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Madness: Ultimate Collection

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Album Review

Inevitably, if one calls one's compilation Ultimate Collection, you're going to have some smug journalist replying, "Ultimate collection? I think not." Then again, Madness chalked up quite an impressive list of hits, and even at a generous 19 tracks, this album couldn't fit them all. So then it's down to choices. Chart placement obviously wasn't a factor, or "Driving in My Car," a British Top Five, would be here and "Yesterday's Men," a lowly number 18, wouldn't, while A- sides would not have been supplanted by their flips. Sometimes listeners get both, as with "Tomorrow's (Just Another Day)" and its B-side "Madness (Is All in the Mind)." But best of all, we're offered the original 45 take, not the album versions later most fans are now familiar with. Thus their debut single "The Prince" comes in its singular robes, not its album garb, as does its flip "Madness." August 1985's "Yesterday's Men" is the latest release of the lot, although the group knocked out three more singles before splitting. Inevitably, though, the tracks are not in chronological order, but since the earliest songs are wisely placed at the beginning, this doesn't particularly irritate. Helpfully, the track listing provides both release dates and UK chart placements, part of a copious booklet which includes a well-researched biography and photographs that complete the sumptuous packaging. The true ultimate collection is the box set that gathers up all the group's A- and B-sides, plus a bumper crop of rarities, but if that's just too much Madness, this will probably suit better.

Customer Reviews

I can't give more stars than this without

One Step Beyond

Unrepresentative of the Nutty Boys As a Whole

For iTunes to exclude the first eight songs of this compilation is an utter crime: "One Step Beyond," "My Girl," "Night Boat to Cairo," "Baggy Trousers," "Madness," "The Prince," "Embarassment," and "The Return of the Los Palmas 7"-almost each and every one of those songs was a top-ten hit in the U.K., and an adequate, yet incomplete, document of the band as a solid ska revival outfit (the mixes of "Madness" and "The Prince" used in this compilation, though, are not from the "One Step Beyond..." album-beware!). This isn't to say songs such as "House of Fun" (Madness's biggest U.K. hit!), "Our House" (their biggest U.S. hit!), "Tomorrow's (Just Another Day)" and "Shut Up" aren't interesting. Nevertheless, this is obviously an incomplete picture of the band and, until the album is expanded, deserves nothing more than a two. Include the eight missing songs and I'll gladly upgrade this to a four.

The Ultimate Collection would be a bit longer...

So let's get the negative stuff out of the way up front: You really want about 25 tracks to really get the Boys' best stuff. This is 19. Back in the 80's as a DJ at a pirate nee college (don't ask...) station, I had some tracks I played almost every show that are not here, but griping over that is EGO... Madness is the example band of "second wave" British Ska which may be the most accessible to US listeners, and this collection is a good (albeit tight) sample of their work. If all you know is "Our House" (late 80's hit in the US ) or "It Must Be Love" (2005 Levi's ad song) and you want to know what else that band did and where they came from, these 19 tracks are a good view. Not the perfect view, but the world is not perfect and CD's are limited. This disk is worth buying as a serious sample, and if you like it you should find your local music-geek store where all of the UK releases are in the Import bin, and buy ALL of them. Madness is that good, and this disk will give you a true enough feel for them to know whether to spend a stack of bills to have their whole work. I think you should. Then go check out Selector, The Specials, and the other Two-Tone bands. If you like Madness, you owe it to yourself to look at their colleagues.


Formed: 1978 in Camden, London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Along with the Specials, Madness were one of the leading bands of the ska revival of the late '70s and early '80s. As their career progressed, Madness branched away from their trademark "nutty sound" and incorporated large elements of Motown, soul, and British pop. Although the band managed one crossover American hit in 1983, they remained a British phenomenon, influencing several successive generations of musicians and becoming one of the most beloved groups the country produced during the '80s....
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