Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the music urban legends featured so far.
MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: The head of Madness’ record company bet his company that “It Must Be Love” would be a hit.
Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera’s Stiff Records was definitely one of the more offbeat record companies of the late 1970s/early 1980s.
Just click here to see a sample logo they used in the late 1970s (be warned, profanity is included in the logo!)
Riviera left the company in 1978, and as part of his separation agreement, he took Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe with him.
Luckily for Robinson, in 1979 he signed the band Madness, whose commercial success throughout the early 1980s basically kept the label afloat, financially.
Some time in late 1980/early 1981, Madness keyboardist Mike Barson heard Labi Siffre’s song “It Must Be Love,” which was released as a single in 1971 (it reached #14 on the UK charts).
Barson worked out a new arrangement of the song and the band would often play it on encores at the end of their shows.
Dave Robinson thought that the song would be a hit.
The band disagreed.
Not only that, but seeing as how they were already quite successful with their own material, they did not feel like releasing a cover song.
Robinson insisted that their version of the song would be a big success – a top five smash, and success like that would be worth it, even if it were not their song.
Still, though, the band did not believe it.
That’s when Robinson made a striking offer – if they released their version of the song and it did NOT reach the Top Five in the UK Charts, Robinson would give them Stiff Records!!
Says Robinson, “I had to guarantee to give the band my entire record company to get them to put this out”
The band agreed, and in late 1981, they released “It Must Be Love.”
And sure enough, the song reached #4 on the singles charts in the UK and even reached #33 on the US charts!
The song had a music video, and Labi Siffre makes a cute cameo in it.
Now, of course, a few points…
A. We don’t know for sure that Richards would have actually gone through with his bet
B. We don’t know if Madness would even WANT him to go through with his offer
C. We don’t know if Madness agreed to release the single as part of the bet or just because they were impressed by Robinson’s devotion to the idea
D. We don’t know if getting Stiff Records would be even that much of a prize at that particular point in time, when Madness was basically the only thing keeping the company afloat (It would eventually fold in 1985).
But do not let those silly letters distract you from the cool story of a company head betting his company on a song becoming a hit!
The legend is…
STATUS: True (with the stated qualifications)
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org