Always much more popular in their native Britain, the seven-man new wave ska band Madness are mainly (and somewhat erroneously) known here as a one hit wonder. That hit, “Our House” which hit the Billboard Top 10 in the summer of ’83, remains a staple of 80s party playlists. It’s a great song, but it’s tended to overshadow the rest of the band’s copious singles catalog from their classic 1979 45 “One Step Beyond” (The best instrumental single of the 70s? Oh yes, probably.) to quirky numbers like “Baggy Trousers” and the so-adorable-so-heartbreaking “My Girl”: “Why can’t she see, she’s lovely to me, but I like to stay in and watch TV on my own every now and then.”
Madness “My Girl” (1979)
“My Girl” was the second of more than a dozen top ten singles the band had in the U.K. But it took four years for the band to get any airplay here. After “Our House” finally broke the band to a big American audience, instead of releasing a new song as the follow-up, they reached back into their catalog for one of their most beloved previous hits, “It Must Be Love”, a cover of a 1972 song by folk-pop singer-songwriter Labi Siffre which went to #4 in the UK in 1981. (This selection only made sense in that the group’s self-titled U.S. debut album was essentially a greatest hits compilation – Labi Siffre was even more unknown to U.S. audiences than Madness was. He still is.) “It Must Be Love” wasn’t a total flop – it still managed to break into the American Top 40, but it never made it into the second hour of Casey Kasem’s weekly broadcast. Nevertheless, it remains the band’s second-biggest American hit, and until Volkswagen started airing commercials for the new Passat, it was mostly forgotten, even by the 80s kids.
Madness “It Must Be Love” (1981)
Madness’s cover of “It Must Be Love” was and remains Labi Siffre’s biggest American hit. Most of his albums weren’t even released in the U.S. until the last couple of years (and even then, only by digital download. You want a hard copy, it’s gonna be an import.) That said, Siffre does share a writing credit on Eminem’s 1999 single “My Name Is…” due to the fact that it samples Siffre’s 1975 song “I Got The…”, a very sexy song with one hell of an awesome breakdown. At that time, Eminem was getting a lot of flak for his apparent homophobia. Ironically, it was the openly gay Siffre’s bassline and electric piano hook from that sexy, sexy mid-song breakdown that anchored Em’s first really big hit. Check it out:
Labi Siffre “I Got The” (1975)