I discovered Madness about the same time everyone else in North America did — the spring of 1983, when “Our House” (and the Geffen compilation) were released in the USA. But, oh, how do I put this? I became obsessed with Madness. (I still am.) I was one of the few people who found their other two US releases — One Step Beyond and Absolutely were both issued by Sire Records — in addition to the Geffen compilation. And I remember how excited I was when their 1984 LP, Keep Moving, came out.
The US edition of Keep Moving included two late 1983 singles that were not on the UK edition — “Wings of a Dove,” a song Madness wrote and recorded with an Afro-British pentecostal church choir in mind, and “The Sun and the Rain,” which was their last UK top-10 single until 1999’s “Lovestruck.”
“The Sun and the Rain” is very close to a perfect pop song. Everything about this tune just makes me happy — the bounce that begins with the piano, Daniel Woodgate’s driving drums pounding tightly with Mark Bedford’s bass, Suggs’ vocal (I’ve always found his voice a little thin, but it’s a thinness that works with just about everything he sings), the honking of Lee Thompson’s sax and Dick Cuthell’s flugelhorn, and the strings. Again, like “Will She Always be Waiting,” the strings make this song me. (It’s a little clearer in this crappy recording of the 12-inch mix, which pulls the strings out a bit and separates them from the vocals, especially toward the end.) They hold the songs together, give it a weight and a cheerfulness I don’t think it has otherwise (as the version from Madstock suggests, though this live version is better done, largely because of the horns and strings right there on stage).
If anything, this song reminds me of San Francisco, of walking — maybe even skipping (I’m asking those who know me to imagine me skipping) — along sidewalks and streets, splashing in puddles, at night, under streetlights, as busses and streetcars pass by. And even in this, there is just a slight hint of darkness in this song (I swear, there feels like there’s a minor chord in there somewhere). Not quite the cheerful little jaunt it first presents itself as. This is life in the city, in the rainy evening, when inexplicable joy has swallowed everything else, had reduced the awfulness of life and the world to absolute wet nothing. Because it’s raining, and you can feel it on your face, squishing in your shoes. You are drenched. And because of all this, you know you are still here. And alive.
Everything is wonderful. And amazing.
If this version weren’t enough, the French duo Indeed (who seem only to do Madness covers) turned a bouncy little pop song into something entirely different. And astounding. I don’t know how to categorize this version, except that’s it fragile and beautiful and possibly the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. What is NOT to love about her voice? (Pay attention to what they do with that string arrangement…)