Madness: Graham McPherson (vocals); Chris Foreman (guitar); Lee Thompson (tenor & baritone saxophones, background vocals); Cathal Smyth (horns, background vocals); Mike Barson (keyboards); Mark Bedford (bass); Dan Woodgate (drums, percussion).
Additional personnel: Creighton Steel Sounds, The Pentecostal First Born Church Of The Living God.
Compilation producer: Dana G. Smart.
Recorded between 1979 and 1985. Includes liner notes by Sara Cody.
Digitally remastered by Jim Phillips (Universal Mastering).
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. ~ Jo-Ann Greene