Going to Crack America

The following is an excerpt from the 1982 book A Brief Case History of Madness by Mark Williams. This slim, magazine-like 32-page volume was my first Madness book, ordered out of the back pages of Star Hits or some such. The copyright page lists both U.K. and U.S. publishing details, and retail prices of £1.95 and $3.95 both appear on the back, so I suppose this was an American publication rather than an import.

In this time capsule just before the advent of “Our House,” the band discuss their early impressions of America (including our general musical ignorance over here – can’t really argue that!), and Suggs self-assuredly prognosticates their eventual Stateside breakthrough.

[In March 1980] Stiff released the first Madness EP, Work, Rest & Play, with a new version of their rollicking stage favourite, a one-verse song (or semi-instrumental) called Night Boat to Cairo. The EP went to number six in the single charts and Madness went to America.

It was in fact their second trip to the States. They’d adventurously gone there off their own bat the previous year, just after they’d signed up with the American label, Sire Records, who had no product to promote at the time. “We wanted to beat the Specials to America,” quipped Woody. In ’79 they’d been playing small clubs for a few hundred dollars a throw but the Anglophile faction amongst America’s teenagers had not been slow off the mark, and now they were filling ballrooms with hordes of op-art garbed punters who still identified Madness with 2-Tone. 

“The only thing they know about reggae in America is Bob Marley,” claimed Woody, correctly as it happened. “They don’t know the difference between ska, bluebeat and dub. All black music to them is either soul or disco.”

“Yeah, and it’s the same with what they call ‘rock music,’” jeered Barso. “They put Chuck Berry and some band like Toto in the same category. I had to explain to one of those radio people that Toto is not rock ’n’ roll.” 

“And tell him it was rubbish,” exclaimed Carl. 

Despite their disdain for the music biz establishment in America, the band were in little doubt that they could make an impact there. “We are going to crack America, my son,” said Suggsy. “We can do it. We’re bloody good. And everyone wants to start dancing again, don’t they?”

Perhaps they did, but the Yanks’ congenital inability to get their limbs around a skank rhythm rendered the band’s best efforts meaningless as far as record sales were concerned. 

The nuttiness which the boys exude almost as naturally as they draw breath was lost on most Americans too. If anything Madness’ problem was that they were simply too British. Not that it seemed to matter in the spring of 1980, for back home the band could do no wrong. Madness Mania had reached such proportions that it was “…just like the Beatles, wasn’t it?” said Woody, looking back with evident disbelief. And it was. 

The entire text of A Brief Case History of Madness is pasted up in askew little postage-stamp squares of type. Because it’s more MAD that way, evidently.

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