Sunday, April 26, 2009

The background to ‘Dear God by XTC’ (1986)

“If anyone gets upset at this song then they deserve to get upset at this song. If they’re that anal about their religion that you can’t have a different opinion without them wanting to firebomb your house, then that’s their problem”.

Of all the Atheist anthems floating around – this is my favourite.

I guess being such a massive XTC fan, has somewhat ‘blinkered’ my opinion but there is something about this song’s lyrics, that strikes a note with me.

It’s a song that I can play time & time again, without losing its appeal.

So I decided to research the song itself, dig deeper and find-out more about its origins, production etc and the video-clip you see below.

Here’s what I found-out about XTC’s ‘Dear God’.

· The song-writer Andy Partridge had first written a book by the same title, arguing against the religious brainwashing of children, in the form of letters sent to God. This formed the inspiration for the song.

· Partridge had pondered the existence of God and concluded there was none, figuring a child’s letter to God would form a poignant irony.

· The opening and ending verse is sung by the then eight year old Jasmine Veillette, the daughter of a friend of producer Todd Rundgren.

· Jasmine was frightfully shy, and Todd who produced the album ‘Skylarking’ insisted the group leave the studio whilst she sang.

· In the video a boy lip-syncs her vocals

· For such a powerful, popular song Andy Partridge didn’t want it even on the album in the first place. It was only when he heard the finished piece, he relented. As he put it “I didn’t want it on because I didn’t thing I done it well enough. I thought it had failed tremendously and I asked to have it nipped-off the album”.

· Partridge particularly hated the lyrics. In his own words “It is such a big subject and I’ve been wrestling with it for years, but how can you cover it, in three and half minutes?”. “Human belief is too big a beast to bring to the floor in such a short time”.
· Partridge had been trying to find a tune which would go with the lyrics he wrote in 1985, and he stumbled upon the finished piece after playing around with Paul McCartney's song ‘Rocky Racoon’ in the wrong key. “ The tune had a few incarnations. It started as a kind of skiffle rag with a much bluesier melody but after several blacksmith like bending and bashing sessions (oddly, in my kitchen) it gradually morphed” is the way he describes the composition process.

· Partidge describes the songs added strings as “mock Gershwin”.

· The song was released (16th August 1986) as a B-Side to ‘Grass’ from the same album, but rapidly gained popularity. ‘Grass’ is another song worth checking out.

· The original track was recorded in the front-lounge of the sound engineer, Dave Gregorys, Swindon flat (January 1986)

· The original album Skylarking (October 1986) did not have ‘Dear God’ as the last song, instead it featured ‘Mermaid Smiled’. It was only after the popularity of the single, that the song was added to re-issues.

· Many retailers refused to stock the album with ‘Dear God’ or the single, and radio stations in the U.S by and large considered the song too controversial.

· One radio station in Florida that played the song in 1987 received a threat it would be firebombed. The band and the record company were inundated with adverse letters, and the occasional ‘physical threat’ from Christians.

· As they say ‘any controversy is good controversy’ , and the song is single-handily attributed for XTC breaking into the U.S market.

· One of the more bizarre reactions to the song occurred in Binghampton, NY when the then 18 year old Gary Pullis held the secretary of his school at knife point in the principals office one morning and demanded that Dear God be played over the school's intercom system. He was later arrested and taken away for psychiatric evaluation.

· For any Kiwi’s reading this, the single was released in New Zealand but never charted. XTC were a popular band here, having had a number-one hit in 1979 with ‘Making Plans for Nigel’. They also make it into the Top-Ten’ with ‘Generals and Majors’ (#2 19/09/1980 ) and ‘Senses working Overtime’ (peaked #3 03/05/1982) They toured New Zealand in September 1980. Because of Partridges bouts of stage-fright, the band toured only intermittently.

· ‘Dear God’ reached No. 15 on the Billboard Album Tracks chart and received the Billboard Best Video award for 1987. The song proved the groups most successful in the U.S. and was also nominated for the 1987 MTV Best Director, Best Concept, and Best Innovation awards.

· The album ‘Skylarking’ reached No. 90 on the UK album chart and No. 70 on the US album chart, which was a travesty. Most critics rank ‘Skylarking’ as XTC’s best album – infact it often crops-up in peoples ‘Best Albums of All Time’ – admiration I concur with.

· A skiffle version by the bands was released in September 2004 on Fuzzy Warbles Volume Five in the U.K.

"Dear God,hope you got the letter, and...I pray you can make it better down here.
I don't mean a big reduction in the price of beer but all the people that you made in your image, seethem starving on their feet 'cause they don't get enough to eat from God".

"I can't believe in you Dear God, sorry to disturb you, but... I feel that I should be heardloud and clear. We all need a big reduction in amount of tearsand all the people that you made in your image, see them fightingin the street 'cause they can't make opinions meet about God,I can't believe in you".

"Did you make disease, and the diamond blue? Did you makemankind after we made you? And the devil too!"

"Dear God, don't know if you noticed, but... your name is ona lot of quotes in this book, and us crazy humans wrote it, youshould take a look, and all the people that you made in yourimage still believing that junk is true. Well I know it ain't, andso do you, dear God, I can't believe in I don't believe in".

"I won't believe in heaven and hell. No saints, no sinners, nodevil as well. No pearly gates, no thorny crown. You're alwaysletting us humans down. The wars you bring, the babes youdrown. Those lost at sea and never found, and it's the same thewhole world 'round. The hurt I see helps to compound thatFather, Son and Holy Ghost is just somebody's unholy hoax,and if you're up there you'd perceive that my heart's here uponmy sleeve. If there's one thing I don't believe init's you... Dear God".

Background to XTC 'Dear God' - Everything you wanted to know about XTC 'Dear God'

Note; If you have something to add to what I’ve uncovered, be sure to let us all know, in the comments section below.


Orion77 said...

Very good, don't have any memory of it. Generals and Senses, yes, but not this.

Kerri Love said...

(Aka: Imtherabbit)

THANKS! it's great to know more about the song, it was and still is a favorite of mine since the first time I heard it as a teenager. I think that Gary Pullis was actually very sane, he wanted the school to hear a song that had a great impact in hope he could impact others... his method was, of course, insane though but I can see why he did it :P

Just a note to go with this, this Canadian songstress Sarah McLaughlin covered this song quite well

Kerri Love said...

sorry I didn't notice that youtube link is not the actual video, thought I should mention that :)

Anonymous said...

Gary Pullis actually played a different song off of Skylarking, but the local newspaper actually got it wrong and the story has been going around ever since then that he played Dear God. I know, because I was there.

Michael Kulka said...

There is a God, because He changed my life. "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, will live forever. And he who believes in me and lives, will never die. Do you believe this?" Words of Jesus Christ. And yes i believe this and hope to see God and spend eternity with Him

Michael Kulka said...

There is a God, because He changed my life. "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die will live forever, and he who believes in me and lives will never die. Do you believe this?" Words of Jesus Christ. And yes i believe this and know that i will see Him and spend eternity with Him forever.

Tex Shelters said...

Great piece. Thanks for the information about the song. I had tickets to see them in SF on what was their last attempt to mount a major tour, and it was cancelled. Luckily, I saw them warm up for, and out perform, the Police live.


Anonymous said...

Just a correction, Andy partridge did not write the book Dear God as you state, rather he read it and that formed the inspiration for the song.

Anonymous said...

I think he info on the books is wrong--it wasn't based on a book Partridge had written, rather it was a reaction he had to a book based on children's letters to god that he saw and felt was exploitive...

Anonymous said...

Also, Veillette was not Rundgren's daughter... And she was 9. :)