Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Songs We Can't Forget: XTC's Senses Working Overtime:

The physical impact of this song has never left me, the blow it delivered has left red, raised scars on my psyche that are still tender to the touch to this day.

It's the spring of 1982 and I'm all of twelve years old, sitting on the concrete steps of my junior high school. I'm all alone at this moment but that's okay because amongst the group of older kids a few feet away from me someone has a battery-powered radio. The radio's owner fiddles with the static until the sound of an acoustic guitar being rocket-propelled by a crashing drum and bass begins ricocheting around the concrete overhang before being flung out towards the cool blue sky. The dial fiddling stops. Muttered conversation resumes but I'm all hearing, leaning forward like Matt Murdoch perched on a gargoyle high above Hell's Kitchen.

Weaned as I was on folk music, I tune first into that hard-strummed acoustic, then as a lyric devotee I listen to the explosion of words and images but of course it's the chorus with its persuasive count-in ("And I've got 1-2-3-4-5 - senses working overtime") that leaves me struck dumb. I stay still in my sun-lit corner as the song races from fever pitch to fever pitch - it is a song about a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown - till the the song ends and the DJ says,  "that was the new XTC song, "Senses Working Overtime". I file that information in my brain, not knowing that it will take up residence there and never leave.

I like to think every music fan has such a never-to-be-forgotten moment, whether it came from Duke Ellington, Willie Nelson, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or Radiohead. Hell, if it came to you while listening to Mandy Moore, I say treasure that fucking instant because there's only a too-brief window in a person's life where some piece of music can reach past intellect, experience, fear and social conditioning and just punch your lights out. Believe me when I say that I still hear songs that hit me on a purely visceral level and that music can still be transcendental but moments where the doors of possibilities are battered down and the sun shines enough to warm your face but not enough to burn belong to an earlier, more formative times.

What's your song you can't forget? Tell us about it in the COMMENTS section.


  1. I was totally into XTC in '82, also (although I was halfway through high school at the time). "Drums and Wires" and "Black Sea" were really important records to me back then; I didn't really stay with them through their "English Settlement" era, I was more into the rock/post-punk stuff...

    There's tons of songs that stuck in my head from that time, too many to single out, though if I had to mention an XTC one (just to keep with the theme) it would be "Respectable Street" - because it rocked, the drums were loud (I liked anything where the drums were loud -- hooray '80s), and it made fun of people. The making fun of people was the really important part. "Wow, they're not talking about partying or being on the road or chicks -- they're making fun of people!"

  2. Oh yes, 'Senses Working Ovetime' is pure brilliance. Love XTC. Always have, since first hearing their denut single, 'Science Friction' in 1977, which could easily be my pick for 'songs we can't forget'. There are so many. I'll mention Magazine's 'Shot By Both Sides', though. That sends me somewhere only the greatest music can.

  3. "English Settlement" is one of those albums that changed the way I looked at music. A friend of mine was really big into XTC, but I didn't get (at the time) the noisy post-punk stuff.

    But I came over one way and he had put the needle on side one, and Runaways came on, followed by "Ball and Chain" and I saw the light from that point on.

    While it's (very) easy to turn neophytes on to XTC with "Skylarking", they usually end up gravitating to English Settlement after a while...

  4. It was 1985. I was up "late" on a Friday night watching CBC's attempt at rock video glory aka "Good Rockin' Tonight". As always I was hoping for something that acutally "rocked" and was quite sure that that something would never come. Then, out of the blue, a vision burst forth from the (possibly colour) screen. Ripping guitars! Shredded clothes! Punk sneers! And a chorus to die for! I was pumped. So pumped, I spent the next fifteen minutes explaining to my poor long suffering Mom the awesomeness I had just witnessed. At my earliest opportunity I picked up the 7" of my Friday night find only to ditch it after tape-trading for a copy of the full length.

    The song? Motley Crue's rendition of "Smokin' In The Boys Room".

    I still fucking love that song.

  5. I always heard that this song was about coming off of chronic doses of Valium prescribed to Andy Partridge.

  6. I was 12 years old in 1960, and rescued my parent's old radio from the trash. I plugged it in and tuned it away from their station (playing "Tennessee Stud" by Eddy Arnold) until I found a station I liked. It was playing "Only the Lonely" by Roy Orbison, and was the first time in my life I was controlling what was on the radio, MY radio. Freedom!

  7. Just a couple of weeks ago I heard "Venus in Furs" for the first time. It came on the radio when I was almost asleep and I had no idea what it was. But it instantly sent that giddy, half-terrified-because-this-is-too-good-to-be-true feeling all through me. I guess it pays sometimes to be young and new to music.

  8. It was 1976 and I was browsing through my Chelsea vs Wolves programme (I think it was that game anyway) when I saw an advert for The Damned New Rose single. I started listening to the John Peel show soon after (plugging the old earpiece into the transistor at 10pm,making sure my parents didn't know I was still awake) Then I heard Anarchy In The UK by the Pistols and life was never the same after that. I know its a cliche but it's true. By 1977,I was a fully fledged punk rocker at the grand old age of 12!

  9. How odd ... Longy was at a Chelsea match!The debut albums by The Sex Pistols,Sham 69,The Damned,The Buzzcocks,The Clash,Elvis Costello,Talking Heads,Blondie,The Ramones,Ultravox!,XTC etc made music exciting again.And Singing Bear mentions Magazine.The debut album by Magazine was a shocker.Just plain unexpected and brilliant.And another favourite was(is)Jimmy Pursey's first solo album 'Imagination Camouflage'.Thanks to Longy for a nice vinyl rip.

    Generally music is very 'twee' in 2011.Kinda sad.Music needs another kick in the butt.

    Oh yeah ... and there was the debut album by Television!!!!!

    And Jeffen ... thanks for the XTC posts.

  10. Saw them at the Cleveland Agora on the second tour for Black Sea back in early 1981. A most incredible show that included four or five "new songs". Senses was one of those. That was their last tour. I may still have the ticket stub around here somewhere...

  11. my introduction came via video hits with samantha taylor sometime in the eighties. i was still living at home and a half hour of music videos was like gold to these eyes. one day they played the video for 'dear god' and i was hooked as a fan since.

  12. XTC was definitely part of my musical awakening. I recall buying this 12-inch and a 10-inch of "No Thugs in Our House"--among my first-ever record purchases--and listening enviously and repeatedly to my friend's English import (double LP) version of "English Settlement" almost every day over at his house. Thanks for the return visit!

  13. MRML,

    Well written words about a well written song.

    You've added to the mystic!

    XTC rules!

    Dave RFW

  14. Brushback
    yeah Respectable St. is on my (rather lengthy) list of crucial XTC songs. And, yeah that 'making fun of squares' element is a huge part of it's charm.

    SBBS is a stunning piece of music.

    I've sometimes struggle with ES because some songs I'm crazy about but there are a few that I'm indifferent to.

    Yeah having older siblings that song is forever stuck in 1976 for me, so I can't say it had any impact on me but hey in the spirit of the event -thanks for adding your own story!

    I believe it!

    Love the story - Orbison as the sound of freedom.

    It pays to be young - so true!

    "plugging the old earpiece into the transistor at 10pm,making sure my parents didn't know I was still awake" that is so my experience, if just a few years later!

    I wonder what the next kick be or whether the world of music is cohesive enough for another such thing to happen.

    if you ever scan that treasure let me know!

    "Video Hits" sigh - how many hours Samantha Taylor and I spent together in the early 80's.

    Don't make me cry now. Thanks!


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