Rediscovered Gems: The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead

XTC was a huge influence on me, but old XTC.  People may know of songs like Making Plans for Nigel or even Senses Working Overtime (this is a live performance link, btw…in 1982 they stopped touring after Andy Partridge caught spontaneous stage-fright!)…and thanks to Sarah McLachlan, people know Dear God but probably have no clue it was written by a British band in the 80s.  I ate them up, specifically the albums Drums and Wires and Go 2.  They had this catchy blend of punky-rock and british-pop that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Tasty!

Old stuff usually beats new stuff, not because new stuff sucks, but because I had more time to hang out with the first albums.  Each time I’d hear something new from XTC I’d go back to the old XTC and BOOM….I’d end up listening to the old stuff again and forgetting about the new album (Oranges and What?…SkyWHOing?)

And then came Peter.  Seeing XTC as a band I owned because no one else I knew listened to them, hearing XTC on the radio was a pretty strange experience, matched only by seeing live Dixieland in New York City, or eating the best jambalaya I’ve ever had…while watching Dixieland in New York City.  I didn’t even know a new album was coming out…how would I?  I got ALL my information from the radio and the music guy down the street who was more of an ‘Eric Clapton’ kind of fan.

…don’t wanna date myself because I don’t really feel that old…but before the internet, in a small town where I’d heard of this ‘cable’ TV but hadn’t seen it yet…finding out about music was based entirely on the few radio stations I could get, friend recommendations, and Video Hits: the poor man’s MTV.

Peter Pumpkinhead.  You and I have a strange history.  I played the song ad nauseum at home.  I sang it, trying desperately to hit those high notes.  Luckily my band mate and bud Ryan loved it too.  Strangely, Crash Test Dummies recorded a cover of it for Dumb and Dumber of all things (XTC would also appear on the Me, Myself and Irene soundtrack!)  Our band Brillohead decided we would do a cover for the local Starsearch competition.  Only we did the original XTC version…

…we didn’t win (8th…there were 8 prizes)…but we became known for the song.  So much so that we recorded a song as close to Pumpkinhead as we could without being a complete copy.

This song is apparently about a pumpkinhead…well, written ‘for’ a pumpkinhead.  Apparently Andy Partridge and I are similar in our empathy for inanimate objects: he had carved a pumpkin for Hallowe’en and stuck it on a fence post after the holiday, and feeling sorry for the rotting head as he walked by it every day he decided to write a song for it…

…it just so happens the song is also a ‘Do Gooder Done Wrong’ allegory which is pretty damned well done if you ask me.  It’s not about any one figure, but all the figures that try to do good in the world and are taken down by people in power.  I think that’s a pretty good homage to the pumpkin-head that will (hopefully) always be remembered in song.

From the opening guitar-jack clicks, to the harmonica, to the catchy chorus, this song does not disappoint.  From 1992’s Nonsuch album by XTC…here is The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead…

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3 Responses to “Rediscovered Gems: The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”

  1. Rob Says:

    I love this!
    I have always been a casual fan of XTC, but never knew where to start.
    So, whats the first XTC album that I should get?

    • Roo Says:

      That’s tough! 😉 I would say Drums and Wires or Go 2, but many would say Skylarking or Nonsuch 😉

      Their sound shifted a bit…it was brit pop punk and melded into this borderline soft-psych-folky sound near the end. If you want something rough around the edges, for sure the first two I mentioned…something softer, the last two are perfect 😉

  2. Jay Says:

    For me personally, English Settlement was always the go-to album for XTC, although you really can’t go wrong with anything they’ve released. Andy Partridge has a gift for writing songs that sound catchy and sometimes simplistic, but when you sit down and analyze them there’s always a lot going on. I remember covering Senses Working Overtime at a show many years back and abandoning my feeble attempt at the rhythm guitar part and just picking up a tambourine for the majority of the song after losing track of the dozens of chord changes Partridge had worked into it. Thankfully our other guitarist knew what the hell he was doing. Turns out I’m very good at tambourine, though.

    Great post!

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