Friday, May 29, 2009

30 Years of complete and utter MADNESS!

In celebration of MADNESS' 30th Anniversary AND the release of their long-awaited (and critically adored) 2009 album THE LIBERTY OF NORTON FOLGATE (which I will be reviewing in the next few days), I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about my life filled with Madness moments...

My love affair with MADNESS started 30 years ago when I first heard their debut album ONE STEP BEYOND. Being in my mid-teens and hungry to hear as much new music as possible, the sounds that Madness created made my head spin. Sure, I knew what Ska music was all about, but to me, Madness were not a Ska band. They were something bigger...

The following year, I remember sitting in Drivers Ed class, waiting for the bell to ring so class would be over and I could hop on my bike and pedal myself down to the local Licorice Pizza (a music retail chain) and buy their second album, ABSOLUTELY. From the moment "Baggy Trousers" blared out of the speakers, I knew I was in for yet another treat... and I was right. I loved this album even more than the first one!

So, in May of '81, I see Madness are going to play in Reseda at a place called The Country Club. I begged for my allowance early from my folks and asked them to call and buy tickets for me. I might have even promised to mow the lawn every weekend for the rest of my life! But alas, the show as sold out!

My buddy Rick Intveld and my bro Michael were going to go see Robert Gordon at the Roxy a few days later and asked if I wanted to go. Since they had a spare ticket, I went. Well, guess who just happened to be attending that very same show? Five of the seven members of Madness!!
Being the slobbering fool that I was, I went up and introduced myself to them. I got all their names right except for Bedders, who I called Woody (they all laughed... stupid me) They were all really cool, but were certainly more interested in the hot L.A. babes than this little fan-boy. Suggs pointed me in the direction of Lee Thompson, who was standing apart from the rest of them and I went and had a nice conversation with him. I was in awe that this talented guy would talk to a schmuck like me, but I was in heaven.

Later on, while inside the club, Lee passed me in the corridor and said "Steve plus one!". I said "What?" And he leaned over and spoke in my ear, stating "Steve plus one. I'll get you on the guest list!".

Two nights later, I was at the Reseda Country Club watching Madness. It was one of the most fantastic nights of my life. I did all the fanboy stuff: spotted different band members in the crowd before the show and had them sign my LPs and singles. When the band came onstage, I yelled out "Chas!" Band member Chas Smash (Carl Smythe) spun around, walked over to me and shook my hand. I think I finally understood what the term 'fookin' brilliant' meant that night!

I continued to buy every seven inch and twelve inch single released by the boys and every version of their albums I could find (UK pressing, US pressing, German pressing, etc). 'Twas such a joy to collect their stuff and play it for friends, who were all usually gobsmacked by how great Madness was.

Within a few years, it seemed that everyone was finally catching on: "Our House" was a bona-fide U.S. hit! I wasn't 'proud' per say, but it felt good that people were finally buying their albums here in the states. I had NO idea how popular or unpopular they were anywhere else since I didn't know about UK magazines like NME, Melody Maker, etc. until a few years later.

Anyway, my friends and I drove up to L.A. when their U.S.-only album, Madness, was released, the band did an in-store at...hmmmm... I think it was Licorice Pizza! I stood in line to get their autographs (although I already had them from the Country Club show) and when I tried to talk to Lee Thompson about meeting him at the Roxy, he just said "There were a lot of people at that show, mate!" and that was it. I was bummed... but only for a few moments because I realized that, sure, I got to meet Lee Thompson, one of only seven members of Madness, but he's had the chance to meet thousands upon thousands of fanboys just like me... and I think we kind of all look the same! So, no harm, no foul!

As the years rolled on, many more Madness releases came, but then the world seemed to crumble once keyboardist MIKE BARSON announced he was leaving the band. What? Monsieur Barso leaving the nutty boys? Wassup wid dat?

Their post-Baron album, Mad Not Mad, was a much more somber, mature effort and initially caught me by surprise. But, upon second, third and fourth listens, I was hooked. "Yesterday's Men" still sounds wonderful today.

When Madness announced that they were splitting up in 1986, I was majorly bummed yet again. But you know what? I realized they had a great run and better to go off on a good note than just keep touring the band into the ground until all that was left was Suggs and six young musicians from L.A. touring the fairs as Madness featuring Suggs.

Because of Madness, my eyes were opened to a lot more styles of music. I'd go back and buy albums from the bands that they were influenced by. I'd buy records by bands that they picked to open for them. I'd buy any and all albums produced by Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley (who produced all of the Madness albums). I'd buy anything that former Madness members released, played on or produced. And almost everything was top notch (Feargal Sharkey's "Listen To Your Father" single is the best Madness song they never released so go check it out if you can find it).

A decade after they split, Madness reunited for live dates and the magic was back. In 1999, they released the album Wonderful, which certainly lived up to it's title! It was my favorite Madness album since Seven was released in 1981!

In 2005, their Dangerman Sessions album was released, which consisted of cover versions of songs that influenced them. As good as the album was, I'm not big on covers albums by anyone! So, it's got a ton of great things on it but I don't go back and listen to it as often as their other albums.

Now, 30 years after I first heard Madness, I sit here with a physical copy of THE LIBERTY OF NORTON FOLGATE at my fingertips, amazed at what I hear. Could this be Madness' best album yet? Find out when I review it here on the blog!!!

Madness is all in the mind,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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