Take Five: Notable XTC Tracks by Colin Moulding

Singer-songwriter-bassist Colin Moulding came to fame as a founding member of new wave/art pop band XTC. The Swindon, England-based group is perhaps best known as a vehicle for the songs of Andy Partridge, but while Moulding has been a far less prolific songwriter, his high-quality songs are a key to the success – both critical and commercial – of XTC. Prior to and since that band’s dissolution in 2006, Moulding occasionally worked outside the band as well, collaborating with a fascinating assortment of other artists including Anton Barbeau, Days Between Stations and Billy Sherwood’s Prog Collective. Here are five XTC tracks that showcase the creative artistry of Colin Moulding.

“Life Begins at the Hop” (single, 1979)
Early XTC tracks – like those presented on the band’s 1979 debut album White Music and Go 2, released the same year – were often characterized by a herky-jerky, nervous character. “Life Begins at the Hop” has some of that quality, but Moulding’s songwriting displays catchy pop values, making the song the best of both worlds. The band’s fifth single, it was XTC’s first to chart in the UK, Australia and Canada. Greater success was just around the corner.

“Making Plans for Nigel” from Drums and Wires (1979)
Guitarist Andy Partridge composed the lion’s share of XTC’s material, but it was another tune from the pen of Colin Moulding that would give the band its breakthrough hit single. An incisive look at privilege through the prism of workaday England, “Making Plans for Nigel” Rose into the Top 40 in the UK, Canada, Netherlands and New Zealand. Next stop: America.

“Generals and Majors” from Black Sea (1980)
Though the brief Falklands War – a ten-week skirmish in which Great Britain and Argentina fought over a sparsely-populated mountainous archipelago in the South Atlantic – wouldn’t break out until 1982, Moulding’s prescient “Generals and Majors” was a sardonic comment on the military complex’s unending appetite for conflict. Set to a bouncy, upbeat melody and rhythm, “Generals and Majors” would be one of relatively few hit singles to feature a whistling chorus. The tune reached #28 on Billboard’s Album Rock Tracks chart, XTC’s first US chart placement. (And yes, that’s Richard Branson in the video.)

“Grass” from Skylarking (1986)
Often cited as XTC’s finest moment – though many other of the group’s albums vie for that honor – Skylarking was part song cycle, part loosely conceptual work, part collection of top-flight songs that could stand on their own. Moulding’s “Grass” is a romantic, idyllic slice of pastoral songwriting, and the title’s double meaning made it successful on multiple levels. Released as a single, it only made to to #100 on the UK charts, but “Grass” remains a fan favorite off the Todd Rundgren-produced album.

“Vanishing Girl” from Psonic Psunspot by The Dukes of Stratosphear (1987)
When XTC was first getting started, the band considered calling itself The Dukes of Stratosphear, but Partridge reportedly rejected the name as “too psychedelic.” But that name was a perfect fit for XTC’s pseudonymous side project in which the group-in-disguise applied its talents to making music in the style of Traffic, the Electric Prunes and other late-sixties legends. The most accessible track from the Dukes’ slim catalog – an EP and an album – is Colin Moulding’s delightful “Vanishing Girl.”