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Members include MikeBarson(born April 21, 1958, in London, England), keyboards; MarkBedford (born August 24, 1961 in London, England), bass; ChrisForeman (born August 8, 1958, in London, England), guitar; Graham "Suggs"McPherson (born January 13, 1961, in Hastings, England), vocals; ChasSmash(born Cathal Smythe, January 14, 1959), emcee and trumpet; LeeThompson (born October 5, 1957, in London, England); DanWoodgate (born October 19, 1960, in London, England), drums. Addresses: Record company--Virgin Records Ltd., 553-579 Harrow Road, London, W10 4RH, UK.
Madness stood at the forefront of the ska revival that moved through the British pop music scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Incorporating the rhythms and horn arrangements of the sound that later spawned reggae, Madness paid tribute to the music they had listened to while growing up in London. The group didn't just copy what had gone before, though. The distinctive, jerky, and enthusiastic dancing styles of horn player and emcee Chas Smith and lead singer Suggs marked a Madness concert. Adding touches such as Smith's shouting, "Hey, you! Don't watch that, watch this!" at the beginning of their song "One Step Beyond," the group created what they themselves called a "nutty sound." For all the fun in their performances, their lyrics often made thoughtful observations on everyday concerns of working-class London.
This combination of silly and serious helped make Madness one of the most popular music acts in the United Kingdom and Europe, although they remained mostly unknown in the United States. As the members' lives began to change, so did the band's fortunes, and in 1986 they disbanded. But they never totally stayed apart, reuniting occasionally for live performances. In the meantime, another ska revival occurred, and the bands that led it--No Doubt, Sublime, and Mighty Mighty Bosstones--acknowledged Madness as a major influence. Unwilling to be merely legends, Madness got together again, releasing not only a live album, but also, in 1999, their first studio album of new material in thirteen years.
Madness began to take shape in London, England in 1976 with a band called the Invaders. The included such future members of Madness as keyboard player Mike Barson, saxophonist and vocalist Lee "Kix" Thompson, guitarist Chris "Chrissie Boy" Foreman, and Smith. These four hooked up with Suggs, bass player Mark Bedford, and drummer Dan "Woody" Woodgate to form Morris and the Minors in 1978. Smith had been playing bass, but he traded it for horns and the emcee's role. Meanwhile, with his distinctive vocal style, Suggs became the group's front man. The band became Madness the next year, taking the name from a song by legendary 1960s ska performer Prince Buster. Their first single, titled "The Prince," continued their tribute to their idol. It also became the first of their 21 singles to make the Top 20 on the British charts.
The success of "The Prince" earned Madness a contract with one of the most prominent labels of the British New Wave, Stiff Records. Their first single for their new label, "One Step Beyond," reached the British Top Ten, and the album of the same name remained on the charts for a year. Their follow-up album Absolutely repeated the success in 1980. The hit songs from their second album included "Embarrassment", "Baggy Trousers," and "The Return of the Los Palmas Seven." All in all, there was a Madness song on the British charts for 46 weeks out of that year, earning them New Musical Express magazine's Singles Artist of the Year award. Still, their popularity remained confined to their side of the Atlantic. Although Sire Records had released the first two albums in the United States, neither had cracked the Top 100 lists, a weak performance that cost Madness their access to the American record market.
Madness was not the only popular ska group in England at the time. Acts such as the Specials, Selecter and the Beat (known as the English Beat in the United States) also thrived on reviving the popular dance music that came out of London youth clubs in the 1960s. Madness, though rooted in ska, also drew on other music that they heard while growing up in racially mixed, working-class neighborhoods. This meant that the traditional styles of English music halls also came into Madness's sounds. Combining the music of their childhood with songs about the lives that they saw around them, the group earned comparisons with the Kinks as keen observers of British society.
Madness's popularity continued to grow in England and throughout Europe with an almost universal appeal. They found themselves playing in front of audiences that included children and senior citizens. In order to accommodate all their fans, the band even started performing matinee concerts so children under sixteen could attend. Still, they found their appeal a bit too broad. Young skinheads associated with the racist National Front movement flocked to Madness shows, evidently drawn in by this all-white band playing black music about working-class life. In an effort to end this unwanted appeal, the group included an explicit attack on the National Front on their EP Work Rest and Play. Madness also continued to write surprisingly controversial lyrics for such a popular group. Their 1982 single "Cardiac Arrest" failed to make the British Top Ten because of radio programmers squeamish about its graphic anti-stress message.
"Cardiac Arrest" from the album The Rise and Fall, showed Madness's increasing musical maturity. Incorporating more pop styles into their compositions, their songs became more serious while retaining the band's trademark wit. According to the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, songs such as "Grey Day" and "Our House" displayed an "ability to write about working-class family life in a fashion that was piercingly accurate, yet never patronizing." The latter song became their first hit in the United States, appearing on their first American record in three years, a compilation album called Madness. Not that the band had been completely invisible in the States (their creatively whimsical videos had appeared on MTV), but there had never been any records available to go with the television presence. The situation changed with "Our House," and with heavy video and radio play, the song finally put Madness in the American Top Ten.
The band's fortunes took a downward turn at the end of 1983 when Barson left. One of their most important songwriters, he became tired of the pop star life and moved with his family to Holland. Madness carried on, with their first single after Barson's departure, "Michael Cane." The song and the album Keep Movingdid well on the British charts. The group also formed their own label, Zarjazz, which soon ran into financial difficulty. Their first album on Zarjazz, Mad Not Mad,did not make the Top Ten, nor did any of the singles from it. At the end of 1986, the band announced that they were calling it quits. Their final single, "Waiting for the Ghost Train," peaked at number eighteen on the charts two months later.
Madness did not stay gone for long. In 1988, Suggs, Smith, Foreman, and Thompson joined with keyboardist Jerry Dammers from the Specials, along with keyboardist Steve Nieve and bassist Bruce Thomas from the Attractions. They called this band the Madness and released an album of the same name. It came nowhere near the success of the group's earlier incarnation, though, and they disbanded once again. The members of the band went their various ways, forming or working with other bands, with some even taking on other roles in the music industry. In the summer of 1992, the original lineup came together again in London for a pair of outdoor concerts. They dubbed the show "Madstock." The shows proved to be such a success that they held one each summer for the next four years, until announcing once again that they would not reunite for any future shows. In the meantime, Suggs had released his first solo album, The Lone Ranger, in 1995 with some modest success.
However, the appeal of performing on-stage and the popularity of their shows proved too much for Madness to stay separated. In 1998 they went on tour, including stops in the United States. They recorded a show in Los Angeles, which they released as the album Universal Madness in 1999. This reappearance of Madness in the midst of another ska revival prompted an assessment of the band's legacy and how well they were holding up. Washington Postreviewer Mark Jenkins was especially impressed by the performance of "Our House" on the live album and wrote, "If the band can write some new songs as playfully indelible as this one, Madness will be as much competition as inspiration to its contemporary American disciples."
Evidently, the band had the same idea, and in 1999 they went back into the studio, with Barson participating. They also turned to their original producers, Clive Langley and Alan Winstanley. The sessions resulted in their first album since 1986, Wonderful,released in England in November of that year. Musically they picked up right where they left off. Dele Fadele wrote in New Musical Express, "A fine balance is kept between kitchen-sink miserabilist tendencies and jolly grown-up japes." Their ability to counterpoint their musical exuberance and, at times, their downright silliness with mature themes in some of their lyrics had always been a Madness hallmark. By returning with new material in the same vein, they created an opportunity for an audience familiar with ska through Madness's pupils to learn from the masters themselves.
by Lloyd Hemingway
Band formed as Morris and the Minors, 1978; changed name to Madness and released first single, "The Prince," 1979; released first album, One Step Beyond, 1980; scored first American hit with single "Our House," 1982; Barson left band, 1983; formed own label, Zarjazz, 1984; released Utter Madness, Zarjazz, 1985; group disbanded, 1986; group reunited for first of four annual Madstock concerts, 1992; went on first tour since disbanding, 1998; released first studio album in thirteen years, Wonderful, 1999.
New Musical Express Singles Act of the Year, 1980.
- Selected discography
- One Step Beyond (includes "One Step Beyond"), Sire, 1979.
- Work Rest & Play (EP), Stiff, 1980.
- Absolutely Sire, 1980.
- Seven Stiff, 1981.
- Rise and Fall (includes "Our House"), Stiff, 1982.
- Madness Geffen, 1983.
- Keep Moving Geffen, 1984.
- Mad Not Mad Geffen, 1985.
- Utter Madness Zarjazz, 1986.
- Total Madness: The Very Best of Madness Geffen, 1997.
- Universal Madness Golden Voice, 1999.
- Wonderful Virgin, 1999.
November 30, 2004: Madness' boxed compilation, Singles Box, Vol. 1, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, December 2, 2004.
August 16, 2005: Madness' album, The Dangermen Sessions, Vol. 1, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, August 18, 2005.
- Buckley, Jonathan and Mark Ellingham, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Penguin, 1996.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, volume 5, Muze, 1998.
- Robbins, Ira, editor, The Trouser Press Record Guide, fourth edition, Collier, 1991.
- Washington Post, April 30, 1999, p. N16.
- "Madness," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com.
- "Madness," Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com.
- "Madness Wonderful," New Musical Express, http:www.//nme.com, November 11, 1999.
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