When XTC’s Skylarking was released in 1986, “Dear God” arguably the groups’ most iconic number was not a part of the album’s running order. The song was recorded during the Skylarking sessions produced by Todd Rundgren—who XTC’s Andy Partridge famously did not get along with—and was relegated to the B-side of the UK single, “Grass.” However, US college radio DJs flipped the record over in favor of the bitter anti-theist “Dear God” and the song became hugely popular. Geffen Records promptly deleted “Mermaid Smiled” from Skylarking and replaced it with “Dear God.”
It’s been reported on music-related blogs from here to kingdom come for the last few months that while remastering engineer John Dent was working on a vinyl re-issue of Skylarking in 2010, he found and corrected a previously-undetected problem with the original master. As explained in the press release:
Somewhere, possibly in the transfer from the multi-channel tape to the stereo master, a polarity had been reversed. This is not the same thing as a reversed left/right channel which puts a stereo picture out of phase & makes the sound unlistenable, but a much more difficult to pin down event that can be triggered by something as simple as a badly wired plug in the overall system which, nonetheless, removes some of the punch & presence from a finished recording.
The audiophile reviews of the “new” Skylarking: Corrected Polarity Edition sound like the purchasers are thinking that it’s pretty good and punchier sounding. Maybe it does, I haven’t heard it yet, but there was something that stood out as somewhat odd to me: the press release promises an eventual 5.1 surround mix done by Steven Wilson (he did the surround version of XTC’s Nonsuch last year)–but with the curious caveat: “when & if the multi-track tapes can be found.”
How did they locate and pinpoint—let alone fix—the polarity issue if all they had were stereo masters made—we can presume—from the multitrack masters? Wouldn’t the polarity problem have been kind of baked in? Anyone care to comment on this?
“Dear God” from the Skylarking: Corrected Polarity Edition CD
The lyrics to “Dear God” were sung by a little girl, Jasmine Veillette, the daughter of a friend of Todd Rundgren’s, but in the video a boy lip-syncs her vocals.
More XTC after the jump…