Song: "One Step Beyond"
Album: One Step Beyond...
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Though it goes without saying that each person will have their on particular style of music to which they are drawn and prefer, there are certain sounds and bands that for one reason or another, are universal in their appeal. Often due to either being so unique, or finding the ability to convey and energy and presence that cannot be ignored, such wide a range of musical pull is more commonly found within bands that play a more upbeat and brighter sound. This can most clearly be seen within the so-called "third wave" of ska music that began to rise out of England at the tail-end of the 1970's, and many of the bands and songs of that era remain in regular radio rotation across the globe. Among an select few bands at the forefront of this movement, there is an uncommon sense of enjoyment and merriment found within the music of Madness, and few groups have so flawlessly blended together so many genres as one can experience in their music. Bringing together the sounds of punk, reggae, and in many cases, pop-dance, Madness brought a ska style that was completely unique, and their 1979 debut, One Step Beyond... stands as one of the most wonderfully infectious albums ever released. Adding a bit of quirky, almost maniacal humor and energy to the ska sound, there are few songs that better define the wildly engaging and entertaining sound of Madness better than their take on the albums' classic title track.
The moment that "One Step Beyond" begins, the entire attitude of the album and band are clearly defined, as the group lifts the opening lines from 1971's "Monkey Spanner," adding their own lines onto the end. Yet vocalist Suggs makes the words almost a bit haunting, but at the same time completely captivating, setting the stage for an all out party atmosphere. After Cathal "Chas" Smyth calls it, "...the heavy heavy monster sound, the nuttiest sound around...," he calls for the listeners to get up on their feet, and the band instantly drops in at full energy. The musical assault is led by the blaring saxophone of Lee "Kix" Thompson, and as soon as he begins playing, there is a sultry, swaggering, late night tone to the song. For modern listeners, the music from the film Pulp Fiction will come quickly to mind, and yet even without this link, the saxophone demands the listener to get involved. Throughout the song, Thompson never lets up the energy, and it is his presence and playing that separates the song from those of their peers. His sound is perfectly complimented by the bouncing keyboards of Mike Barson, and it is his performance that roots "One Step Beyond" firmly in the ska style. His sound is truly the "classic" ska sound, and one cannot help but skank along to his fantastic rhythm. The random shouts of the songs' title from Smyth are so randomly placed that one can easily argue it was little more than him getting caught up in the mood, as this is the same reaction one has to the song, even after hearing it countless times.
Along with the absolutely phenomenal performance from Thompson and Barson, the rhythm section of Madness is clearly in top form for "One Step Beyond." Drummer Daniel Woodgate keeps up one of the most high-paced, yet relaxed tempos ever recorded, and it is the way that he is able to keep the high level of energy intact without "overplaying" that makes this recording so significant. He also manages to reinforce the lofty sense of movement that runs throughout the song, providing an ideal base of the work of bass player Mark Bedford. It is within Bedford's performance where the deep groove of "One Step Beyond" resides, and the way that he manages to make it blend perfectly with the bounce of the rest of the band is something that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated. If somehow the keyboards don't get you moving, the ascending and descending bassline is sure to grab any listener, and the almost third rhythm it creates makes "One Step Beyond" one of the most addictive songs ever recorded. It is also the way in which guitarist Chris Foreman blends seamlessly into the overall mix of the song, highlighting the amazing bounce, and completing what stands as a song that is the true embodiment of "joy." Throughout the quick two and a half minutes, the energy never dips for even a moment, and it is much the reason that as the decades have passed, the song remains a staple cover in ska style bands' live performances.
However, one of the most intriguing aspects of the Madness version of "One Step Beyond" is the fact that it is actually a cover song. The song is almost entirely an instrumental (aside from the random shouts), and it was written a man who in the liner notes is credited under the name, Cecil Campbell. While most will not recognize this name, within the world of ska music, he is known as none other than Prince Buster, and it was another of his hits that gave Madness their name. The performance by the entire band on "One Step Beyond" is a fitting tribute to the main source of their inspiration, and yet they also manage to take the original recording and give it their own, unique spin. Though the original is certainly fantastic, it is the faster pace and far larger sound provided by Madness that makes this cover superior on many levels. The saxophone, both in tone and progression is almost a mirror image, and yet Thompson manages to bring more attitude and "fire" to the performance, and it is also this additional spirit that pushes the song to greatness. Taking the song as an entire work, there are few others that can compare in terms of energy, and one can easily imagine the absolute "sweat-fest" that performances surely yielded due to the unrelenting nature of the band on this recording. Easily holding its own with every band that followed, there is no overstating just how wonderfully powerful and enjoyable an experience lives within Madness' stellar 1979 single, "One Step Beyond."