Prince had considered the idea of an instrumental jazz-funk album ever since he recorded his first tracks with Eric Leeds for his 1985 side-project, The Family. In late 1985-early 1986, he recorded hours of instrumental music with Leeds and other musicians from his band, Sheila E. and musicians from her own band, as well as members from Wendy & Lisa's families. From these sessions, Prince compiled an album called The Flesh, supposed to be released by an eponymous pseudo-band, but the project was abandoned and its concept lightly modified to become Madhouse.
All instruments on "8", the first Madhouse album, were performed by Prince except for the saxophone and flute parts which were performed by Eric Leeds. The albums consists of instrumental jazz-fusion tracks. A remix of the track "Six" was released alongside with the b-side "Six & 1/2", composed by Leeds and featuring Atlanta Bliss on trumpet.
"16", the second Madhouse album, featured contributions by Leeds on saxophone and flute, Sheila E. on drums and Levi Seacer, Jr. on bass guitar (the three of them co-composed a few tracks besides playing on the album.) "Doctor" Matt Fink (keyboards) and John Lewis (drums) are also credited in the album's booklet but their participation to the recording is more than uncertain (though both were part of the short-lived live-version of the band.) "16" features more aggressive and minimalist jazz funk tracks than its predecessor. Two singles were released, "Ten" and "Thirteen", with the title tracks remixed and two b-sides.
The title of each song on each album is also its numerical designation on the record (e.g., the third song on the first album is titled, “Three”). Cover art for both albums featured Maneca Lightner playing with a small dog, reminiscent of a 1940s pinup photograph. The videos from "16" were more 1940s gangster-themed. The cover of "16" features the subtitle "new directions in garage music", which is a homage to Miles Davis' Directions in Music series (in 2002-2003, Prince would dub a jazz album series of his own "New Directions In Music") The only vocals on either album consisted mainly of choice snippets of audio lifted from the first two Godfather films and samples of Vanity simulating an orgasm (from the Vanity 6 outtake "Vibrator", later used on Prince's own song "Orgasm" from Come.) There is also a short unreleased movie, featuring Madhouse, named "Hard Life". Also from 1987.
In 1987, Madhouse served as an opening act for Prince's headlining tours, with each of the musicians heavily disguised in baggy cloaks and sunglasses, to be removed for the final set. Prince himself often guested with Madhouse, incognito.
At least two other Madhouse albums were later recorded and remain unreleased to this day, both of them being named "24". The first one was recorded in 1988, mostly by Prince and Eric Leeds. Only one track eventually emerged, severely edited, on Leeds' 1991 solo-album Times Squared and only bootlegged copies of the whole album are available. This album was more "electronic" than the first two, with a lot of drum programming, samples and keyboards. "21" through "24", also known as "The Dopamine Rush Suite", featured vocals as well.
The second one was recorded in 1993 with a line-up consisting of Prince (keyboards), Leeds (saxophone), Levi Seacer, Jr. (guitar), Sonny T. (bass) and Michael B. (drums). Only two tracks were officially released, "17 (Penetration)" (as "17" on the 1-800-NEW-FUNK 1994 compilation) and on the cd-single "Standing At The Altar", the other one "Asswoop" (or "Asswhuppin' in a Trunk") in 2001, via Prince's website. There was also a confidential release on a promo cassette called the NPG Sampler Experience", which contains excerpts from three tracks from this album: "Asswoop", "Ethereal Seque", and "Parlour Games". The "NPG Sampler Experience" was handed out during the Gold Tour in 1995. The whole album has been circulating on bootlegs too and it features more sophisticated arrangements than the first three albums.
- 8 (1987)
- 16 (1987)
- "Six" b/w "6 and 1/2"
- "Ten" b/w "Ten and 1/2"
- "Thirteen" b/w "Four"
- "Six" - "Six", "Six (End of the World Mix)", "6 and 1/2"
- "Ten" - "Ten (The Perfect Mix)", "Ten and 1/3"
- "Thirteen" - "Thirteen (The Paisley Park Mix)", "Thirteen and 1/4"