Madness

On Step Beyond/Absolutely

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Released in 1979, ONE STEP BEYOND marked the debut of the "rockin'-est rocksteady beat" of Madness. Formed in London, the septet specialized in exuberant sax-and-piano-led ska that incorporated both pop smarts and a vintage English music-hall sound. Unabashedly influenced by reggae legend Prince Buster--as most obviously evinced on "The Prince," a rollicking tune that showcases the group's instrumental prowess--the Madness lads were both inspired and energetic, and their enthusiasm translated into U.K. chart success with the careening title track (a Buster composition) and "My Girl," a charming tale of love versus lethargy carried by the hapless Cockney narrative of frontman Graham "Suggs" McPherson. A truly dynamic outing, BEYOND balanced blatant wackiness (see "Tarzan's Nuts" and "Chipmunks Are Go!") with a burgeoning sense of sophistication (the lush, layered "Night Boat to Cairo"), laying the foundation for later hits, most notably the inescapable "Our House." Although there are many Madness compilations available, this album is ideal for those wanting to get in on the ground floor.