(Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Madness)
After cranking out hit after hit in the UK for about four years, Madness finally cracked the fickle American market in 1983 with “Our House.” That classic track took the band into the U.S. Top 10 and served as the primary entry point for their American fans, myself included. But I have to admit, I wasn’t convinced to jump aboard the nutty train right away.
I can recall with great clarity when I first heard ”Our House,” as a wee lad of 13. At the time my favorite band was Men at Work, and as a younger kid I was into Kiss and The B-52s. I was home alone after school, sitting at the kitchen table doing homework with the radio on. This very peculiar song came blasting out, a torrent of pounding piano and bombastic brass and swirling strings. No arena rock guitar riffs or electronic synth beats to be found. What we had here was something foreign, in more ways than one.
At first I thought it must be an advertisement. Some kind of real estate insurance jingle? An Olde-England flavored ditty for Merry Maids? A public service announcement on quality family time from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? But no, this jaunty little tune kept rollicking on and on past the :30 mark. It was no commercial… it was an actual music-song-type song, of some hitherto unknown variety.
I put my pencil down and stuck my head into the radio speaker to try and figure out what the heck I was listening to. So it’s this British guy urgently waxing poetic about his family unit and the daily routine activities transpiring in their domicile. How weird is that? I distinctly remember being confused about the chorus, which to me sounded like “Ah, house.” I reasoned that the nostalgia-ridden singer was wistfully addressing his old childhood home by name: “Ah, house. Ah, room. Ah, cow jumping over the moon.” In the middle of “Ah” street?
This moment left an impression on me, obviously. But I was not an instant fan. It was more like I’d been struck by a hit-and-run ice cream truck that went speeding away lickety-split with its jolly chime echoing in the distance. What in the world was that? The music was kinda catchy, but the vocal style and general cutesiness put me off a bit. My American Bandstand hot take: it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it, but it sounds like children’s music. I’d just become a teenager, after all, at that age when you’re out to prove you’re not a kid anymore. To those ears, “Ah, House” sounded childish next to the likes of The Police and Duran Duran, with their PG-rated songs of sex and obsession and adulting.
It wasn’t long after this first exposure that I gave the daft alien melody another round of scrutiny. And this time my judgment was far more charitable, thanks to the visionary genius of one Mr. Dave Robinson. Yes, it was the music video that won me over.
MTV doesn’t get the credit, because our backwater North Carolina cable provider didn’t add the channel until a year or so later. For music videos I depended on Night Tracks on SuperStation TBS, Night Flight on USA, and Friday Night Videos on NBC. It would have been on one of these beloved programs that I first saw the video for that oddball British song. By virtue of the credit captions, I learned that the name of the band was Madness, and of course they weren’t singing “Ah, House” at all. “Our” did make a lot more sense, didn’t it?
More to the point, the entire song made a lot more sense, given context by that completely brilliant video. Putting faces to the odd noises coming out of the radio, I suddenly got a better sense of who these guys were. And man, they were so cool! They were silly and clowning around, sure, but Madness no longer seemed juvenile once you got a look at ’em. Nor were they preening fancy lads like A Flock of Seagulls or Kajagoogoo. There was a grubby and working-class edge to their bouncy sound. Their humor shared points of reference with Monty Python, per the hirsute sax player in drag playing the pepperpot housewife, and the lot of them lounging in a hot tub with knotted Gumby handkerchiefs on their heads. And that lead singer! Flattop haircut, fingerless black gloves, snazzy gray suit jacket, all those frantic gestures and rubbery facial expressions. He was kind of ugly, but kind of handsome at the same time. Right away he was my favorite member of the group.
The sequence with the guitar solo most clearly crystalized the song’s meaning, moving from boyhood air guitar to Elvis phase to Beatles obsession to new wave rocker in the space of 15 seconds. It’s a song about growing up, and remembering all those things you miss in lots of ways.
Soon I bought my first Madness “album,” Geffen’s self-titled 1983 U.S. compilation with the billiards cover. Which, as best as I knew, was the band’s debut album, featuring their first hit song. But even that purchase was a complicated decision, because avid music video consumption had got me interested in both Madness and Eurythmics. Finances were limited back then, and I couldn’t just go out and buy two albums (cassette tapes, actually) at the same time like a Rockefeller. After much deliberation I decided Madness was the one for me to risk my allowance on. And yeah, you can probably guess where this is going. It wasn’t love at first listen.
Even though I was sold on how awesome “Our House” was, the other 11 tracks didn’t thrill me. Too much repetition of annoying little phrases (“Close your eyes and count to three… 1-2-3!” “Three cheers, hip hip hip!” “Welcome to the house of fun!”), too many annoying little sound effects (carnival noises, a thumping heartbeat, a foghorn). Again I found myself back in that initial radio-listener position of thinking Madness sounded immature and cringey. Drat it all, how I wished I had spent my precious dollars on Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) instead!
And once again, it was the music video that made the difference. As I recall, within the same week that I bought the disappointing Madness tape, I saw the video for “It Must Be Love.” Boom. The scales dropped from my eyes and the cotton unplugged from my ears. “It Must Be Love” no longer sounded so syrupy sweet, leavened by jogging undertakers, people in bird and bee costumes, and the guitarist and sax player playing their instruments underwater (swimming “with” a killer whale, for some reason). The lead singer, whose name I learned from the cassette liner notes was G. Suggs McPherson, was even cooler and more charismatic than in the “Our House” video. I’d never felt a real urge to “be” a given pop star before, but I wanted to be Suggs. In this particular case The Buggles were wrong: Video saved the radio star.
I went back to my Madness tape with renewed interest, incrementally calibrating my sense of this band’s identity and what their music meant. The idiosyncrasies in their sound ceased to seem childish or annoying. There was much to learn about Madness, and I was now an eager student.
When Madness pierced the veil of American pop culture in 1983, the rupture opened only a tiny pinhole for us to gaze through. The view was foggy, distorted and incomplete. I formed false first impressions, and most of my countrymen barely registered any at all prior to that ephemeral pinhole sealing back up. But I heard something and felt something on the other side of that trans-Atlantic barrier, so I clawed open my own damn pinhole with my bare hands. I worked at it, I kept listening, I scoured music magazines for scant precious information, I tracked down their past recordings, I became a loyally devoted fan, and I stretched that pinhole wide enough to climb though and tumble headlong into the realm of Madness. I put in the time and effort, digging to excavate the gold I knew was there beneath the surface.
Suffice to say, I found it. In the middle of “Ah” street.
Growing up in the ’80s, we didn’t have your fancy Spotify and Pandora and Deezer and whatnot, but we sure as hell knew how to share our music. And our social media platforms of choices were TDK, BASF and Maxell XLII-S. All y’all Gen-Xers know what I’m talking about. Blank cassette tapes were the bomb diggity.
In junior high and high school we swapped homemade tapes around like auditory STDs. These copyright violations amongst friends were way more influential on our musical tastes (and long-term musical spending) than what was popular on the radio and MTV. Thinking back to what I listened to as a teenager, the majority originated with traded cassettes. Trendsetting proto-goth Tim made me tapes of The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and early U2. From Robby I got INXS, from Chris I got Tears for Fears (before their big hits), from Regina I got R.E.M., from Amy I got The Beatles. My good friend Ruffin gave me cassettes of Talking Heads, The Police and The Waterboys, introduced me to jazz with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and changed my life with tapes he brought back from a summer camp by a punk rock band called the Minutemen.
As much as I pride myself on being an independent-minded music connoisseur, the number of acts I discovered fully on my own is a fairly short list: Madness, The Specials, The English Beat, The Jam, Big Country, Modern English. Naturally these were the main artists I drew upon to inject my own influence into my friends’ collective music-swap canon. And Madness was the band I pushed the hardest, like a missionary spreading the nutty gospel. I racked up a respectable score of converts and contended with heretics through the course of my cassette crusade.
In my social circles we didn’t do a lot of trade in actual mixtapes. We were literally album-oriented rockers, capitalizing on the 90-minute cassette’s capacity to put one album on Side A and another album – almost always by the same artist – on Side B. I had a sweet dual cassette deck specifically made for copying tapes at optimum quality, with the priceless “high-speed dubbing” mode so you could seriously crank ’em out without real-time listening. The standard practice was to fill any leftover space at the end of each side with a bonus track or two, preferably a related non-album release or B-side you might have on hand.
Cherrypicking only the “good songs” and building party playlists was not the way we rolled. I think it was mainly because we respected the album as an artistic unit. If you were a fan of a band, it was incumbent on you to have their full albums, “bad songs” and all. On top of which, curating a various-artists mixtape was regarded as a more intimate gesture, reserved for teenage courtship rituals. Dubbing off a tape of Boy and October was not so apt to be interpreted as “he/she likes you.”
I distributed many a copy of One Step Beyond plus Absolutely, emulating the Sire 2-on-1 cassette release that blew my mind. Ready-made for tape sharing, that double dose of seminal Madness laid out a convincing case that this band had more to offer than that one “Our House” song. Quite a few of my friends were impressed. As you might guess, the lead track on One Step Beyond went down the biggest, though I managed to stir interest in some deep cuts as well. “Tarzan’s Nuts” was always an attention-getter, probably owing to the testicular double entendre as much as anything. I proudly recall one day in gym class while we were running laps, I led a small troop calling cadence with “Chipmunks Are Go!” I wonder what the P.E. coach thought about that crew of weirdos declaring themselves roaring chipmunks?
Of course, Madness didn’t win universal adulation from my peers. Chris and Ruffin ridiculed “In the Middle of the Night” for its trifling and pervy subject matter. “Better watch out, ’cause he steals your un-der-wear! Oh no!” they mockingly misquoted the tale of Nice Man George. I think “Baggy Trousers” didn’t land right, either. Since we didn’t share the frame of reference on British schooldays terminology, the bouncy tune came across more like kindergarten hijinks than juvenile delinquency.
Subsequent albums in the Madness catalog brought me diminishing returns on the tape-trading circuit. I learned from my own independent trials how right Geffen had been that 7 and The Rise and Fall did not appeal to general American tastes. No one else saw the relentless brilliance I found in Keep Moving, much to my discouragement, and Mad Not Mad met with “thanks no thanks.”
I cringe and howl with laughter to recall the most epic taping faux pas I ever committed. I was making a copy of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry for my friend Stephen, a coal-black-dyed goth and not much of a Madness fan. There was some blank tape left at the end, and I had just got the spiffy new 1985 Madness album, so why not? I stuck “I’ll Compete” on as a bonus track! Just imagine it: the segue from Robert Smith wailing “Can you help me? Can you… help me?” into an over-caffeinated technicolor lasershow of synths, horns and bongos. Inevitably, when I asked Stephen what he thought about “I’ll Compete,” he grumbled that he had to erase that shit. I felt offended at the time, but of course who could blame him? I had broken the unwritten covenant of bonus tracks – make it something by the same artist, or any least in the same tone and genre. Idiot moves like that could sure ruin your reputation on the tape-trader scene.
There remained a small core of friends who continued to like Madness: Robby, Nick, Alex. None of them ascended to my rank in the Madhead ministry, but they remain loyal apostles even to this day. I fondly recall once when we were discussing what music to play, and Alex enthused “Let’s listen to the MAD Men of NESS!” Such a goofy but endearing thing to say. At one point we were feeling jealous of friends who’d started a couple of garage bands, playing punk and goth stuff, and we decided by golly, we’d form our own band – a ska band! The fragmentary notion was that I would be on lead vocals (ha), and Robby, Nick and Alex would learn how to play… something. This bullshit idea never went anywhere. All we managed was to pick out a Madness song to name ourselves after, just as they had named themselves after a Price Buster tune. We settled on something from the new Madness record to call our imaginary band: White Heat. Wet Fart, more like.
Ironically enough, the biggest threat to Madness in our cassette-sharing ring was a predator that I myself introduced to the ecosystem: The Specials. The Jerry Dammers combo proved way more popular to my friends’ varied tastes, whether punk or ska or goth or jazz or rock. Having bought the debut The Specials album, I was quite astounded at what I’d found, though I didn’t like all the songs at first. When I shared a tape with Ruffin, I warned him not to be put off by the weird first song, which was so slow with plodding harmonica and trombone. “Don’t worry, it gets better with the fast songs,” I promised.
Later he came back with glowing praise. “And you know which song I like best?” Ruffin said. “‘A Message to You Rudy’!” As a jazz listener, he was quite at home with Rico’s lead trombone, and equipped to tune into the song’s vibe much more readily than I could. In time I would learn this track was the closest thing to genuine Jamaican ska I had ever heard up to that point. To bring things full circle, Ruffin would later share with me The Skatalites’ phenomenal Stretching Out reunion album, exclusively released on cassette in 1987, and finally things started to piece together. So that’s what ska really was.
As I spread more tapes around, everybody loved The Specials. Compared to Madness, they were angrier, more political, more serious, and oh so much cooler. Never mind that the band was long broken up by the time of our belated discovery. Contrary to the fighting sentiment of that goth-repellant bonus track, Madness could not compete. My friends basically decided The Specials were their British ska band of choice, which I feel is the most popular opinion among American music fans who know the genre.
And you know, that’s okay. I can look back with pride on my legacy of spreading awareness of 2 Tone music from both London and Coventry across Haywood County, NC, on traded cassettes back in the day. I wouldn’t rewind a thing.
It’s a big day in Madness news with official confirmation of the re-rescheduled U.S. tour, plus a major livestream event coming in May. First we have this new slate of 2022 dates in America, following some piecemeal announcements and contradictory information. We look forward to welcoming our Nutty Boys at the following gigs:
The Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival, Las Vegas, NV
House of Blues, Boston, MA
Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, NY
Tickets previously booked for the 2020/2021 dates will be honored at the rescheduled shows. Contact your point of purchase with any questions.
In the more immediate future, Madness will be presenting a global livestream event on May 14 billed as “The Get Up!” Direct from the London Palladium and featuring comedian Charlie Higson, the show promises “live music, new and classic Madness songs, comedy, some incredibly special guests and even Mike Barson playing the part of HRH Queen Elizabeth II.” With promotional graphics in the vintage style of Ealing comedy movie posters, “The Get Up!” looks to be a right old knees-up chock full of pure entertainment.
Tickets go on sale April 23. The UK livestream is scheduled for 3:30 PM Eastern Time, and later livestreams for the U.S. audience are set for the east coast and west coast, at 8:30 PM Eastern or Pacific. The ticket sales site states “There are no restrictions on which stream you can watch so please choose the most convenient one for you.” It further specifies that “The Get Up” will not be available on-demand afterward, so no do-overs for those who miss out. Get up, get in, got it?
The title of Lee Morris’s book 2 Tone – Before, During & After is quite specific in its meaning. The author is principally concerned with the legendary and influential 2 Tone Records label, as opposed to the looser use of “2 tone” as a generic term for the ska revival subgenre. In stating “Before, During & After,” the book makes explicit the brief lifespan of the label, an extraordinary moment in time circa 1979-1986, and Lee Morris is here to chronicle the details behind the rise and fall of a remarkably unlikely success story.
2 Tone Records was of course the brainchild of mad genius Jerry Dammers, also known as the founder and keyboardist of The Specials. As a former hippie, Dammers followed an idealistic vision to set up his own record label to release his fledgling band’s music and support like-minded new artists. Instead of being locked down in ironclad contracts and signing their rights away, 2 Tone artists were always free to move on to major labels and chart their own course. “The General,” as Lee fondly refers to Dammers, set out to create a musical movement, a British answer to Motown that would change the world – and by gosh, he did it. The small but significant 2 Tone catalog includes albums by The Specials, The Selecter, Rico Rodriguez and The Special AKA; seminal singles by Madness, The (English) Beat and The Bodysnatchers; and tangential links to Bad Manners and Elvis Costello.
The basic outlines of the 2 Tone story are familiar to any serious fan of The Specials, Madness and the related crew. We all know the key touchstones of lore: Jerry Dammers’s fascination with Prince Buster. The creation of the 2 Tone rude boy mascot Walt Jabsco, based on a Peter Tosh photo. The Bernie Rhodes “confiscated guitars” tour fiasco chronicled in “Gangsters.” The signing of Madness for one-off single “The Prince.” The fabled 2 Tone Tour. The explosive personality conflicts that made The Specials prematurely implode. Jerry’s years of obsessive, Brian Wilson-like isolation poured into the In the Studio album’s long gestation. Where Lee’s book excels is filling in all the connective details between the commonplace legends, explaining how these situations in 2 Tone history came about, dispelling myths and misconceptions, and weaving together a vast, coherent narrative.
Given that I’m a Madness specialist running a Madness blog, the chapter on my favorite band doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises. It’s a solid account of their nutty career, but nothing earthquake-erupting for diehard Madheads. On the other hand, the formidable remainder of 2 Tone – Before, During & After serves to make me realize I don’t know as much as I thought I did about the rest of the 2 Tone bands. I especially had fun absorbing Lee’s details about the various acts’ early years. Now I understand how the Special AKA name came about between The Automatics and The Specials, and why it occasionally resurfaced before the In the Studio era. I learned that Dave Wakeling and Andy Cox sowed the seeds of The Beat not in Birmingham, but on the Isle of Wight. And I was a bit chastened to realize I had no idea at all how The Selecter got their start, assembled by longtime Jerry Dammers associate Neol Davies. Likewise, it was illuminating to read up on the history of Rhoda Dakar, beyond knowing that her Bodysnatchers bandmates become the Belle Stars while Rhoda joined The Special AKA.
The book even delves into the most obscure characters in the 2 Tone saga: Swinging Cats, The Higsons, The Apollinares, The Friday Club, JB’s Allstars. Previously these folks were only known to me from the weird songs on The 2 Tone Collection: A Checkered Past compilation. Aside from Swinging Cats (whose “Mantovani” and “Away” are pretty awesome), I’ve never cared much about these 2 Tone also-rans, but here you will find their stories duly told.
2 Tone – Before, During & After is a fun and easy read for any fan of this musical era. Lee Morris writes in an energetic, conversational style that strings thoughts together with abundant comma splices, breathlessly he gallops through fact nuggets jamming in asides and wry personal observations, you got to jump on the Morris train to skaville and strap yourself in my son cause he ain’t slowing down for nobody no! I also want to give him big kudos for his fantastic Facebook page. Whereas most small-press authors who promote their work on Facebook are only there to sell books, Lee runs a smashing page that’s like getting your daily dose of 2 Tone history in your Facebook feed. I think the vast majority of the cool factoids and tidbits he posts aren’t in the book, and he’s not pushing a hard sell at all. So please, whether you’re interested in buying the book or not, go follow 2 Tone – Before, During & Afteron Facebook. You’ll be glad you did.
The story of 2 Tone is a crazy Coventry Cinderella tale, packed with enough drama, comedy and suspense to fill a Netflix binge series. Consider the ignominious history of bands starting their own record labels: it’s usually a late-career folly, a symptom of too much money and runaway egos, ending in financial ruin and bitter lawsuits. Jerry Dammers had the gumption and the lunacy to start 2 Tone at the beginning of his career, with no money and no grand business plan except to make good music. 2 Tone – Before, During & After does a brilliant job of helping readers appreciate the scope of what The General achieved by overcoming the odds and creating something really special. Pun intended.
Madness guitarist/songwriter Chris Foreman recently honored us as a guest on the Stateside Madness Podcast, chatting with hosts Laurie Alfaro, Poly Collins and Bobby Rubin. In the following excerpts from the rollicking interview, Chrissy Boy discusses the band’s plans and hopes to get back to touring and recording, the new American greatest hits album, the process of writing “Our House,” memories of early visits to America, and the real important scoop here, which is the untold origins of his ever-popular “Showtime!” solo cabaret routines.
Poly:Chris, thank you for joining us, and if you’d be so kind, why don’t you tell us what the last year’s been like for you?
Oh yeah, pretty normal. Up in my loft. Has something been going on that I missed? (Laughs.) No, it’s been terrible, of course.
Last March, we were going to go to Dubai and get some hot weather. And suddenly our tour manager calls it off. And it’s been like that ever since, really. Yeah, it’s kind of like I had all this stuff in my calendar, obviously coming to the USA. So this stuff will come up in my diary, you know, like I’m supposed to be in Paris. And I’m in a shopping mall.
But yeah, it’s been difficult for everyone, hasn’t it? So you know, I’ve got a nice house, big garden, sort of on the outskirts of Brighton. So it’s okay, you know, for me.
Poly:I suppose that’s the same for very nearly all of us. We were so looking forward to the American tour. But we’re willing to hang in there.
I don’t know if we’re going to come, I’m afraid. This year, anyway. You know, Punk Rock Bowling’s been put off again. I’ve written a few songs, so that’s good. And we’ve met up a few times, the band. We started renting this unit. There was a kind of thing here where, “It will calm down a bit, you can almost go back to normal.” And we’ve rented this kind of industrial unit and we’ve put a load of equipment in, and we met there, yeah. We came up with a couple songs, so you know. We’re ready. (Laughs.)
Poly:Great! We’ll be looking forward to that.
Laurie:So Chris, so why are you releasing an American compilation at this time, and what’s your favorite song on the compilation?
Well, the compilation was supposed to tie in with the tour. So I guess they kind of had it on the spreadsheets for a while and we have to release it at some point, because I suppose they must have manufactured it. And that’s the kind of business side of things.
My favorite track? I don’t know, gee… You know, it’s kind of all about the hits, isn’t it? I mean, I always really liked “The Prince,” you know. And I enjoy playing it live, it doesn’t get too tired. There’s something about that song. So let’s go with that. It is on the compilation, I assume? (Laughs.)
Laurie:I do hope you guys get to tour America, because I’ve never seen you live, and this was going to be the year. I was gonna go to Vegas and finally see you.
Oh, Vegas! I love Vegas.
Laurie:So do I. So fingers crossed.
We were, as you say, stoked. Because, you know, you get loads of cheap clothes. (Laughs.) It’s fantastic. Yeah, stuff like Penguin, not to promote a brand. I went in the Penguin shop last time I was there, and I was wearing a Penguin shirt. And the guy said, if you come in wearing Penguin, you get a discount. So you know, win-win.
Bobby:Just echoing what Laurie said, I’ve been really looking forward to you all coming to the States. I’ve not seen you before. I do have tickets for the Boston and New York shows. Back to the compilation album, what’s your hope for the album? Is it meant to reconnect with U.S. fans, or is it meant to bring in new U.S. fans?
Yeah, it’s kinda like keep the wheels, you know, the big wheels going. And yeah, maybe people think “what’s this, it looks pretty cool” and discover us, you know, that kind of thing.
Poly:Do you guys have any influence on what gets selected for the tracks, or do you feel it was just kind of obvious what the songs are going to be?
It’s kind of really difficult, because we were originally on Stiff Records in England for pretty much all our career. But we did an American deal with Sire Records with Seymour Stein, who’s kind of legend. We really liked Seymour and we liked Sire Records. So we kind of went along with that, for a few years. And then the Geffen thing came about because a guy from Geffen called John Kalodner, who’s another legend. He came to England and he heard “Our House” and he said, “This is a hit.” So that Geffen thing is kind of like Frankenstein’s, you know. It was based on the album we had out, The Rise and Fall. That was that, and they licensed some other tracks.
So I suppose this is the first kind of comprehensive… Look, you know I’m going to throw it out that we’ve done loads of greatest hits albums, everybody does. It’s kind of like that Walt Disney thing, you know. They used to re-release the films every few years. (Laughs.) You know, I’m not “anti” it. So you know, we try and make sure that the artwork’s good, and stuff like that. Because actually we kind of did a similar album in England, with a similar artwork, and I thought that might go down well with our American friends. But yeah, that’s it. It’s not like, you know, some master game plan. (Laughs.) Yeah, that was to accompany the tour, you know. Maybe we’ll release another one next year, eh?
Laurie:So one of the things that’s notable about this particular compilation is this is the first time that you’ve released the song “Bullingdon Boys” on a physical medium.
Oh yeah, of course.
Laurie:I wanted to ask you to explain a little bit for American fans who might not understand what that song is about.
In America you’ve got Harvard and places like that, haven’t you, I suppose? And it’s about a group of people that became very influential, and there’s this club [at Oxford] called the Bullingdon Club. Yeah, a lot of them, you know. The Prime Minister, he’s one of the Bullingdon boys. So that’s kind of what it’s about. You know, the elite, as it were. So it’s kind of good to have some contemporary stuff on it as well.
Bobby:This Go-Go’s documentary that was released fairly recently has a lot of people talking, and I’m wondering what it was like to hang out with the Go-Go’s? What can you tell us?
Yeah, it’s a shame, because I really wanted to be in the documentary, but I live in Brighton and for one reason or another I didn’t make it. But I mean, we came to L.A., it’s the first time we’ve been there, you know. And we played at the Whisky, and I was at the hotel and the rest of the band went to see the Go-Go’s. And they came out like, “Whoa, these girls! This girl Charlotte, she had the old whammy on!”
They were great fun and a great band, they really were, you know. They had some good songs and you know, they rocked. And, erm, we had great affection for them, shall we say.
Poly:Chris, while we’re on that time around the early ’80s, what was your favorite other band from that era?
It’s difficult really. (Pause.) I’d have to say Van Halen (laughs). No, it’s because, I don’t know when that album came out and they did “You Really Got Me.”
And it was on the radio in heavy rotation, and I went and got the album that’s got that on. And I kind of really liked that. But I didn’t go and see them. I mean I liked a lot of things, but really, yeah, it’s hard to say because a lot of the time we’d be playing with The Specials and those kind of bands. I liked quite a lot of stuff in the ’80s. I mean, hip hop came out, I really like Run-DMC, Schoolly D, LL Cool J. But yeah, I’m quite eclectic, so I didn’t really have a favorite per se.
Poly:I’m glad you mentioned Van Halen, because I try to ask everybody about the Kinks every time I get. When you mentioned “You Really Got Me,” the Van Halen cover, how formative would the Kinks have been in your sound or just for you as fan?
Yeah, I wrote a song called “E.R.N.I.E.,” which is on our second album, and classed it as really like the Kinks, you know. And when I grew up, the Kinks were around. They were absolutely brilliant, and at that time in my life, everything I’m writing sounds like the Kinks, you know.
Even that song was about quite a strange thing, you know. E.R.N.I.E. is a machine that picks these numbers like a lottery. It’s a kind of government lottery. There are these things called premium bonds, I’ve got some actually. Last year I won like, not a lot, about four or five times I won £25. And that’s not a fortune, but you don’t get anything with your money in the bank.
But The Kinks, and some of these things, it’s like… you sort of write a song and then you think, “It does sound a bit like this.” I never set out thinking, “I’m gonna write something like this,” you know. I did one the other day that’s a bit like Bryan Ferry or Roxy, later Roxy, who we obviously liked a lot.
Laurie:So speaking of songwriting, you and Carl co-wrote the band’s biggest international hit, right? “Our House.” When you guys recorded it, when you did the video, was there ever any kind of feeling that that was gonna blow up internationally, the way it did?
I’ve been talking about this recently. Sort of like, I came in with this song, it wasn’t really very good. And you know he did the lyrics, and then the band slowly, you know, we got it a bit Motown. I suppose we did used to think, especially the first couple of albums, “Get a song, right, but do it ska.” (Imitates ska rhythm.) You do it kind of offbeat, we were always sticking that thing in. And then we kind of got away from that. We thought when we did this, we did it kind of Motown. I think our producer, he’s the one that really made (sings chorus)“our house,” you know that, it kind of changes the rhythm. Which I didn’t really think at the time.
But yeah, I didn’t think… I thought this is good, you know. I thought “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day,” that’s the one. I thought it was so good it would be a bigger hit. This one, yeah, it’s done very well, and (laughs) I do quite well out of sync licenses, you know. People want to use it. So yeah, it’s done me well!
Laurie: I have to make a confession. I grew up watching your videos on MTV, and when I first saw the video for “Our House,” I absolutely fell in love. But the scene, where you’re playing, first you’re playing on the tennis racket and then you’re going through like the the ’60s and the ’70s glam, I honestly thought you were three different people. I didn’t realize that it was the same person!
It’s just a costume, innit? Yeah yeah, because, for once, we’ve got a song that hasn’t got a sax solo. Because Lee’s always you know, “I want to be flying!” I thought, “Yeah, I want to be like a kid with a tennis racket,” you know, starting off and going through those eras of music. Rockabilly, you know, another favorite of mine. It was fun doing that, yeah.
Bobby:I’m really interested in knowing about any of your past experiences on U.S. tours. What’s one of your favorite memories or experiences?
The first time we ever came to America, we went to New York. And we’ve been told it’s going to be quite cold, so we had those coats, those crombie coats. So we kind of go around a bit like this gang. And we had this manager at the time, and he said “Guys, I know you’re busy. Go to this bar, there’s this bar everybody goes to. All the musicians go there.”
So we kind of walk in this bar, and I was thinking, “Hey, there isn’t many chicks.” And it was a gay bar, you know. And it was just hilarious, we had such a laugh. Because it was that kind of thing where, you know, the kind of lumberjack kind of thing, “Oh, you know, we’re not…” And I don’t want to get into bad territory or be un-P.C. or something. I mean, we didn’t realize that that everybody is this bar was gay.
That was like one of the earliest experiences we had of going to New York. And we stayed in this hotel called the Iroquois Hotel. And it’s just like you’ve seen in the films, you know. It’s all marble, there’s some old black guy cutting people’s hair. We thought, this is great. Then you got up to the rooms (laughs), all the doors have been jimmied open, I mean it was like such a dodgy hotel.
So yeah yeah, we love New York and Boston and flipping you know, we took to America, you know. Because you guys kind of talk English, you know. (Laughs.) We’re not talking about Canada. But New Jersey, yeah, what was it? “We’ll deliver anywhere except New Jersey.” We kind of got all the references, you know. Yeah, I think that first tour was great. We were in these cars and all they had was FM radio. That’s probably where I heard Van Halen, you know.
But I mean that was our first tour, it was great because we liked New York, the kind of new fans, the cool clubs. And L.A. was, you know, the Whisky. But then in between there’s some fun places. Boston’s great, there’s the Paradise Club in Boston. Yeah, we had a lot of fun. I don’t think you can beat that first experience of everything that we’ve seen on television.
You know, to us it was so exciting. I suppose you guys, maybe you see England and Big Ben and all that, I don’t know if you’ve been to England, and then you get there and “Whooo!” (Laughs.) It’s like that. You know, “It’s Times Square! Look at those taxis!” You know those big yellow New York cabs, which Travis Bickle of course had in Taxi Driver. We were like obsessed with them and we’re only getting in them. No, it’s always been fun, really, America yeah.
Poly:So our friend Donald, who does our blog and website, part of the admin team, is dying to know about “Showtime.”
(Laughs.) What happened there was… In fact, it was in America. There was me, Lee, Carl and Suggs – yeah, we’re quite a little gang, you know – and we went to see The Matrix, the first Matrix film. And it’s quite mind-blowing. And there’s this guy in front of me with his girlfriend and he’s getting really agitated, you know. He’s loving it, he’s really one of those New York guys. So there’s a bit in The Matrix, if you haven’t seen it, where he says “We need guns, lots of guns,” and all these guns appear.
And this guy went, “Yeah! Showtime!” And you know why the guy said it. Because he knew it was going to be absolute mayhem, all right?
So you know, going many years later, we’re doing this show somewhere, and I was a little bit, you know… “refreshed.” (Laughs.) And I looked at the setlist and I thought, you know what? After this song, it was all hits, you know, right at the end. All hits. And I thought, “It’s showtime.” It’s showtime, you know. And I said, “Suggs, gimme the mic!” And I went, I dunno, I think I just said, “IT’S SHOOOOW-TIME!” you know?
Because me and Suggs generally have a lot of fun onstage, making fun of each other, or I try and make him laugh – sometimes I’m really annoying. But he thought it was really funny, so the next gig we do, he goes, “What time is it?” So I went “SHOWTIME!” And then I started going “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
One day, I thought you know, I’ve gone as far as I can with this, so I got “Highway to Hell.” And I put it in a music thing, so I just had the beginning (imitates guitar riff), you know. And I kind of just spliced in the choruses. And we’re in Amsterdam and I hadn’t told any of the band, so I got the sound guy to play it onstage. So Suggs says “What time is it?” and then “Highway to Hell” comes out of the PA, and I started singing “Highway to Hell” and the band are like…?
And “Highway to Hell,” it’s like, I think you could go to the Amazon rainforest and people there would know it. You know, the most remote, anywhere in the world, everybody knows that song. So yeah, they were like mind-boggled.
And then I kind of like really ran with it, and started doing “Livin’ on a Prayer.” That was one of my favorites. Same kind of method. (Laughs.) But then a few years ago, I kind of stopped doing it. But between me and you, I’ll tell you… when we come back, we’re gonna do it. Yeah, the first show, and I’m not telling them. (Laughs.) You know there’s some things you do, there’s some really good ones where the audience filmed it. Then there’s people like booing, obviously.
I mean, you know that guy in that band, The Hives? They are flippin’ brilliant. Check them out, Bobby. They’re sort of kind of punky, but they’re really not. And they do things like, they’ll all wear top hats, they kind of look really good. And we played with them a few times and I really like them. And I was having a drink with them, and the singer went, “Hey, why the karaoke?” I said, “That is not karaoke!”
But yeah, that’s where it came from. From watching The Matrix, you know, to my looking at that setlist. And I was doing that “Let’s get ready to rumble” and then somebody said, you know, if you come to America and say that you could – because that guy owns the rights to it or something – I could probably get sued for a billion dollars.
Poly:All right, Chris, on many of our earlier podcasts I am always hypothesizing about how young British folks got into ska. So my question to you is, early on in the formative days of the band, who of the members were really bringing ska into your sound? And did any of you, once you did get going, did any of you really feel like there was a real movement happening?
I always say this to anyone starting a band. Find some sort of songs that you like and learn them, and play them – unless you’re just geniuses and you’ve got your own songs straight away, which there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s what we did. So we started this band and we’re playing like the Coasters, Fats Domino, Elvis, “Tequila.” We’re doing all those kind of old standards, right?
And I think it was probably Suggs. He said “Oh, I’ve got this,” I think it was actually Georgie Fame doing “Madness,” and I thought this is good, you know. I think we kind of started doing that and we started doing “One Step Beyond.”
And it was just like, ’cause we liked it. We liked those songs. And to tell the truth, I never thought we really played that music brilliantly, compared to a lot of the other bands. And then we started writing our own songs, some which would be reggae. But something like “Land of Hope and Glory” isn’t, or “Bed and Breakfast Man,” so we had this kind of weird little thing going.
And then this band Specials started getting pretty big. And then we met them, Suggs met Jerry Dammers and said we’ve got this band. They put a single out. So we kind of became part of this thing, and I think it’s because all of those bands, they were all kind of round about our age, you know. (Mutters) I’m older than some of them.
But we can remember when that music first came out, you know. We liked it, but you know, we also liked glam rock, everything. That’s one of the things about our band – I think everybody’s got very varied tastes, not just one thing. You know, we never said, “We are a ska band.” In fact, if you look at the second album, I kind of said that in an interview. I don’t think we were. But it was a great thing to be involved with, you know. I mean, every now and then, I wrote this really good kind-of-reggae song the other day, actually. I’ve done a couple. It’s very good.
And that’s kind of what happened and that’s that. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Anyone from our band, because they don’t know what they’re talking about. They can’t remember anything. We just did a book called Before We Was We, you may have read it? Before we did the book, we were on tour and we were discussing it. And I said, “Oh yeah, when we went to America…” and you know, most of them couldn’t remember that we went to America in 1979. I mean how you couldn’t remember that? I had to go and Google it. “Yeah, boomers” and show them. I won’t say who – it was about all of them. (Laughs.)
It was crazy times. The other day I was thinking, oh, you know when you think if you could go back in time, anytime in your life, I thought L.A. 1979. Walking around to get some beer from this liquor store. And this girl came along, like lycra trousers on, you know, sort of hair and roller skates on, and she collides into me. It doesn’t happen in Camden Town, you know.
Laurie:All right, you’ve mentioned that you’ve been working on writing a few new songs. Are there plans for a new album anytime soon?
Oh yeah, we’ll be doing a new album, we’re always doing a new album. I’ve done a lot of songs that aren’t any particular genre. Here’s one that’s kind of reggae-ish. (Plays part of a demo.)
Honestly I was like, sitting on the john. You know, just contemplating. I was probably on Instagram. I wasn’t actually, you know, going to the toilet. And I thought of this tune and I sung it into my phone. That’s what I do. I sing it into my phone and email it to myself, and I drag it into a music thing. That’s a good one, that. And I’ve been writing some lyrics. So you know, it could be a few changes round here when you come see Madness. If Suggs is just on maracas, you know. (Laughs.) Sorry, kidding. He’s a good singer, yeah. He’s one of the best.
Hey Stateside Madness fans, we’re giving away advance copies of Our House: The Very Best of Madness, the new U.S exclusive hits compilation. The album consists of 12 choice nutty tracks:
It Must Be Love
House of Fun
One Step Beyond
Wings of a Dove
Night Boat to Cairo (US Version)
Of course, 12 songs is never enough Madness for any true Madhead, so we ask: if you could choose a 13th bonus track to make it a baker’s dozen, which other one song would you choose? Join the Stateside Madness Facebook Group (or visit if you’re already a member) and comment your 13th pick on this post for your chance to win a copy of the album!
Entries accepted through March 12, 2021. This promotion and our Facebook group are open to U.S. residents only.
To learn more about Our House: The Very Best of Madness, see my recent review. I’m not eligible to enter the Baker’s Dozen contest myself, but if I could choose a 13th track, it would have to be “The Liberty of Norton Folgate.”
Yes, we know. Yet another Madness greatest hits album. Who needs it? Why, as a matter of fact, America does! Uncle Sam welcomes BMG’s new Our House: The Very Best of Madness with open arms and a single proud Yankee Doodle tear.
Whereas the UK has seen approximately 2,847 Madness best-of LPs and CDs littering every corner Tesco and Sainsbury’s, we on the other side of the pond have merited but a piddly four. First came the biggie, the 1983 Geffen album. In 1997 Geffen put out their Total Madness (not to be confused with later namesake UK releases). Hip-O Records scraped the barrel with a couple of early 2000s budget releases, which took nary a choice picking from 1999 reunion album Wonderful.
That’s all we’ve had till now. Which means, shockingly, BMG’s Our House is the very first U.S. hits collection to acknowledge Madness’s prolific post-1986 career. For that reason alone, it’s well worth having and well overdue – and pushed back another whole year, thanks to coronavirus cocking up the original plans. Plus, this is the first physical release of the marvelous 2019 “Bullingdon Boys.” Take that, you limeys!
There’s surely no need to “review” this album in the conventional sense, but let’s just run down the tracklist and confirm what versions and mixes BMG has gathered together here, for the interested trainspotters.
Our House – Standard regulation version
It Must Be Love – The original UK mix, not the U.S. Geffen version (which has an extra little Thommo sax blurt before each “love, love” in the chorus and omits his squeaky solo during the bridge)
House of Fun – The original UK mix with the fadeout, not the fairground music ending that Geffen used
Baggy Trousers – Standard regulation version
Embarrassment – Standard regulation version
NW5 – The Norton Folgate re-recording
One Step Beyond – One Step Beyond album version with the unabridged Chas Smash intro
The Prince – One Step Beyond album version
Wings of a Dove – Standard regulation version
Mr Apples – Can’t Touch Us Now album version
Bullingdon Boys – Same version as the 2019 digital single
Night Boat to Cairo (US Version) – Yes! This is my favorite little nod to the American fanbase, with BMG reaching way back to the excellent remix from the 1983 Geffen Madness. More reverb everywhere! More twangy Chrissy Boy guitar! More Barson organ frills! More raw Egyptian pyramid POWER! Dance, Cleopatra, DANCE!
The track sequence flows nicely, too. I especially like “Embarrassment” segueing into “NW5” – two of Lee Thompson’s finest compositions, separated by nearly 30 years, fitting together like clockwork gears. And the whole of “Side 2” goes down a treat, with “Mr Apples” and “Bullingdon Boys” right at home amidst the red hot velvet box of showtime chestnuts.
Some may quibble, why only 12 tracks? Why put out a disc at all, when casual American fans are just going to download the $1.29 “Our House” single and blow past all those unknown filler tracks and yucky new songs, anyway? Well, my friends, because it matters. An act of Madness’s stature and creative longevity deserves to have its full career recognized with a nice little hits package like this. This band is not an ’80s relic. They are still at the top of their game today, and this album is proof you can hold in your hot little hands.
Besides, I think limiting the scope to just 12 tracks makes for an interesting thought experiment. Sure, it’s easy enough to go hog wild and sequence a 70-track avalanche like A Guided Tour of Madness, but choosing the most representative 12 songs is like writing a haiku. And I believe my own tracklist would be pretty close to the same.
BMG will release a new U.S. exclusive greatest hits compilation entitled Our House: The Very Best of Madness. Originally announced for May 2020, then postponed along with the band’s North American tour, the album is now set for release on March 12.
Our House will be available on CD, vinyl LP and digital bundle, and preorders are up on Amazon. See above for a first look at the album sleeve artwork, which is similar to (but slightly different from) the Full House compilation released in the UK in 2017.
The new collection consists of 12 tracks spanning the whole of Madness’s career (full list below). Of particular note to fans and collectors, this will mark the first physical release of any kind for “Bullingdon Boys,” which debuted as a digital-only single in November 2019.
Our House is clearly designed for the American market, named for and led off by the band’s biggest stateside hit, with the other familiar single “It Must Be Love” in the second slot. As a clever nod to the band’s U.S. beginnings, the track list also includes the subtly polished remix of “Night Boat to Cairo” that first appeared on the 1983 Madness album released by Geffen in the U.S.
But this collection isn’t entirely stuck in the past – Our House is the band’s first-ever hits collection for the U.S. that encompasses their 21st century post-reunion output, making room for “NW5” and “Mr Apples” alongside the most recent “Bullingdon Boys.” Discovering these new tunes, casual American fans who only know the ’80s hits will have the chance to learn that Madness is still very much alive and kicking in the present day!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
SUGGS: Another big turning point for the band was when we put out ‘My Girl’ as the third single. ’Cause we hadn’t really appealed to girls up to that point.
WOODY: We moved very quickly from doing sweaty clubs with a lot of scary-looking skinheads, and then the crowds got younger. At first, it was a bit kind of, ‘Oh my God, we’ve become a boy band.’ But it was alright.
LEE: It’s gone from boneheads in string vests to teeny-boppers. Now we’ve got the handbags replacing the beer bottles and a waft of fucking Charlie perfume coming up towards the stage! I mean, it was just one of those things. Directly after ‘My Girl,’ because it was moving so fast, we had a moment where at the gigs, you did see gooey-eyed girls at the front. But it was briefly lived.
Excerpts from Before We Was We: Madness by Madness
Before New Kids on the Block, before Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, before One Direction and BTS, Madness blazed the hunky trail as one of the pop world’s original boy bands. Kinda sorta. Well, not really. I guess you might consider Chas Smash to have been the boy-bandiest of the lot, with his slick dance moves and flashy fashion sense. And there could be multiple applicants for the role of The Cute One, right ladies?
Just so there’s no confusion, the fabricated Tiger Beat cover above comes from an alternate universe where Madness somehow became American teen idol sensations back in the day. But there does exist some legitimate evidence of their fleeting brush with boy band noblesse.
The profile pinups below were published in Look-in, a UK weekly for young readers focused on TV shows and music. The magazine boasted a long-running Madness comic strip called “It’s Madness,” and in early 1981 the band’s members were individually spotlighted in the “Collect-a-Page” feature. Look-in readers had to come back every week to get the whole set of seven, but Stateside Madness has helpfully gathered them for you here. We added the totally radical ’80s frame designs, but the rest is like real to the max.
So which nutty dreamy boy do YOU fancy the most?
The Bad Boy
The Older Brother
The Cute One
The Boy Next Door
The Shy One
The Crazy Clown
Fun Fact: According to Look-in, in 1981 Madness had a combined weight of 450 kg (987 lbs.). Madness still weighs about the same 40 years later, considering that the six remaining members between them have gained at least the equivalent of one 22-year-old Chas Smash.