70's Pick of the Week
Making Plans for Nigel, XTC (1979)
This is one of my all-time favourite new wave songs for sure! It was also XTC’s most successful single, written by bassist Collin Moulding. With its driving, almost industrial sound, I played this song to death. XTC is British of course; if the name Nigel didn’t tip you off. There is something dark about the satirical lyrics offset by the repetitive backbeat and the little “Wheeew” background singer. The upbeat tempo is completely opposite to the concern for the predetermined destiny of the poor Nigel’s of the world. Be happy dammit! His future was as good as sealed with “the company” in this case, British Steel – a bit controversial in the U.K. “Nigel is not outspoken”, but “he must be happy in his work”.
According to Moulding “"Partly biographical, this one. My dad prompted me to write it. He wanted a university future for me and was very overpowering in trying to persuade me to get my hair cut and stay on at school. It got to the point where he almost tried to drag me down the barber's shop by my hair. I know the song tells of a slightly different situation, but it all boils down to the same thing - parental domination.". I know my Dad worked for a large corporation and maybe that is why I somehow relate to this. It sounds so familiar...
Andy Partridge (guitar, vocals) and Collin Moulding (bassist, vocalist) came together as the core members in 1972, although they experimented with a number of names. Like many British New Wave bands (and punk bands) they cite the New York Dolls, particularly the song “Jet Boy” as a strong influence. The Dolls came to the U.K. in 1973 and played on the music show “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. (I will cover them and this song in my next blog). Other bands that had a major influence in the U.K. were said to be the Ramones, for example their song “Blitzkrieg Bop” is often cited as having a major influence.
There were a lot of things going on in the U.K. to stem the backlash of Punk and then new wave. The American influence was there, but I am not convinced it was the ‘cause’ per se of Punk.
XTC was more known for their albums and longevity as a new wave band than the singles. In 1977 they were signed by Virgin records and produced a number of albums. Their debut “White Music” included a version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” sung by Partridge. Their second album, Go 2, was not commercially successful, but saw them experimenting with ‘dub’ music. Their third album, 1979’s ‘Drums and Wires” finally saw them succeed with Moulding taking over a lot of the song writing.
In 1982 they were supposed to appear at Santa Monica Civic Theatre and did not show up, due to “illness”. The cause as it was later discovered was that Andy Partridge was having severe stage fright and had a ‘nervous breakdown’1 related to his battle with valium addiction.
Although that signalled the end of touring for XTC they continued to work in the studio for many years, never repeating the success of “Making Plans for Nigel”. Bloody sad really.
1 They don’t really call it a ‘nervous breakdown’ any more, but it is also not defined per se under the new DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). It is similar to acute stress disorder and may share some of the similarities of mixed anxiety-depressive disorder.