HOUSE OF SOPHISTICATED POP MUSIC

In August 1979, Madness released their debut single.

The Prince was in tribute to ska singer Prince Buster. It was the their way of saying thank you for providing such influences on their look and sound, not to mention the band’s name which was taken from a song written and recorded by Prince Buster.

The debut single went to #16 in the charts.

Over the next seven years, Madness would release a further 21 singles, almost of all them memorable in some shape or form and from which you could forge an ICA that would be very hard to beat in any match-up completion.

House of Fun : #1
Wings Of A Dove : #2
My Girl : #3
Baggy Trousers : #3
Embarrassment : #4
Grey Day : #4
It Must Be Love : #4
Driving In My Car : #4
Our House : #5
The Sun and the Rain : #5
One Step Beyond : #7
The Return of the Los Palmas 7 : #7
Shut Up : #7
Tomorrow’s Just Another Day : #8
Michael Caine : #11
Cardiac Arrest : #14
One Better Day : #17
Yesterday’s Men : #18
(Waiting For) The Ghost Train : #18
Uncle Sam : #21
Sweetest Girl : #35

The later original material, while not charting as well as the nutty sounds of the early 80s, revealed a wonderful depth to the band both in terms of the music and the lyrics which increasingly explored social and political issues both at home and abroad; the exception being the rather underwhelming cover of the Scritti Politti classic which was, as demonstrated above, the poorest selling 45 by a long way.

The band broke up in 1986, leaving a fabulous legacy of singles, six albums, memorable videos and enjoyable TV performances. Nobody would have minded if they had left it at that.

They got back together in 1992 on the back of the success of a singles compilation album and attracted more than 75,000 folk to the Madstock! reunion gigs on 8 and 9 August in Finsbury Park, London. This led to them touring again, playing arena-sized venues in the UK and giving folk a good nostalgic night out. They went back into the studio in 1999 from which a first new album in 13 years emerged, including a #10 hit single in Lovestruck. The songs on the slightly tongue-in-cheek entitled Wonderful brought some new life and energy into the live sets which, until this point hadn’t changed much in 15 years.

The next release came in 2004 but The Danger Sessions, made-up entirely of cover versions, was poorly received, critically and commercially. The tensions over its recording also led to the departure of founder-member Chris Foreman, although he would later return to the fold.

What happened next was a very pleasant surprise.

May 2009 saw Madness release their ninth studio album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, a work that I’d argue that is, by a fairly long way, their best ever album.

OK, it doesn’t have any killer 45 tunes a la the 80s, but this is a record from a different beast than had emerged blinking from the shadows with the release of The Prince 30 year previously and demonstrated that Madness could be listed alongside such as The Kinks, The Jam, Squeeze and XTC as the best proponents of pop music that is uniquely and brilliantly English.

The reviews were universally positive. It was described in various places as a masterpiece, extraordinary and the most sophisticated and satisfying album of their career. The spirits of Charles Dickens and Noel Coward were invoked as ways of describing the scale and ambition of something which on the surface was a concept album about the city of London but is in fact packed with the most bittersweet and melancholy of pop songs covering subject matters such as love, loss, success and failure of which an understanding can really only come with the onset of middle-age.

Just as Weller & co had captured my teenage moods, as Moz, Johnny, Mike and Andy had made sense of the student days, as Stipe and his buddies from Athens GA mimicked the emotions of moving into my 30s, the songs and music of Madness on The Liberty of Norton Folgate were perfect for coming to terms with being middle-aged and, while perhaps my very best days were behind me, there was still so much that I could bring to any party or gathering thanks to being older, wiser and yes, sophisticated, in comparison to my own slightly more manic and nuttier days.

I’ve long wanted to wax lyrically about this album. I never quite found the right words at the time of its release and besides there was little I could add to the widespread reviews of the day.

These words have come about from giving the album a fresh listen, in full, for the first time in maybe five years. I thought that such a listen would have me tempering my praise and finding that the songs hadn’t aged well over the past nine years. Not in the slightest….

mp3 : Madness – Forever Young
mp3 : Madness – That Close
mp3 : Madness – MkII
mp3 : Madness – NW5

Growing up and growing old can be satisfying after all.

JC

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

R-384982-1119452886Magnificent 7?

Surely Some Mistake – there’s only six guys on the cover……

Appearances can be soooooooooooo deceptive.

The band was indeed officially only six-strong in the early days. The seventh bloke to join Madness wouldn’t do until after this single was released, although up until then he had been part of their live shows as backing vocalist and dancer. And indeed would play a huge part in making this single so bloody popular:-

mp3 : Madness – One Step Beyond

It’s a cover of a tune by Prince Buster, a Jamaican ska artist who had enjoyed success back in the 60s. Madness had already paid tribute to him with their debut single The Prince before making sure he got a whole lot of royalties with their follow-up which reached #7 in November 1979.

The key difference between the original and this loving tribute is the addition of the spoken-word intro:-

Hey you,
Don’t watch that, watch this!
This is the heavy heavy monster sound
The nuttiest sound around
So if you’ve come in off the street
And you’re beginning to feel the heat
Well listen Buster
You better start to move your feet
To the rockinest, rock-steady beat
Of Madness
One step beyond!

Performed by Chas Smash and copied by kids in playgrounds all over the UK. With a wonderfully entertaining video to boot, this is the song really got Madness noticed and before long they cemented a place as one of the great British singles acts of the late 20th Century.

Just under a year later, Madness would release a truly astonishing single that remains my particular favourite. A soap-opera in just under three minutes. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Boy and girl have sex…baby gets created. Parents of the boy and girl react with anger and horror…and completely ostracize their own offspring.

Their crime wasn’t to become unexpected parents. Their crime was to create a mixed-race baby…

mp3 : Madness – Embarrassment

Based on a true story. The teenage sister of saxophonist Lee Thomson had a black boyfriend and became pregnant only to be horrofied by the fact that many in her family shunned her. The real life story turns out to have had a happy ending, with the family seeing sense after the baby girl was born. I’m guessing the existence of the song also played its part….

Happy Listening

MY FRIENDS ELECTRIC (16)

Keeping It Peel - October 25th

JUST BECAUSE……

http://keepingitpeel.wordpress.com/

and in particular:-

http://keepingitpeel.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/john-peel-10-years-gone/

mp3 : Arab Strap – The First Big Peel Thing (Peel Session)
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Lover’s Town (Peel Session)
mp3 : Cinerama – Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Delgados – No Danger (Peel Session)
mp3 : Half Man Half Biscuit – Mr Cave’s A Window Cleaner Now (Peel Session)
mp3 : Madness _ Bed & Breakfast Man (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Smiths – Rusholme Ruffians (Peel Session)
mp3 : T.Rex – Ride A White Swan (Peel Session)
mp3 : Urusei Yatsura – Hello Tiger (Peel Session)
mp3 : Wire – I Am The Fly (Peel Session)