Thursday, 30 August 2012

Madness 'Uncle Sam'

Chart Peak: 21


Madness' first single of 1985 'Yesterday's Me' became their 20th consecutive Top 20 single in Britain. The follow-up, 'Uncle Sam' had just entered the Top 40 by the end of October and was beginning its climb.

Bad luck again here, because in the event this fell once place short and became the first single of their entire career to miss out on a Top 20 placing. Their next single couldn't even made the Top 30 and the one after that was a farewell release, for a while at least. This track comes from their last studio album of the 1980s, Mad Not Mad, and as the title implies they were at a slightly confused time in their career, even more directly political and gradually shredding the nutty image that had made them famous. Sometimes this worked pretty well - the aforementioned 'Yesterday's Men' was one of their straightest singles and whilst it's probably not anyone's favourite Madness song it's an enjoyable number that should probably be better remembered than it actually is.

The trouble with 'Uncle Sam' is that it seems to fall between two stools, somewhat, attempting both to make a serious point (about the relationship between the British and American military) and to restore the old japery; but it sounds like their hearts aren't really in it. On a commentary track on the now-deleted Divine Madness DVD, keyboard player Mike Barson (who had of course left the band by this point) mentions that nobody plays the off-beat, which would have improved things significantly but still not made this a classic Madness single because the songwriting isn't really up to scratch. It has the air of a forced attempt at a single when they'd left this style behind a bit. Even the video feels a bit like a rehash of past glories, although there's a subtle touch with Lee Thompson's blue face make-up, presumably a reference to their earlier (and better) anti-war song 'Blue Skinned Beast'. And a nice nostalgic view of the old John Lewis Partnership logo at 2:46.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3, 8, 21, 43
Available on: Mad Not Mad

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