February 12, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Madness (then)

Madness was one of the earliest of the two-tone bands of the ska revival in the late 70s, having been formed in 1976 by Mike Barson, Chris Foreman and Lee Thompson and going under the name The Invaders. By 1978 the band was seven members strong and called Madness. They were growing in popularity both with the mods and the skinheads as their music was much more than just ska, incorporating a lot of sixties soul, reggae, and power pop (and even some lounge and jazz) elements. Because of that the mods were especially enamored with Madness more so than other ska bands of the era.

Their first single, released by the new Two Tone label, "Prince Buster" was a runaway success breaking into the British top 20. Likewise their sophmore single, the ska instrumental "One Step Beyond" rose to #7, and their third "My Girl" topped that by going to #3. The trend became commonplace after that with the band's first 13 singles hanging around the tops of the charts. Madness were enormously popular in England right through the mid-80s, with maybe only The Jam being more loved by Brits.

Always the core of the group, Mike Barson's songwriting and keyboards gave the band an edge, as well as a different sound that set them apart from the rest of the two-tone movers and shakers like The Specials and English Beat. Barson left the band in '83, and while Madness still did well throughout the rest of the decade, the highest of heights were being left behind.

Here's a great sample of their quirkiness, cleverness, and overall musical genius. "In The Middle of the Night" dabbles with crime and fetish, something many of their songs touched upon though they also sang about politics and culture a fair amount. The keyboards, the trumpets, the guitar, it all just works so well. And the nuttiness of it all makes a song about an underwear theif more charming than creepy.

Madness-- In the Middle of the Night