A Celebration of XTC’s Colin Moulding

August 17, 2020 by

Colin Moulding, ladies and gentleman! The extraordinary bassist and founding member of the inimitable English rock band XTC, of course. While Andy Partridge was XTC’s lead singer and primary songwriter, Moulding penned and sang his fair share of classic tunes, including some of the group’s biggest hits. Moulding, who wrote roughly a quarter of the XTC catalog, was responsible for the band’s first big hit, 1979’s “Making Plans for Nigel,” which went to #17 on the UK charts. “Generals and Majors” went to #28 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart in 1981, and “King for a Day” peaked at #11 on the Modern Rock chart in 1989.

XTC formed in 1972 and released their punky debut LP White Music in January 1978. XTC broke up in 2006 after releasing 14 studio albums and 40 singles – all of which are worthy of a good listen. In 2017, Moulding reunited with drummer Terry Chambers and released the four-song EP Great Aspirations. They played six sold-out shows in their hometown of Swindon, England the following year – their first live performances together in 35 years. XTC had become a studio-only band back in 1982 due to Partridge’s debilitating stage fright.

The following 10 tracks show Moulding’s talent for writing super catchy and smart pop songs, as well as the many musical styles XTC covered throughout their impressive career.

“General and Majors”

“Generals and majors always seem so unhappy ‘less they got a war,” Moulding sings in the chorus of this bouncy new wave classic. “Generals and Majors” is among the highlights from one of XTC’s best albums, Black Sea. Virgin founder and billionaire Richard Branson plays one of the generals in the music video.

“Making Plans for Nigel”

XTC’s first Top 20 hit in the UK, “Making Plans for Nigel” further established how distinctly British the band was with a song about a Nigel.

“King for a Day”

A perfect pop song, this is one of the best cuts from 1989’s Oranges and Lemons. Moulding’s sharp writing is evident from the opening bars:

Everyone’s creeping up to the money god
Putting tongues where they didn’t ought to be
On stepping stones of human hearts and souls
Into the land of “nothing for free”

According to the XTC website Chalkhills, Partridge said of this track, “The song’s about ass-licking and making a fool of yourself just to get fame and riches and success. The song’s a commando knife, dark and cutting.”

“Life Begins at the Hop”

Released as their fifth single in 1979, this was Moulding’s first A-side composition and it’s a damn good first single.

“Grass”

“Grass” is one of many great tunes from their masterpiece concept album Skylarking, produced by Todd Rundgren. Moulding delivers memorable lines like “The way you slap my face just fills me with desire.” Contrary to popular belief, “Grass” is not about weed. It’s about Coate Water, a country park outside of Swindon.

“What in the World??…”

In the mid-’80s, XTC forayed into ‘60s psychedelic pop-rock with the spin-off parody band The Dukes of Stratosphear. The band members even changed their names. Moulding was billed as The Red Curtain and Partridge was Sir John Johns. “What in the World??…” is the only Moulding composition on their debut 25 O’Clock, released on April Fool’s Day in 1985. The Dukes released one more album, Psonic Psunspot, in 1987. Moulding had three songs on that one, my favorite being opener “Vanishing Girl.”

“Wonderland”

This pretty single from 1983’s Mummer, “Wonderland” wasn’t a hit but should’ve been. Drummer Terry Chambers, pissed off that the band had stopped touring, quit during the recording of this album.

“Smokeless Zone”

This was the A-side to the bonus single included with the Generals and Majors 7-inch UK release. The catchy, frenetic song, which features Partridge on harmonica, appeared as a bonus track on CD reissues of Black Sea.

“Big Day”

This lushly produced song is about marriage, among the cycles in life covered on Skylarking. Moulding dedicated the song to his teenage son Lee.

“Runaways”

This is a long song that opens 1982’s pastoral English Settlement album, which was a sharp departure from the nervy new wave and post-punk of their first several albums.

Hope you enjoyed these ten Colin tunes. As this list clearly demonstrates, Moulding has a great talent for writing earworms. XTC were one of those rare bands that were adventurous and ambitious, yet always melodic and accessible. If you’re not familiar with XTC, do us all a favor and spin a few of their stellar albums today. All right, off you go then.

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