Dittyday 2: Madness and beyond

It’s time for a little more music – good music, mind you – and this fine Tuesday/Dittyday the selection is a rather largish English band called Madness. Formed in the late ’70s, peaking in the mid ’80s, they’re still performing today, albeit with a lineup that seems to change weekly.

I’m not the person to inform anyone about music styles and all that – I just know what I like, but edumacated sources pin the bulk of Madness’ style as ska or two-tone, primarily a strong bassline and beat-method that gave rise to reggae while branching off in another direction, gaining more rock/punk overtones. It’s different, very obviously, and energetic. Madness was also notorious for gently grasping the burgeoning field of music videos and thrashing the hell out of it, and no one ever matched their spirit and enthusiasm in those.

We’ll start off with the only official release in the US, ‘Our House,’ and it would be inexcusable to simply use the sound file.

To be honest, I have no idea how much of that was inspired by the band, how much the director, how much the label, whatever – it’s infectiously entertaining and upbeat, and even when you’ve known it for damn near four decades, it still gives an unmistakable vibe of having a blast. But within all that is a wonderful mix of instruments and riffs, blended in complementary ways that defined so much of the music of the ’80s. After disco died out, horns and brass virtually disappeared from the pop music scene save for saxophone, and it’s a shame because, done well, they provide great tone that offsets, really, too much guitar in a lot of music.

The theme continues with ‘House of Fun,’ sly commentary on the difference between ‘legal age’ and ‘adulthood.’

If you can emulate lead singer Suggs’ “N-n-n-n-n-n-n-no no miss,” you’re doing better than I can – I always imagine that little things like this, done in the studio where multiple takes are common, obligates the singer to repeating the feat for every live performance. He did it quite well when they appeared on the British counter-culture program The Young Ones though, the only band to be featured twice (but appropriately – they’re all kindred spirits it seems.)

This song was also used in the soundtrack to Shaun the Sheep Movie, reminding me that I needed to do this post.

Getting a little more ‘serious’ musically, we have ‘It Must Be Love,’ a cover of an original work by Labi Siffre, and much more representative of the typical ska style. Siffre’s version is also quite nice – not quite as dynamic – and Siffre himself appears in the Madness video right near the end, one of the violinists removing his sunglasses.

[Let me tell you something, writing this is introducing all sorts of rabbit-holes, and it’s taking far longer than it ever should; now I have to look for the movie The Tall Guy, which used the above song in its soundtrack and looks like it might be entertaining.]

There are plenty of other songs by Madness, with varying levels of kookiness, and I’ll leave that to you to chase down – this post could be a lot longer. Right now, I’ll feature a slight departure. I stumbled across this one a few years ago while ferreting out other music, and gave it a listen; it took a moment to realize this was the former (and returned) lead singer, Suggs, on a solo project. Camden Town is a suburb of London, a touristy area that was where the band originated, and Suggs pays homage to the eclectic nature of it, and to the Jamaican music roots, with ‘Camden Town.’

Oh yeah, we need the lyrics for this one:

Sing up tourists, sing

There’s a great crowd of tourists and they’re coming down the street
Pleased as punch with brand new Doctor Marten’s on their feet
Past stalls with leather jackets, old bric-a-brac
Indian sunglasses or a Chinese bobble hat

Tramps stare in the window of the local butcher’s shop
Like a pack of wild dogs they’d run off with the lot
In Primrose Hill, an angry man his hair standing on end
Shouts and rants in the ear of his imaginary friend

In Camden Town I’ll meet you by the underground
In Camden Town we’ll walk there as the sun goes down
In Camden Town
In Camden Town you can do anything you want to

A drunken busker hits the pavement, sending hot-dogs in the air
Towards a broken down bus full of people going nowhere
A string of Irish pubs as far as you can see
Greek, Indian, Chinese or would you like a cup of tea?

There’s tapas, fracas, alcohol, tobaccos
Bongs, bongo bingo, Portuguese maracas
There’s reggae in the jeggae, music everywhere
Every kind of song and dance, madness in the air

In Camden Town I’ll meet you by the underground
In Camden Town we’ll walk there as the sun goes down
In Camden Town

The tourists sing
Ooooh, they sing
Ooooh, sing up
Ooooh

And what’s my name in invisible game?

The two fat Americans interrupt their stay
They put down their bags, they were clamped and towed away
There’s Turkish cakes, designer fakes, fathers dressed as nuns
Every kind of music here, the night has just begun

In Camden Town I’ll meet you by the underground
In Camden Town we’ll walk there as the sun goes down
In Camden Town
In Camden Town you can do anything you want to do

In Camden Town
In Camden Town
In Camden Town
In Camden Town

… and you did catch the overdub when he sings, “madness in the air,” right? And that he plucks a Madness album cover out of the air when he does so?

[By the way, countless versions of this on YouTube are absolutely horrendous quality – this one took a while to find.]

If that was enough to interest you, there’s plenty more to be found, so have at it. And keep a couple of links handy when you’re feeling down.

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