10 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - XTC - Thanks For Christmas


Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1983

Hello readers.  For the next couple of weeks I'm going to don some tinsel around my head and fully get into the spirit of the season to bring you some reuploads, YouTube clips and new material which is suitably joyous.  Why?  Well, after all, it's not as if I have much money left at this time of year to splash out on new material to upload to this blog what with buying tat for my relatives, don't you know how hard the last few years have been financially?  what kind of person would I be if I didn't?  Scrooge, that's who.

This particular XTC track is an oddity in the band's canon in that the original plans for the record could have been a lot more quirky and adventurous than the final product.  Andy Partridge's original intentions were to get female members of the Virgin Records staff to issue the song under the name The Virgin Marys, but this was stonewalled by the powers-that-be.  Instead, the band took the opportunity to record the single themselves whilst testing out David Lord as a possible producer for their next album, the utterly brilliant and criminally undersung "Big Express".

Suffice to say, "Thanks For Christmas" - issued under the name Three Wise Men - contains little of the angular edges of that album and is instead a delicate, chiming song which quite simplistically outlines the joys of the season.  This was released during a bleak period of the band's career when public and critical indifference to their output was at its height.  Andy Partridge had quit touring the year before due to ongoing anxiety issues and panic attacks brought on by stage fright, drummer Terry Chambers walked out shortly afterwards, and their future seemed somewhat uncertain.  Partridge has since admitted that the words "Bye bye" sung on the tail end of their 1983 album "Mummer" were a reference to the fact that he thought it may be their last release - and these were blurted out on a song ("Funk Pop A Roll") which also contained the bitter lines "I've already been poisoned by this industry".    Things were not exactly going swimmingly.

"Thanks For Christmas" isn't one of their finest singles, but it does act as a sweetener and a break between the clouds of that moment and the mayhem of the "Big Express" album, and did provide fans some assurance at the time that business was carrying on as usual in the XTC camp.  It is now apparently being played on some tapes in supermarkets and shopping centres hungry for lesser-heard festive tunes, a fact that thrills me no end.  It seems incredibly unlikely that this will ever nudge its way into the charts during the festive period in the manner that many old Christmas songs do, especially as it presently seems to be unavailable on all the usual commercial downloading sites, but it's still a seasonal offering from a very unlikely atheist source.  Oh, and the flipside, the strangely funky, breakdance-friendly "Countdown To Christmas Party Time" - which has loaned its name to this little sub-section of "Left and to the Back" - is also on YouTube if you're feeling curious.  

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