display | more...

Oranges & Lemons is a 1989 double album by the band XTC. It was produced by Goldmine Records and distributed by Geffen Records. It totals sixty minutes and fifty-one seconds in length, and contains fifteen largely excellent pop songs.

This album was the follow-up to XTC's hugely successful 1986 album Skylarking, which included the international hit singles Dear God and Grass (which were actually the same single in many countries). But to really understand the significance of and the inspiration for Oranges and Lemons, one must go back a bit further.

XTC's first major success was their 1980 album Black Sea, which contained the seminal track Respectable Street. XTC followed up this success with a successful double album, English Settlement, in 1982 and on a smaller scale, a successful 1983 album, Mummer. But by 1984, their momentum had slowed and their album of that year, The Big Express, was much less than a rousing success.

So what does XTC do in the face of falling album sales and decreased popularity? They assume an alter ego, of course. Donning the name The Dukes of Stratosphear, the group released a successful EP and a successful album. The Dukes, though, were a bit different than the Britpop that XTC was known for; instead, The Dukes focused on 1960s style psychedelic pop-rock, especially influenced by groups like The Electric Prunes and the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. It was a surprising direction, but it renewed XTC's vigor, and when they released their next album, the hugely successful Skylarking, they seemed back on top of their game.

But they were back in the same trap as before. How would Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and company follow up a hit album this time? It proved difficult for them to follow it up the last time.

So, after a two and a half year hiatus, XTC released Oranges & Lemons. One look at the psychedelic-style cover tells it all: this album is a mix of their Dukes-style psychedelic rock and the old clever Britpop XTC.

And they manage to pull it off quite well.

The album opens with Garden of Earthly Delights (5:02), which sounds exactly like what the cover promised: a mix of psychedelic rock and clever 1980s-style British pop. It's a swirling, musically loaded, fast-paced album opener that kind of catches you off guard if you're expecting more of the melancholic Dear God sound from their previous album. The lyrics to this song were written by Andy Partridge.

The second song, Mayor of Simpleton (3:58), was released as a single and the video for it received some mid-1989 play on MTV. Compared to the first track, this sounds more like the traditional XTC; it's a mellow pop song with some clever lyrics. The lyrics to this song were written by Andy Partridge.

King for a Day (3:35) was also a single, and like the preceding track, the video received some MTV attention in the middle of 1989. This sounds like an attempt at a late 1970s pop-rock sound, further demonstrating the variety that can be found on this album. It has a very hummable bass line and a wonderful "get stuck in your head" hook. This song was written by Colin Moulding.

Here Comes President Kill Again (3:33) is perhaps as political as XTC has ever been. This is almost assuredly a slam on former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, his policy of military buildup, and his various military actions (Grenada and Libya come to mind) as a snap response to anyone who dare oppose him. It's kind of insulting to America, too, as it makes fun of the fact that after Grenada, Americans still elected Ronald Reagan in a landslide in 1984 over Walter Mondale. It's also a rip of sorts on the tenth straight year of Tory government that Great Britain was being governed by in 1989 (Margaret Thatcher, to be more specific). This song was written by Andy Partridge.

The fifth track, The Loving (4:11), was also released as a single, although I don't believe a video was made for it. It's a love song about how important love really is to everyone and everything. It has a pretty standard pop-friendly XTC song, which is a nice change of pace from the spartan military-industrial-esque sound of Here Comes President Kill Again. The lyrics were again written by Andy Partridge.

Poor Skeleton Steps Out (3:27) features a very tribal-like sound, much like some of the songs from the Disney adaptation of Tarzan. Even with the interesting perspective, it does somewhat pale compared to some of the great earlier songs and some of the ones yet to come on the album. The lyrics to this song were written by Andy Partridge.

One of the Millions (4:42), to me, sounds like a long lost Peter Gabriel song. It's a melancholic song about not taking a stand, and in this makes the point that one should take a stand. It's a pleasant little song, written by Colin Moulding.

Scarecrow People (4:12) is a snappy little environmental and social anthem. It's pretty straightforward, but still catchy, and an example of the above average lyricism of Andy Partridge.

Merely A Man (3:26) is probably the most like 1960s psychedelic rock in terms of strictly the lyrics (Garden of Earthly Delights probably fits best in the genre). Lots of disconnected references, love, raised consciousness, and helping the human race as a whole. Although not psychedelic, it does sound like Penny Lane-era Beatles in terms of the instrumentation, at least, with liberal use of horns. The lyrics for this song were written by Andy Partridge.

Cynical Days (3:17) is a very melancholic song about cynicism that almost sounds out of place surrounded by upbeat pop/psychedelic rock fusion. Not particularly strong, but not a particularly weak track either; it's just there. It's written by Colin Moulding.

Across This Antheap (4:49) is standard XTC fare: a direct look at the role of humankind in the universe, and whether or not we're doing the right thing as a species from that perspective. As you can probably guess, the song insinuates that we are not. This track features solid harmonization and some very nice guitar hooks. The lyrics of this song were written by Andy Partridge.

Hold Me My Daddy (3:47) revisits another of XTC's favorite themes, opposition to war. It's an oddly told tale about how war can destroy families, oddly reminiscent of some of the tales of the Civil War here in the United States. This song was written by Andy Partridge.

Pink Thing (3:48) is a Andy Partridge-penned song about a man and his penis at the onset of puberty, at least as far as I can tell. It's extremely metaphorical, but that is the way I interpret the song. It is written tastefully, though, so that it could also be interpreted to be a pet or a stuffed animal, which are two other interpretations that I have heard. Read the lyrical writeup and judge for yourself.

Miniature Sun (3:49) comes near the end of the album, just after the orgasmic rush of Pink Thing and before the wonderful closer, Chalkhills and Children. It's a simple song about the emotional extremes of being alive and in love. This song was written by Andy Partridge.

Chalkhills and Children (4:59) is one of the best album closers I've ever hear. A bit psychedelic rock, a bit pop, and a fantastically well-written song that just sums up the album in one audio rush. It was released as a radio single in 1989 and had some deserved popularity; it's a fantastic song and a great way to close things out. This song was written by Andy Partridge.

Most of the XTC catalog is shockingly being sold by Geffen Records as bargain bin fodder for some reason; this fantastic hour-long album can be had for as little as $6 new, which is an impressive deal. Pick this one up if you like well-written pop and 1960s psychedelic rock.

Other records worth investigating if you enjoyed this one include Chips From The Chocolate Fireball by The Dukes of Stratosphear, The I Had Too Much to Dream by The Electric Prunes, any other album in the XTC catalog (especially Black Sea), and Psychedelic Lollipop by The Blues Magoos.

"Oranges and Lemons" is also a nursery rhyme, and a children's song. It depicts the bells of the churches of London talking to each other. In structure, the piece is simple, rhythmic, and melodic, with death at the end, just like most nursery rhymes. The current song is actually a shortened version of the earlier rhyme.

I remember this song from a record of the Cambridge Boys Choir we had when I was very small. It actually sounded like a song, not like a sing-song, which was all I ever heard at that point. It sounded more real than anything.

During the London Blitz of WWII, St. Clement's Danes and St. Mary-Le-Bow, both built by Christopher Wren, were destroyed. News reports were kept as anonymous as possible at this time, to avoid any intelligence escaping across the Channel. So the wireless reports on the bombing of St. Clement's said only that the church of oranges and lemons had been destroyed.



Oranges and lemons
say the bells of St. Clement's

You owe me five farthings
say the bells of St. Martin's

When will you pay me?
say the bells of Old Bailey

When I grow rich
say the bells of Shoreditch

When will that be?
say the bells of Stepney

I'm sure I don't know
says the great bell of Bow

Here comes a candle
to light you to bed

And here comes a chopper
to chop off your head
.


Addendum, 29 Oct 2003: Gritchka says "St Clement's Danes and St Mary-le-Bow both still stand: St Clement's was damaged by enemy action and the scars are preserved, but neither was actually destroyed, just damaged." See, this is what I get for writing things about London when I've never been there.



Sources:
http://www.whenigrowrich.com/about/churches.htm
http://ingeb.org/songs/gaygoupa.html

The rhyming lines, like "oranges and lemons," and "I'm sure I don't know," are mnemonics for the tunes that each church's bells ring. Some of them are quite clever; for example, the titular line not only approximates the song of St. Clement's bells, but refers to the fact that citrus fruit was unloaded at the wharves near St. Clement's in Eastcheap.

The Education Network Commonwealth of Australia, or EdNA, has a page on nursery rhymes which explains that "St. Martin's is St. Martin's Lane church in the city, where the moneylenders used to live and work. The line in the nursery rhyme 'When will you pay me?' was deliberately put with the bells of Old Bailey, as this is the site of the Central Criminal Court of England, and close to Fleet prison (which no longer stands)." (Our own arieh, however, points out that "...the Old Bailey was near to - in fact, attached to - Newgate Gaol, rather than Fleet prison.")

All these church bells were rung not only at the usual religious times appropriate to each, but also when a condemned criminal was led through the streets of London.

Apparently there is quite some debate over which St. Clement's Church the song is about. There are at least two in England: St. Clements Dane in the Strand, and St. Clements in Eastcheap. There are several strong arguments towards the latter, however, including the above fact about citrus commerce as well as the fact that all the other churches mentioned, plus Eastcheap, are within "cockney" London, unlike St. Clements Dane.

The longer version goes like this:

Gay go up and gay go down,
To ring the bells of London town.
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clements.
Bull's eyes and targets,
Say the bells of St. Marg'ret's.
Brickbats and tiles,
Say the bells of St. Giles'.
Halfpence and farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.
Pancakes and fritters,
Say the bells of St. Peter's.
Two sticks and an apple,
Say the bells of Whitechapel.
Pokers and tongs,
Say the bells of St. John's.
Kettles and pans,
Say the bells of St. Ann's.
Old Father Baldpate,
Say the slow bells of Aldgate.
You owe me ten shillings,
Say the bells of St. Helen's
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
Pray when will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

This difference in length is common of the variations found in folk songs. For example, there are at least three variations on the Bow line - "I'm sure I don't know," "I do not know," and "Oh I do not know," the latter being found in Tim Hart's version. The line about Whitechapel is given in some cases as "Sago sticks and an apple," and another version includes the line "Chop, chop, chop, chop!" at the song's conclusion. For that matter, one children's game version involves shouting "Chip chop chip chop the last man's HEAD!" when the song ends.

The song has survived so long at least partly because of its inclusion in "Demaundes Joyous," a children's book written in 1510 and attributed in many sources to "Wynkyn de Worde," who Gritchka points out "was a printer, not a writer himself: he was Caxton's successor." It has spread all over the world in the more than five hundred years since its composition. KIDiddles.com features a children's game played to the song, which involves the children dancing through an arch they form, and chopping off each others' heads, and then playing tug of war. EdNA's site describes how in Australia, when that game is played the song is changed to:

Oranges and Lemons,
The bells of St. Clement's.
When shall I pay you?
Today or tomorrow?
Chip-a-choppa! Chip-a-choppa!
Last man's head, head, head,...CHOP!

There is also a nonalcoholic drink named the St. Clements, which is half orange juice and half lemonade mixed over ice in a highball glass.

---

References:

  • Chop, Chop, Chop, Chop: http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Cabana/9424/page8.html
  • Connie Hirsch has a charming description of learning about these tunes at http://www.sff.net/people/CHirsch/OH6C.htm.
  • EdNA: http://www.edna.edu.au/edna/publish/tefa/1997/MarianneNurseryRhymes/Oranges_and_Lemons.html
  • KIDiddles: http://www.kididdles.com/mouseum/o035.html
  • Long version of the song: http://ingeb.org/songs/gaygoupa.html
  • Tim Hart's version: http://www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de/~zierke/steeleye.span/songs/orangesandlemons.html
  • Whitechapel variation: http://www.electricscotland.com/food/charlotte/hfjams.htm

    This writeup is CST Approved!

  • Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.