Can’t get enough SSM via this blog and our social media? Now you can listen to our American-accented take on the nuttiest sound around with our new Stateside Madness Official Podcast!
SSM team members Laurie Alfaro and Poly Collins are your hosts for our new audio venture. “We’re coming at this from a specifically American perspective,” Laurie says. “As American fans, there are things maybe we perceive a little bit differently, like in the lyrics and song meanings. Some weeks we’ll do an album review, a deep dive into the album tracks. Other weeks I’m hoping we can devote an episode to one specific member of the band. We hope to have some exclusive content as we get closer to the American tour dates.”
The music of Madness has served as soundtracks and jingles in quite a lot of American TV commercials. We fondly recall the vintage kids’ Colgate Pump ad, imported from the UK, which surely got more airplay here than “Baggy Trousers” itself. (Anyone up for a sequel, “The Liberty of Brushin’ Colgate”?) Levi’s borrowed “It Must Be Love” for a baffling pantomime of romantic devotion between a guy and his best… jeans? And of course “Our House” has done its share of flogging U.S. brands, from a clever “Jingle Bells” mashup for Verizon to a severely not-clever bastardization for Maxwell House.
Now there’s a new “Our House” ad for Scotts Miracle-Gro that’s as surprising as it is timely. And it really does our band (house) proud. Take a look.
Created by New York agency VaynerMedia, the spot plays to our shared need for summertime fun during a global pandemic lockdown. The scenes of staycation festivities consist of real people, shot in backyards on their phones and cameras – “user generated content,” as they say in the marketing biz. Scotts Miracle-Gro ads usually focus on gardening and landscaping, but the current situation inspired the company to think in broader terms of what our lawns mean to Americans. They’re not just the grass and trees outside, they are valued as part of “our house,” and a safe haven where we make memories.
For Madness fans, what’s really significant about the ad is the version of the song used. It’s not the original hit single, and it’s not a cover version. It’s Madness themselves, putting a more contemplative spin on “Our House” from 2013. It’s known as The People’s Palace Version, recorded outside North London’s beloved Alexandra Palace with a chorus of fans as a gesture of thanks and appreciation to the band’s loyal supporters.
That Ally Pally recording has always given me goosebumps, stirring my emotional connection to my Madhead brothers and sisters. Look, there’s a woman wearing the same Madstock 2009 shirt I cherish from my first Madness show. I am one of them. This is my tribe. The only one thing I don’t love about this anthemic singalong is that it doesn’t include the whole of “Our House.” And I tell you, I never in a million years would have guessed it would end up being broadcast in an American commercial.
Consider this: Other than the odd appearance on a U.S. talk show, or high-profile special events like the Olympics or an NFL game in London, this amounts to the first time a post-1980s Madness recording has been granted a mass American audience! Surely some ad creative at VaynerMedia must be a legit Madness fan, because I can’t imagine the People’s Palace “Our House” is well documented in Madison Avenue music licensing libraries.
Kudos to whoever made that call, because the ad works brilliantly. It doesn’t matter if the majority of viewers don’t realize that’s Madness, the original artist, judging by the online comments about that melancholy “cover.” Even if Suggs’ matured and mellowed voice carries zero recognition or nostalgia factor, look at all the universal buttons being surgically punched. Father, mother, sister, brother, the kids are playing. British Madness fan voices transfigured into a surrogate choir of American families. Abundant summer fun without the beach or the highways or the Disneyland. Right in our own backyards, there’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud. We remember way back then when everything was true and when we would have such a very good time, such a fine time. Such a happy time.
Which is exactly what we all need once again, right now.
Beyond Madness, my second favorite British act of all time is Paul Weller. Relations have been friendly and collegial among them over the decades, dating back to Weller citing “Embarrassment” as an inspiration for the Motown beat of The Jam’s “Town Called Malice.” Of particular note, while working as an early ’90s A&R rep at Go! Discs, Carl Smyth helped Weller launch his solo career. In the past year, Weller joined Madness on stage at House of Common 2019 to great acclaim, and he guested on Suggs’s Love Letters to London BBC Radio 4 series, which saw the pair of them duetting on “Nobody’s Fool” by Ray Davies.
And now Lee Thompson has turned in a guest spot on Weller’s high-profile new album. On Sunset went straight in at #1 in the UK, giving Weller the accomplishment of topping the album chart in five consecutive decades, a feat matched only by Lennon and McCartney. There’s no American angle in reporting this Weller and Thompson collaboration (safe to say On Sunset isn’t making history in the U.S. charts), but when anyone from Madness teams up with one of my other musical heroes, you better believe Stateside Madness will have something to say about it!
Thommo contributes a laid-back sax solo on the Weller-penned track “Walkin’.” Paul has been enthusiastic in his praise for Lee’s work. “I’ve seen Lee playing blinders in recent years, both with Madness and with his Ska Orchestra. He’s a terrific player.”
Have a listen to “Walkin’” (Lee comes in around 1:38.)
So what do I think? Honestly, it’s a bit disappointing. The song isn’t the most interesting on the album, and it sounds a lot like a reworking of “Here’s the Good News” from 2005’s As Is Now (which wasn’t one of the most interesting on that album, either). Probably unfairly, I had imagined this would amount to something more like Lee’s brilliant guest sax on The Specials’ “Hey, Little Rich Girl,” where it’s 100% that inimitable Lee Jay Kix Thompson sound, whereas the “Walkin’” solo could be any decent session player.
I believe my reaction to On Sunset has suffered from too much anticipation and advance buildup. This is also the case with the 7-minute opening track “Mirror Ball,” which has been hyped as an epic creative watershed in every Weller article and interview for the past year, but hits me – as much as it pains me to say – as a boring swing and a miss. (Apologies, Paul.)
But new songs do often need to grow on you, and I will say that I’m warming up to “Walkin’” the more I listen to it. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a nice, breezy, easygoing summer tune. I’m happy Lee Thompson played on it. This partnership between Weller and Thommo gives me hope that someday I’ll get my fantasy wish of hearing Paul belt out a cover of a certain old Madness tune he rated back in the day. That one what Lee wrote.
In the course of their intimate Two Mad Men and a String Quartet performance shared online June 6, Suggs and Mike Barson debuted two new Madness songs. “Theatre of the Absurd,” a Suggs composition, appears to be a spiritual sequel to his solo track “The Greatest Show on Earth” with a more somber tone. The other new tune is of particular interest to us at Stateside Madness, for reasons Barso outlined in his introduction:
“This song is about the dire straits over the pond at the moment. No, not really at the moment. It’s a song about our cousins in America, yeah. Leaders of the world. And where they’re leading us, who knows?”
Running just over 90 seconds, “All the President’s Men” is a terse meditation on social and political turmoil in recent U.S. history, mourning the current tattered state of the American dream. Barson borrows the title from the Woodward & Bernstein exposé on Watergate (and the subsequent Redford & Hoffman film adaptation), which originated as an allusion the irreparable injury following Humpty Dumpty’s fall.
The song is bracingly relevant in the context of international protests in response to the death of George Floyd. The mood and message beautifully fit the string quartet format, and an eventual studio recording could likely prove to have a similar sparse arrangement. A fantastic new piece of work to suit our troubled times.
The year was 1963 The last one for Kennedy In ’68 the Lorraine Motel On the balcony Where the Doctor fell From a single shell
A last shot at democracy Shining city on a hill Land of the free Seventeen agencies Looking out for thee The NSA and Homeland Security
A shot rang out The sound of gunfire echoes ’cross the mall The future sucked into a dark black hole Short-sighted small minds clamour for control
But there’s no dream no more Psyops are now running the score And the money trickles upwards evermore You’d almost think it was 1984
How many Madness albums have never been released on disc in the U.S.? Which states have they ever played in outside of New York and California? Where did they once share an amazing bill with David Bowie and the Go-Go’s? When were they on Saturday Night Live that one time, and what songs did they play?
Now you can find the answers to these scintillating questions and more on our new U.S. History page here on the SSM blog! We’ve pieced this archival inventory together from various online sources, including Discogs, Seven Ragged Men, Setlist.fm, Concert Archives, Fandom Concerts Wiki, and Madness on TV. It’s far from complete, and may or may not be 100% accurate, so we welcome your additions or corrections. Especially in terms of the concert calendars, there plainly must be a few gaps.
This will be an ongoing project, a living document with updates made as we get better and more comprehensive information. And let’s hope the band’s future holds plenty more U.S. history yet to be written.
Courtesy of our friends at BMG, Stateside Madness is pleased to make the first public announcement of the forthcoming greatest hits compilation, Our House – The Very Best of Madness. The album is set for release exclusively in the U.S. on May 15, in conjunction with the band’s North American tour later that month.
Our House will be available on CD, vinyl LP and digital bundle. 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 very recent “Bullingdon Boys.” Discovering these new tunes, casual American fans whose fond memories of the ’80s are rekindled by the 2020 tour will have the chance to learn that Madness is still very much alive and kicking in the present day!