Thursday, December 13, 2012

Further Madness

By 1982, Madness were probably assuming that, as long as their music remained disarmingly chipper, their lyrics could be as dark as humanly possible. "Cardiac Arrest" put that notion to the test:
The song was written by Chas Smash and Chris Foreman and tells a story of a workaholic who suffers a fatal heart attack on his way to work. The song received little if any airplay, other than on the Top 40 show, on BBC Radio 1 due to deaths in the families of two DJs; this was cited as one reason for the record's disappointing chart position. It was the first Madness single since "The Prince" not making it to the top 10.
Now, just read these lyrics and imagine what sort of music might fit in here:
Never get there at this rate
He's caught up in a jam
There's a meeting this morning
It's just his luck oh damn

His hand dives in his pocket
For his handkerchief
Pearls of sweat on his collar
His pulse-beat seems so brief

Eyes fall on his wristwatch
The seconds pass real slow
Gasping for the hot air
But the chest pain it won't go

Tried to ask for help
But can't seem to speak a word,
Words are whispered frantically
But don't seem to be heard
What about the wife and kids?
They all depend on me
Naturally, the music is extremely jaunty and exuberant:

While "Driving In My Car" returned them to the Top 10, the provincial English references were arguably starting to approach self-parody by this point:
I've been driving in my car, it's not quite a Jaguar
I bought it in Primrose Hill from a bloke from Brazil
It was made in fifty-nine in a factory by the Tyne
It says Morris on the door, the G.P.O. owned it before
I drive in it for my job, the governor calls me a slob
But I don't really care, give me some gas and the open air

I've been driving in my car, it don't look much but I've been far
I drive up to Muswell Hill, I've even been to Selsey Bill
I drove along the A45, I had her up to 58
This copper stopped me the other day, you're mistaken what could I say
The tyres were a little worn, they were O.K., I could have sworn
I like driving in my car, I'm satisfied I've got this far
Say wot? We've got "Primrose Hill," "Tyne," "bloke," "Muswell Hill" - this is Anglo overload! Indeed, this might be the most "Madness" Madness song ever, and not necessarily in a good way. We've got actual honest-to-goodness honking car horns, bells, whistles ... even a saxophone bridge that sounds like it was lifted from a Supertramp song. Keep your eye out, however, for the Fun Boy Three, who around the 2:00 mark attempt, and fail, to hitch a ride in Madness' extreme Britmobile.

Unlike "Driving In My Car," the sentiment in "House Of Fun" was universal: young people trying to get laid.
The lyrics tell the story of a boy on his 16th birthday attempting to buy condoms at a chemist. The UK age of consent is 16, and he makes a point of stating that he is "16 today and up for fun". However, the boy is misunderstood by the chemist, as he asks for the condoms using slang euphemisms, such as "box of balloons with a featherlight touch" and "party hats with the coloured tips". The confused chemist behind the counter eventually informs the boy that the establishment is not a joke shop, and directs him towards the "House of Fun".

N-n-n-n-n-n-no no miss
You misunderstood
Sixteen big boy
Full pint in my manhood
I'm up to date
And the date's today
So if you'll serve
I'll be on my way

Welcome to the House of Fun
Now I've come of age
Welcome to the House of Fun
Welcome to the lion's den
Temptation's on his way
Welcome to the House of

None of which was the least bit apparent to me until I read the Wikipedia article, of course. While the song, which became Madness' only UK #1, wasn't even released in the US, apparently the video ended up in heavy MTV rotation, thus laying the groundwork for Madness' only "hit." Indeed, that hit, which I need not name, helped to also turn an earlier Madness song, "It Must Be Love," into a smaller US hit as well (it peaked at #33). Yes, technically, Madness had two American hits. What does Selsey Bill have to say about that, eh?

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