The Nuttiest Sound Around: Madness’s One Step Beyond Turns 40

The debut LP of this iconic British ska band introduced a genre revival in 1979

Madness ’79 / Illustration by Ron Hart

“Hey you!” Don’t watch that, watch this!”

This brilliant piece of British nuttery spoken by the then non full-member, vocalist Cathal “Chas Smash” Smyth, provides the opening salvo to Madness’ 1979 debut album of the same name, One Step Beyond.

Madness, along with the Specials, the Selecter and the Beat, are among the most influential British bands of this nutty genre. Dubbed as 2 Tone — a musical genre of British music stemming from the roster on 2 Tone Records, a label founded by Jerry Dammers of The Specials — Madness fused elements of ska, reggae, pop, punk and new wave into an infectious hybrid, known as the “nutty sound.”

Released on Oct. 19, 1979, One Step Beyond was recorded and mixed in nearly three weeks and peaked at number two, remaining in the UK Albums Chart for over a year. The Specials’ groundbreaking self-titled debut was also released the same day as well. Both albums drew upon influences from Jamaican singer-songwriter and producer Prince Buster; Madness with its title track and “Madness,” while the Specials rebooted “Too Hot.”

Formed in 1976 in Camden Town, North London, the goofy sextet (soon to be a seven-piece after the album’s release) — consisting of vocalists Smyth and Graham “Suggs” McPherson, keyboardist Mike Barson, guitarist Chris Foreman, bassist Mark Bedford, saxophonist Lee “Kix” Thompson and drummer Dan Woodgate — became massively prominent in the British pop music scene.

With its 30th anniversary in 2009, the band released a new special edition consisting of two discs, including the original songs as well as music videos on disc one, with disc two featuring B-sides, live tracks and a John Peel Session. There’s not really any big plans for the 40th anniversary except for a limited edition picture disc.

40th anniversary One Step Beyond shaped picture disc

Consisting of 15 tracks at 39 minutes, the record gets off to a great start with a triumvirate of memorable tracks; “One Step Beyond,” “My Girl” (which peaked at no. 3 on the charts) and “Night Boat to Cairo.” From the slinky rhythm of “Believe Me,” to the marching snare drum intro and the quippy Britishness of “Land of Hope & Glory” to the sax-heavy, Caribbean-laden “The Prince,” the album moves along at a brisk pace.

The snazzy jungle vibe and tribal drum beat of ‘Tarzan’s Nuts” hits the midway point of the record with a short burst of Jamaican elements, while the quippy follow-up, “In the Middle of the Night,” is decorated with an infectious, slow-burning ska rhythm with a Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd type of vocal charm.

The twangy, Jamaican guitar melodies of “Bed and Breakfast Man” is accompanied by a swirling, carnival-like keyboard melody and a memorable chorus, while the charming “Razor Blade Alley” shuffles along nicely. “Swan Lake”’s classical piano melody leads to a Caribbean shuffle beat while “Rockin’ in A Flat” proves to be snappy little ditty.

“Mummy’s Boy” is peppered with heavy piano accents and underlying pulsating horn runs while the titular “Madness” is decorated with a catchy chorus with McPherson’s charming British accent, as album closer “Chipmunks Are Go”’s a cappella Army-like chanting and call and response vocals is fun end the album.


VIDEO: Madness perform “The Prince” on British TV 1979

Madness didn’t achieve worldwide popularity until the early-to-mid ’80s, mostly due to their 1982 global smash hit “Our House” from The Rise & Fall album, which peaked at No. 5 in the UK and No. 7 in the US. With this album, the band started implementing more of a British pop sound with soul and Motown elements compared to its early ska flavor.

Both Madness and the Specials’ debut releases were defining albums within the ska genre and paved the way for countless other bands, especially in Britain.


AUDIO: Madness One Step Beyond (full album)


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Kelley Simms

Kelley Simms is a Des Moines-based freelance writer and a graphic designer/illustrator at a daily newspaper. His bylines have appeared in many diverse publications such as The New York Post, Outburn Magazine, BraveWords, Powerplay Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Hails and Horns Magazine, Consequence of Sound and Illinois Entertainer. Reach him on Twitter @simmsbury.

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