Andy Partridge and his cohorts within XTC weren’t exactly renowned for being accommodating with the producers foisted upon them by their label (not were they especially accommodating with their label either), but their combativeness with Todd Rundgren during the recording of the 1986 album Skylarking was especially notorious. They’d chosen Rundgren from a list of names given to them by Virgin Records, delivered with the warning that the band needed to start selling records in the United States. According to all involved, Partridge and Rundgren were viciously at one another from the jump, with the XTC lead singer especially decrying his producer’s cruelty and condescension. Partridge later felt compelled to concede that Rundgren ” did do great things musically. The arrangements were brilliant and I don’t know how he came up with them.” Rundgren was also the one who landed on the notion of shaping the material into a sort of gentle concept album, and he chose the songs for inclusion accordingly. At roughly the time of the album’s release, Partridge noted, “The songs that were picked were picked because they fell into a kind of a continuous category, like a sort of a summer category. I’m awaiting my ‘Honorary Member of the Beach Boys’ shirt.” Of those songs, “Earn Enough For Us” was one of the last added to album, slipping in once “Let’s Make a Den” failed to pass muster. It also represented one of the few instances in which Rundgren didn’t tug the band away from the more jagged, clamorous style that was their prior signature, insisting they keep the final feel of the resulting track close to song’s original demo, which Partridge cheerfully described as “crass.”
The Blow Monkeys set forth on a wave of passion and bravado. When they had little more than two singles to their names, the band’s leader, known by the stage name Dr. Robert, was already boasting of their enduring genius. “Because the important thing about the Blow Monkeys is that we have a timeless quality, which is something all great performers have got,” he said. “It’s got nothing to do with our ‘sound’ or the way we dress. It’s to do with how we are as people, how I am as the singer out front. That’s what’s going to pull us through.” Despite some continuing, nostalgia-fueled interest, the accuracy of that prediction of timelessness is highly questionable. There was one sizable hit, however, delivered as the second single from their sophomore full-length, Animal Magic, released in 1986. “Digging Your Scene” is a lush, swooning track that housed a stealthy song of celebratory, prideful protest. According to Dr. Robert, the song was the last written for the album. The music was inspired by soul records, especially those by Marvin Gaye. The lyrics had a far less tranquil and affectionate origin. “I’d read an article where Donna Summer said AIDS was God’s revenge on homosexuals, and I disagreed,” Dr. Robert explained. “The song itself was a homage to those gay clubs like Taboo that I used to go to — even though I’m not gay — because the music and the vibe was so good. You would see everyone from Leigh Bowery to Mark E. Smith there.” Presumably, the political underpinnings of the song were lost on the many of the radio programmers who made it into a hit, the band’s sole charting single in the United States, where it peaked at #14 on the Billboard chart.
According to Bob Mould, “Could You Be the One?” was written to be a single, with no especially intricate meaning behind the lyrics or other motivation to the song. And that’s exactly what happened. Hüsker Dü’s label, Warner Bros., chose it as the first single from Warehouse: Songs and Stories, the 1987 album that would prove to be the band’s last. In making that selection, the label arguably exacerbated a serious rift that already existed, with drummer Grant Hart, the band’s other songwriter and lead singer, growing fiercely disenchanted with Mould’s increasing authority over the band. For a time, Hüsker Dü was everywhere with the song, including ill-fitting platforms like Today and The Late Show with Joan Rivers. In the case of the latter, Mould later recounted the band’s delight that the shows producers had taken great pains to recreate the Warehouse cover for the performance. He also noted how strange it felt to sit for an interview about the band when he was convinced Hüsker Dü would be over within six months. His sense of timing wasn’t precisely correct, but was close enough. The guest spot on Rivers’s talk show was in late April of 1987, and the band played their final show in mid-December of that year, at the Blue Note, in Columbia, Missouri.
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.