Madonna Ciccone, the third of eight children born to an Italian family in Michigan, USA. She went to university on a dance scholarship. Moved to New York City circa age 19, just as disco was all the rage. She mixed with various local bands - playing the drums, sometimes even singing. Creating club tracks led to Sire records signing her up, the rest is history. Now that Madonna has moved full circle with 'Confessions On A Dance Floor' and looking back over her self-titled debut, this is no mere 80s pop record. It's clear this is a dance-pop album, an album partly reinventing disco for the 80s. Framing Madonna's girlish hiccup of a voice are synthetic backing tracks co-created by Madonna, Warners/Sire producer Reggie Lucas and John "Jellybean" Benitez. Jellybean arrived late to the project after Madonna was unhappy with the original mixes. Five of the eight tracks here are Madonna compositions, by the way. The rest is made up of Lucas compositions ( 'Borderline' and 'Physical Attraction' ) plus 'Holiday', a song that found it's way to Madonna and then found its way right up to the heights of number sixteen on the Billboard 'Hot' 100. The 'Like A Virgin' album and single is often credited incorrectly with 'launching' Madonna. This debut LP actually sold around 3 millions copies, so Warners/Sire were obviously pleased enough as it was. Two singles pre-date the famous ones that everybody knows, so i'll briefly discuss those first. Five singles from an eight track LP? Well, yes. It's the kind of thing that happened in the 80s. Still, 'Everybody' is a track that would sound great re-made for the 00's, the simple lyrical message 'Everybody, get up and do your thing'. Madonna implores the listeners to 'get up, dance and sing'. Indeed. Her voice sounds whiny and irritating on 'Everybody', which it doesn't do on the better 'Burning Up'. 'Burning Up' was the 2nd single released before the album, her voice sounds strong, the beats are repetitive yet enjoyably embellished with keyboard melodies and rock guitar. It's a great track, no question about it.
Like A Virgin 6½ ( 1984 )
Material Girl / Angel / Like a Virgin / Over and Over / Love Don't Live Here Anymore / Into The Groove / Dress You Up / Shoo-Bee-Do / Pretender / Stay 4:06
Right place, right time, absolutely right marketing and image. The big two hits, 'Material Girl' and 'Like A Virgin'? Well, surface level interpretations will tell us the consumer culture of the 1980s is brought to mind with 'Material Girl'. A quieter sexual revolution than the 60s ( but it was still there and still happened ) brought to mind by the purposeful, if odious 'Like A Virgin' single. Ah, 'Into The Groove' was a hit single too. You knew that already, but 'Into The Groove' doesn't bring very much to my mind at all. It's a dance-pop song seemingly in the vein of those from her debut, only someone forgot to bring along the disco with them into the recording studios. Well, calling it 'dance-pop' does dance a huge disservice. It's strange in a way, because Nile Rodgers had been chosen specifically by Madonna herself as producer, thanks to his sterling work on David Bowie's 'Lets Dance' LP. It's pure specualtion on my part, but do we think or presume Nile Rodgers even rated Madonna as an artist? The vocals are processed and sped-up, far more so it seems than her debut. Nile was hugely in demand as a producer and writer, thanks not only for his work with Bowie, but pretty much everything he'd been involved with from Chic onwards. 'Like A Virgin' selling tens of millions of records won't have harmed his bank balance at all, but i'm not sure his credibility ever did recover. Personally, I don't think he was the right choice. Sure, he brought in some material, so did Madonna herself. The hit songs were kind of throw-backs to the brill-building days. Write a hit song, find someone to sing it. Pat yourself on the back as the royalties flood in. The art gets lost somewhere in the process of everyone making money. Ok, so not really like the brill-building days. Sure, those guys wanted to make money but the best of them also cared about their own reputations.
True Blue 7½ ( 1986 )
Papa Don't Preach / Open Your Heart / White Heat / Live To Tell / Where's The Party / True Blue / La Isla Bonita / Jimmy Jimmy / Love Makes The World Go Round
Madonna herself writes or co-writes every song here and also co-produces throughout the album. Riding on the wave of huge success, this album was hardly likely to fail, but commercially needed to keep up the momentum. It did this very well indeed, selling in excess of 20 million units. Who needs Nile Rodgers anyway?? Well, the original Rolling Stone review claimed 'True Blue' had a lack of outstanding songs. Five of the songs here became hits anyway, and whilst none are as base and obvious as the singles from 'Like A Virgin', that's ultimately a good thing. Madonna's critical standing, never the best of things, vastly improved with the release of this album. Although only co-writing and co-producing, the fact that she's all over every track herself was a mark of integrity missing from the 'Like A Virgin' LP. The pop melodies are still here, indeed, several tunes have been constructed very well and withstand repeated listening far better than many of her previous hits. 'Papa Don't Preach' for example is really all the evidence anyone could need, compared back to back with her previous hits, that she'd grown artistically. An anti-abortion lyric, a brilliantly distinctive pop intro complete with strings. She delves into different musical styles for this album, but the production and sound has been designed to maintain cohesiveness. These often forumlaic dance beats become irritating throughout an entire LP, although they are obviously a lot more noticeable on something like 'White Heat', album filler although still a potential single, than the latin overtones of 'La Isla Bonita' or indeed 'Papa Don't Preach'. Oh, a word on the Madonna vocals. They do indeed seem stronger across the entire 'True Blue' LP than they ever had before. I suspect, despite production and mixing touches to retain that 'distinctive' vocal sound, that a lot less trickery had been placed on her vocals than previously. For example, her vocals on 'Papa Don't Preach' basically resemble the madonna vocals of today, of her 2005 live shows. We know that's her actual voice, as opposed to the squeeky likes of 'Into The Groove'.
Like A Prayer 8 ( 1989 )
Like a Prayer / Express Yourself / Love Song / Till Death Do Us Part / Promise to Try / Cherish / Dear Jessie / Oh Father / Keep it Together / Spanish Eyes / Act of Contrition
Ok, i'll try and keep this short. I guess I was at the right age to really notice or pay serious attention to Madonna, I was 15 when this was released. The 'Like A Prayer' video and single were serious events and suddenly nobody was laughing at Madonna or her fans, anymore. 'The Immaculate Collection' which would wind its way into many, many homes built upon 'Like A Prayer'. It was almost the only way she could release a follow-up, an album of warmly remembered hits. Back to the 'Like A Prayer' LP though. I remember being charmed by 'Dear Jessie' most of all, and probably still am. The title track, whilst admittedly impressive in its day, is straining a little too hard for my liking. I dig the gospel inflections though and certainly won't and don't dismiss the tune. 'Dear Jessie' is just a pure pop, fantasy confection and a nod to the sixties. Swaying and see-sawing strings bounce around charming and cartoon like lyrics. Elsewhere on the LP, she discusses the death of her mother, the end of her marriage to Sean Penn amongst of course the controversial likes of the title song. We'll get some of the chaff out of the way first, though. Prince collaborates with Madonna on 'Love Song', even co-produces the tune. It's a five minute, lifeless dirge, an absolute pit from which of course, 'Like A Prayer' can never re-cover to become a perfect work, or 'as close to art as pop music gets', as Rolling Stone would famously dub the record. I like Prince, as my page on his work will attest to, but he really does seem to think he can get away with releasing any old rubbish sometimes. Back to Rolling Stone magazine. If we take the likes of 'Cherish' and the pleasingly pop-gospel-michael jackson like 'Express Yourself', then we can see these as the last of Madonna's pure 80s pop songs. We were very much on the cusp of the 90s remember, the title track was undoudetbly ahead of its time and very different to her other 80s pop hits. Pop as art, though? Perhaps taking the merits of this admittedly enjoyable and well pieced together album a little too seriously.
I'm Breathless 4 ( 1990 )
He's A Man / Sooner Or Later / Hanky Panky / I'm Going Bananas / Cry Baby / Something To Remember / Back In Business / More / What Can You Lose / Now I'm Following You (part I) / Now I'm Following You (part II) / Vogue
Madonna goes broadway. A collection of songs featured or inspired by the comic-book-turned-movie Dick Tracy. A big subsequent influence on many Pop-Idol type wannabees. Madonna could get away with such excursions as 'I'm Breathless' because she'd sold over 50 million records, or whatever it was. This is clearly a fun, tongue in cheek project for Madonna, with the only possible musical purpose of the project being to prove some kind of versatility with regards to her vocal abilities. Lyrically, clues as everywhere that this isn't really a serious album proposition, eg, I'm going bananas, And I feel like my poor little mind is being devoured by piranhas,
For I'm going bananas. 'Vogue' was the big hit this time around, originally penned as a b-side for one of the 'Like A Prayer' era singles. The record label realising they had another potential hit on their hands, released 'Vogue' as the next Madonna single. It was a big seller and appears here tacked onto the end. Good job they did that, because 'I'm Breathless' proved to be the worst selling Madonna album 'proper' since her debut. I guess the public never took it seriously either, then? Well, who knows? Madonna has the kind of fanatical fans that will praise almost anything she does. She's a huge artist, so also attracts the floating voters, the kind of people who only buy half a dozen albums a year. The more dedicated 'record collector' may find themselves not taking Madonna seriously at all, yet perhaps have 'Ray Of Light', 'Like A Prayer' and 'The Immaculate Collection' in their posession. Then, we turn to the gay audience, with whom Madonna has also had, um, a relationship, if you will. 'Vogue', let alone the affectionate, tongue in cheek attempts to create period piece showtunes will have done everything to adhere Madonna's gay audience to her even more strongly. So, 'I'm Breathless' served a particular purpose. It also gave her more material and more variety to support her 'Blonde Ambition' tour, which was proving to be absolutely huge at the time.
Erotica 4 ( 1992 )
Erotica / Fever / Bye Bye Baby / Deeper and Deeper / Where Life Begins / Bad Girl / Waiting / Thief of Hearts / Words / Rain / Why It's So Hard / In This Life / Did You Do It? / Secret Garden
Please note, this album review has single sentences and facts stolen from other sources and reviews. Please see below.
Erotica is a concept album about sexuality. - Wikipedia
A dance record by all accounts, the album showcases hip hop- and jazz-affected club production from co-producers Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts. - Wikipedia
Interestingly, the sexual imagery Madonna put forward in both Erotica and Sex was widely criticized for not actually being erotic, but sterile and calculating. - Wikipedia
The BEST of Madonna's incredible career!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! - amazon.com readers review
Madonna is bi? COOL!!! - amazon.com readers review
Self-absorbed, deeply flawed and hugely under-appreciated, Madonna's Erotica, the album MTV's Kurt Loder likened to an "iceberg," is considered by many to be the singer's rock-bottom - Slant Magazine
Bedtime Stories 7½ ( 1994 )
Survival / Secret / I'd Rather Be Your Lover / Don't Stop / Inside of Me / Human Nature / Forbidden Love / Love Tried to Welcome Me / Sanctuary / Bedtime Story / Take a Bow
Producers including Nellee Hooper and Dallas Austin worked with Madonna to produce a welcome sonic respite from 'Erotica' and all that hanky panky. Madonna produces an album of slow-groove R&B and finally sounds her age for once. 'Secret' is the one, classy pop and more seductive than her entire 'Erotica' album, because it doesn't even try to be. We know Madonna doesn't always have the most expressive of voices, but she carries 'Secret' well. 'I'd Rather Be Your Lover' i'm far less fond of, the beats are clumsy and too loud, the song too fast, which seems silly for a mid-tempo song - but I feel this would have worked better as a soulful, stripped back, ballad. 'Take A Bow' is a highlight, Madonna letting the slow grooves do their work without being tempted to turn this into anything that could be danced to. Rather, like 'Secret', this is superior R&B pop music. The melody lines sound instantly familiar and Madonna's soft vocals work far better than when she's doing the shouting thing she occasionally let's slip on more uptempo numbers during her career. 'Inside Of Me' continues this theme, a four minute soft soulful number that doesn't exactly demand to stay in your memory banks, but repeated listens makes you appreciate the feeling. There's a lot of songs here like that, this is an album from start to finish - a mood piece. It's not every Madonna release you can say that about. Still, when the beats come back we wonder why. 'Human Nature' has accomplished, bendy sounding beats, really very good production and mixing. Her vocals are so low in the mix however that this may as well be an instrumental. That bubbling synthy beat just obliterates all before it. Perhaps i've just got the bass on too high? No matter!
Ray Of Light 7½ ( 1998 )
Drowned World-Substitute for Love / Swim / Ray of Light / Candy Perfume Girl / Skin / Nothing Really Matters / Sky Fits Heaven / Shanti-Ashtangi / Frozen / The Power of Goodbye / To Have and Not to Hold / Little Star / Mer Girl
The madge of all comebacks? Well, at least commercially, yes. 'Ray Of Light' saw Madonna spinning off numerous hit singles, win back some of her critics and reclaim her place as queen of pop. She was helped endlessly in this task by British dance producer William Orbit as well as long-term collaborator Patrick Leonard, lending the finished album a mix of old and new Madonna, despite the modern electronica overtones throughout. Madonna still strains to be epic in everything she does, the result of which nothing here is a simple, three minute pop song. Even the pop songs have layers of apparent complexity, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. 'Frozen' works as a classic Madonna single, suitably epic of course and Pat Leonard reaches for that old school 'Like A Prayer' feel whilst William Orbit twiddles his knobs, so to speak. The title track on the otherhand is clunky and dumb and has suffered terribly from radio overkill. 'The Power Of Goodbye', which was also a single, is classier and more effective as a result, being subtle for once wins Madonna respect, at least in our house. The production and the arrangement? Well, nigh on perfect commercial production here from Madge and her team. Her vocal is back in the mix a little whilst 'Ray Of Light' has her yelling, more or less. More or less, less is more.
this page last updated 28/03/10
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