I think, I *think* we have gotten to a point where one's love of ska music needs no defense or canned disclaimer about how first and second wave should be thought of in a completely different category from Save Ferris and lord help us, No Doubt and Smash Mouth (the latter two of which I still don't even think of in the same breath as third wave ska but they tell me it qualifies). So I won't bother with that.
Madness is known best for "Our House" which is completely fair I even though I prefer "One Step Beyond." Madness is also probably the second-best known 2Tone band (behind the Specials) but skimming through a list of notable singles only "One Step Beyond," "Welcome to the House of Fun," and "Night Boat to Cairo" sound strictly like ska to me. The rest of them are poppy new wavey songs like "Our House," "It Must Be Love" and the like.
This isn't a criticism. I'm a ska apologist but I think unless it's coming out of Jamaica in the 1960s, it can only be tolerated for so long, which is probably why people think they hate ska. So my thought is that Madness evolved into a pop outfit may have been a very wise act of self-preservation. Also, their pop songs are really very good.
Anyway, "One Step Beyond." When I first heard it as a third-wave baby in high school, I couldn't believe how fucking bad-ass it was. Is this song an instrumental? I don't know. I was going to say that it's the only one on my top 100, but there are technically words to it. The very best part of this song is the iconic, semi-spoken-word introduction: "hey you, don't watch that, watch this. This is the heavy heavy monsta sound" and so on. This is evidently unique to the Madness version, so good on ya, Madness. Following that, only the words "one step beyond" and those ska sounds you make with your mouth appear on the vocal track but that's it. It's at least mostly an instrumental. It's delivered with such confidence. I learned today that it's a Prince Buster cover which makes total sense. That's why they were so sure of themselves.
This would be one of those that would also appear on my favorite videos of all time. It's not a particularly artful video, but it's amazing. I wish when we visited London two years ago I'd thought to look up shooting locations for this video because the bar in which a lot of this video takes place is still open. I wonder if that stairwell looks the same! Damn, I miss travel. The outdoor shots in this video make me want do go back so bad. Look at how gritty and Londony it looks! Ugh, fuck Covid, man.
Another remarkable feature of this video is Madness themselves. What a bunch of affable dorks! I'll get to the Specials later on but just want to point out that the Specials (Madness's most comparable contemporaries) were undeniably cool with their suits and their sunglasses and hats and serious expressions. That's great for them and make them a better band, ultimately, but I identify more with Madness's unbridled spirit. The best part is at about the 2:18 mark in which you can see a member who I believe is Mark Bedford looking deadpan into the camera and skanking with only his arms in front of a neon light background. It's so uncomfortable and I wish he would look away but he doesn't and this shot goes on for way too long (in reality only six seconds, but I think it's the longest six seconds in music video history).
Two more thoughts on Madness. I recently Audibled Michael Caine's memoir on a recommendation and he talks about the "Michael Caine" song that Madness put out in the context of impressions of Michael Caine saying his own name being a Thing (I was not previously aware of this Thing). He recorded the spot with the band because at the time his 12 year-old-daughter was very much into Madness and urged him to play along. Michael Caine is a good man, I would definitely recommend the book. Finally, Morrissey's 1992 single "You're the One for Me, Fatty" is about Madness's lead singer. ONLY Morrissey could get away with writing such a dumb song about an inside joke with a personal friend and pack the house for a performance on Hangin' with MTV. God, I love to hate that man.