One Step Along


13 Ene 2008, 15:26

I first saw Madness on 'Top of the Pops' in 1979. In that era when Radio One cultivated an atmosphere of gang-show goonery disseminated by broadcasting behemoths like Dave Lee Travis, it seemed as though BBC television's music programming flagship had fallen on the band as one of its own. With its hyperactive budget video, One Step Beyond didn't distinguish the self-styled Nutty Boys from the buffoonery of fellow ska shouters Bad Manners. Rather, it put them in the company of other guileless good-timers who were riding the protesting ska wave that had been stirred by Specials in those early days of monetarism.

I didn't like what I heard of One Step Beyond that night. To my eight year-old ears, an instrumental, however wild, was not very appealing and Chas Smash's intermittent if insistent shout of the song title was a pretty slight hook for a young person to grab hold of.

No, it was Baggy Trousers that turned me into an avid fan. Its breezy lyric emotively evoking the anarchy of the playground and the casual violence of the classroom showed real empathy in a way that Another Brick in the Wall, for example, just hadn't. Its video which showed Lee Thompson being hoisted skyward for his saxophone solo seemed like the smartest and funniest thing.

I was hooked from then on, delighted by the barrelhouse brilliance of Shut Up and the music hall mirth of House of Fun. The foreboding, atmospheric Embarrassment didn't put me off them, nor did the descriptive gloom of Grey Day. I wasn't sure about the edgy, off-kilter Cardiac Arrest with its crossword clue lyric about cadillacs that didn't work, but I saw that they were trying to make a point and they were still doing it with empathy.

So it was that Complete Madness became the first album I owned. Listening back to it recently, I was prepared to be disappointed. However, after a twenty-five year break from being a fan, I was amazed to find myself awed by what Madness achieved. They didn't just make great pop songs with unforgettable melodies in the fashion of The Beatles and The Kinks, they crafted intelligent experiences without losing their capacity for levity. Details that escaped me as a boy leapt out on hearing their singles over. Being ten or eleven, I'd never noticed the crashing opening chord reference to A Hard Day's Night or the Ennio Morricone-esque instrumental break of Shut Up. Between their original demise and the emergence of Oasis at the birth of Britpop, there wasn't another band putting such sustained, effective effort into making singles.

However, quite unlike Oasis, who have never troubled the edges of any envelope with experimentation, you could expect to be surprised by a Madness album. At Christmas 1982 I was given The Rise and Fall, their fourth LP. I was bemused by it then, for apart from the singles, Our House and Tomorrow's Just Another Day which once again were sublimely, catchily melodic efforts, the other songs were lyrically and musically sophisticated in a way that the pop charts have rarely tended to accommodate and I'd never experienced before. It was a serious effort, you could tell. The band was in character on the cover. The titles seemed to tell a story. Many of the songs themselves were treated to string and brass arrangements that gave away the band's serious intentions. It wasn't all great, but it was wholly worthy.

So I'm glad Madness was the first band I loved. They took the job of entertaining seriously and rewarded their fans with some of the best pop music and the funniest pop videos Britain has produced, but they also put thought into what they were doing while making the effort seem effortless. They were inclusive, not alienating - a musically talented, inspiringly inventive, great, great band that is far too often overlooked.

The One Step Beyond video: my first brush with Madness.


  • atlantiluna

    Excellent review on your part! Thank you for mentioning the deeper aspects such as the chord experimentation reference to a Hard Day's Night in Shut Up, their thoughtful lyrics while maintaining a playful sound, the band being inclusive... all very true though not often mentioned! Madness really are a great band.

    25 Ago 2008, 19:03
  • Slighthammer

    Thanks for stopping by and caring to comment so kindly, Maria. It's been a while since I had any time to commit to the account here, but I might pick it up again now someone's read the journal.

    11 Sep 2008, 16:56
  • JorisH

    This is the first journal I've read that actually has a meaning. Really cool stuff, I think I'm gonna listen to Madness more often. ^^

    15 Ene 2009, 9:54
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