Madness have declared that David Bowie was not only a fan of the north London nutty boys, but was such a devotee that he took their 1979 hit “My Girl” as, ahem, inspiration for “Ashes to Ashes.”
Speaking at an event in London on November 21, drummer Daniel “Woody” Woodgate revealed: “David Bowie told us that he tried to rip off our song ‘My Girl’ but he couldn’t find the right drummer to do it.”
The third single to be taken from debut album One Step Beyond, “My Girl” was released in December 1979 and reached #3 in the British charts – giving the band their second top 10 single and biggest hit to that point.
Two months after “My Girl” charted, Bowie hit the studio to record “Ashes to Ashes” with longtime producer and collaborator Tony Visconti. That single was released the following August and gave the singer his second UK #1 (after 1975’s “Space Oddity” rerelease) as well as his fastest-selling single to date. It drew praise from the critics, with Billboard magazine admiring the song’s “rock and dance beats” and the unique manner in which its “tight rock rhythms lay the groundwork for the nuance-rich melody.” It has also been described as a crucial influence on the emerging New Romantic scene of the time.
Despite this, nobody – other than Madness and Bowie themselves, perhaps – apparently noticed the similarity between those “rock and dance beats” and Suggs and co.’s hit from the winter before. Over 40 years later, Woody himself still insists that had the Thin White Duke only been a little more upfront in the first place, history could have been very different. “He should have just asked me,” he told the London audience. “If you listen to both songs, they sound the same.”
Madness are currently riding high in the charts 47 years after their beginnings as rowdy ska outfit the North London Invaders. Most recent album Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie – their thirteenth studio long-player as Madness, and their first since 2016’s Can’t Touch Us Now – is widely expected to top the British charts in the first week of its release and has received near-universal acclaim, even drawing comparison to fellow London-chroniclers The Kinks.
The band themselves have described the ethos behind the record as letting “Madness be Madness” and “the perfect antidote to the chaos of the past few years.” The album was preceded by the single “C’est la Vie,” and is supported by a sellout 13 date British tour throughout November and December 2023.
As well as revealing their brush with David Bowie, Suggs also recalled meeting fellow legend Paul McCartney – though declined to mention if Macca had also tried to “rip off” any of their tunes.
“We used to go to the Toucan in Soho Square and his [McCartney’s] office was just round the corner,” he told the London event. “The mate I was with was the biggest Beatles fan. So Paul walked past and I asked if he wanted a drink and he said ‘yes.’ He stayed for a little while and chatted, which was nice but when he left, my mate drank the dregs of his drink.”