Chart Peak: 11
A pivotal track in the band's history. Last time Madness cropped up, I mentioned that Mike Barson had left the band shortly afterwards, and this is dramatically illustrated in the video, where he appears only at the start. 'Michael Caine' was the first single from Keep Moving, the album they made while he was serving out his notice, and it sounds very like a band looking for a new direction. In fact, at least once when this record has come up on the radio, I've been asked by someone else in the room whether it really was Madness, so unlike their most famous material does it sound. Of course, the most obvious reason for that is that it's not Suggs on lead vocal, but rather Chas Smash, whom you rarely hear singing on a hit. And whilst long-serving producers Langer & Winstanley were still on board, they've moved towards what was then a contemporary sound, adding the sampled backing vocals and layers of keyboards that now date the record terribly.
The song itself uses the typical Madness trick of tackling a serious subject but hiding it with humour. In this instance, the topic is (I later learnt) IRA informants, hence the paranoia described in the third-person versions and the quiet desperation of the first-person chorus. Seldom can the phrase "There's panic and I hear somebody scream" have been uttered so sweetly. The more jocund elements come in the famous actor's interjections (he famously had to be talked into it by his daughter) - live versions without this part sound decidedly odd. Somewhere in the middle are the sound effects, which relate to the serious content of the lyric. The telephone is so perfectly timed I almost regret mentioning it.
The song proved to be pivotal in their career too: in peaking at 11 it seemed to prove that their run of Top 10 hits was at an end. Partly because of this relative obscurity, this has become one of my favourite Madness songs now, and remains on my MP3 player even after a lot of their more celebrated material has moved on.
And just to ensure that I got my money's worth from buying the Now album, I can confirm that it disappointingly omits Caine's "I think we got it there, don't you?" after the fade-out.
Also appearing on:
Available on: Eight Madness Tracks [MP3 album]
Charting 1997: 27th December
4 years ago