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In 1976 the core of the band started out as The Invaders and included Mike Barson, or Monsieur Barso (keyboards, vocals), Chris Foreman, or Chrissy Boy (guitar), and Lee Thompson, or Kix (saxophone, vocals). John Hasler (drums), Dikron (vocals) and Cathal Smyth, or Chas Smash (bass) joined later. This lineup lasted until mid-1977, when Graham McPherson (the infamous Suggs) took over the lead vocals after seeing the band play at a garden party, and Gavin Rodgers replaced Smyth.
Suggs was kicked out of the band for too often choosing to watch Chelsea play instead of rehearsing, but was permitted back into the band after filling in temporarily for Hasler, who had stepped in while McPherson was absent. After toying with the idea of the name Morris and the Minors, the band settled on the name Madness, which was a tribute to a song by Prince Buster. In 1979, they recorded a song called The Prince, which was also a homage to the artist. It was released on 2 Tone Records and went in at number 16 on the UK chart.
A performance on Top of the Pops helped them gain some publicity, before Madness toured The Specials and The Selecter. Their debut album, One Step Beyond… stayed in the charts for 37 weeks, peaking at number two. Their second album, Absolutely, also reached number two in the UK chart, spawning the massive hit Baggy Trousers, which went to number three. The single Embarrassment reached number four, and Return of the Los Palmas 7 aptly peaked at number seven.
1981 saw the third Madness album, 7, going to number five in the album chart. Three hits came from the collection, Grey Day, Shut Up and Cardiac Arrest. The sound was noticeably different from their preceding offerings, with Suggs’ cockney accent fading somewhat and the direction veering towards a more pop sound, mixing it with ska. Their cover of Labi Siffre’s 1971 hit It Must Be Love went to number four in the UK, and reached number 33 in the US. Their first number one followed, House of Fun, which is still popular on the radio today along with Baggy Trousers and Our House, which was from their next album, The Rise & Fall.
Their single Wings of a Dove peaked at number two, and was followed by The Sun & The Rain which went in at number five. Rolling Stone magazine gave them glowing reviews, applauding their change of sound.
After another couple of albums which failed to perform as well as their previous offerings, they decided to split, officially in 1988. In 1992 a Best Of collection, Divine Madness, was released and went to number one, which was followed by an original lineup reunion concert in Finsbury Park, called Madstock!. Over 75000 people attended this Madness concert, and three more miniature festivals were held in 1994, 1996 and 1998.
Madness are now writing, recording and touring together and continue to be on the most popular ska-pop bands ever.
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