501. ‘House of Fun’, by Madness

On then with the next five hundred. With only the second ska act to hit top spot…

House of Fun, by Madness (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 23rd May – 6th June 1982

In many ways this is a world away from The Specials, both the punky snarl of ‘Too Much Too Young’ and the subtle anger of ‘Ghost Town’. And yet there are clear similarities too. There are a lot of the same instruments here, for example. They’re just being used in a more fun way. A lot of horns (‘horn’ being the key word here…)

Not many songs have been written about the ordeals of teenage boys trying to buy their first box of condoms. There may only have been one: this one. But ‘House of Fun’ is pretty definitive. After this, nobody else needed to bother. Sixteen today, And up for fun, I’m a big boy now, Or so they say… The lad knows what he wants, but he can’t bring himself to say it. He asks for ‘balloons’, ‘party poppers’ and ‘party hats with the coloured tips’…

Welcome to the house of fun, Now I’ve come of age… Fittingly, the song title itself is a double-entendre. The ‘House of Fun’ refers to the terrifying world of sex that this boy is glimpsing… Welcome to the lion’s den, Temptation’s on its way… But it’s also the name of the joke shop that the cashier packs him off to with a flea in his ear.

I’m loathe to say it, because I don’t think our sense of humour is as unique as we like to think, but this is very British. Very music-hall-for-the-1980s, pantomime, nudge nudge wink wink… It’s cheeky, and chirpy, and genuinely funny in the third verse when the boy’s nosy neighbours enter the shop and sense gossip unfolding. Madness are not a band I know especially well, away from the big hits, and I’ve always found them slightly… annoying? ‘Driving in My Car’ and ‘Our House’ are a bit too perky for my liking. Here, though, the cheekiness of the song sees it through. I’m glad that it was this record that gave the band their sole number one.

Another similarity to their chart-topping ska predecessors is the way in which this record mimics ‘Ghost Town’s fairground vibe. That was the haunted house, obviously, while this is a runaway rollercoaster. The album version in particular has a pretty cool finale in which the song crashes to an end and fades out on an old-fashioned organ. Interestingly, ‘House of Fun’ existed for a long time without the chorus, which was created in order for it be released as a single.

Madness, then, join the illustrious club of huge acts with just one #1 to their name… Dusty Springfield, Status Quo, ELO… ‘House of Fun’ was the band’s eleventh Top 10 single. I was first aware of them thanks to lead singer Suggs’ solo career in the mid-90s, when he re-introduced the world to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’. But his band were untouchable in the early-‘80s, with only one release from a run of sixteen (!) failing to make the Top 10, between 1979 and 1983. They are the band with the highest number of weeks in the charts for the entire decade (tied with UB40), and were scoring hits well into the 21st century.

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