It's probably one of the more pessimistic songs I've ever heard from Madness. I knew, before I'd heard it, that it was their first b-side.
It was the B-side to their second single 'One Step Beyond...' (their first single was 'The Prince' but its B-side was a cover of the real Prince Buster's song 'Madness,' where the band gets its name).
I heard it once a bit of a while ago and found I didn't really like it largely for its ending - there's this tough drum-led, bad luck-sounding pessimistic sound to it.
Much time later I would hear it (but not recognize it) in the band's film Take it or Leave it. There's a scene in which Mark Bedford, the bassist, joins the band for rehearsal for the first time (being well-dressed for the occasion) and after Mike Barson tells him the notes, they begin playing that song (well, rehearsing it, and with then-lead singer John Hasler on vocals and former drummer Gary Dovey on drums).
In the film I kind of liked it, or liked the sound of it. I wondered what it was (not realizing I'd heard it before, which is very unusual for me) until earlier this week when the big Madness keyboardist on YouTube (not Mike Barson, a guy who does perfect covers of Mike Barson) uploaded a fifty-five minute video of him playing an entire live performance set of their songs on organ. 'Mistakes' was in the set and he played it. And I instantly made the connection.
The rehearsed version of the song is different in beat and bass a little, but essentially it sounds the same. I looked for a proper recorded version of the b-side and listened.
My reaction was what I begin this post with. Probably the most pessimistic or worrying song I've heard by them.
I have a large reason to think it was written by Mike Barson, who was always regarded as the pessimist in the band. In the film he's the guy who doesn't think they'll go anywhere often, though this pessimism is also what helps the disciplinarian in the keyboardist, as he was essentially the musical director in the band; most of their best songs were written by him. He's the one who's probably painted as the leader the most. He kept everyone in order.
Checking online my expectation holds - it was written by him. The lyrics all talk about the horrible things that make life hard, or how easy it is to lose or fail at things and the bad outcomes of that. It begins with "It's not so easy to find out later, about the necessary skills for survival."
The music is much the same; the bass sounds worrying and like its constantly harping on something.
As the song is negative, it also sounds very much like it was recorded when the band were not yet perfectly skilled at playing things smoothly. The drums might sound slightly off or out of temp now and then, and Suggs (the lead vocalist by that point) sometimes struggles with fitting words into verses. He has to scramble to say 'opportunity' at the beginning of one verse due to how he sings the rest of the song.
The piano/organ is its usual high standard, and the bass is right on. The guitar plays a very simple bit of notes that also shows the limited range of its player as well (in the beginning, it has been noted by the band, the only real good instrumentalists were Mark, Mike and Woody on bass, keyboards and drums, respectively). The sax isn't bad though. I like the keyboard.
Again, I don't really like the ending because it gets too hard-off-sounding. Slow, dramatic drums, a guitar repeating over and over, everything sounding like something bad is about to happen...
I'd give the music a B- and the lyrics a C+.
The conversation at the beginning is probably some sort of radio interview with what sounds like the band's manager Dave Robinson. Another song called 'Nutty Theme' (which I have never heard before) starts after the song, but listening to that is your decision. I have nothing to say about that.