Madness achieved most of their success in the early to mid 1980s. Both Madness and UB40 spent 214 weeks on the UK singles charts over the course of the decade, holding the record for most weeks spent by a group in the 1980s UK singles charts. However, Madness achieved this in a shorter time period (1980-1986).
The core of the band formed as The Invaders in 1976, and included Mike Barson (Monsieur Barso) on keyboards and vocals, Chris Foreman (Chrissy Boy) on guitar and Lee Thompson (Kix) on saxophone and vocals. They later recruited John Hasler on drums and Cathal Smyth (better known as Chas Smash) on bass guitar. Later in the year, they were joined by lead vocalist "Dikron".
This six-piece lineup lasted until part way through 1977, when Graham McPherson (better known as Suggs) took over the lead vocals after seeing the band perform in a friend's garden. Smyth, who left after an argument with Mike Barson, was replaced by Gavin Rodgers, Barson's girlfriend's brother. McPherson was kicked out of the band for too often choosing to watch Chelsea instead of rehearsing. Thompson left the band after Barson criticised his saxophone playing.
19791981: Early success
In 1979, the band recorded the Lee Thompson composition "The Prince".The song, like the band's name, paid homage to their idol, Prince Buster. The song was released through 2 Tone Records, the label of The Specials founder Jerry Dammers. The song was a surprise hit, peaking in the UK music charts at number 16. A performance of "The Prince" on popular UK music show Top of the Pops helped Madness gain public recognition. Madness then toured with fellow 2 Tone bands The Specials and The Selecter, before recording their debut album, One Step Beyond..., which was released by Stiff Records. The album included a re-recording of "The Prince" and its B-side "Madness", and the band's second and third singles: "One Step Beyond" and "My Girl". The title song was a cover of the B-side of the 1960s Prince Buster hit "Al Capone". One Step Beyond... stayed in the British charts for 37 weeks, peaking at number 2. After the release of "My Girl", the band felt that they had exhausted the material from One Step Beyond..., and did not want to release any more singles from the album. However, Dave Robinson, head of Stiff Records, disagreed. Eventually, a compromise was made, and the band decided to release an EP featuring one album track and three new tracks. The result was the Work Rest and Play EP, which was headlined by the song "Night Boat to Cairo", from the One Step Beyond album. The EP reached number 6 in the UK singles chart.
The following year, the band's second album, Absolutely reached number 2 in the UK album charts. Absolutely spawned some of the band's biggest hits, most notably "Baggy Trousers", which peaked at number 3 in the UK singles chart. "Embarrassment" reached number 4 in the charts, and the instrumental song "Return of the Los Palmas 7" climbed to number 7. Although the album reviews were generally less enthusiastic than those of One Step Beyond..., they were mostly positive. Robert Christgau gave the album a favourable B- grade, but Rolling Stone Magazine awarded the album just one out of five stars. Rolling Stone was particularly scathing of the ska revival in general, stating that "The Specials wasn't very good" and Madness were simply "the Blues Brothers with English accents".
Take It or Leave It is a drama documentary film released in 1981. It features the band members playing themselves in a re-creation of their early days to the then current period.
By 1978, the band had allowed McPherson to return, after filling in temporarily for Hasler (who had taken over vocals when McPherson was removed). Thompson returned after patching things up with Barson, and Daniel Woodgate (Woody) and Mark Bedford (Bedders) also joined the band, on drums, replacing Garry Dovey, and bass guitar, replacing Gavin Rodgers, respectively. After briefly changing their name to Morris and the Minors, the band renamed itself as Madness; paying homage to one of their favourite songs by ska/reggae artist Prince Buster. The band remained a sextet until late 1979, when Chas Smash rejoined and officially became the seventh member of Madness as a backing vocalist and trumpet player.