Live as you please
Can we make it, if we all live together
As one big family"
A British band which originated as the North London Invaders in 1976, Madness started off as one of the premier bands of the 2 Tone ska revival and eventually became one of the most successful pop groups in the 1980s, spending 214 weeks in the singles charts. The group has been active for much of the past thirty years. The best-known line-up consists of Graham McPherson, aka Suggs (vocals), Mike Barson (keyboards), Chris Foreman (guitar), Lee Thompson (saxophones), Daniel Woodgate (drums), Mark Bedford (bass) and Carl Smyth (vocals, trumpet and acoustic guitar).
Noted for their energetic and 'wacky' style of playing and performing (especially in their earlier music videos), which earned them the moniker of 'The Nutty Boys'. Their music mainly consists of ska and reggae mixed with Beatlesesque, Kinksy pop. Their lyrics often featured humorous observations on growing up in London in a style influenced by Ian Dury. In 2009 they released the critically acclaimed album The Liberty of Norton Folgate, their first new material in ten years which incorporates all of their main influences into something Suggs describes as 'progressive pop'.
- One Step Beyond... (1979)
- Absolutely (1980)
- 7 (1981)
- The Rise & Fall (1982)
- Madness, a compilation album released in the United States instead of The Rise and Fall.
- Keep Moving (1984)
- Mad Not Mad (1985)
- Wonderful (1999)
- The Dangermen Sessions, Vol. 1 (2005)
- The Liberty of Norton Folgate (2009)
- Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da (2012)
- Can't Touch Us Now (2016)
Also of mention is The Madness, a spin-off of the group which only featured Suggs, Smyth, Foreman and Thompson. They were active between 1988 and 1989, after the original line-up broke up (the group as a whole reformed in 1992), and released a self-titled album.
Some of their better-known songs include:
- 2 Tone: They were one of the bands that defined the sound, though they released only one single on the label itself.
- Album Intro Track: The Dangermen Sessions has the spoken-word "This Is Where", and The Liberty of Norton Folgate has the short instrumental "Overture".
- All Drummers Are Animals: Averted. Woody is notorious for falling asleep when not otherwise required. Then again, sloths are animals too, right?
- The Band Minus the Face: Although he was never the "face" as such, many people felt the group wasn't the same without Mike Barson.
- Blatant Burglar: The video for "Shut Up". And the song, for that matter, which is written from the point of view of a pair of Blatant Burglars.I'm as honest as the day is long,
The longer the daylight, the less I do wrong.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Played for laughs in "House of Fun"; the thing that the poor protagonist cannot spit out is that he wants to buy a pack of condoms to "celebrate" his birthday. Instead, he keeps coming up with increasingly bizarre euphemisms that confuse the chemist into thinking he wants some balloons.
- Canon Discontinuity: Their 2007 non-album single "Sorry", whose title pretty much reflects the band's attitude to it.
- Cool Shades: Usually worn by Suggs, Smash and Barson, but the others will have them out from time to time.
- Concept Album:
- The Liberty of Norton Folgate consists of songs about London (although Suggs points out that this is what a lot of their songs were about in the introduction to the album).
- The Rise & Fall was intended to feature songs about different aspects of the various band members childhoods. It didn't quite work out and only about three or four songs really fit the concept.
- Cover Album: The Dangermen Sessions, Volume One.
- The Cover Changes the Gender: Sung from a female perspective, the Tracey Ullman cover of "My Girl" changes the title and lyric to "My Guy".
- Cover Version: As well as the aforementioned Dangermen Sessions, they've done quite a few covers of older ska songs, but noticeably fewer than a lot of their 2 Tone contemporaries.
- Creator Cameo: In the video for their cover version of 'It Must Be Love'; the song's writer, Labi Siffre, makes a brief appearance as a violinist.
- Everything Is an Instrument: "Driving In My Car". All sorts of rhythmic shenanigans with car parts.
- Fake Band: For their covers album, The Dangermen Sessions, Vol. 1, they created a fictional backstory for a reggae band called the Dangermen and performed old Blue Beat songs (and some of Madness' more overtly ska-influenced numbers) under the name. The "members" were Robert "the Poet" Chaos (Suggs), Jimmy Ooh (Smash), Professor Psykoticus (Mike Barson), Lester Burnham (Bedders), Daniel Descartes (Woody), Christofos Formantos (Chris Foreman) and "Unnamed" (Lee Thompson).
- Fascinating Eyebrow: Suggs. Count the number of times he waggles his eyebrows in any given video.
- Five-Finger Discount: "Deceives The Eye"
- Follow the Bouncing Ball: The video for "Night Boat To Cairo".
- Forever Young Song: "Forever Young"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Their sole Number One single "House of Fun" is also the only song about condoms (specifically, a boy who's just turned 16 trying to discreetly buy his first pack thereof) to reach the Top Ten. For added audacity, it did so during a visit to Britain by the Pope.
- The Good Old British Comp: Subject of "Baggy Trousers", and the song is often used as a stock piece to indicate 'nostalgia for schooldays' in British media.
- Greatest Hits Album:
- They have four main ones: Complete Madness, Utter Madness, Divine Madness and Total Madness. Being primarily known as a singles band, Complete and Divine are their only number one albums so far. The most recent notably excludes the less well-known singles the band recorded after leaving Stiff Records.
- There are several further compilations, and it's a testament to the strength of their songs that an album sold exclusively in Tesco supermarkets in the same year as Total Madness can sell well enough to reach the lower end of the top 40.
- Their American debut, Madness, is basically a makeshift greatest hits album that was sold as a studio album there. It was released just as "Our House" was becoming a hit, but for some odd reason their American label declined to release The Rise and Fall.
- Infant Immortality: "Time For Tea" is an inversion (or strictly speaking, a potential inversion as the death is only implied).
- Japandering: The band appeared in a Japanese commercial for the Honda City minicar, and wrote and recorded a song specifically for it. The song, "In The City", was released in the UK as the B-side to "Cardiac Arrest" and then on the "Complete Madness" hits album. It's actually pretty good.
- Jukebox Musical: Our House.
- Lighter and Softer: Compared to most of what The Specials did.
- Locked in a Freezer: Happens to Willie during an innocent game of Hide-and-Seek in "Time For Tea". It is not revealed whether he is discovered in time.
- London Gangster:
- In "Drip Fed Fred" features guest vocalist Ian Dury playing one of these characters as he greets the "gentlemen and assassins, and ladies of the night" and boasts of his assassination of the eponymous Drip Fed Fred.
- According to Word of God, the character being addressed by the protagonist of "NW5" is a gangster, although the lyrics don't make it so clear.
- Long-Runner Line-up: The core septet of Mike Barson on keyboards, Graham McPherson on vocals, Chris Foreman on guitar, Mark Bedford on bass, Daniel Woodgate on drums, Lee Thompson on saxophone, and Chas Smash on trumpet has lasted from 1978-84, and, apart from a year off for Foreman and a total of about four years off for Bedford, from 1992 onwards.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Cardiac Arrest", "Johnny the Horse", "Idiot Child", "House of Fun" and a few others.
- The Man Behind the Man:
- Pianist Mike Barson was musical director in all but name from the group's early days. He and Lee Thompson also wrote most of the songs before the rest of the group started to become more involved in the songwriting process.
- Carl Smyth is generally considered to have taken Barson's place as "leader". Like Barson, he's not exactly invisible, but his importance within the set-up is probably even less obvious to the general public than Barson's was.
- Mind Screw: The music video for "(Waiting for the) Ghost Train", the band's last single before they split which is also about apartheid in South Africa, took the nuttiness Up to Eleven.
- The Movie: At the height of their fame in 1982, the group financed Take It Or Leave It, which described their beginnings as a band. Most chose to Leave It, and those who decided to Take It did so because it was So Bad, It's Good (among other things, Suggs kept looking directly at the camera when singing, having become used to doing that in music videos).
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Suggs describes the ten minute long title track of The Liberty of Norton Folgate as 'progressive pop'.
- The Not-Remix: The UK and US mixes of "It Must Be Love" aren't hugely different, but they're different enough that if you're familiar with one, hearing the other will come as a bit of a shock.
- Out-of-Character Moment: The (usually) perpetually unsmiling Terry Hall is actually seen doubled over laughing during the Fun Boy Three's cameo in the "Driving In My Car" video.
- Panty Thief: The subject of "In the Middle of the Night".
- Performance Video: Many of their videos involved performances as a part of the action, but the video for "One Step Beyond" (the first they made) was just a straight performance and nothing else. The cheap'n'cheerful vid for "Night Boat to Cairo" is another prime example.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "ONE! STEP! BEYOND!"
- Record Producer:
- The prolific production duo of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley originally came together to work on One Step Beyond. They also produced all of Madness' subsequent albums apart from The Dangermen Sessions.
- Graham "Suggs" McPherson produced The Farm's hits "Groovy Train" and "All Together Now".
- Repurposed Pop Song: Many of the songs in Our House — The Musical are heavily rewritten to suit the storyline. Of particular note is "Margate", which is a completely new lyric to the music of "White Heat".
- Rewritten Pop Version: "A Simple Equation" and "Sarah's Song" were both written for the musical, and both have quite different lyrics in the band recordings.
- Rock Opera: "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" (both the album itself and the title track).
- Rock-Star Song: "Rockin' in A-flat" from the first album is about a would-be rock 'n' roller getting a band together and "making all the geezers in the flats complain."
- Sarcastic Title: "Land Of Hope And Glory" is a cynical song about a young man imprisoned in a Borstal institution.
- Sequel Song: "Close Escape" is a sequel to "In The Middle Of The Night" in which the Panty Thief protagnist becomes an obscene phone caller instead. Even though the two songs are the work of different writing teams.
- Shout Out:
- In the "House of Fun" video, band members dress up in drag as old women and look very like the "Pepperpot" characters from Monty Python's Flying Circus.
- In "Our House", several band members are dressed as Gumbys from the same show, complete with handkerchiefs on their heads.
- Society Marches On: When "House of Fun" was released (1982), buying condoms was as described a rather nerve-wracking experience for a young man, being only generally available from behind the counter at the local chemist or from barbers ("Something for the weekend sir?"). The advent of HIV and AIDS shortly afterwards rapidly caused a change in social attitudes, de-mystifying and de-stigmatising condoms, and making them something you could pick up with your weekly supermarket shop with no more drama than buying a packet of crisps.
- Special Guest:
- Stage Names: All seven band members have one: Suggs (McPherson), Smash (Smyth), Monsieur Barso (Barson), El Thommo (Thompson), Chrissy Boy (Foreman), Bedders (Bedford), and Woody (Woodgate).
- Stealing from the Till: "Calling Cards" is about a gang of criminals who take jobs with the Post Office precisely for this, uh, "perk".
- Take That!:
- Against the press who had painted them as supporting racism (due to poor research) in "Don't Quote Me On That".
- "Embarrassment" was aimed at Lee Thompson's own family for being seconds away from disowning his sister when she got pregnant by a black man note .
- "Ghost Train" targets the system of apartheid in South Africa, although if you saw the video the message would be harder to spot (not downright impossible, but harder).
- The Thing That Would Not Leave: "The Bed and Breakfast Man" is about the band's original drummer John Hasler and his shameless sofa-surfing habits.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Suggs' introduction of the band at the beginning of the Live at Madstock DVD includes the line, "Our rhythm guitarist is Chrissy Boy, a man of many words and three chords."
- Through the Eyes of Madness: "Shadow Of Fear" (what appears to be religious paranoia), "Primrose Hill" (probably about severe agoraphobia).
- Titled After the Song: Named for a Prince Buster song which they covered on their first album.
- Trojan Gauntlet: "House of Fun" is about a sixteen-year-old boy trying to buy condoms from a pharmacist, but having trouble communicating because of his fear of being overheard by local scolds.
- Unexpectedly Dark Episode:
- "Cardiac Arrest", despite its bouncy music, is about a stressed-out commuter dying from a massive heart attack on a bus. It was the band's only single from its glory period not to make the UK Top Ten.
- The song "Johnny the Horse" is about an old tramp who was beaten to death by thugs for entertainment.
- "Mrs. Hutchinson" is about someone visiting their mother in hospital and being told she doesn't have long to live.
- Worst News Judgement Ever: * In "In the Middle of the Night", a newsagent and compulsive Panty Thief goes on the run after seeing a photofit of himself on the front page of the Sun, a national British tabloid (referred to in the song by its Rhyming Slang nickname, the Currant Bun). Even given the reputation of the Sun, it must have been a slow news day for a photofit of a local pervert to be front-page news.