Iconography: The Great Madonna Retrospective

Last edited:
It really is so iconic, and she looks brilliant. The Lucky Star version and the First Album cover really fail in comparison. Her style around this era is amazing, I want to stick a crucifix in my ear, grab some bangles and not bathe for a week in tribute.

These are all great, FutureLover. I hope you do contribute some reviews next week. Everybody should get involved otherwise this whole thing has failed! I've pinched the non-text version of Madonna for my avatar. I hope you don't mind.

It really is so iconic, and she looks brilliant. The Lucky Star version and the First Album cover really fail in comparison. Her style around this era is amazing, I want to stick a crucifix in my ear, grab some bangles and not bathe for a week in tribute.

It is really cool, isn't it? I might attempt my own tribute at some point, but I'd probably look ridiculous in bangles.

One thing I will cover at some point during the week (possibly also during Like A Virgin) will be Madonna's influence and appeal to alternative bands. Sonic Youth, in particular.
These are all great, FutureLover. I hope you do contribute some reviews next week. Everybody should get involved otherwise this whole thing has failed! I've pinched the non-text version of Madonna for my avatar. I hope you don't mind.
I'll definitely submit a review, don't worry! And a great pic to use for your avi, obviously.
I picked mine because it matches my profile picture! Madge - throwing shade on your faves since 1983. I'll probably change it to something "Like A Virgin"-related next week, and so on.




I didn't care that much about her early days until I bought Christopher Ciccone's book.
Now I see it really was an exciting pop moment.

Love this pic:


I think we all should use this as avatars next week:


If anyone wanted to know more about SocietysBoy's old avatar:


Madonna inside New York City’s Danceteria in 1983.

“The picture is talking in a way. It’s saying ‘Look who I am. I’m not famous but I’m going to be.’ She didn’t drink much but she liked her Martini. I don’t think she smoked.Maybe I gave her the cigarette for attitude. I never saw Madonna smoking cigarettes as much as other people. She never did coke. That’s why she was Madonna, why she became as big as she did: because she was always in control.” – Maripol
Last edited by a moderator:
This is my favourite review of her debut album:

"Although she never left it behind, it's been easy to overlook that Madonna began her career as a disco diva in an era that didn't have disco divas. It was an era where disco was anathema to the mainstream pop, and she had a huge role in popularizing dance music as a popular music again, crashing through the door Michael Jackson opened with Thriller. Certainly, her undeniable charisma, chutzpah, and sex appeal had a lot to do with that -- it always did, throughout her career -- but she wouldn't have broken through if the music wasn't so good. And her eponymous debut isn't simply good, it set the standard for dance-pop for the next 20 years. Why did it do so? Because it cleverly incorporated great pop songs with stylish, state-of-the-art beats, and it shrewdly walked a line between being a rush of sound and a showcase for a dynamic lead singer. This is music where all of the elements may not particularly impressive on their own -- the arrangement, synth, and drum programming are fairly rudimentary; Madonna's singing isn't particularly strong; the songs, while hooky and memorable, couldn't necessarily hold up on their own without the production -- but taken together, it's utterly irresistible. And that's the hallmark of dance-pop: every element blends together into an intoxicating sound, where the hooks and rhythms are so hooky, the shallowness is something to celebrate. And there are some great songs here, whether it's the effervescent "Lucky Star," "Borderline," and "Holiday" or the darker, carnal urgency of "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction." And if Madonna would later sing better, she illustrates here that a good voice is secondary to dance-pop. What's really necessary is personality, since that sells a song where there are no instruments that sound real. Here, Madonna is on fire, and that's the reason why it launched her career, launched dance-pop, and remains a terrific, nearly timeless, listen."

It's interesting how ambiguous genres have been in labeling pop music and allowing for comparisons even back in the 80s. Especially this ominous 'dance-pop' which tends to be wheeled out whenever comparing 2 'Pop'ular albums. I wouldn't say 'Thriller' is dance-pop at all, if we're going to give it an obscure genre I'd say it's soul-pop. Regardless, it has little in common sonically with Madonna. If anything, Michael went more in Madonnas direction afterwards with Bad.

With this review you could literally stamp 'Lady Gaga' over MJ and use it as a piece for a new pop artist.
Very excited about this. I've never given this album a chance. Mainly because I get put off by "Everybody". I find that song very bland and boring
Decade: Eighties

Album: Madonna

Year: 1983




Singles from Madonna
• "Everybody"
Released: October 6, 1982
• "Burning Up"
Released: March 9, 1983
• "Holiday"
Released: September 7, 1983
• "Lucky Star"
Released: September 8, 1983
• "Borderline"
Released: February 15, 1984

Album Tracklist

1. "Lucky Star"
2. "Borderline"
3. "Burning Up"
4. "I Know It"
5. "Holiday"
6. "Think of Me"
7. "Physical Attraction"
8. "Everybody"
Madonna/The First Album (1983)

Disco isn’t dead, it just became Madonna.

"I thought then as I do now that Madonna is a gay man trapped in a woman's body." Boy George.



Twenty years on and Madonna remains an appealing pop album. It’s an album of two distinctive types. There are the sweet and unpretentious pop songs such as Borderline, Lucky Star, and Holiday. Lucky Star remains a favourite even though the lyrics are relentlessly dumb. Were they clichéd even then? The lyrics make a comparison between her lover and the heavenly body of the sky. It’s a bit laughable in hindsight, but she manages to convincingly carry off the song with a very high sweet voice. She makes it believable. So I can’t be too harsh on Lucky Star because no matter how poor some of the lyrics are, the sentiment feels completely real. Holiday is a familiar friend and was a deserved success. The bass line is a work of pop art. The song sums up precisely what Madonna represents to her fans despite not really containing anything of MADONNA in it other than her voice; what is she about if not the joys that come from freedom of expression? Holiday was an enormous hit record and deservedly so. And yet there’s a small part of me that still considers it to be inferior to Everybody. I’ve always felt that about those two songs. Everybody was released first – the original single covers to Everybody and Holiday both lacked Madonna’s soon-to-be-iconic face for some weird reason – but Holiday took the success and legacy. Interestingly enough, it was the demo of Everybody that got Madonna signed in the first place. Legend has it that she stormed into the record executive’s hospital bed and made him sign the contract; presumably she wanted to make sure her future ambitions weren’t thwarted by something as inconvenient as death.

Since re-listening to Madonna, I’ve now altered my opinion on parts of the album. Everybody is a brilliant track but it definitely lacks the appeal of the effervescent Holiday. Annie would later do the rare thing of sampling a Madonna track and improving upon it. Everybody falls into the second type of song on the album together with Burning Up, Physical Attraction, and Think Of Me. These songs, unlike Borderline/Lucky Star/Holiday, are best described as dissonant dark disco or possibly even disco punk. That isn’t to say this isn’t a straight up pop album, it’s quite uncomplicated, but it sounds dirty, the soundtrack to a murky club. Out of the Danceteria and into the charts! The only real anomaly is I Know It. The production on that song sounds very dated, the keyboards lacking the same sort of timelessness the rest of the album contains in abundance. This outmoded sound is callously exposed on the digitally remastered version of the album – which incidentally is the one I listened to in preparation for this retrospective. My favourite track is between Holiday (the sort of song I’ve played too much but I remember why it’s so brilliant when I hear it again), Everybody, and Think Of Me. The lyrical subject of Think Of Me, however, is quite unbelievable. Can you really imagine Madonna crying over an errant lover? Doubtful! One of her main appeals (other than representing to her fanbase 'freedom of expression') is how she embodies supreme power and ultimate self-control. We believe above all other things that No Man Gets The Better Of Madonna! But we couldn’t have known that at the time, so it’s harsh to judge Think Of Me by what we’ve come to know later on. It’s still the song I’ve overplayed since revisiting the album for this review. Physical Attraction’s instrumental contains a very similar musical motif to that of Crazy For You. Listen to it after she sings, “Physical Attraction,” and you’ll hear those tell-tale bars.

The visuals of this era leave me panting because they contain everything I would possibly wish for in a popstar. Whenever I see those photographs of Madonna drowning in bangles and punkish rags, certain words and phrases come to mind: cool, hard, stylish, fashionable, dirty, underground. She looks like she’d be fun to go clubbing with and you’d hang on every word she said during the night. Her face is as addictive as her music.

Overall Madonna is still every bit as brilliant as it was in 1983 when it first appeared in record stores across the world. It sounds unusually unspoiled from the ravages of fashion. It’s a worthy debut from an icon.


Everybody looks exactly like the sort of video a newly signed artist in the eighties would put out. It’s a cheap and cheerful disco video populated by friends and family. There is nothing about Everybody that gives away the fact Madonna is about to become the greatest female icon in pop music history. It really is unspectacular. Holiday is the same. Very unspectacular and yet Madonna remains a compelling creature of the camera regardless.

Burning Up is the zenith of Madonna’s early promo videos and perfectly exemplifies what she is all about as an artist. Filmed in the 80s, it looks like it, with a Miami Vice extra driving a car down a street as Madonna writhes around declaring her lack of shame for the word to hear. But note what happens at the end when suddenly it transpires that Madonna is now driving the car. Yes, she’s in the driving seat. She’s in full control: feminism and Madonna together forever and ever. My favourite part of the video is the scene Madonna uses her bangle to aim a stray laser beam at an innocent goldfish! Only twenty seconds into her first attempt at a big pop video and she’s wreaking havoc. And is it me or does the hooded top Madonna wears look very similar to the Miss Jones designed suit Kylie wore in the video for Can’t Get You Out Of My Head sans slit? I think Miss Jones might have been influenced by Burning Up. It isn't impossible.

Borderline and Lucky Star both effortlessly capture the irrepressible zing of the song and gives Madonna her first proper popstar video. Burning Up is brilliant, but so weird in places that it was left to Borderline to suitably present Madonna to the flourishing MTV age.

I didn't have a chance to edit this review, but I hope you like it anyway.
Now put your thoughts and feelings about Madonna (1983) and the campaign on this thread!
Last edited:
I would have to say that the 1983 album is probably my favourite Madonna album from the 80s and the tracks I actually love the most are not the big singles. Think Of Me, I Know It, Physical Attraction are all so great, yet rather underrated. Another hidden gem are the alternative (non-rock) versions of Burning Up.
Wonderful review Kirkland! I’m coming up with mine on-the-spot so it won’t be quite as well thought out I’m afraid.

Where to begin… Well, at the time of this albums conception, it’s safe to say that I hadn’t been conceived, (unless, unbeknownst to me, I was the worlds longest living fetus) so I can only ever look at this album from a revisionist point of view. I was never there to experience the visuals or music before they had made their lasting impact on pop culture. So obviously, to me, the heavily synthesized musical style and punk aesthetic were nothing new or particularly mind-blowing. To put things into context, aside from hearing Holiday/Borderline/Lucky Star on The Immaculate Collection when I was very young, my first experience of the rest of the album was only a few years ago. I had already heard all her other material (besides Erotica/Bedtime Stories/Like A Virgin – which were all part of my “rediscovery of Madonna”). That being said, since reaching maturity, it has always been one of my favorite Madonna albums.

The tracks that I had heard aged 3 remain some of my all-time Madonna favorites. Although Holiday had always been one of those annoyingly over-played songs (it was always a staple on ‘Kidz Party’ cassettes) I gained a new-found respect for it in the context of the album. Lucky Star and Borderline continue to represent Madonna at the most care-free and youthful she has ever been, or will ever be. They epitomize her initial sound and were the first example of a 50s girl-group influence on her work (later realized in a more pastiche fashion on tracks like True Blue and Cherish).
I went in expecting very little from the remaining album tracks, but came out very pleasantly surprised. I Know It was incredibly joyful and bouncy. Yes it does sound a bit cheap in comparison, but given that we now have acts like La Roux (who purposely adopt a lo-fi super-nintendo-aping approach) I just treat it as knowingly kitsch – I’m sure it wasn’t, but that's what works for me. Think Of Me is similarly quite dated, but it’s still brimming with charisma and a really catchy melody. And that’s the most important thing really, with Madonna – the melodies. They are here in abundance.

Burning Up was the most exciting track for me to get my hands on. It sounds like the younger sibling of Papa Don’t Preach and I honestly can’t decide which one I like more. So propulsive and laden with attitude, I’m a bit sad that it’s not more widely recognized outside of her fanbase. The other two tracks I don’t really have much to say about, but I do enjoy them within the context of the album. The real impression I'm left with after this album, that you don't see anywhere else in Madonna's work, is one of youthful nonchalance and naive ambition. Yes, the lyrical content might be quite weak, but I put that down to her age and her just not giving much of a damn at the time (I don't know what her excuse is now -hohoho!). Although Madonna was reportedly very in control, even at this young age, this is the only glimpse you get of her being immature without it being done for effect, and the music itself is completely un-calculated. And for that reason alone, it's very special.

As for the visuals… I definitely have a soft-spot for artists who make their own clothes and props (Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga), and I don’t really care if she stole the look off of some random bar-maid, because there is no way that she would have pulled it off with as much style as a young Madonna. The hair, denim and bangles would still look ultra-cool and fresh if a young girl were to dress like that even today. The videos are far from her iconic best (aside from the road scenes in Burning Up), but at least Everybody is completely hilarious!
Last edited:
This weekend has been my first time listening to this album all the way through, having previously only been familiar with the singles. My first memory of Madonna was hearing Beautiful Stranger on the radio, so it's fair to say this album was before my time.

And it's certainly dated. It's chock full of the staples of 80s nostalgia that have run through popular culture for the last ten years or so (Perhaps that's an affirmation of Madonna's influence on the decade, I don't really know), from the bleached and bangled street urchin imagery to springy instrumentals that wouldn't feel out of place on the soundtrack to Donkey Kong, it's definitely of it's time... A saxophone even pops up at one point.

Borderline is probably my favourite of the singles, initially when I heard it I thought it was a bit nothingy, but it's gone on to become one of my favourite Madonna singles. Burning Up's also up there with the best, not least because of the brilliantly bizarre video (Example #63087 of popstars being weird before Gaga), but mainly because it probably owes a fair bit to Blondie, one of my favourite bands, with whom Madonna shares that effortless air of unobtainable coolness.

The videos for the remaining three singles are pretty decent in their simplicity, even if Holiday looks a bit too much like a workout tape at times. I remember being told by someone that Madonna's midriff baring ways were actually pretty controversial at the time, but I don't know how true that is...

Image wise, she looked brilliant. Very few could pull off a floppy hat or double denim with aplomb, but she managed it here, so kudos, and her influence is pretty easy to see on modern starlets like Rihanna, Sky Ferreira and a slew of mid-noughties pop-rockers.

Of the album tracks I Know It is probably my favourite moment of the album, it's almost impossible not to bop around to.

The vocals are shockingly weak at times, and the subject matter pales in comparison to some of her later work, but as a whole I'd say that while the album doesn't exactly sound like Madonna at her best, it did an admirable job of laying the foundations for what was to come.
I have to do my review later when I get home. But I found this review on Amazon regarding what this album meant and its effect on pop music at that time. I took an excerpt from it. It is very informative to people to understand that era and Madonna's debut with this album and its impact.

"These days, many people compare Madonna's early music to Britney Spears or the Spice Girls, but there really is no comparison. Today's bubble gum pop stars have a host of producers, songwriters, and stylists to create a cookie-cutter image for them that can be marketed to the mainstream. Madonna, however, was a very different story. At the time she recorded this album, Madonna was living in the ghettos of New York City, and hanging out at clubs that were largely populated by minorites. In other words, she was NOT part of the mainstream! In addition, most of the songs on this album began life as demos that Madonna wrote and recorded HERSELF in a tiny apartment without the help of a host of producers or marketing execs. She also had developed her own unique fashion sense. Madonna didn't have to consult a crew of stylists; even when she was penniless in New York, she had her own style down pat! Unlike today's manufactured pop princesses, Madonna was a true musical and visual artist at work, long BEFORE she signed a record contract.

That said, this album invented dance-pop as we know it. Highly synthesized and highly danceable, this was the style of music that took the 1980s by storm, and still exists today in many forms (including the electronica that Madonna currently dabbles in!). The album was revolutionary, because it brought the underground worlds of urban dance music and punk into the mainstream world of pop. The punk elements are heard in the scorching single "Burning Up", which prominently features an electric guitar and a rock-like bassline, but in a clubby, danceable song. Also, Madonna's personality comes through very strong on this album, so you never feel like you are listening to an anonymous "dance diva". Even on pedestrain fare like "I Know It" and "Physical Attraction", Madonna sings with so much conviction that you KNOW she means it."