Madness Stateside 1983: The Big News from America

Madness Stateside 1983

As Stateside Madness reaches its first anniversary, it’s an opportune time to present a fun discovery worthy of the Oxford English Dictionary: possibly the earliest use of our name in print (albeit in reverse), complete with our stars & stripes graphical motif! This article ran in Pop83 magazine in spring 1983, reporting on the breakthrough U.S. chart success of  “Our House.”

For me this article is an interesting insight, since I’ve always been curious about what the British press and fans made of the band’s belated popularity in America. Did they notice? Were they glad to hear we caught on? Did they really even care? It’s amusing to note the backhanded remarks about “Our House” being kind of an old song by that point, so out of step were those hapless Yanks. And I personally delight in seeing Madness lumped in with The Jam as top stars that fizzled on our side of the pond, given that Paul Weller happens to be my second favorite UK act. I have a nose for obscure wonders from distant shores.

This Pop83 issue also included a feature on Madness’s evolving style and image, previews of upcoming single “Wings of a Dove” and the LP that would be Keep Moving, and a lengthy list of trivia tidbits that could surprise even the most knowledgable Madheads among us. All of these historic contents are presented below for your reading pleasure. I have annotated them with YouTube links to some of the less familiar vintage-1983 songs and artists referenced. Our fond thanks to Jon Young, our esteemed MIS ambassador and advocate, for sharing the magazine scans with us.

Now for the latest in Madness news.

The big news comes from America. Madness went to the States back in their early days. While music-mad Yanks on the east and west coasts took an interest in their nutty image, the group failed to sell a lot of records. Like The Jam, they gave it a few more tries and then concentrated their energies on places where their music was accepted.

Earlier this year Madness signed up with a new American record company, Geffen. In addition the success of groups like the Human League have helped the Americans to turn their heads in the direction of British bands. The Americans have cable television and MTV, a 24 hour a day video station, which has a huge and influential following. Madness’ marvellous videos have always transcended any cultural problems, like language barriers. Because the group relies on their music and not their hairdressers to create an impact, their videos have not dated as quickly as some new romantics have.

“Our House” has become the group’s first top ten smash. Mark and Chris went over to the States during the heatwave we had in July to try to help the Americans understand the Madness philosophy a bit better. In some ways, their delayed success is an advantage.

Pop 83 Cover

When they first went to America as part of the Two Tone movement, Madness had to fight to be treated separately from The Specials and The Selecter. Americans had little experience of ska in the ’60s. So, how could they understand references to rude boys and pork pie hats? In trying to explain themselves, everyone got confused. Now, with a sound all their own the group has a fresh start. Since they are gradually moving from their “nutty” image, Madness can convey whatever they want to this brand new audience who knows only one Madness song, “Our House.” Wonder how the group likes hearing it sung in American accents?

The surprise American success means that Madness have to drop their proverbial pushbikes and hop on a plane to the States quickly. August will find them on a hectic five week tour of one end of the 3,000 mile wide country to another. The highlight will be a supporting spot for The Police at one of those giant American stadiums that often holds the population of a small city.

In the meantime, Madness release their new single “Wings of a Dove.” Jamie at the Stiff Office, one of the first lucky people to hear it, described as having a “carnival” feeling to it. “There’s a choir and steel drums and Suggs’ vocals have a new mellow feeling to them,” he reported enthusiastically.

The single was recorded in the late spring and then the group headed off for their separate holidays. Mike Barson, his wife and dog decided to see Europe the caravan way. “He rang in every few weeks to say which country he was in,” laughed Jamie. “Sometimes the only way to know where he was, was to check with his mum because he kept in contact with her.” Barson managed to get back to British shores 24 hours before the group set to work recording the video for “Wings of a Dove.” No sooner was the film edited than did the group head off for the states.

Pop83 Madness Stateside

A New LP for Christmas 

It’s not certain what their plans are once they return. (A good night’s sleep will be in order!) There are tentative plans to go in the studio and record tracks for their next album. Stiff Records would love to be able to have a new album ready for fans by Christmas, but as yet there is no certainty of when Madness will complete their sixth album.

Mark describes the upbeat new effort as “A song that will open a few eyes.” No doubt Madness are a bit fed up with hearing that their music has stagnated and that they’ve grown apart. “If you can afford to buy yourself a place, of course you’re not going to keep living with mum,” said Mark. “That’s only natural.”

It’s also natural that with seven members in a group that the group enjoys more quiet company in their spare time plus the companionship of some females. When together there’s plenty of energy and madness in Madness. And when it’s time to down tools, uh instruments, the magnificent seven are free to go their separate and more quiet ways. Their individuality can only give their music more texture and variety. Now, let’s see how they fly the flag in the former colonies. Will America have any effect on Madness? We shall see.

In the meantime, the group moves towards the fourth anniversary of their debut hit “The Prince.” It’s remarkable how Madness have survived Two Tone, Adam Ant, New Romantics and rapping funk records. It just seems that whatever music is on the radio, there’s nothing to brighten up the airways like a bit of Madness. They may not be as loony as they first were. But it’s reassuring to see that they haven’t lost their vitality and spirit either.

ALL CHANGE – IT’S MADNESS

Pop83 All Change - It's Madness

Greetings music lovers. Today’s lecture in pop music concerns a new vocabulary word. It’s “longevity.” It comes from the word “long” and the dictionary sitting here says that it means “long life.”

Longevity is not a word that often crops up in pop music circles. Pop music, like the socks you wore two years ago, Is meant to have temporary appeal. If you last more than two years pop music, you must be quite skilled.

To back up this point, let’s look at Exhibit A: the charts. When Madness had their first hit in September of 1979 the charts were topped over the months by groups like Buggles, The Jam, Dr. Hook, Gary Numan, The Specials, Blondie and The Police. Oh, yes and let’s not forget that smash hit “One Day at a Time” by Lena Martell!

If you can remember Lena Martell and Madness’ first hit you are part of the first generation of Madness fans. If you don’t remember Lena Martell consider yourself very lucky and a second generation Madness fan! (Just for the record Lena Martell did for 1979 what Renee and Renato did in 1982 — upset a lot of stomachs.)

Four years after Madness’ first hit and look what’s happened. The Buggles, The Specials and The Jam have split up. Dr. Hook and Blondie have lost their chart appeal. Gary Numan spends more time crashing planes than making hit records. Only The Police remain superstars. Lena Martell has hopefully returned to Radio 2 where she belongs. 

Madness are still together and still breaking new ground while trying to hold on to the essense of nuttiness that made them popular in the first place. If they don’t change musically, the fans will get tired of the same thing. (Look at Bad Manners.) If the group changes too drastically, the fans may not follow either. (Remember “YMCA” by the Village People? They went “new wave” and stopped making hits.)

“The Wings of a Dove,” the new Madness single, represents a new change for the band. As with their 1982 album Rise and Fall the group have taken a lot of time to get a different sound going.

Pop83 Wings of a Dove

Because of their longevity (ah ha, there’s that word again), a lot of people have got it in for Madness. They’re waiting for the group to split up. They’re predicting that the fans won’t change and abandon the group’s new efforts in favour of their old nutty stuff. There are rumours that the group are out of touch with the fans, the times and the music scene.

Madness aren’t the only group to have these rumours. Back in the ’60s The Beatles got flack every time they tried something new. In the ’70s there were always people who wanted David Bowie to stick with one image for the rest of his life. If David Bowie had kept a small segment of his fans happy by playing at Ziggy Stardust forever, he would have probably died of boredom. It took a lot of courage for artist and fans alike to come to expect change from Bowie. Long term Bowie fans favour certain phases of his career over others. But because they like Bowie, they always like to hear his newest music to decide for themselves. Likewise, some Madness fans may prefer their nutty music to the new music. But have you given the new music as much of a chance?

When Madness toured earlier this year, I got to talk to some of the fans outside the concert halls. Several of them admitted that Rise and Fall was not what they would have described as typical Madness music. But in giving the new music a chance, one fan in particular found that he changed too.

“I love to hear the earlier stuff when I’m first out of school.” he explained. “I don’t remember when Madness first came out. My older brother does and I used to get very jealous when he used to go out to see them and Mum said I was too young. He gave me his old singles when my aunt gave him the Complete Madness album for Christmas. I got Rise and Fall. First I didn’t like it. But, now I find in the evenings I enjoy it in a different way from the singles. It’s hard to explain. But I like the words. I listen to them when I’m listening to the album. With the singles, I don’t pay much attention to the words, just the beat. Because of that album, I find I’m listening to the words more. I wouldn’t have done that a year ago.”

New Sounds — New Fans

Just as the fans change, so too does the group change. During this year’s Madness tour there were fans representing every phase of Madness music from little skinheads to loons decked out in garage overalls. “There will always be a nutty element in Madness.” said Suggs. “But we’re not just smiling puppets. There’s a sharp side too. Listen to the words and you’ll hear it. We’re not Buck’s Fizz, but we’re not what the Fun Boy Three were either.”

What Suggs and his six fellow musical mates are certain of is that there are plenty more changes to come. In pop music there’s no longevity without change. Think of what you were like four years ago. Look how you’ve moved up and on. You only have to listen to “Wings of a Dove” to hear how Madness have changed too.

MAD MUMBLINGS FROM MADNESS!

Pop83 Mad Mumblings from Madness
  • Lee Thompson likes to listen to “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac when he can’t sleep. 
  • Chris Foreman rates UB40 and Blue Rondo among his favourite groups. 
  • The total cost of the Madness movie Take It or Leave It was £400,000.
  • The art work for the “Our House” single was done by six year old Karen Allen.
  • When Suggs is in Japan, he feels like a giant. 
  • The group were toying with getting Trevor (ABC) Horn to produce their new single. But Trevor Horn likes the Madness sound as it is.
  • Suggs’ wife Bette Bright hails from Liverpool. 
  • Lee Thompson’s favourite breakfast haunt in Hampstead has been converted into a pizza restaurant.
  • Suggs rates Julie London’s “Cry Me a River” as one of his favourite singles of all time.
  • Lee Thompson rates Mari Wilson’s version of “Cry Me a River” as one of the worst he’s heard.
  • Chrissy Boy would be happy to be reincarnated as Sgt. Bilko, Mr. Bosh or Groucho Marx.
  • Carl would like to be President of the United States for a month.
  • His favourite films include Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. But this has nothing to do with his ambition to be U.S. President.
  • Mark likes Bette Davis and her eyes, eating Weetabix with banana and Miles Davis’ “So What,” but not necessarily his eyes.
  • Woody collects soft toys, comic books especially Peanuts and Asterix.
  • Suggs’ mum was a singer when she was young. At twenty she could have sung in a Paris nightspot but Suggs’ grandad wouldn’t let her go. 
  • Chrissy Boy bought his first guitar with a £20 tax rebate.
  • Early Madness rehearsals took place in Barson’s bedroom. Now when Barson tours he brings his dog.
  • In their early days the group also rehearsed In a room above a shoe shop.
  • In the early days Madness hated having to contend with National Front members at gigs. Now they hate having to contend with glue sniffers.
  • “The one good thing about being on the dole,” Lee Thompson reckons, “is that it gave me six hours a day to learn to play the sax properly.”
  • When Madness visited America in 1980 most Americans they met knew nothing about ska and bluebeat. 
  • Chrissy Boy reckons one of the things that inspires him to make music is when hears a terrible record on the radio. 
  • Mark Bedford loved working on Robert Wyatt’s “Shipbuilding” single.
  • When Madness toured, they spent time in the bus watching videos of everything from Minder to Snow White.
  • Woody remembers watching Madness perform back in the early days when they were still called The Invaders.
  • Just as JoBoxers, who supported Madness on their spring tour, are reminiscent of early Madness, so too are early Madness reminiscent of Ian Dury’s first group, Kilburn and the High Roads. 
  • Lee knocked out two of Carl’s teeth by accident when he failed to bounce off of his trampoline correctly. 
  • The seven men of Madness have an office that employs eight people to take care of their business. 
  • Carl dreams of having a recording studio so that the group can help launch younger groups.
  • Among Suggsy’s favourite reading is the Guinness Book of Hit Records.
  • Lee’s favourite footwear includes pink Dr. Martens.
  • Chris’ favourite food is a big fry up.
  • Carl’s favourite actors include Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino.
  • Woody’s favourite artists include Salvador Dali and Norman Rockwell.
  • Mark’s favourite songs include “Make It Funky” by James Brown.
  • Mike’s favourite hobby is caravaning.
  • Bette Bright (Mrs. McPherson to you) loves old ’30s movies which may explain why their daughter is named Scarlett (after Gone with the Wind). 
  • The Yanks made up a car bumper sticker that says “Honk If You Like Madness” and have a chain of coffee shops called Chock Full of Nuts.
  • There are sixteen tracks on the Complete Madness album. 
  • Madness have made an ad for motorcycles in Japan and crisps in Britain. 
  • Madness are fans of Bad Manners.
  • Among the things they used to do but can’t anymore — roller skating up at Alexandra Palace, speeding on the motorways, announce where they used to live, eat in peace outside of Camden, live with mum, walk by a bunch of schoolkids.
  • When Madness made their film Take It or Leave It they wanted cinemas to remove the first ten rows of seats so the fans could dance. They later admitted this idea was a bit impractical.
  • The latest Madness single, “Wings of a Dove,” was held up because Mike Barson was on holiday in Yugoslavia and was not near a telephone. 
  • Suggs is not a big fan of glossy groups like Duran Duran. 
  • Woody is a vegetarian. He calls people who eat meat “cannibals.”
  • Days after they got married, Jane spent six weeks on tour in America, returning on the same day that Woody set off for a European tour.
  • Keep an ear open for Bonzai Forest, a new Camden group that several members of the band have taken an interest in. 
  • Can Madness last for ten years more? Chas says yes. “We’ve got a lot in front of us…”

Originally published by SB Publishing & Promotions Ltd. in England, 1983. Acknowledgement to writer Robin Katz.

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