[10 November 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The 33 1/3 series of short, pocket-sized books about specific albums has, over its nearly seven year run, put out an increasingly impressive line of titles by a variety of authors, from Exile on Main Street as told by Bill Janovitz to the Replacements’ Let it Be as experienced by the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. Now comes Terry Edwards’ inside scoop on the story of the making of the classic Madness debut disc One Step Beyond…, and, much like the album itself, One Step Beyond—the book—is a little unusual, a bit nutty and quite brilliant.
Terry Edwards is a musician and sometime Madness collaborator who was around during the events leading up to the recording and release of One Step Beyond…, so not only is he uniquely qualified to discuss the band and the music, he’s also got a lot of amusing insider stories, as well as objective outsider context, with which to piece together various perspectives and create a more complete picture.
This is particularly helpful at points when the material has the potential to become repetitive (such as the recurrent comments about several songs lacking proper choruses). Edwards avoids monotony by inserting band anecdotes or his own witty asides at precisely the right moments to keep the narrative moving along. Like other 33 1/3 titles, One Step Beyond follows a one-chapter-per-track format. Unlike the few others I’ve read, it doesn’t keep those chapter boundaries very strictly, instead letting the tales take the lead. This allows for a much more informative and entertaining progression. It also allows the distinctive personalities of all those involved to come through, which is at least as important as what is said about the music, especially in the case of a band like Madness!
In addition to his own memories of the time, Edwards spoke to producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, Stiff Records’ Dave Robinson, John Hasler (designated “Minder” on the record sleeve) and Madness members Mike “Barso” Barson, Chrissy Boy (Chris Foreman), Thommo (Lee “Kix” Thompson), Bedders (Mark Bedford), Chas Smash (Cathal Smyth), Woody (Dan Woodgate), and Suggs (who also has another name, but no one ever uses it). Each chapter is prefaced by a lyrical excerpt (lots of Ian Dury, incidentally), or by a pertinent quote from a band member, either about the song in question or a band mate.
Each of these seems to be Edwards’ way of clueing readers to the fact that he isn’t just going to discuss musical arrangements and in-studio details (though, there is plenty of that included for the more technically obsessed, too). In fact, Chapter 8 begins with a lyric from “Sweet Gene Vincent” about being on the road and continues with several funny-but-true paragraphs about how rock music really revolves around laundry, before getting into the other laundry-related subject that is the a central theme of “In the Middle of the Night.” Edwards jumps from song to song and album to album tying together threads about this topic before bringing the whole thing full circle with a suitable quip. He does this so beautifully with the rest of the chapters/tracks, too, weaving actual incidents with insight into the song structures, confirming or refuting rumors about the meanings behind lyrics (sometimes both, depending on who he’s spoken to), commenting on the social and political subjects sometimes hidden in the songs, and providing tidbits of trivia.
One of the most interesting, if fairly obvious, aspects of this book is its exploration of the slight misnomer in calling Madness’ music ska. Despite timely association with the 2-Tone record label and its surrounding movement of England’s second wave of ska in the late 1970s, Madness was not exactly a ska band by the then-current definition. There were some ska rhythms on One Step Beyond…, but several other songs really had more in common with soul or pub rock. Even Madness’ takes on ska (like “The Prince” or the cover of “One Step Beyond”) sound entirely different from contemporaries such as the Specials and the Beat. However, the band members’ collective admiration of Prince Buster (for those who don’t know, the band took its name from one of his hits) may have been enough to file them under the term, and clearly they were smart enough to jump on the opportunities the second wave offered.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Madness, and of the release of One Step Beyond…. Along with the two-disc deluxe edition re-release, Terry Edwards’ One Step Beyond is a perfect companion piece and a great way to commemorate a brilliant album.