Sunday, December 25, 2011

Dukes of Stratosphear -- "Pale and Precious" (1987)

If all of her moments were put down in a book 
Then I could read it 'til I went blind

I have to think that those lines would be pretty irresistible to a woman.  If I saved them for just the right moment -- by which I mean after she's had a few drinks -- I think it would be a slam dunk.  

If those lines didn't get the job done, I'd follow up with this:

If all of our time together fell on one day 
It would be like every Christmas there's been 

I'd like to meet the woman who could resist that one-two punch.

But instead of selfishly keeping these lines to myself, I'm sharing them with you -- my loyal fans.  Consider "Pale and Precious" your Christmas present from 2 or 3 lines, boys and girls.

I thought about playing a little trick on everyone and labeling "Pale and Precious" as a Beach Boys song.  Maybe I'd claim that the master tape had been recently discovered after being AWOL for years, or that there was some sort of legal snafu that prevented the song from being released for decades.

The Beach Boys
After all, this is probably the greatest Beach Boys song ever recorded.  Sure, you can quibble with that statement on the ground that the Beach Boys had absolutely nothing to do with "Pale and Precious."  But don't be so literal-minded.  

XTC was an English alternative/art-rock group that released some stunning and absolutely unique albums in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The group never sold a lot of records, although the critics loved them.  Lack of sales wasn't their only problem.  XTC had to cancel an American-European tour in 1982 because their guitarist and primary songwriter, Andy Partridge, suddenly became unable to perform due to severe stage fright.   

Partridge had toured with the band for years with the help of Valium, which had first been prescribed for him when he was a teenager and his parents were getting divorced.  His wife became concerned that he was too dependent on the drug, so she threw all his Valium away, which precipitated an attack of the heebie-jeebies that was so severe that Partridge never performed in public again.

XTC's members had always loved classic 1960s psychedelic music.  On April Fool's Day, 1985, they released an EP titled 25 O'Clock under the pseudonym Dukes of Stratosphear.  The EP's cover -- drawn by the multitalented Mr. Partridge (who called himself "Sir John Johns") -- was obviously inspired by Cream's Disraeli Gears album cover.

Here's the Disraeli Gears cover:

In 1987, the Dukes followed up with a full-length album, Psonic Psunspot

Some of the songs on these records are clearly inspired by a particular band -- there's not only a pseudo-Beach Boys song, but also a pseudo-Hollies song, a pseudo-Byrds song, and several pseudo-Beatles songs.  (The Dukes of Stratosphear didn't just do pseudo-Beatles songs, they did pseudo-McCartney songs and pseudo-Lennon songs.)  Others amalgamate aspects of several different groups.

"Pale and Precious" is most reminiscent of "Good Vibrations" -- perhaps the greatest Beach Boys song ever.  The Beach Boys did a lot of fairly conventional AM-radio-type pop songs, but they did some stuff that was as crazy as anything that the post-LSD Beatles did.  ("Heroes and Villains" is just as crazy as "Good Vibrations.")

If you like the Beach Boys, you should love this song.  It has Brian Wilson's heart-on-his-sleeve innocence, and also wonderfully loopy lyrics.  

The song's lyrics feature some very subtle borrowings from "Good Vibrations."  For example, "Good Vibrations" begins with these lines:

I love the colorful clothes she wears
And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair 
I hear the sound of a gentle word
On the wind that lifts her perfume through the air

"Pale and Precious" opens with these lines, which also refer to hair and perfume:

So pale and precious is the light that will shine 
Out of her perfumed golden hair 

The song ends with these lines, which refer again to the smell of the beloved's hair and include the word "gentle," which Wilson also used in "Good Vibrations":

The smell of the pinecones and the sea in her hair
Silver, gentle   

Here's "Good Vibrations."  I don't care if you've heard it a thousand times -- listen to it again:

And here's "Pale and Precious."  Pay particular attention at the 2:30 mark, when a minute or so of breathtaking three-part vocal polyphony begins:

Click below to order "Pale and Precious" from Amazon:

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