The practice of rock ‘n’ roll archaeology continuously accelerates as the decades race by. At this late date – and given the countless rock compilation albums that have been issued since the 1980s, & the growing number of albums that have been issued to represent many deservedly overlooked vintage bands – it comes as a supreme surprise to discover any group whose old music demands one’s full attention.
Sweet Madness is perhaps the perfect example.
Formed in Spokane in 1978 – a time period when that town had zero cultural space for punk, New Wave, or anything
musically interesting – Sweet Madness toiled in predictable obscurity
without breaking through commercially in any measurable way. But as
energetic and highly creative young men, the quartet focused admirably
on their craft: writing impossibly catchy tunes, playing whatever gigs
they could conjure, and – to our great luck – taking the initiative to
cut plenty of their originals at numerous recording studios across the
In that pre-Grunge Era – when our local music biz infrastructure was
still in its infancy – it was the extremely rare local band that managed
to rise above the legions of other bands and achieve any notable
success. To get a manager was a miracle. To actually cut a record was
highly unlikely. To get that record on the radio was almost
unprecedented. Many tried. Many failed. When the Heats’ “I Don’t Like
Your Face” 45 became a minor “powerpop” hit on a handful of regional
radio stations in 1980 all the scenesters took notice. Then, somehow, the Allies and Rail each saw their new music videos
airing on MTV, and when the Young Fresh Fellows’ debut album was
reviewed by Rolling Stone in 1984, that fact was the
talk-of-the-town for weeks. In 1985 both the U-Men and Green River each
signed to New York’s cool Homestead label and the excitement was
palpable all across town…even though, the looming rise of Seattle’s Sub
Pop label (and the all-conquering Grunge phenomena) were yet
Still, by that point in time it was just plain too late for some of
the scene’s most promising early talents including Red Dress, the
Blackouts, and the Visible Targets. So the vast majority of the era’s
bands were destined to basically be forgotten footnotes in music
history. Which is downright unjust. It is also why us fans of Northwest
sounds were thrilled to death with the release, a couple years back, of
Sweet Madness’ Made In Spokane 1978-1981 album
– as distributed by Seattle’s mega-successful Light In The Attic label.
The disc won rave reviews far and wide, which undoubtedly helped prompt
the recent  release of the Made In Spokane 1978-1981 Volume 2
album. Both are chock full of delightfully quirky, but fully realized,
rock tunes that might easily have remained locked away in the
subterranean pop-memory vaults of only the band-members themselves and
perhaps a few loyal fans.
Instead, we can all now gaze back and play the mental game of: What If.
What if Sweet Madness had managed to score a few more connections with Seattle’s fledgling music-oriented media? What if
those young Spokeville rockers had gotten a shot at playing better gigs
on the New Wave era dance-club scene? What if they’d signed a recording
contract with a savvy label? What if kindred big-time outside
bands – like, say, Split Enz, or Oingo Boingo, or Squeeze – had gotten
the chance to hear them and maybe bring them along on tour? What if? What if? What if?
Well, of course, now we’ll never know. But with these Sweet Madness songs readily available I know
that a lot of us somehow overlooked a terribly promising band, and it
is simply everyone’s loss that we weren’t able to encourage them along
their rightful path to greater success. Next time, as a creative
community, let’s all be more vigilant & try and do a bit better, agreed?