‘Hey You! Don’t Watch That Watch This!’
1979 is a serious contender for the greatest year in pop music EVER.
Frankly, it had to be. The world was going to hell in a handbasket. What with Russian invasions, hijackings, bombings, the winter of discontent and then the election of the Thatcher government in Britain, the rise of the far right… it was not a good time to be alive (thankfully, much of this bypassed me as a three year old. (Others were not so lucky).
The soundtrack to this period however was utterly fantastic: and Madness’ debut was part of the brilliance of that year (the list of great records for that year really is too long, but to single out three others, let’s say Talking Heads, Marianne Faithfull and PiL).
Formed in London in 1976, the band’s debut kicks off with the fantastic sound of the call-to-arms that is the title track, with that quote, and a number of singles that have truly stood the test of time, such as their debut ‘The Prince’ (re-recorded here, it had originally appeared on The Specials’ 2-Tone label, and the band saw themselves in competition with Coventry’s finest), ‘Night Boat To Cairo’ and ‘My Girl.’
The latter truly ranks only behind Squeeze’s ‘Up the Junction’ as contender for ultimate British Bittersweet Lovesong. It’s not just the singles that make the album such an essential piece of British pop. Those who saw them as being heirs to The Kinks were right on the money – with the creepy protagonist of ‘Mummy’s Boy’ with seriously impure thoughts or the newspaper with a penchant for stealing lingerie ‘In The Middle Of the Night.’
The reality is that this is a classic debut album, which holds its own among the list of the best ever débuts, and was a fantastic introduction to the band. Interestingly, it was the first time that producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley worked together (they would later work with Morrissey, Elvis Costello and the great lost Scottish band Dogs Die In Hot Cars).
The second part of the first disc also features a rehearsal tape from 1979 before the band were signed. Not surprisingly, sound quality is uh, ‘variable’ but it’s a fascinating document of how the band evolved. Added to the package is a DVD with music videos, live performances from The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top Of The Pops, and the 2000 BBC documentary Young Guns. All in all, a great debut album and a re-issue package that should serve as a reminder for how these projects should be approached.
One Step Beyond is re-released by Salvo on October 13.