Madness on their best albums: “We were full of ideas!”

Suggs and co recall One Step Beyond and more

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STIFF, 1984
Exhausted and running out of ideas, the band also had to contend with the departure of key songwriter, Mike Barson.

SUGGS: We had run out of ideas at that point. I wrote “Keep Moving” inspired by Spike Milligan in The Bed Sitting Room. It’s a post-apocalyptic setting and he’s in a hot air balloon with a loudhailer going “keep moving, keep moving”. I identified with that – the ridiculousness of where we were going. [Stiff label boss] Dave Robinson thought we should have an album cover to reflect the forthcoming Olympics, bonkers – although we all got a free pair of Nikes. You see photos of Mike at that point and he’s always covering his face, he’s just had enough of fame. Dave Robinson was a double-edged sword effect – because of him we had the success we did, but we were also burnt out. Stiff Records survived on a shoestring that required Madness hits to keep them going, we were tired.

FOREMAN: It was made under a cloud – when we were rehearsing Mike told us he was leaving the band. It wasn’t unexpected – he’d married and gone to Holland, I think he’d found it hard being the main songwriter all those years – plus I’d just really done him on Rise And Fall! The album was a bit of mess all round, it doesn’t seem complete to me. Suggs and Carl had both became more musical which was obviously a bonus, but I had some songs that wasted away in the cupboard because there was nobody to write lyrics to them. I think that was part of the problem after Mike left – not a balance of power but a balance of who does what.



Without Barson, Madness faltered, unwisely embracing drum machines and harmonicas, and delivering a misjudged cover of Scritti Politti’s “The Sweetest Girl”.

SUGGS: This was Madness’s long delayed difficult second album. We didn’t have songs – we’d have been better to take a year off. “The Sweetest Girl” was my idea – let’s get really serious and take a song that we don’t even understand. The artwork was strange and the haircuts had got weird but I have no regrets. We were just doing the best we could, given the circumstances. It wasn’t all bad – “Uncle Sam” was a watershed – Sting said he liked it…


FOREMAN: We really wanted for direction, we’d gone right up our own arses. We’d parted company with Dave Robinson and Mike – both very strong people who gave the band direction. We had fun doing the songs but recording was a bit difficult – the technology, the drum machines and stuff swamped us. Clive Langer thought it was a great idea to get Judd Lander in to do the harmonica on “Yesterday’s Men” – he’d just been a big hit on “Karma Chameleon”. Lander was alright – but not on my song, I fought and fought not to have him! “Burning The Boats” was a really good demo – organic sounding – but there and elsewhere there was a failure to stay true to the original idea. Of all our albums, I think it’s dated the worst.


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