The Dukes of the Stratosphear
Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1985)
- Lord Cornelius Plum (David Gregory)-- keyboards, fuzz-tone guitar
- E.I.W.I Owen (aka Ian Eewee Gregory) -- drums, percussion
- The Red Curtain (aka Colin Moulding) -- bass, song stuff
- Sir John Johns (aka Andy Partridge) -- vocals, guitar, brain buds
- Andy Partridge (solo efforts)
Rating: ***** 5 stars
Title: 25 O'Clock
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Catalog ID: 2873
It's always interesting to see the results of unexpected consequences.
I can clearly remember buying a copy of this collection from my local Penguin Feather. I was attending grad school at night and every time I put it on I found myself disappointed. I really tried to get into it, but somehow just missed the vibe. I actually ended up keeping the album in my collection for decades, though largely for Andy Partridge's cool album cover. And then a couple of years ago I was weeding out the collection and decided to give it another spin. Oh how wrong I was in my misspent 20s.
In the Fall of 1984 engineer John Leckie and singer/songwriter Andy Partridge were hired to work on an album for Canadian singer/songwriter Mary Margaret O'Hara. O'Hara had just been signed to Virgin, which happened to be XTC's label and the label thought Leckie and Partridge would be a good match for O'Hara's debut album. Unfortunately the sessions didn't progress very far before O'Hara fired the pair - reportedly over philosophical and religious differences. Both parties survived the experience; O'Hara subsequently making her Virgin debut with 1988's Michael Brook and Jody Colero produced "Miss America" (which is also worth checking out). For his part, Partridge went on to form The Dukes of the Straosphere (which was a name he's apparently considered when forming XTC).
Having just recently released XTC's "The Big Express", Partridge wasn't sure what to do with the resulting free time in his schedule. A long time fan mid-'60s English psychedelic bands, Partridge decided to use the free time to record new material inspired by that era. Over the years Partridge and keyboardist David Gregory had talked about recording some psych-inspired material, but never gotten around to it. Inviting the rest of XTC to participate (along with drummer Ian Gregory), Partridge decided to make the recording sessions into kind of a game. The sessions used vintage '60s equipment, the members wore period clothing, songs had to be completed in no more than two takes, and all of the tunes had to reflects a mid-'60s psych flavor. John Leckie agreed to produce and with a small loan from Virgin Records, XTC spent two weeks recording material in Chapel Lane Studios. Originally planned to be a full album, the band only managed to record six tracks during the two weeks. Pleased with the results, Virgin elected to release the material as a six track mini-LP. It hit the stores on April Fool's Day, 1985, the original marketing ploy portraying The Dukes of the Stratosphear as a mysterious new act. The XTC members initially denied any involvement in the project, though the release of a promotional video for 'The Mole from the Ministry' made it clear this was an XTC project.
And back to my original comment - for a spur of the moment, throwaway project, the results were stunning. Maybe because Partridge and company didn't feel the normal pressures associated with having to record new material, the band sounded like they were having the time of their lives. There's simply not a single bad song on the set. All hyperbole side, anyone who considers themselves to be a connoisseur of '60s psychedelia owes it to themselves to own this collection. One of the ironies came from the fact this low-keyed, little promoted XTC alter ego ended up outselling the band's most recent studio release - 1984's "The Big Express". Wonder what Geffen Records thought of that ...
O'Clock" track listing:
1.) 25 O'Clock (Andy Partridge) - 5:01 rating: **** stars
Starting out with the clock strokes and chimes, '25 O'clock' simply nailed the psychedelic genre. Personally I've always thought Moulding's stunning bass lines were the song's secret sauce. Elsewhere, I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice a slight resemblance to The Electric Prunes 'I Had To Much To Drink (Last Night)'.
2.) Bike Ride To the Moon (Andy Partridge) - 2:24 rating: **** stars
With a bouncy, almost musical-flavor, the song's references to "Alfred's head" always made me wonder if 'Bike Ride To the Moon' was intended as a tribute to early LSD proponent Alfred Matthew Hubbard.
3.) My Love Explodes (Andy Partridge) - 3:54 rating: **** stars
Even though there was some vaguely PG about the title, 'My Love Explodes' gets my pick for the collection's best tune - certainly the most commercial of the six. Awesome guitar work throughout. In fact, the only think wrong with the tune was producer Leckie's decision to add the little spoken word segment at the end of the song. Leckie somehow came across a piece of tape that captured a radio listener responding to hearing The Fugs song 'Go Fuck Yourself with Your Atomic Bomb' on the radio. The fact the guy sounded like Woody Allen was actually kid of funny,
1.) What In the World?? (Colin Moulding) - 5:01 rating: **** stars
Most folks immediate think of Andy Partridge when they think of XTC, but the fact of the matter is Colin Moulding write some of their most conventional, commercial, and attractive tunes. Accordingly it shouldn;t have come as a surprise to discover he was responsible for turning in the EPs most lysergic number ... complete with backward tapes, treated vocals, acid-dipped lyrics, this one would have made the 'Rain'-era Fab Four blush with joy. Simply one of the heaviest psych songs ever recorded !!! Aural bliss for psychedelic fans.
2.) Your Gold Dress (Andy Partridge) - 4:38 rating: **** stars
'Your Gold Dress' was one of the tracks Partridge had written and squirreled away for a future psych project. The tune was actually written during "The Big Express" sessions, but not recorded since if didn't fit with the rest of the album. With this drowsy number the EP just got better and better ... Simply one of the most tuneful things Partridge ever wrote. Ian Gregory's tribal drums were the secret sauce on this one.
3.) The Mole from the Ministry (Andy Partridge) - 5:50 rating: **** stars
With 'The Mole from the Ministry' Partridge made no attempt to hide his "Magical Mystery Tour' influences. Always loved how the song faded out with the group chanting 'mole, mole, mole' and then faded back in complete with backward tapes and a brief segment of chipmunks tape. Virgin even financed a promotional video, allowing the group to direct it themselves. Add if you somehow managed to miss the song's "Magical Mystery Tour" influences, then the video went overboard to make sure you got XTC's inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-fL68DbcQ0
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