Baggy Trouser Press: Vintage 1983 Article

Trouser Press was a legendary U.S. alternative rock magazine published from 1974 to 1984, perhaps best known for its comprehensive Trouser Press Record Guide books. The following is a fantastic article by Jim Green that ran as the cover feature in the magazine’s penultimate issue dated December 1983/January 1984. 

This was the single most memorable and important piece of journalism I read on Madness in my first year as a fan. It taught me a lot of the fundamentals of the Madness backstory (how they got their name, the 2 Tone connection, Carl’s evolving role) and gave a peek into how the sausage of the Geffen U.S. album was made (how traumatizing for Suggs to spit “I don’t like it”!). This was the first time I ever heard of their “current British single, ‘Wings of a Dove,’” many long months before I would actually hear the song. And in retrospect, how amusing indeed to see young Suggs decry the horrific notion of a Madness concept album with 14-minute songs. So please enjoy this fine Trouser Press profile, in its transience and in its permanence…

Trouser Press magazine

The transatlantic telephone line is dominated by the muffled distortion and hiss common to calls made across a thousand leagues of water; the voice at the other end also cuts off intermittently for split-second intervals. At one point, though, the speaker obviously pauses, as if to gather his thoughts on a subject he rarely discusses, at least not with the press.

‘‘The image of the band is itself almost as strong as the music, if not more memorable, to the average person,” says Graham McPherson. He is referring to Madness, the group in which he is lead vocalist (and, true to form, in which role he is far better known as “Suggs”).

“I don’t know if it’s right or not,” he continues hesitantly, “but musically we’ve been looked on as something instant, not really worthy of analysis.”

Nobody would argue that, least of all McPherson’s bandmates – until the release of the septet’s fourth British album, The Rise and Fall. Madness has moved into new musical and lyrical ground, with the fullest realization of their capabilities to date. Yet the record incurred critical brickbats from the British music press, which characterized it as depressing, and – unkindest cut of all? – “said you couldn’t put most of the songs from it on the jukebox.”

What a switch from the days when Madness was branded too frivolous and lacking in the “socially relevant” virtues of the other outfits with which it was lumped: Selecter, the Beat and the Specials. (The last were the so-called vanguard of neo-ska and proprietors of the 2 Tone label on which the others got their starts.) But Madness has rarely received comment from the Britpress, positive or negative, that hasn’t been based on one prejudgment or another.

That the group suddenly matured isn’t, in the members’ own eyes, deserving of celebration by the press. Nor do they seek the critical scrutiny and interpretation inflicted on artists like Elvis Costello or even the Jam. They just want a fair shake.

If McPherson, bassist Mark Bedford and guitarist Chris Foreman (the latter two available to chat during this summer’s US tour) are representative of their bandmates, one of Madness’s most salient characteristics is a distinct lack of self-consciousness. Madness most likely would have entered the 2 Tone graveyard long ago if they’d been more calculating than what they’ve always been: a bunch of friends who like making music together.

Trouser Press magazine

Mark Bedford: “If anything, we’re more influenced by outside sources now than when we started. Back then” – when they were mostly in their late teens – “we, like most kids, thought we knew it all; no-one could tell us anything.”

When Madness started, as the North London Invaders in 1978, there was no “movement” or trend. The band did what they enjoyed, even if few pubs encouraged them.

Another band called the Invaders (from West Yorkshire) staked a claim on the name, necessitating a switch. No one was satisfied with Morris & the Minors (a pun on a British automobile). Then Foreman suggested rechristening the group after one of their songs. As a jokey example he mentioned “Madness”; Prince Buster’s ’60s ska hit was a keynote of their set.

To Foreman’s dismay, the others leapt on it at once. “I didn’t like it,” he says. “I thought it was the kind of thing for an Alice Cooper-type band. But it stuck.”

McPherson now is bemused by the group’s youthfully naive élan in those days. “Like anybody, you don’t really imagine or realize that you’ll be a great success. We always knew, when we were young, that anything we did would be brilliant. Every time we played we expected everyone to go mad, but it didn’t go beyond an immediate enthusiasm for impressing people, as opposed to becoming nationally successful.”


In early 1979 the Specials created 2 Tone and garnered lots of attention. When word got out that they were looking for other groups to put on their label, Madness jumped at the chance. “We sent them a cassette – a rehearsal tape, really,” Foreman says, grimacing.

“Jerry Dammers [the head Special] still has it!” Bedford laughs. “He told me he still listens to it once in a while and has a laugh.”

Still, Dammers and company heard something of merit in it. By September, Madness was enjoying its first bit with its tribute to Buster, “The Prince.”

“We weren’t mugs,” Foreman asserts. “We wanted to get an album out right away.”

“We wanted to do it with 2 Tone,” Bedford adds, “but [the Specials] only had money enough to do their own album.”

Label shopping resulted in their signing to Stiff. An LP, One Step Beyond, was quickly recorded and followed its namesake single into the UK Top 10; the album went platinum during its 64-week chart residency.

Other bit singles followed. Madness’s albums sold even better than most of their 45s, but English pundits jeered the group for being a “singles band” – as if that somehow cheapened the success. Image problems persisted. Madness suffered in the aforementioned comparisons with their former 2 Tone mates (or, for that matter, whichever “serious” new world-beaters were current press favorites).

“We never said, ‘We’re a ska band,’” Foreman claims. “We never put those limits on what we were doing.”

“That’s musical suicide, sooner or later,” Bedford says.

“Other people lumped us into that but we didn’t mind; we knew what we could do,” Foreman adds. “Calling our music the ‘Nutty Sound’ was a way to avoid categorizing ourselves. ‘Nutty’ was just a word Lee [saxman Thompson] used a lot, and someone picked up on it.”

The “Nutty Boys” might have smacked all too much of bubblegum-style merchandising, but even skeptics found it hard not to be taken in by Madness’s wacky antics in front of movie or video cameras. The group released a semi-autobiographical feature film, Take It or Leave It, in October, 1981, and then Complete Madness, a compendium of videos with added linkage and a pair of their Japanese TV commercials thrown in for good measure. And they remained overwhelmingly popular in the UK.


What could be wrong? Gradually, band members got married – notably McPherson to songstress Bette Bright, and drummer Dan “Woody” Woodgate to ex-Mo-dettes bassist Jane Crockford – and started families. But something was brewing.

Bedford admits the marriages have crimped Madness’s former camaraderie. And he and Foreman are both less than pleased with the band’s third album, Seven (despite its spawning “House of Fun,” Madness’s first Number One single).

McPherson remembers the situation more clearly: “I was satisfied with Seven, but the others weren’t. We didn’t have the best feeling when we recorded it, in Nassau in the Bahamas; I think we were pressin’ down there, which was very strange.

“It started feeling very professional. That side of things was becoming more prevalent than with the previous two albums, where it was pure luck we were there at all.

“Clive [Langer] and Alan [Winstanley], our producers all along, became scapegoats since they were in control of the proceedings.

“After we got back to London we were thinking of trying other producers. We met Trevor Horn, whom no one got along with. It made us realize how good Clive and Alan are as communicators, apart from everything else. It brought us closer together again.”


Madness then created their best album by far. What made the difference?Just a better atmosphere while it was being recorded?

Bedford and Foreman mention that the band’s working up different arrangements of the same number had a key effect. McPherson puts that new (for Madness) technique into a larger context.

“I think we realized that maybe we had been restricting ourselves, just like any bunch of kids will do. It’s like we weren’t ‘allowed’ to do certain things; none of us would have grown a beard, for instance, and musically it was probably the same. Certain things were ‘uncool,’ like to do introspective stuff. The Rise and Fall was generally more thought out. It’s the first album we’ve made that’s an album, not a collection of songs.”

Indeed. Would you believe a Madness concept album?

“It was gonna be about the rise and fall of a normal person in a particular area that was falling into bad times. ‘Rise and Fall,’ ‘Primrose Hill,’ ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘Blue Skinned Beast’ were all linked together. But as other songs started to be written, it kind of lost its way. We realized you had to write songs to fill in bits of the story, to keep it moving, but that they might not be very good or able to stand on their own.” McPherson sighs at the thought of “14-minute songs” and such – heaven forfend!

The way the album jelled reveals the vital interaction of Madness’s members. Foreman and keyboardist Mike Barson have long been the songwriting mainstays as well as musical arrangers; Bedford, who’s now writing less, is getting into technical aspects.

“I saw him reading a technical book on engineering,” McPherson says, “and he’s produced singles by two bands, Bonsai Forest and Strawberry Switchblade. Now at least one of us understands what’s going on at that end of things.”

“Woody docs the sleeping for the band,” Bedford jokes, while pointing out that Woodgate did write “Sunday Morning.” McPherson mentions that everyone has taken a more active interest in writing – collaborating more than ever – and arranging.

“That’s part of the reason we’ve stayed together,” he explains. “There’s no pressure on any one person to think of a concept or do all the songs.” 


The piece of the Madness puzzle that’s fallen into place is vocalist and trumpet player Carl Smyth – best remembered by early American fans of the group as the zany seventh member, “Chas Smash.”

Smyth got involved with Madness as a friend whose dance antics and vocal hijinks (he’s the voice on “One Step Beyond”) were worked into the group. But he seemed something of a fifth (or in this case seventh) wheel; he doesn’t appear on the cover of the first album.

“There was a funny period just after One Step Beyond that Carl didn’t have much to do with,” McPherson says. “He was a member of the band, but he wasn’t really involved with anybody else – particularly me, because we’re both singers. We talked about it between ourselves, and it must have been strange for him; I think he felt he was sort of outside us, yet felt changing that would be pushing me out. He didn’t push his position ’cause he didn’t know what it was. But we decided that whoever had the right thing, be it words or music or singing, we’d do whatever seemed right.”

Smyth’s enthusiasm is evidently catching. “He’ll have a million ideas when we start talking about videos,” McPherson says, “another million when we’re getting things together for it, and when we’re actually doing it he’ll have a million more. It’s like he had something bottled up in him and suddenly the cork sprang out. He’s brilliant. We probably wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t like he was, because out of every million ideas come 10 really good ones.

“And he’s always thinking of dance routines we can do, or whatever. If things start flagging a bit, he’ll pick us up.”

Now known within the group as “Mr. Bosh,” Smyth reverted to his given name for songwriting credits. Since co-writing “Cardiac Arrest,” a hit single on Seven, Smyth has made several important contributions – notably co-writing “Our House” (“Carl lives in one very much like that,” Foreman says), “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day” and the current British single, “Wings of a Dove.”


Madness fans got a bonus with the British single version of “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day”: a guest lead vocal by Elvis Costello.

“I’d heard an old rockabilly song,” McPherson says, “which started out with a bluesy version, then faded out and back in to a rocked-up arrangement. I thought it’d be great to have something like that on ‘Tomorrow’s Just Another Day’ – an arrangement that sounded old and bluesy, just 20 seconds at the beginning of the song, and then cross-fading into the newer version, which we’d already done.

“The backing track was cut, slowed down a bit and quite good. But I couldn’t come to grips with real singing. So Carl had a go; he did a good version, jazzed up a bit in the phrasing, but it still didn’t sound quite right.

“By that time we’d finished the album and still had this backing track. Clive was soon going to be producing the new Elvis Costello album, and I think Chris suggested he ask Elvis to try it. He was really good; came in, did it and left. If he hadn’t, we’d still have that backing track sitting around! I think it was one of the best vocals he’s ever done.” Perhaps in deference to Madness, Costello sang with a British accent, which he also tried out on Punch the Clock.


In the US, Sire Records had released One Step Beyond and its follow-up, Absolutely; both albums promptly died the death. Sire didn’t bother with Seven, but Madness, hugely successful everywhere else, wasn’t too concerned. “We didn’t tum our back on America, really,” Foreman says. “We just kind of forgot about it.”

According to Geffen Records A&R man Danny Heaps, however, US labels didn’t forget about Madness – especially as the group racked up hit after hit in England and Europe. In early 1983, Heaps says, Madness approached Geffen – a hot new company that had just started the last time the band had an American release.

“They were a logical signing. Remember, at that time Dexy’s was number one here. And you know, that stuff about Madness being ‘too English’ for the US is nonsense.”

“We picked Geffen for the same reasons we signed with Stiff,” Bedford says, “because of the people we talked to. They accepted us for what we are – not saying, ‘You’re great but you’ll have to do this and you ought to do that.”‘

Geffen released Madness, a compilation drawn mostly from The Rise and Fall but digging as far back as the first album. 

“I don’t like it,” McPherson states. “It’s a scrapbook, not an album.”

Foreman is more philosophic. “Programming the album that way is, well, the way things are done for the US. I didn’t used to feel this way about it, but now I realize it has to be.”

Heaps argues that Geffen’s track selection, “instead of putting out all of The Rise and Fall, was purely commercial logic. The stuff from Seven, which includes singles, has never been out here – and ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ [from One Step Beyond] is just a track someone in the company really wanted on there. We wanted to put on ‘Madness’ or ‘The Prince,’ but the group would allow only so much of our delving into the past.”

The “commercial logic” paid off. Madness has sold over 200,000 copies, and spun off two hit singles: the Top 10 “Our House” and a version of Labi Siffre’s “It Must Be Love.”


Future plans? Typically, McPherson chuckles and quips that he’s anxious to “have some of the stew that my beautiful wife’s knockin’ up on the cooker.” More seriously, he’s looking ahead to the next Madness album. Recording began last spring, before an American tour, and resumed this autumn.

“Before we recorded The Rise and Fall,’’ Bedford says, “the mood of the country was pretty grey.” He mentions Britain’s economy and the Falklands war, referred to in “Blue Skinned Beast” – dead soldiers were put into blue body bags. In contrast, Madness’s spring studio session were much more uptempo.

“We’re looking out for our more introspective tendencies,’’ McPherson says, “even though we’re not sure we’ve been going into them that heavily, so we can balance that with our more flamboyant side.”

Madness getting self-conscious? Losing artistic innocence? Maybe… and maybe not. McPherson still believes in group dynamics.

The Rise and Fall succeeded because there was so much collaboration. Everyone had to stay interested, or we wouldn’t know what was going on the record! People change and grow together when they get so intensely involved. I think we were all in the same groove, the same vein, when we made that record.” 

That’s what he thinks makes Madness yield up its best work: democratic anarchy.

Article © 1983 Trouser Press LLC

Vinyl Answer: The Quest for 7 and The Rise and Fall

Most Wanted: 7 and The Rise and Fall

Back when I was a newly minted Madness fan, after “Our House,” One Step Beyond and Absolutely had won me over, I found myself on the horns of an international crisis. Pop journalism informed me that the band had another two full albums to its credit: 7 from 1981, and The Rise and Fall from 1982. But since Sire Records had dropped Madness before their big 1983 hit, those two most recent records remained the stuff of legend in the United States. That didn’t stop me from checking the “M” section at every record store in obsessive-compulsive vain, though I knew the search was going to require purveyors of exotic imported goods. And I would have to deal not only in foreign commodities, but also with a foreign format: the vinyl LP.

In all my music-loving life, I have never been a vinyl person. I did grow up in a home with a turntable, and my parents had a decent stack of country music LPs stashed in the closet by the likes of Conway Twitty, Hank Snow and Dolly Parton. But I never remember Mom and Dad playing records. They always just listened to the radio. My older sister had her vinyl collection with The Carpenters, Neil Sedaka and Frampton Comes Alive!, which of course she never wanted me messing with. I was raised on 8-track tapes and later cassettes. Only rarely did I ever own anything on vinyl beyond kiddie records. I demanded for my folks to get me the Kiss Alive II double LP, only because someone brought a copy to school and showed off all the cool scratch-off tattoos and goodies that didn’t come with the cassette. And I had a few odd 45 rpm singles like “Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go-Go’s (major crush on Belinda Carlisle) and “Rapture” by Blondie (which I got by mailing in Pop-Tarts box tops).

Frankly, I just never liked vinyl. The sound was all crackly and prone to skipping. It was a pain to flip the record over. They were so fragile and easy to wreck with a single scratch or stray wisps of dust. Vinyl lovers extoll the “warmth and richness” of the “superior dynamic analog” whatever, and more power to ’em. They can take those old records off the shelf and sit and listen to ’em by themselves. In my book, tapes sounded way better than phonograph platters then, and well-mastered compact discs sound way better now. Yep, I think vinyl sucks.

But if I ever wanted to obtain the elusive 7 and The Rise and Fall as a teenager, I was going to have to settle for the import LPs. With a bit of work, I ended up scoring them both. Looking back now, I see evidence that Stiff Records did in fact release them on cassette, which would have been a blessing beyond imagination to my younger self. I gather that the market share for cassettes was quite smaller in the UK than in America, and in my music collecting experience I can’t recall ever seeing, in person, import cassettes by artists I like. You’d have to turn to our friends at Retro Madness to procure such rare museum-class artifacts.

I actually found The Rise and Fall first, to make my reversed timeline of Madness catalogue discovery all the more knotty. The band’s fourth album turned up at an eclectic record shop in Asheville, North Carolina. It may have been a used copy, but if so it was in nice condition. Of course I was amazed to lay my lucky hands on it, but not unreservedly thrilled. For one thing, by that point we no longer had a record player in my house. Either we’d gotten rid of the old turntable for some reason, or my sister had taken it when she’d moved out. On top of that, I thought the price on the LP was outrageous. I don’t recall how much exactly, but it was probably around $15 – exorbitant by my financial standards at the time. The very idea of shelling out twice the cost of an average cassette tape, for a record I couldn’t even play at home, and half of whose songs I already had on the Geffen compilation? Sworn to Madness allegiance though I was, it was still a bitter pill to gulp down.

The Rise and Fall LP

Stirring further consternation was a little grocery-store-style sticker on the back of the LP sleeve: “MADE IN SPAIN.” Whoa! An import not from England’s mountains green, but shipped all the way from the land of tapas and toreros! It bore the Stiff Records label, though the fine print specified “Editado por Discos Victoria, S.A,, distribuido por Edigsa.” With grave concern I went to ask the shop clerk: “If this record’s made in Spain, will the singing still be in English?” He assured me with amusement it would be. It’s a good thing I was unaware of “Un Paso Adelante at that point. ¡Ay, caramba!

So I purchased my Spanish-but-not-Español Madness record and took it to my aunt’s house to give it a first listen, before getting a friend to make a good cassette recording on his stereo system. I recall my first impression was… underwhelmed. I could see why Geffen had fashioned a compilation for U.S. listeners instead of issuing The Rise and Fall. Tracks like “Mr Speaker (Gets the Word)” and “New Delhi” just aren’t very strong. “Sunday Morning” is charming enough, but it comes across as a less successful variation on the same themes as “Our House.” (Probably as evidence that only Chas and Woody contributed songs about their upbringings, per the album’s original concept.) 

I was more impressed with the clever verbosity of “Tiptoes” (rhyming “the door’s already shutting” with “to reach the 19th button”!) and the unusual musical structure of “That Face.” To me, Mike Barson’s piano and Mark Bedford’s bass are the quintessential elements of the Madness sound, and it’s remarkable how “That Face” arranges their parts in minimalistic bursts that create both tension and airiness in the gaps between. It’s a mature new style that points toward the direction of Keep Moving

In my 11th grade English class, we had an assignment to present a song of our choice to the class and analyze its lyrics like poetry. Mrs. Caldwell told us to find songs with more artistic or social relevance than “baby baby let’s party” or whatever. I chose to discuss “Are You Coming (With Me)” and dissect its bleak message of trying to reach a self-destructive friend in the throes of drug addiction. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t pick some other Madness tune like “Embarrassment” – another Lee Thompson composition with a meaningful story behind it, and a catchier melody. I believe in part I liked the idea of playing this tape recorded from a super obscure record that none of my captive audience would ever hear otherwise. And it was an opportunity to show that my favorite band could do something more serious and soulful than that “house in the middle of the street” ditty. 

7 LP

Not long after I got The Rise and Fall, I acquired the 7 album through mail order. My friends and I had discovered a company called Burning Airlines (still in business since 1978!) that sold music T-shirts and merch. We had sent away for their full catalog, and among the typewriter-keyed listings of import LPs I spotted “Madness 7.” I’m sure it must have cost even more than what I’d shelled out for The Rise and Fall, but price could no longer deter me. I had to gain the one remaining “lost” Madness album by any means necessary. I know one motivating factor was my OCD need for something to put on the blank side of my Rise and Fall tape. Less rewinding!

Once I finally got it transferred to the B-side of that cassette, I was generally more pleased with 7 at first blush than I’d been with The Rise and Fall – not least because it had a greater number of new-to-me tracks, a total of ten. And of the familiar ones, two were different mixes. Compared to the Geffen Madness album, “Cardiac Arrest” was shorter and “Shut Up” was longer. In both cases I prefer the extended outro versions. I became an instant fan of “Tomorrow’s Dream” (nothing at all like the Black Sabbath song), “Benny Bullfrog” (favored among my friends that I tried to convert to Madness), and “The Opium Eaters” (proof that the band could really do a brilliant film soundtrack). I’ve always thought “Day on the Town” is underrated and deceptively chilling, a dub-tinged spiritual cousin to The Specials’ “Ghost Town.”

One particular track holds dark personal memories for me. When was in my first fender-bender as a newly licensed young driver, 7 was playing in my Oldsmobile Cutlass tape deck. I got rear-ended on the highway, and just as I braked to a screeching halt, the opening bars of “Sign of the Times” chimed out, Barson’s plonked keys taunting “ding-ding-ding, ding-ding-da-ding!” at me like a game-show loser alarm. I couldn’t bear to listen to 7 for months from the PTSD flashbacks.

7 LP sleeve

Another thing I have to mention about 7 is the album cover. I still think it’s the best artwork on any Madness album ever, even better than the iconic nutty train. On the Divine Madness DVD commentary track, Chas and Mike argue about which one of them choreographed the 7 pose, which reminds me of a superhero team splash page. In fact, I had a poster of it on my bedroom wall since I first became a Madness fan, which surely predisposed me to like the album once I finally got it. And I love the inner sleeve with the 7×7 checkerboard grid of famous sevens, septets and sevenths: the 7 deadly sins, the 7 wonders of the world, the 7 seas, Seven Samurai, 7Up… so awesome! As I had done with The Rise and Fall, I finagled this album into another school assignment by drawing a detailed pencil study of that epic 7 cover. Poor Mrs. Williams also had to grade me on a rendering of Big Country’s Stuart Adamson in pastels, and a giant mural painting of Beta Ray Bill from The Mighty Thor.

Once I got my first CD player in 1987 as a college freshman, I was able to track down all the Madness albums on import CDs within a couple of years. And boy, did 7 and The Rise and Fall benefit from crystal clarity in place of the snap, crackle, pop of my LP recordings. Vinyl, I still hate your guts. But I thank you for making some important introductions and lasting connections in my life. To paraphrase that song that heckled me at the terrifying instant of my first car wreck:

This is disposable, throw it away
This is on vinyl, don’t let it play
That was the past, so leave it behind
I found the music, it’s all in my mind

Most Wanted: 7 and The Rise and Fall