Embarrassment – Madness

Every English junior school kids favourite band in 1980. Madness were the best thing to happen to my particular group of middle school Herberts since Gowers Sweet shop cut the prices of Black Jacks to half a penny. Christ on a Bike! That might be the fogeyest sentence I have ever typed.

Look, the point I’m trying to make is this. Before genres and scenes and style and stuff. Before all that, there’s just pop. Music is for fun when you’re a kid. Music doesn’t get more fun in 1980 in England than Madness. They were the cheeky big boys we all wanted to copy. Their dress code, their funny outlook on life, their bonhomie. Imagine being in a gang as cool as Madness. Everyday would be a nutty day.

The band appealed to the naughty side of every girl and boy (but especially the boys) in my school. We knew all their songs, we talked about them when they’d been on Top Of The Pops. When my elder brother would play his two tone records in his bedroom along the landing I’d jump up and down in my room imagining the day I’d be cool enough to own a record player of my own. The endless fun it would bring.

“Received a letter just the other day, don’t seem they wanna know you no more, They’ve laid it down given you their score within the first two lines it bluntly read “You’re not to come and see us no more, keep away from our door””

What was flying right over my head at the time was the fact that Madness were writing songs about things. Real things. Important things. Things that mattered to the youth of 1980. It was packaged up with halloween costumes, Monty Python sight gags and dance moves you could copy on the playground to make your friends laugh, but this was as close to the true concerns of the young hearts and minds of the day as any highly praised arty critics darling band or author or film maker.

Lee Thompson gets the main writing credit for this one. In simple words and turns of phrase even a school kid can understand he challenges the racist attitudes of a Britain divided. Turning their own rhetoric back on them. Lee’s sister was having a baby. The father was black. His family were outraged.

“Our aunt, she don’t wanna know she says “What will the neighbors think, they’ll think we don’t, that’s what they’ll think, we don’t” But I will, ’cause I know they think I don’t”

It’s all there. The nasty judgement and prejudice of the time spelled out. Read the lyric back. Lee doesn’t explicitly name the topic. It’s barely full sentences. And yet we all knew what was being said really, even if we were under ten. Still there was a man stood in Camden high street with nothing on and a sign over his peepee so it’s all fun and games.

“Our uncle he don’t wanna know he says “We are a disgrace to the human race”, he says “How can you show your face when you’re a disgrace to the human race?”

History tells us the true story had a happy ending and when Hayley was born all that ugly bluster and short sighted bollocks fell away. Lee’s niece grew up loved and adored by the whole family. And there it is. The solution. When you see the ugly side of small minded prejudice. Drag it out into the light. Expose it. Make fun of it. Unless you’re dealing with real evil, attitudes will change. Then we can all heal and move on.

Not so nutty after all. This band are one of the finest British things to come out of the 1980’s. We still under value them in the UK. They are so important. I for one forgot about Madness in my teens. That was kids music and I was cool now. Growing up. So genres and scenes became important. Now I’m old I cherish the sight of Camden as it once was in their videos almost as much as I do the fantastic dexterous, heartfelt, beautiful music they made. Have a selection of some of their finest moments on me.

It’s like having five pence in Gowers and a paper bag to fill with sweets. I feel so old today but still a bit of a nutty boy.

Nutty Boys in serious mode.
Police Brutality gets the Madness treatment
Ashtrays on the counter of Shoe Shops? If that don’t date it I don’t know what does
It’s been over a year since I walked the streets of Camden Town. I think that’s the longest it’s ever been
Their Lennon and McCartney moment
As a kid I would have sworn this was filmed at the REAL pyramids
They’re still with us, and still magnificent

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