On Two For Tuesday, we celebrate two songs that are linked in one way or another. Maybe an artist referenced another artist’s song. Maybe one song features an interpolation of another song. Perhaps an artist references one of their earlier songs through a repeated line or riff. If they’re linked, you may just read about them on Two For Tuesday.
Today, we’re talking about “oranges and lemons,” mentions of which appear twice in the work of the power pop band XTC.
In 1986, XTC released Skylarking, their 9th studio album since 1978 (although one of those albums was by their alter-ego, the ’60s pastiche band “The Dukes of Stratosphear”). Production of Skylarking began after XTC’s record label threatened to drop them if they couldn’t sell more records. The label also insisted that they sounded “too British,” and forced them to choose from a list of American record producers for the album even though frontman Andy Partridge had already made a name producing other artists. The only name the band recognized was Todd Rundgren.
Todd Rundgren should have been the perfect producer for XTC, as Rundgren was known for emulating a ’60s sound much like XTC had done with The Dukes of Stratosphear. However, things did not go as well as they should have on paper. Rundgren has since spoken on the difficulty of working with Partridge, who never seemed to feel a song was finished, always adding additional layers. Partridge’s production experience probably didn’t help him see eye-to-eye with another producer, and the two were constantly clashing. Partridge described the studio experience as “one bunker with two Hitlers.”
What came out of it though, was incredible. Skylarking is a loose concept album about cycles, with several songs leading seamlessly into one another. “Ballet for a Rainy Day” and “1,000 Umbrellas” most obviously act as two songs designed to go together, with streaming versions of “Ballet for a Rainy Day” cutting off before the song resolves, placing the resolution at the beginning of “1,000 Umbrellas” instead.
As it happens, “Ballet for a Rainy Day” is the first topic of the two today. Specifically, the opening line, “Orange and lemon.” The first three verses all begin with fruits of some kind, comparing their sweetness and color to the beauty to be found on a rainy day. Despite the perfect flow between “Ballet for a Rainy Day” and “1,000 Umbrellas,” “Ballet” serves as the positive contrast to the negativity of “1,000 Umbrellas.” The mentions of fruits throughout the song indicate pops of color.
“Oranges and Lemons,” is an English nursery rhyme that references the bells of churches in London. The first printed version of the rhyme appeared in 1744, and the rhyme likely existed long before. There is a children’s game associated with the song (think “London Bridge” or “Ring Around the Rosie”). Reference to “Oranges and Lemons” in “Ballet for a Rainy Day” serves to add a childlike tone to the song, which Partridge filled with references to rainy days as he saw them as a child. Partridge said of the song: “The one thing I remember about the rain as a child was my mother cursing that her new hairdo was going to get ruined.”
Two years later, following the release of another album credited to The Dukes of Stratosphear (as demanded by their record label), XTC found themselves headed into the studio again to record what would become their critically acclaimed album Oranges and Lemons. The working title for Oranges and Lemons was “Songs of Sixpence,” but the production of the album in L.A. inspired Partridge to return to the “Oranges and Lemons” inspiration, as he interpreted it as being about debt, which he felt was a theme in L.A.
Oranges and Lemons also had a very specific reason for being titled after a nursery rhyme: in the time between Skylarking and Oranges and Lemons, Partridge had become a first-time father. While not conceived as a concept album like Skylarking, Oranges centers largely around topics of childhood or naivety. The album opens with “Garden of Earthly Delights,” a children’s guide to the world, dedicated to his son Harry. “Pink Thing” seems to be about a certain body part on the surface, but it is actually about a tiny baby (written about Harry once again). “Hold Me My Daddy” sees Partridge addressing generational trauma caused by the taboos surrounding men showing emotions. He has stated that he played it for his own father and was met with confusion. Album closer “Chalkhills and Children” represents Partridge’s desire to turn away from fame and toward the simpler, more childlike things in life. Along the way, we also hear “Mayor of Simpleton,” which isn’t about childhood, but takes on a young innocence similar to Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.”
It certainly seems as though “oranges and lemons” was shorthand for youth and simpler times in the world of XTC’s Andy Partridge.
You can hear many XTC songs on The Stash, Saturdays from 8-10 am on CD 92.9 FM!
What song or nursery rhyme takes you straight back to your childhood? For me, it’s usually something from Sesame Street, like “These Are the People in My Neighborhood” or the tear-jerking “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon.” Tell me about yours or suggest a future Two For Tuesday by emailing JustEmma@CD929FM.COM.
Written by: Emma Sedam
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