House Of Fun picture disc

HOUSE OF FUN – Madness

25 May – 7 June 1982 · Stiff BUY 146 · Writers: Mike Barson, Lee Thompson

Astonishingly this is still the only time Madness have topped the UK singles chart in a career that spans almost thirty-five years. The band’s origins can be traced all the way back to 1976 when keyboard player Mike “Monsieur Barso” Barson, guitarist Chris “Chrissy Boy” Foreman and saxophonist Lee “Kix” Thompson formed The North London Invaders, incorporating drummer John Hasler, bassist Cathal “Chas Smash” Smyth and vocalist Dikron Tulane. In a flurry of line-up changes over the next three years, Graham “Suggs” McPherson took over as lead singer, although he, Smyth and Thompson all left at various points after various arguments. By 1979 all three had returned to the band (although Smyth remained merely a part-time member at this point) with the addition of Mark “Bedders” Bedford (bass) and Daniel “Woody” Woodgate (drums).

Having laboured under the name Morris & The Minors for some time, they adopted the name Madness in homage to a Prince Buster song they regularly covered in their act. Buster was also the subject of the band’s first single The Prince, released on The Specials’ 2-Tone label in 1979. This led to a long-term deal with Stiff Records and a string of top ten hits including My Girl, Baggy Trousers, Embarrassment, Grey Day and It Must Be Love; however, the run had ended with the band’s previous single Cardiac Arrest which, after limited radio airplay due to the sensitive nature of the lyrics, had peaked at number 14.

Despite this minor setback, Stiff Records issued a Greatest Hits album Complete Madness in April 1982. The compilation included all the band’s singles to date, a handful of B-sides and album tracks and one new song. The new song had been born as The Chemist Façade, a saucy tale of a young man on his sixteenth birthday attempting to buy some condoms in anticipation of the decadent behaviour which surely awaits him. Of course the protagonist, for all his youthful bravado, is unable to actually ask for the prophylactics, hinting vaguely at a “box of balloons with a featherlight touch” The chemist is nonplussed and suggests that the young man procures his balloons from the House of Fun – “This is a chemist, not a joke shop!”

The song was recorded and ready to go when Stiff Records boss Dave Robinson observed that there was no chorus. Concerned that this would limit the song’s hit potential, Robinson insisted that the band return to the studio and finish it off. Rather than re-record the whole song, producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley recorded the chorus separately and painstakingly spliced it into the existing track. The result was renamed House Of Fun and whisked off to open side two of Complete Madness. Released as a single three weeks after the album, it propelled the compilation to the top of the album chart and joined it atop the singles listing the following week. The two versions are not identical; the album track fades out gracefully whereas the single version comes to a cacophonous crashing stop as if someone has built a brick wall in the path of the roller coaster, suggesting that the single mix was not yet complete when a version of the track was required for the mastering of the album. Interestingly it is the fade version which appears on all the band’s subsequent compilations, the single mix remaining unreleased on CD until it appeared as a bonus track on the 2010 deluxe edition of the band’s next album The Rise And Fall.

Although this was Madness’s only number one single, it began a second run of top ten hits which continued for another eighteen months, encompassing Our House, Wings Of A Dove and The Sun And The Rain before the band began to run out of steam, eventually splitting in 1986. A splinter group consisting of Suggs, Smyth, Thompson and Foreman achieved limited success in 1988 under the moniker The Madness while Bedford and Woodgate joined Voice Of The Beehive.

House Of Fun found itself back in the chart a decade later, pressed into service to promote Divine Madness, a new compilation which had again topped the chart and rekindled interest in the band. Reconvening for the farewell gig they had never played in 1986, the public’s overwhelming love for the band led them to reform properly and begin work on new material, which eventually surfaced in 1999. Since then Madness have settled nicely into “national treasure” status – 2012 saw them perform at both the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Concert (on the roof of Buckingham Palace, no less) and the London Olympics closing ceremony, while most recent albums The Liberty Of Norton Folgate (2009) and Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da (2012) were critical and commercial successes.

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