The Nutty Boys’ debut album gets reissued in ‘deluxe anniversary edition’ form, complete with a previously unheard 1979 rehearsal tape
et’s be honest – there’s a very good chance you already own this album, what with it being the platinum-selling debut by one of Britain’s best-loved pop outfits of the past several decades and all (that’s ‘pop’ in the broadest sense of the word, of course). On the other hand, there’s an equally good chance you may be under 30, or American, and so you might not.
Well, those of you that do will just have to skip the next couple of paragraphs.
For those still with us, One Step Beyond was the 1979 debut album by Madness, a ska band from North London who’d made their debut with The Prince on the legendary 2 Tone imprint but moved to Stiff Records for this and the four Top 10 albums that followed it. It included The Prince and spawned three more Top 10 singles: One Step Beyond, My Girl and Night Boat To Cairo. More importantly, it demonstrated that revivalist 60s ska was just one string to Madness’s bow, with other ingredients in the Nutty Boys’ musical stew including vaudeville and music hall, rockabilly, seedy piano jazz (see the awesome Lee Thompson-vocalled Razorblade Alley, for this long-term fan one of the band’s finest ever moments), pub rock and, yes, out-and-out pop. And that’s before we even mention the bizarre US Marines-style skit Chipmunks Are Go and a cover of Swan Lake.
Lyrically it’s an equally diverse affair. Observational lyrics like Land Of Hope & Glory (which is either about joining the army or going to borstal – never have been sure which) and Bed & Breakfast Man (about a freeloading friend with a habit of outstaying his welcome) nustle up against fantasy vignettes (Night Boat To Cairo), tales of relationship woes (My Girl) and moments of nudge-nudge Carry On silliness (In The Middle Of The Night). This mix of social commentary, humour, pathos and the downright daft echoes that of the band’s heroes, Ray Davies and Ian Dury; it’s also, of course, a key part of why Madness have retained a place in so many Brits’ hearts for three and a half decades!
For those that do own a copy of One Step Beyond already – welcome back, by the way – you’ll be wanting to know about the extras that make it work reinvesting. The first of these is a DVD that features promo videos for the four singles, five TOTP and Old Grey Whistle Test performances, and a half-hour 2000 documentary that originally formed part of the BBC’s Young Guns series. But perhaps more importantly, there’s also the small matter of tracks 16-29 on the audio CD, which are taken from a recently rediscovered rehearsal tape from April 1979. These include many tracks from One Step Beyond, a couple from follow-up album Absolutely and, most excitingly, two songs that have never been released before – Sunshine Voice and Lost My Head.
For anyone who doesn’t own a copy already, this album is a fairly essential purchase – a slice of UK musical history no self-respecting collection should be without. For those that do… well, we’ve all seen most of the videos/TV footage countless times, and it has to be said that while hearing the two ‘new’ songs is a major bonus, do bear in mind that the quality – both in terms of recording and performance – is about what you’d expect from a just-formed band recorded on a C90 in the late 70s! But I suspect that’s not going to put you off…
Verdict: A timeless classic everyone should own, with decent extras for those that already do