Here’s a clip of neo-psych power-popsters Jellyfish. It’s their single “The King Is Half-Undressed”, as featured on their classic 1990 record Bellybutton.
This is an album that pulls together an irresistible concoction of The Beatles, Sell Out-era Who, the Beach Boys, and with a certain sonic affiliation thereby with XTC, Badfinger, and Cheap Trick. This song scored #19 on the Billboard modern rock chart, and would be one of five singles off of the record.
The band wore their power pop and psych colours proudly on this song, and on the album in general. But, there are multiple strains of rock music to be found here, and on the rest of Bellybutton. There’s certainly an anthemic quality to this tune, which makes it large scale in a way that most power pop isn’t.
The record was a critical success, during the very brief window between the ’80s college rock era, and game-changing ’90s grunge. This video was honoured with a Best Art Direction at the MTV video awards. Once again, this happened during a time when it was possible that a band like Jellyfish could be so honoured.
They had the tunes, and the sound that allowed them to be a singular presence in the charts. But, Jellyfish was another example of a band who, despite their clear talents, were doomed to be short-lived. So, what happened? Read more
Listen to this track by former post-punk popsters and neo-psychedelic bucolicist champs XTC. It’s the lushly arranged tale of mythic innocence, “Mermaid Smiled” as taken from their landmark 1986 album Skylarking a record which came about due to the efforts of at least two musical visionaries. The first being singer/guitarist and songwriter Andy Partridge, and the other being pop music wunderkind Todd Rundgren who served as producer. And when these two guys got together – boy! – did the sparks fly, in more ways than one!
The reason that the record is considered a gem in the band’s catalog is the musical and thematic unity it represented for the group at the time, having abandoned touring by 1982, and having embraced their love of 60s psychedelia and orchestral flourishes as a studio band. And you can certainly hear traces of that in this song, with lyrics concerning mythical creatures and ‘caves of memory’ which may not have flown so straight as lyrical content when the group put out their first few records by 1977-78, when they were more in line with a punk and post punk musical ethos.
In edition, what is evoked here is a Romantic spirit in the capital ‘R’ sense of the word, with the title ‘Skylarking’ referring to Percy Shelley’s “To a Skylark” poem, and the images of an ideal summer firmly at the centre of the record. This is not only true for this song, but is also bolstered by the presence of some of the best work the band had ever done in “Summer’s Cauldron”, “Sacrificial Bonfire”, “Grass”, and “The Meeting Place”. Read more
Here’s a clip of XTC-driven pen name band The Dukes of Stratosphear with their Beatles-Meet-Brian-Wilson inspired tune “Brainiac’s daughter” as taken from 1987’s Psonic Psunspot. The song brings together two passions of writer Andy Partridge – psychedelic-era music, and comic books.
Where many think of psychedelic music as lofty in approach and at times inaccessible as pop music, this track reminds the listener that a good deal of psychedelia has an endearing child-like quality to it as well. This makes it something of a perfect fit for XTC, who began to embrace the sensibilities of children and childhood from this point onward in their own songs. This tune is clearly a nod to Paul McCartney’s ‘White Album’-era output, in turn with some of McCartney’s Brian Wilson-oriented sunshiny musical worldview woven right in.
Why the guys in XTC decided to disguise themselves as a lost 60s-psych-pop group Dukes of Stratosphear is anyone’s guess, since they were clearly in debt to many of the influences to whom the Dukes were paying homage anyway. But even if they weren’t ready to release the material under the XTC name, the guys threw themselves well into their roles, even taking on pseudonyms. Lead singer and guitarist Andy Partridge was Sir John Johns. Bassist and singer Colin Moulding was simply ‘the Red Curtain’. And lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Dave Gregory played the part of Lord Cornelius Plum. And on the drum kit, Dave’s brother Ian Gregory as E.I.E.I Owens.
The band put out an EP, 25 O’Clock in 1985, while concurrently working on their masterpiece as XTC, the celebrated Skylarking. That album came with a credit to the Dukes in the liner notes for the use of the Dukes’ guitars. They must have been pleased with their own cleverness on the EP, later putting out a full-length Psonic Psunspot on vinyl in 1987. The compilation album Chips from the Chocolate Fireball came out later that year, which pulled in both releases onto one disc.
It seems that XTC is on indefinite hiatus at the moment. Yet, I wonder if we’ll hear from the Dukes any time soon. The outfit, anonymity and all, might be just the thing it takes to remind everyone concerned what inspired them in the first place, and that music is not something to split hairs over.
Read more about what inspired the Dukes of Stratosphear project, and which sounds inspired the songs on XTC fan site Chalkhills.org.