen door” – and his ability to deal with a very real problems with a sense of humor. In five minutes he deftly skewers ostrich parents, wilfully blind to what’s right in front of their eyes, sketchy policing, inconsistent courts and of course, lazy, good-for-nothing thugs. It’s a theme which sounds sadly relevant to this day given the news of the past year or so. And one which can’t help but get you moving!
I know many readers here are already big XTC fans. If you’re not familiar with them but like catchy, vaguely-edgy pop in the realm of Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Crowded House and The Smiths, XTC might be for you. And you could do far worse than by starting with their English Settlement.