Saturday, November 11, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #11

For today's choice of a song that everyone should take to their hearts, we turn to the only collaborator on our own World Cup blog Finals Fantasy who managed to get his work linked to from the BBC's own blog. The comments box was fun that day, we can assure you. Presenting Matt Sullivan:

Madness - In The City

I recently found myself in the unusual situation (for me, anyway) of being in deep conversation with a nice young lady. As cold drinks were consumed and the amazing coincidences of bands we'd both seen years ago were seized upon as being terribly meaningful despite there invariably being 60,000 other people at these gigs as well, she asked me who my favourite band were. And this caused a moment's discomfort, because trying to pin down one band above all others would be a difficult enough task as it is - off the top of my head I can think of at least five bands that hugely affected who I am today - without the added pressure of attempting to impress my new friend. Should I mention the band that got me through my A-levels, or the band that changed
the way I thought about everything when I was 19, or the band that only those who'd listened to John Peel on a regular basis in the late 90s would have heard of? It's a difficult question, particularly for someone who's had rather a lot to drink.

After some time mulling it over, I plumped for the answer that I suspect is closest to the truth. There was a band, I explained, that I loved when I was three years old, to the extent of learning how to operate my parents' record player just so I could play the records that they'd bought for me, that were the first band I ever went to see, and that despite everything that's turned my head in the meantime still thrill me today. That band, I told her, were Madness. I'm not sure that she was impressed by my choice, but there was distinct admiration that I was buying records (well, having them bought for me; it's a bit difficult to buy records when you're 3) before she'd been born. Well, I think it was admiration. The alcohol had taken hold of us both at that point.

But when the UK's 34th most popular music blog comes a-calling, and you feel compelled to choose a song by a band that everyone is familiar with, you're left with something of a dilemma. The singles are all far too well known (although, from my fanboy's perspective, some don't seem nearly as seared into the collective consciousness as they should be, Tomorrow's Just Another
Day particularly springing to mind), and while the albums are a treasure-trove of goodness - all of them are at least worth listening to, even last year's potentially UB40-ish set of cover versions - selecting one song to explain why this band have had a hold on me for so long is a tricky task.

Hurrah, then, for the humble world of the b-side, satisfying my desire to be slightly obscure and providing a tremendous tune to boot. Well, In The City wasn't just a b-side - as well as appearing on the back of Cardiac Arrest, it also turned up on the Complete Madness compilation of early singles, the sleevenotes to which reveal its origins as the tune to a Japanese car commercial that the band featured in. This, I suspect, goes some way to explaining the song's appeal; there's so much crammed in there, trademark wonky sax, organs being politely battered, unusually prominent guitars, someone shouting "OOMPA DOOMPA DOOMPA DOOMPA" at regular intervals, that it makes sense that it was originally 30 seconds long. And the process of stretching it to song-length - adding some more "OOMPA DOOMPA DOOMPA DOOMPA"s and a splendid ending that can leave even a fairly taciturn sort of a fellow attempting to play simultaneous air guitar and air piano - only adds to
the sense of gleeful chaos.

It's fair to say that the lyrics don't drip with pithy social observation, and it's by no means the most profound song in this feature, but it's fun to lustily shout along to and it's got a bloke going "OOMPA DOOMPA DOOMPA DOOMPA" on a regular basis, and what could be better than that? It's a song that makes the world a slightly brighter place for just under three minutes. Which is always useful when you're sitting around impatiently waiting for a nice young lady to return your calls.


Chris Brown said...

This song is the one and only reason I bought the 45 of 'Cardiac Arrest', quite possibly the worst Madness single.

OK, that and the crossword.

Simon said...

Including the Sweetest Girl cover? (The source materials are great, true, but they contrive to make a fudge of them)

Chris Brown said...

Actually I'd forgotten about 'Sweetest Girl', as I suspect most people had. But I still think 'Cardiac Arrest' comes out as worse, if only on grounds of taste.

swisslet said...

in a world in which a band as bland as westlife can have 14 number one singles, it's nice to be reminded of a *proper* singles band.

I quite liked 'cardiac arrest' mind you, although my favourite was 'bed & breakfast man' I reckon.


Lee said...

I'm convinced that it isn't my heavy Madness bias entering into the equation here, but I am quite a fan of their version of Sweetest Girl. Particular poignant for the slighty realigned lyric "the maddest group in all the world, how could they do this to me". Fair hit an emotional chord with a, erm, young fella in his teens(honest)

Matt said...

I'm rather fond of Sweetest Girl as well, although I had rather got used to the Madness version befor I heard the Scritti original. I was going suggest that Cardiac Arrest wasn't all that tasteless, but I've just remembered the video.

Of course, had I known that barely a week later I'd hear an advert on the radio for "Get your free Madness CD from the Mail on Sunday", I'd have probably chosen Rusted Guns Of Milan by Art Brut or something. Hey ho.

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