This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #281: Dear God by XTC.
During my first year as a teacher, I taught at Regal Road P.S., in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy. I lived a few kilometres away in a house on Hallam Street in Little Portugal. The upper floor of 124 Hallam Street had been rented out to a couple of WardAir stewardesses. They entered through the front door. My entrance was around the back. I shared the main floor and basement with another man….a young lawyer named Jack D. (who still practises law in Toronto). Jack’s bedroom was on the main floor, mine was in the basement. If you Google this address, you will see a small window underneath the front veranda…that was my bedroom window. In any case, Jack had started his law career and had a bit more money than I did so, most of the possessions in the space we shared were owned by him. Jack’s most prized possession was his stereo. Jack was an audiophile. He had a large record collection, which I enjoyed getting to know. But, most importantly of all to Jack, he had a high-end, beautiful stereo. I liked the music he played so I was happy to let him be the one to operate the stereo in the living room. *(I had my own stereo downstairs in my bedroom). Jack and I got along fairly well the year we lived together. The only time we had words was the day he came home from work to find me in the living room, listening to an album called, “Skylarking” by XTC on his stereo. His album. His stereo. I thought we had built up a certain level of trust between us but, apparently not, when it came to his stereo. Jack lost his mind! I never touched his stereo again after that but, out of that awful memory came something great for me. I went out and purchased my own copy of “Skylarking” and enjoyed playing it on my own Technics stereo for years to follow. One of the songs that I came to love most from “Skylarking” was a tune about an agnostic questioning whether God really exists. The song was simply called, “Dear God”. Here is the story of that memorable song.
“Dear God” is the biggest selling and highest charting song in XTC’s entire career. Yet, it was almost never released, for multiple reasons. XTC began their career as more of a Punk-influenced band. Their early hits included songs such as “Making Plans for Nigel” and “Senses Working Overtime” *(which was Song #396, I believe, on this list). Their songs were marked by the intelligence of their lyrics and their storytelling, as well as, their inventiveness when it came to how they played their instruments and how that, in turn, added extra elements of creativity to their finished products. Lead singer, Andy Partridge, suffered from stage fright so, XTC became a studio-only band in the early 1980s. When that happened, Partridge, who was a bit of a control freak, became even more controlling and obstinate with each record produced by the band. Because they weren’t touring and, because production costs were climbing due to Partridge, the record company was threatening to drop the band from their label if sales didn’t improve. To hedge their bets, the label said that an outside producer must be brought in (in essence, to control Partridge). That producer turned out to be Todd Rundgren.
Rundgren was a strict task-master. Before starting the project, he insisted on listening to all demo tapes the band had made of potential songs for the new album. Rundgren selected a dozen that he felt had potential. He placed them in a track-list order without consulting the band (which enraged Partridge). He, then, went on to tell the band that he thought they had the makings of a concept album on their hands. He felt the new album would be comparable to “Revolver” by The Beatles or “Pet Sounds” by The Beach Boys. Rundgren said the songs all seemed to hint at a themes of time and transitions (like the changing of seasons, life events, etc.). The band bristled under his command but, one by one, the songs were recorded and the album came together under the name, “Skylarking”. The term, “Skylarking” is meant to convey a sense carefree, light-hearted shenanigan-filled behaviour in the middle of a blue-sky filled summer’s day. The only song recorded but dropped from the initial album was “Dear God”.
As mentioned, “Dear God” is a song about a man who is questioning the existence of God. Andy Partridge, who wrote the song, became nervous as to how it would be received by the public. He wasn’t completely sold on the idea that he had written the lyrics clearly enough to convey his intentions which were not that God was bad or unnecessary but more, how hard it sometimes is to maintain one’s faith in a world where so much misery is seemingly allowed to happen. So, after much bickering and bantering, back and forth, with Rundgren, it was agreed that they would record the song but that it would be left off the album and put in the vault to be re-visited at a future time. “Skylarking”, minus “Dear God”, debuted to middling sales. Somehow, a copy of “Dear God” ended up in the hands of DJs on “College Radio”, who began to play it. The wittiness of the wordplay in the lyrics caught the attention of those who heard it and soon, demand soared and the song was being played on major radio stations. The record label scrambled to re-press the album to include “Dear God”. Then, all heck broke loose!
As Partridge had feared, many religious-types in the US, in particular, reacted with anger that anyone, let alone a bunch of nerdy UK wankers, would dare to question the existence of God. Death threats were uttered against Partridge. Radio stations that played the song were threatened with boycotts and bombs. Through it all, XTC received more attention than they could’ve dreamed of, causing record sales to climb to a level acceptable to the record label. “Skylarking” ended up being a financially and critically successful album. The best of XTC’s career. I still like it a lot and highly recommend you check it out.
Since then, “Dear God” has been covered by numerous artists, including Canada’s own, Sarah McLachlan. Andy Partridge and Todd Rundgren, for all their spats, turned out to be good for each other. I would like to think that, somewhere in Toronto, Jack, the lawyer, might feel the same way about me. In any case, here is what all the fuss was about…..please enjoy, “Dear God” by XTC.
The link to the video for the song, “Dear God” by XTC, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Dear God”, as covered by Sarah McLaughlan, can be found here.
The link to the official website for XTC, can be found here.