A kinda-sorta-Concept Album, the album was recorded in a bit of a Troubled Production in 1986 in Woodstock, New York, with Todd Rundgren serving as producer, while Prairie Prince's drums were recorded separately at a studio in San Francisco (XTC had not had a permanent drummer since 1982, but worked with different drummers in the studio). Andy Partridge's original idea for the cover was to depict a woman's pubic hair with flowers involved. Virgin said no, but somehow were convinced to use a cover that depicted a naked man and woman playing flutes. Partridge's original idea was used for the 2010 vinyl reissue. Its somewhat Baroque Pop-meets-Psychedelic Rock sound, heavily drawing from The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Kinks, gained praise from critics but barely crawled into the charts in both the USA and the band's native UK at first.
However, this situation was reversed when "Dear God" was issued as a single, reviving the album's sales somewhat. Originally intended for inclusion on the album, it was taken off of the UK release due to concerns over its perceived blasphemous content. Virgin Records would be proven partly right when the song saw release as a non-album single in the US in 1987 (it was originally the B-side to "Grass"), prompting outcry from religious groups and at one point leading to a schoolboy holding the operators at his school's intercom by knifepoint and forcing them to air the song. However, despite (or perhaps because of) the controversy, the single was a massive success, becoming XTC's one hit in the United States and foreshadowing the emergence of alternative rock in the American mainstream over the remainder of the year. As a result, the US release added "Dear God" back to the tracklist, albeit at the cost of cutting "Mermaid Smiled"; more recent reissues of the album include both tracks.
Skylarking was supported by three singles: "Grass" (in the UK only), "Dear God" (in the US only), and "The Meeting Place".
- "Summer's Cauldron" (3:19)
- "Grass" (3:05)
- "The Meeting Place" (3:14)
- "That's Really Super, Supergirl" (3:21)
- "Ballet For A Rainy Day" (2:50)
- "1000 Umbrellas" (3:44)
- "Season Cycle" (3:21)
- "Earn Enough For Us" (2:54)
- "Big Day" (3:32)
- "Another Satellite" (4:15)
- "Mermaid Smiled" (2:26)note
- "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" (3:24)
- "Dear God" (3:34)note
- "Dying" (2:31)
- "Sacrificial Bonfire" (3:49)
It would shock you, too, the things we used to trope on grass:
- Belief Makes You Stupid: "Dear God"Dear God, I don't know if you noticed, but...Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book, and us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look,and all the people that you made in your image still believing that junk is true.
- Blasphemous Boast: "Dear God" ends each verse with the narrator affirming their disbelief in God, eventually leading up to this trope at the very end of the song.
- Book Ends: "Dear God" uses this to great effect; the song begins and ends with the narrator as a child singing the Title Drop. However, while the song opens with the phrase as a prayer, it ends with the phrase as a sarcastic condemnation.
- Break-Up Song: "That's Really Super, Supergirl" and "1000 Umbrellas" are both about breakups.
- Broken Pedestal: Before he produced the album, Todd Rundgren was a fan of XTC. In interviews since, it's clear that he's just as bitter toward Andy Partridge as Partridge was toward Rundgren, largely over what he saw as Partridge's attempts to assert creative control of the project.
- Concept Album: Rundgren convinced the band that the songs they had demoed would work as a "life-in-a-day" type of concept album.
- Control Freak: Andy Partridge claims that Rundgren was one during the sessions, as he'd already picked out a tracklisting and a concept from the band's pile of demo tapes before they arrived in the studio. Rundgren, for his part, claims that Partridge was one — Rundgren was hired to be the producer and was simply doing his job, while Partridge whined, complained and loudly tried to override every decision Todd made. Rundgren eventually won, with Partridge grudgingly admitting that the album turned out as one of their very best due in large part to Rundgren's production work. But Rundgren and XTC never worked together again.
- EmPHAsis On The Wrong SylLAble: Americans think Partridge is outrageously mispronouncing "umbilical" as "um-bil-LIKE-al" in order to rhyme with the words "Season Cycle". Although Americans pronounce the word "um-BILL-ical", "um-bil-LIKE-al" is the usual UK pronunciation.
- Fading into the Next Song: This is a gapless album.
- Genre Roulette: This album includes:
- Indian-influenced psychedelic pop ("Grass")
- Synth-heavy pop rock ("That's Really Super, Supergirl")
- Violin-driven Baroque Pop ("1000 Umbrellas")
- Soulful Sunshine Pop that sounds like a Pet Sounds out-take ("Season Cycle")
- Power Pop ("Earn Enough For Us")
- Droney synth-driven something ("Another Satellite")
- Jazz-rock ("Mermaid Smiled")
- Jazz-rock with what the liner notes call "ersatz Bond guitar" ("The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul")
- The Animals-influenced Folk Rock ("Dear God")
- Depressing folk balladry ("Dying")
- Something that almost sounds like an RPG soundtrack ("Sacrificial Bonfire")
- Grief Song: "Dying".And I'm getting older, tooBut I don't want to die like youDon't want to die like you
- Guest-Star Party Member: The drummer for this album was Prairie Prince from The Tubes.
- Literary Allusion Title: The name of the album comes from Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ode to a Skylark".
- Money Song: Or in "Earn Enough For Us"'s case, lack of money song.I can take humiliationAnd hurtful comments from the BossI'm just praying by the weekendI can earn enough for usI can earn enough for us
- Nipple and Dimed: Both nude figures on the finalized cover lack visible nipples.
- Never My Fault: Rundgren and Partridge pointed fingers at each other in separate interviews over Skylarking's polarity problems, likely due to the acrimonious recording sessions. Rundgren blamed Partridge for dropping "Dear God" from the initial tracklisting, leading to the need for a new master which Rundgren says introduced the polarity problems, while Partridge blamed an improperly wired mixing console in Rundgren's studio ... although Rundgren claims the final mastering was taken out of his hands and was not done in Rundgren's studio.
- One-Word Title: "Grass", "Dying" and the album's title.
- Record Producer: Todd Rundgren.
- Religion Rant Song/God Is Evil: "Dear God".(..) but all the people that you made in your image, see them starving on their feet'cause they don't get enough to eat from God, I can't believe in youDear God, sorry to disturb you, but...I feel that I should be heard loud and clear.We all need a big reduction in amount of tearsand all the people that you made in your image, see them fighting in the street'cause they can't make opinions meet about God,I can't believe in youDid you make disease, and the diamond blue?Did you make mankind after we made you?And the devil too!
- Remaster: The 2010 vinyl release, notably averting the Loudness War.
- Shout-Out: "That's really super, Supergirl" refers to Supergirl and namedrops kryptonite, the only thing Superman can't fight against.Hurt like kryptonite.
- Uncommon Time: "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" includes some passages in 7/4.
- Updated Re-release: A non-video game example of this.
- The album was first issued in 1986 with "Mermaid Smiled" on its tracklist, but the success of "Dear God" led Geffen to re-press the album for the USA, shunting "Mermaid" and replacing it with "Dear God"
- A 2001 reissue included "Mermaid Smiled" and "Dear God", the latter as a "bonus track" after "Sacrificial Bonfire".
- A 2010 remaster by John Dent was released to vinyl by Andy Partridge's APE House company. This attracted attention because Dent announced he had discovered that a mistake during the original's mastering had reversed the sound polarity and made it sound more thin and bass-less, but had managed to restore the original sound quality. This one includes both "Mermaid Smiled" and "Dear God", but changes the order slightly, placing "Dear God" right before "Dying". It also restores the intended cover for the album. This was released on CD in 2014.
- Steven Wilson remixed the album from the original multitrack tapes in 2016. This version includes the original "reversed polarity" mix, the original "corrected polarity" mix, Wilson's stereo mix, Wilson's 5.1-channel surround sound mix, instrumental versions of Wilson's mixes, demo versions of the entire album, numerous demos and outtakes from the album sessions, and promo films for "Dear God" and "Grass".