Madness, Stand Alone Single, 1981
I know this song was pretty much ruined by its inclusion in a dumb Levi's ad in the 90s, but I still have a soft spot for it. Let me count the ways...
First of all, it was on a mixtape that my college girlfriend made for me, which was the first time someone had made me a mixtape for the purposes of hitting on me, so that qualifies it for 20K status right there. Any song whose secret message is "You're cute" is a good one. (Other songs that were on that tape that I just can't save from themselves: "Oh What A Night" by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and "Same Auld Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg).
Second of all, Madness was one of those bands that helped us little suburban kids know that much cooler stuff was going on elsewhere. MTV turned Madness into a US hit, mainly because the band were smart and utilized the video format to emphasize how fun they were. I remember watching the "House Of Fun" video and wanting to be in a band just like that. It also made me want to go to London immediately. The next night, I went to a middle school dance where multiple .38 Special songs were played by the DJ with no sense of irony. In the context of sleepy southern Midatlantic teenagerdom, Madness seemed like the epitome of cool. Frankly, it sounded like it was coming from another planet.
Third, there aren't that many good Madness songs, so if you want to pay them homage, you sort of have to put this song on your iPod. Madness is one of those bands you want to like way more than you actually can. They just weren't very good. Listen how incapable the band is of keeping the tempo throughout-- it's really up and down. Moreover, this song is one of the few hummable Madness songs. Way too many of their songs are a riff played for four minutes while someone yells a slogan over it. ("Toasting," they call it sometimes. "Bad" is another word for it.)
Fourth, it's got a lot of nice touches. I like the pizzicato strings that float in and out. The horn section is great. And I love the ridiculous scouse accent of the singer. Don't you feel like talking in a British accent after listening to this song? Why can't Americans get away with singing in dialect like that?
Finally, there's something so evocative about this song of a particular moment in pop music. In that early 80s moment when MTV exploded, British music was integrated and upbeat, and The Specials, Madness, Fun Boy Three and the like were all over the airwaves and suggesting that the angry sneer of punk might have a lighter, more joyful side. Rarely is pop music that unabashedly fun while still retaining musicality. So I guess that's it: this song is fun, and doesn't try to be anything else. Seems like a good way to kick off the blog's summer.