Sunday, March 5, 2017

Middle: In the Middle of the Night

< Madness: In the Middle of the Night


I have no doubt that our new theme will include a wide range of songs and ideas. There are simply too many things one could be in the middle of. “Middle” can be in the middle of the song title, as it is here, or in the middle of the lyrics, or simply in the middle of an idea of what the song is about. But, for me, the theme is, first of all, a reason to finally be able to share this one.

One Step Beyond, the debut album by Madness, was an album that grabbed me right away. I had already been swept off my feet by British ska, starting with the Specials, and moving on with all due haste to the Selecter, Bad Manners, and The English Beat, just to name the highlights. I would go on to explore the earlier Jamaican form of ska as well. Where reggae, when it reached the US in the early 1970s, offered strong messages and a new to me rhythm that I found irresistible, ska had was a sort of punked up version of the same thing. It replaced reggae’s polish with an urgency that I found addictive, and it was more musical by far than punk itself. Given all that, Madness stood out with a sound all their own. In the Middle of the Night in some ways shows what was different about them. The song has a completely British sense of humor. If George had not been the subject of this song, it is not hard to imagine him instead as a character in a Monty Python sketch. Bad Manners was the other British ska invasion band that displayed a sense of humor, but where they were over the top, Madness was sly and insinuating. Madness also had an approach to making music in which one can recognize the influence of British music hall styles and approaches. I suppose that really is the difference. Other bands seized on the infectious combination of reggae and punk energy, and Madness did too. But Madness also embraced their heritage. One has more than their accents to go by in saying that this is a British band, and George in this song is the kind of character one only seems to find in England.

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