Divine Madness, by Madness
Suggested by Tom Ross
The first album I ever bought is cool. Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast. I bought it from the long-defunct Penny Lane Records in Liverpool. Straight out of Liverpool Central Station, then left at the top of the ramp.
The first single I ever bought, however, is not cool. It’s shameful. The atrocious Loadsamoney, a Harry Enfield comedy record released in 1988. I think the only worse choice for this singular honour might be Mr Blobby.
But, while listening to Divine Madness this afternoon, I had an epiphany. The first single I ever bought was not Loadsamoney. Three years earlier, I bought Uncle Sam, one of Madness’s lesser-known releases. I remember the single cover. I remember sitting alone in the familial “front room”, spinning the vinyl again and again.
It’s an odd song to revere. It’s a departure from the Madness we all know and love, released in the middle of their self-imposed change of direction that lead to their breakup. It charted at #21, ending their twenty-track streak of Top 20 singles that stretched back to 1979. It has a straightforward pop feel, and Suggs’s vocal is straight-laced, devoid of the usual charm and personality.
Divine Madness is the story of the seven-piece Ska / Pop combo’s career, written chronologically through their twenty-two chart singles before their split in 1986. Released on the back of It Must Be Love’s successful second chart run, this 1992 compilation directly resulted in the band’s reformation and consequent successes. Not many albums are this influential, but a glance at the phenomenal tracklist tells you all you need to know.
Every song on this album is a scorcher. Let’s list the opening seven. The Prince, One Step Beyond, My Girl, Night Boat to Cairo, Baggy Trousers, Embarrassment, The Return of the Los Palmas 7. Each a stone cold classic Top 20 single with energy, passion and wit. That incendiary seven? Not even the best run of songs on the album. That accolade goes to the one-two-three punch of House of Fun / Driving in My Car / Our House, a strong triple-threat of bangers that’s unmatched on any other album ever released.
Madness were, are, incredible. Even the later tracks like Michael Caine and Yesterday’s Men have merit, if not the brassy audacity of their earlier work. And in my standout, their iconic cover of Labbi Siffre’s It Must Be Love, they created a song that’s fit to grace anyone’s favourite playlist.
I’ve loved Madness, and this compilation, for the better part of forty years. Divine Madness gets a straight-up 9/10, despite its compilation status, as it’s probably the most played album I’ve ever owned. Listening today was a joy, as I knew it would be.
And today, I legitimately broke the real memory of my first ever single, leaving a smile on my face that won’t fade for weeks. Now, when anyone asks about my first ever single, I can hold my head high and let my answer ring clear like a bell. Madness and Iron Maiden as my musical milestones… I’m more than happy with that.
I do hope no-one discovers that the first album I ever owned was a storybook musical called “Rupert and the Fire Bird”. Now that would be embarrassing!