In 1986 the English band XTC recorded their eighth studio album Skylarking with producer Todd Rundgren. The first single released from the album was “Grass.” The b-side of that 45 was a previously-unreleased track that was recorded for but at the request of group member Andy Partridge did not appear on the album.
Inspired by a series of books containing letters children wrote to God, Partridge, who was “wrestling with the tail end of my belief when I wrote [the song],” composed lyrics based on a child’s letter to God in which His existence is questioned. He had the nine-year-old daughter of a friend of Rundgren sing the opening verse, telling God about the people who are starving because God doesn’t give them enough food, ending with the line “I can’t believe in you.”
Partridge then takes over the lead vocals, asking Him “Did you make disease?” and “Did you make mankind after we made you?” He tells Him “don’t know if you noticed but your name is on a lot of quotes in this book / Us crazy humans wrote it; you should take a look,” and repeats the line “I can’t believe in you,” adding “I don’t believe in” and “I won’t believe in.”
Believers wouldn’t be the only ones who didn’t like the song. Partridge didn’t like it, saying “it wasn’t as caustic as I would’ve liked it to be.” He also said “It is such a big subject and I’ve been wrestling with it for years, but how can you cover it in three and half minutes?” Because he didn’t think he did the subject matter justice, Partridge, who wrote the lyrics in 1985, asked that it not be included on the Skylarking album.
Surprisingly, particularly for a b-side by a pretty much unknown group in a very religious country, “Dear God” started to get radio airplay in the US. A music video was made and Partridge agreed to let the song be added to the album.
The new version of Skylarking sold 250,000 copies in the US and “Dear God” made the top 40 of the Album Rock chart.
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