One of the quintessential singles bands, Madness created their own 'nutty sound' by combining straight Jamaican ska with a knockabout English music hall style and humour.
Although not averse to social or political commentary of their own, the main agenda of Madness was always to cock a wry snook at the ludicrousness of modern life, a stance that gave them legs well beyond the lifespan of the majority of the bands that emerged from Two Tone movement. And nowhere is this more evident on 'House Of Fun'.
Ostensibly a tale of a young man called Joe reaching the age of consent and trying to buy some condoms at his local chemist, 'House Of Fun' belts along at a cracking 126 beats per minute in a breakneck way that's maybe symbolic of the thrill being sixteen and on the verge of losing your virginity? Or maybe symbolic of the panicked heartbeat embarrassment of trying to buy condoms for the first time but not wanting to ask for them outright?
But symbolism? Pah! Who cares? 'House Of Fun' is a blast from start to finish, and besides, ska always was directed at the feet rather than the head. In fact, it only pauses for breath when the (adult) chemist 'speaks' to put the mockers on the Joe's excitement:
"I'm sorry son but we don't stock
Party gimmicks in this shop"
But it's short lived, and our hero is soon back to his jaunty best and giving the chemist some very British lip:
"Party hats, simple enough clear
Comprehende savvy understand - do you hear"?
Though his new found cockiness is soon deflated when local gossip 'Miss Clay' enters the shop:
"Too late! Gorgon heard gossip
Well hello Joe, hello Miss Clay, many happy returns from the day"
And therein lies the genius of the song; the whole vignette of this boy's experience is told and wrapped up in less than three minutes, but in a way that is timeless and as 'I remember that feeling' relevant today as the day it was written. And even if you never did have that experience, you can recognise lads like Joe in any street in the country. Those other great observers of British life in song Ray Davies or Paul McCartney could not have done better. And in the 1980's at least, they didn't.