Last night I listened to the “Divine Madness,” one of the many “[Shouty Word] Madness”-titled compilations of music by the British band, Madness. Looking at the track listings of those compilations, “Divine Madness” seems to be the best one, at least for a brain like mine, that likes things to be complete and in chronological order. It’s got all of their British singles from 1979 to 1986 (apart from, oddly, what would’ve been the second to last of the sequence, their cover of Scritti Politti’s The Sweetest Girl; although Wikipedia tells us that a later re-packaging of the album corrects this).
When I think of my childhood, and the music that I liked, it’s not very often that Madness come to mind. Aside from Baggy Trousers being the first 7″ single I bought, my childhood musical memories tend to be headlined by Adam & the Ants, Duran Duran, Simple Minds, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, and U2. As you can tell from that list, I was not one of those kids who was buying imported hip hop 12″ singles when I was a teenager (although I did buy the 7″ picture disc of White Lines). But listening to “Divine Madness” last night, and again this morning, they do, in a way, complement the memories of those years pretty well. And, in that way that music can, hearing Madness songs flashes my brain back to moments during those years.
So, here’s a review of a compilation album that came out in 1992, full of songs released between 33 and 26 years ago. Say what you want about me, but you cannot accuse me of not having my finger on the pulse of popular culture. I’ve inserted a few YouTube videos into the text, but rather than doing all 22 of them, I’ve only included the videos of songs I bought on 7″ when they were in the pop charts.
The Prince 1979
Can’t say I was really aware of this song at the time. I have no strong memory of it at all. It didn’t get into the top ten, and I was eight years old, so I have forgiven myself.
One Step Beyond 1979
I’ve always liked bands that have a band member that doesn’t really do a whole lot. (See also Paul Rutherford, Bez, Cressa, Barry Mooncult, Shinya Hayashida.) At the time, that’s kinda what I thought about both Suggs and Chas Smash. Suggs does virtually nothing on this song, and aside from the intro, all Chas does is shout three words.
My Girl 1979
Pfff, I’m nine years old when this is in the charts. It’s a song about a girl. Why in the hell would that be of interest to me?
Night Boat to Cairo 1980
It’s funny looking back how exotic some places seemed to be. The whole James Bond franchise was pretty much based on that concept: you’ve never been to India or the Swiss Alps or wherever, and Roger Moore is there right now, about to slip into something more comfortable, which, at that tender age, I had no idea meant “the vagina of the pretty lady with a strange accent and well-conditioned hair.”
Baggy Trousers 1980
As I mentioned, this was the first single I ever bought. My memory, my faulty creaky memory, is that I’d kinda been gearing up to buying a record all of my own for some time. It was probably just a couple of days, though. Time seems mammoth when you’re a kid, and the impatience of wanting to buy Baggy Trousers on a Wednesday and having to wait ’til Saturday was torture worse than Dick Cheney could ever imagine in his cold, black, recently-chucked-in-the-bin heart. My mum worked at a clothes stall at a covered market in the centre of Lincoln at the time, thus she knew the people who owned the market’s record store, Save Records. She mention that I might be able to get a few pence off of my purchase if I went there. For whatever reason, I didn’t go there; I bought Baggy Trousers at WH Smith. It was one pound. After that, I bought most of my records from Save Records where I got them for 90p, which allowed me to spend the remaining 10p of my pocket money on sweets. Sweets! Sweets! SWEETS!
After the school-themed previous single, this one seemed a bit adult to me. And the title was difficult to spell correctly. The first line is “Received a letter just the other day.” How many nine year old kids get letters? Not me. Therefore: adult-themed material. (Not adult as in naked people doing it, but adult as in gas bills and paying for groceries.)
The Return of the Los Palmas 7 1981
Hold on! This one’s an instrumental (aside from some background chatter and the odd bit of ad-libbed talking). That’s not right. Music should have singing on it, shouldn’t it? At the time I was well aware of Telstar by the Tornados, as it was one of the seven inch singles that my dad had from his youth. But that just sounded like fantastic space future music, not music made by normal people. Space music don’t have no singing. I’m kind of of the opinion that pretty much all instrumentals done by bands who normally do singing are rubbish. They often have a feel of “the album is due and the singer’s too busy slipping into something more comfortable, so let’s make this one an instrumental.” This song is an exception to that possibly-harsh view of instrumentals.
Grey Day 1981
Can’t say I have many memories of this song. Quite like it now, though. It’s got an enjoyable middle eight.
Shut Up 1981
The second Madness single I bought. I would not be surprised if the video was influential in that. Cops and robbers and a piano dropping from the sky. The spaghetti western-style guitar solo is pretty cool, too. And about two-and-a-half minutes in, the piano playing gets pretty great, and sounds slightly “off,” for want of a better word. I liked that. The 7″ copy I had of this had what I assume was a slight pressing error. You can faintly hear the start of the song a second or so before the song actually starts, like a pre-echo. I have other records like that, but it was really noticeable on this, because of the big crashy piano chord at the start.
It Must Be Love 1981
Eleven years old, and as with My Girl, I care way more about Kenny Dalglish, Kia-Ora, and picking my nose than anything to do with girls.
Cardiac Arrest 1982
No way I was going anywhere near this one. I remember clearly my mother expressing the opinion that it was an inappropriate song title. That was the moment that I learned that cardiac arrest meant heart attack, something my father had recently had. The song is good, the chorus has a lovely melody, I quite like the lyrics, too, but it’s not a topic that I’m ever that keen to hear sung about.
House of Fun 1982
Not really sure why I didn’t buy this. The most memorable video they did, I’d say. And, snigger, it’s about buying rubber johnnys!
Driving in My Car 1982
If you, dear reader, are a youngster who wasn’t around to buy vinyl records in the early Eighties, you won’t remember that for a couple of years, record companies put out compilations that- well, let’s backtrack a bit: before the Now That’s What I Call Music series, most pop hits compilations in the UK were a bit crappy. They’d have some good stuff on there, but there’d always be a few songs you’d never heard of, that barely dented the top 40. I assume this is because the record companies putting out the compilations would be forced to include the crappy songs if they wanted to licence the hit song songs. Anyway, there was a couple of years when compilations would be double LPs. Not in the sense we all know double LPs to be, with the gatefold sleeve and that, but as “buy one, get one free” offers. Driving in My Car was on one of those such records that my father had bought, so I didn’t need to buy this single. Hurrah for my Dad!
Our House 1982
This had a children’s drawing of a house on the cover. As a twelve year old, that seemed stupid. There’s that great “a-wuh a-wuh” bit of bass guitar near the start of the song (39 seconds into the YouTube clip). Pretty song. Lyrics that, really, I was too young to appreciate back then. In a way, it’s kind of a shame that Madness had all the fun videos. They were great, obviously, but I wonder if they haven’t detracted from the band as artists. If they existed as records with the only visuals being black and white Top of the Pops clips like bands from the Sixties, maybe Madness would be more lauded. Not that they aren’t appreciated, but you know what I mean.
Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) 1983
Never did understand the need for part of that song title to be in brackets. Seems to me that brackets in song titles are there to kinda remind the person in a record store about the line they like from the chorus, but without the bracketed title bits, the title of this song would be simply Tomorrow’s. Listening to this song now, it’s clear that my age was almost perfect for these years of Madness’ career. As I entered my teens and became a wee bit more grown-up, so did their music.
Wings of a Dove 1983
Good golly, this song is a happy one, isn’t it? That’s the main feeling I have about it, and the memory I have of it: the overwhelming joy. That may partly be because it was released in the summer when we were on our family holidays. I can’t remember where we went in 1983 (it was either Wales, Somerset, Devon, or Cornwall) but this songs sounds like the joy and the sunshine, the Beano summer special and a copy of Smash Hits in the back seat of the car as we listened to endless Radio 1 driving from beach to cafe to pottery gift shop and back to our sleeping bags at the camp site. Probably because we were on our holidays, and thus away from the telly, I don’t remember this video at all. But I do remember being thrilled that the single sleeve had a white-on-white embossed dove. (You can just about make it out on this photo, a little bit up and to the right of the middle of the sleeve.)
The Sun and the Rain 1983
The fourth of six straight Madness singles I bought. I guess I’d decided to buy all their records by this point. Once I liked a band to a certain extent, I was kinda determined to buy them all. This was never really one of my favourites, but listening to it last night and watching the video again before typing these words, it’s bloody fantastic. Another really pretty chorus, something I will say again about the next two singles.
Michael Caine 1984
The back of the single sleeve had an old picture of Michael Caine. Without glasses, with short straight hair. I could not marry that image of the young Caine with the contemporaneous one I’d seen on the telly: older, curly hair, big glasses. This is probably my favourite Madness song. It is utterly beautiful from start to finish. Love the bass playing, love Chas Smash’s (Carl Smyth by now) singing, love how well the “My name is Michael Caine” bits fit in to the flow of the song, love how it stops and then starts with an ace bit of piano and guitar (around 1:58 in the video). The chorus and singing therein are brilliant. Love it all. And it was released in the winter, and I think it fits the cold British wet February days, perfectly.
One Better Day 1984
If Michael Caine didn’t exist, this’d be my favourite Madness song. As it is, it’s a really damn close second. The seven inch single of this came with a fold-out poster, six times the size of the record. Can’t remember what was on the poster. I think the best thing about this song is how it takes about two minutes to get to the chorus, and when it does: bam! a gorgeous melody, Abba pianos, and the strings that are so pretty, in that way that almost feels like you are being emotional blackmailed to like the song. It’s even got a decent saxophone solo, and for me, that’s usually the sign of a song I will hate.
Yesterday’s Man 1985
Uncle Sam 1985
(Waiting For) The Ghost Train 1986
The three songs I didn’t bother copying to my iPod. Pianist Mike Barson had left the band after the “Keep Moving” album, and the crappiness of Yesterday’s Man and Uncle Sam pretty much signalled the end of my interest in Madness. Barson was back for the one-off single (Waiting For) The Ghost Train, but, y’know, whatever: it’s not very good. But maybe Madness had done their job in my life. I was 15, I’d moved on a little bit, moved away from Smash Hits and on to the NME.
Still, a couple of years ago my mate Mark mentioned that their then-album “The Liberty of Norton Folgate” was pretty good. And he was right, it’s a cracker. It’s nice when bands come back with something special after a long time of not really being that special. I still hold out hope that Weezer can do an album as good as the blue one and “Pinkerton.” I sometimes imagine Prince might do something good again, too. You never know, do you? I’d love to listen to a 60 or 70 year old Prince come back with something as ace and pervy as Darling Nikki. But maybe he won’t. And just like Madness, he’s done more than enough to make me happy over the years. Bands don’t owe me anything. I’m just happy that Madness were there to take me from being nine years old into my early teens.