As a kid in the ’70s, I always hated American Bandstand. Not so much because of the music or Dick Clark, but because every week it marked the dreaded end of Saturday morning cartoons. After the final Schoolhouse Rock lesson of the day, when you heard Barry Manilow crooning about goin’ hoppin’ today, where things are poppin’ (pop) the Philadelphia way, you knew it was over. Time to switch off the TV and scrounge up something else to do. American Bandstand was for dumb teenagers like my sister, with their inscrutable critical judgment of whether the new K.C. & The Sunshine Band single had a good beat that you could dance to.
Aging into that demographic in the ’80s, I began to tune into the Bandstand now and again, especially when prompted by TV Guide that bands I liked were going to be on. I recall seeing favorites like Men at Work, the Go-Go’s, Big Country, General Public, Katrina and the Waves… and Madness.
When the boys turned up on America’s closest equivalent to Top of the Pops on March 3, 1984, it was a major event for me. They played (or more accurately, mimed) their current U.S. single “The Sun and the Rain” as well as “Keep Moving,” title track from the just-released album. I was head-over-heels in love with the U.S. Keep Moving album, and seeing Madness promote it on American Bandstand served to validate my loyalty to the band as more than a one-hit wonder.
Presumably because of copyright enforcement, Bandstand performances are hard to find on YouTube. But there is a video clip from Dick Clark’s 1984 interview with Madness, and it’s a right corker.
Analyzing this historical document, I first note how Dick addresses our dear frontman as Suggs McPherson (mispronounced like Elle McFEARson, to boot). This is what I always called him for many years: first name Suggs, last name McPherson. It wasn’t until his The Lone Ranger album in 1995 that I grokked that Suggs is properly a mononym. Tacking on his surname is like saying Cher Sarkisian or Bono Hewson. At the start and end of the interview you can spot Suggs doing his patented askew “glasses funny,” a stage move he repeated ad nauseam during the ’90s reunion era. How odd it is to hear him say “We’ve known each other for about six years.” Man, I’m wearing socks older than that.
Asking about the band’s notorious rendition of “God Save the Queen” on kazoos at the 1982 Prince Charles Trust Concert, Dick Clark randomly sticks his microphone in the face of the mustachioed trumpet player, and also his namesake, Dick Cuthell. Of course Cuthell wasn’t part of that royal command performance two years prior, but he gamely replies, “I didn’t have a kazoo at the time.”
At this point the interview is rudely thrown into disarray by the unruly Lee Thompson. Clad in red longjohns, sunglasses and fingerless gloves festooned with M logos, Lee circles around Dick Clark like a jaguar stalking its prey, feigning a Benny Hill grab-and-miss at Clark’s backside. Thommo settles down for a moment before going in for a second pass, and this time he hits the target, majorly. Although the camera is on Dick Cuthell at the moment of assault, as it were, it’s safe to say our Lee Jay Thompson indecently groped a beloved showbiz icon on national television.
“Have you no respect?” Clark bellows in mock outrage, over whoops and hollers from the underage eyewitnesses. I’ve read some tabloidy accounts of the Kix-Dick-Goose incident claiming that Clark was infuriated and cursed out the band afterwards, but that’s pretty clearly nonsense. Harmless fun was had by all, and Dick warmly thanks the band like they’re friendly old acquaintances.
Which, in fact, they were.
At the tail end of the interview clip you can hear Dick say, “We’re delighted to have you back.” I did not realize until just recently that Madness first appeared on American Bandstand back in 1980! What, are you kidding me?
Yes, four years earlier, on April 19, 1980, our very young Nutty Boys capped off their second U.S. tour with an unlikely slot on the Bandstand. This was surely Madness’s American television debut, and I’m equally certain I didn’t see it broadcast. Their lipsynched performances of “One Step Beyond” and “Madness” are not to be found on YouTube, but once again the interview segment is.
You’ll catch that right off the bat, Lee pinches Dick Clark’s inner thigh – so clearly the man’s ageless derrière was an object of long-term enticement for Mr. Thompson. After that, Lee walks off camera and behaves himself for the remainder of the proceedings, leaving Mike and Carl to be the big cutups this time. As Dick questions Suggs about ska music, Barso angles for attention in the background with a bonkers “turkey neck” move. Carl mugs for the camera, joins Mike in a brief turkey mating ritual, then busts out some trademark nutty dance moves. Chrissy Boy and Bedders swing their guitar necks (in lieu of their own) and impishly prance about to dial up the pandemonium, while Woody and Lee mind their own business. And all this went down on ABC television in the year 1980. Unreal.
I just can’t imagine how Madness got booked on American Bandstand back then. No hit songs, utterly unknown except in hip New York/California circles where they had toured and got minor college radio exposure. Sire Records must have had a superhumanly persuasive booking agent, or else the Bandstand had to scramble to fill a last minute cancellation by Sister Sledge. I would dearly love to see how the unsuspecting crowd of dancers reacted to Chas Smash shouting out “Hey you! Don’t watch that, watch this!” I’d almost wager the show’s producers made them skip the intro and launch right into the song, lest the teenyboppers awkwardly stand by waiting for a good beat to dance to. What a strange little chapter in the band’s primordial history.
It actually upends my personal narrative as a Madness fan, a bit. I’ve always believed and maintained that I didn’t get on the nutty train until “Our House” was a hit in 1983 because I never had an opportunity to be exposed to Madness before that. But no. That’s all a lie now. I could have seen them on freaking Dick Clark’s American Bandstand back in 1980! Dang it, what a near miss and epic fail!
You can’t excuse me for having been too young or too unsophisticated in taste, either. In January 1980, I saw the B-52s play “Rock Lobster” on Saturday Night Live and became an instant fan at the tender age of 10, nearly a decade before “Love Shack.” I was into weird and crazy music as a kid, and if I’d seen Madness on TV at that juncture, I doubtless would have been set on my eventual path of musical appreciation much earlier in life.
What if, on that one pivotal Saturday afternoon, I had watched American Bandstand with my sister instead of going out to play with Star Wars figures? What if I had heard “One Step Beyond” and seen these hooligans clowning around with Dick Clark, talking about something mysterious called ska? What if them rockin’ on AB had led me straight to “Rockin’ in Ab”? What if I’d got my hands on The Rise and Fall right after its UK release, and “Our House” was already an old favorite by the time U.S. radio got clued in?
What an interesting alternate history some precocious parallel universe me got to enjoy, madly accelerated. Still, I’m happy enough with the way things played out. On a scale of 35 to 98, I rate it at least a 75.