Iconography: The Great Madonna Retrospective

"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.

I think it is very important to draw attention to this paragraph. It is all completely true. Madonna's genius, in the same vampiric way as Bowie, comes from her ability to take what is underground or what she sees around her, then absorb it and spit it out as something essentially her own. I'm not sure she even goes to clubs these days! This ability to create something out of nothing is what sets her apart.

I remember reading a story a few years ago which made me laugh. I don't believe it but it's worth retelling:

During their heyday, Bananarama claimed to see a brash peroxide blonde in attendance at some of their gigs, according to them she had a notepad with her. Obviously they thought it was a stylish New Yawk journalist.

It was Madonna. When they saw her a year later, she was dressed in a similar style!
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Another maybe/probably not true Madonna story is this one:

The Bluebells were an 80s band who had a huge hit with the track Young At Heart. Someone once told them that they were doing a gig when a brash American girl with peroxide hair walked onstage, informed the audience that The Bluebells were the ugliest band she'd ever seen, then calmly exited the stage.

Yes, it was rumoured to be a pre-fame Madonna.
I'm surprised somewhat that I Know It is getting so much praise. I thought you'd all berate it as the worst song on the album. Conversely, I expected Think Of Me to become the new fan favourite. Think Of Me is fast becoming my new Madonna favourite alongside Burning Up. I think I Know It has dated the worst out of those tracks. The digitally remastered edition can't save it, whilst the other songs sound like they could easily chart today.


The Bananarama story is hilarious. How Lady Gaga of her.
Seriously, I can totally see her 'studying' the music scene in the early 80's, everything was new and exciting for pop music.
I'll write my thoughts about the album later, too 'busy' right now.

This review is quite funny:



I'm not reading anyone's reviews just yet because I've never listened to this album before (though obviously I know the famous songs), and I want to have a completely clean mind about it! I'm going to listen to the album for the very first time right now, and I'm going to type as I go. I hope that's an accepted 'review'? I can't really make a balanced review looking back on the time of its release blabla, because I simply wasn't born yet! So this is just my honest unbiased opinions, no nostalgia involved. It might be a bit negative, don't hate me! Here goes:

Lucky Star is groovy but I'm not a huge fan, it peddles on a bit until halfway when she starts singing "you may be my lucky star, but I'm the luckiest by far", I like that part! Luckily she repeats this a few times, which I like, but overall I find this song quite dull. Borderline, I know this song but I don't know what from! It never struck me as one of her 'famous' songs. I like this song a lot more than Lucky Star, it's just a lot more melodic and catchy! However, it does sound a bit less.. innovative? It sounds a bit cheezy, like I said I like it but other tracks were probably 'fresher' at the time, I think. Burning Up is quite nice as well. I like the fierce "I'm on fire!" and then the weird hissing in the middle 8. I Know It is nice, I like the instruments she uses a lot! It doesn't sound as 'drum machine' ish as the other songs, if you know what I mean. Again it's quite melodic, this is the song I like most so far!

Holiday is a dreadful song, I've always thought so and hearing it in the context of the album makes it sound even worse because the album so far is actually better than I expected (because I had based my expectations on this song). Anyway, on to the next one: Think Of Me which I like a lot more. This is the most modern sounding song probably right! Maybe it's the synthesizers, which stand in cool contrast with the trumpet solo in the middle 8. Physical Attraction is sort of bad, those vocals aren't making it any better and it just sort of plods along. It's good to hear she's saved the best for last with Everybody. The trademark Madonna whispering in the beginning! I especially like the verses a lot, they sound quite lush. The chorus has a bit of the shouty annoying 'Holiday' syndrome for me, but it's a lot better and the verses totally make up for it. "Music makes the world go round and can turn your troubles upside down", preach it Madge! So true.

Overall, it was fun to listen to this album to sort of have the '80s Madonna experience', but I have to admit it's not for me! I've tried to keep a really open and positive mind while listening to it and really put myself in that 80s mood, and for that it's a good album. However, my honest 'when compared to the music I actually listen to' opinion on this album is (brace yourselves) is: sort of boring, the same song 8 times in a row. Don't be mad! I'm just too young for this. I was born in 1991, my earliest Madonna memory is Frozen which I LOVE and Ray Of Light will receive a stunning 10/10 review but this album is simply not for me. Hope you guys don't hate me now! If 20 years from now some new young kid, like me, comes around and calls The Fame "basic" I would be sharpening my knives, but I hope you guys will forgive me (je suis desolé etc.). I'm glad I've grown familiar with this album though and I'll keep participating in the discussion!
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Before this discussion continues, can we all just agree that Burning Up is the best track on Madonna?

It just IS Madonna.
You know, I never quite got into Borderline. I remember listening to Madonna for the first time, and thinking of skipping the track, two minutes in. Even yesterday, as I listened to Madonna again, I felt like skipping the track.

It just doesn't do much for me.

I do like the video though.
It annoyed me so much when Timbo & the rest kept trying to compare what they were aiming for on 'Hard Candy' to this in particular. To me, this album is impossible to replicate. It's a freakish, celestial force of nature.The exuberance, the vitality, the energy, the very essence of the prime 'Madonna' principles laid bare (things like freedom, control, love, empowerment etc. that still feature as parts of her work even now) and of a young woman bursting with vigour, creativity, ambition & confidence To me it's just a very special record.

One of my enduring images is of her dancing in slo-mo with the Puerto Rican kids at the start of the 'Borderline' video. Beautiful shot.
In addition to listening to Madonna's first album several times this weekend I also went to the Keith Haring: 1978-1982 exhibit at the Brooklyn museum. Whereas I had always thought of his drawings as spontaneous and almost unconscious, like graffiti, it featured selections of his journals which exposed just how much thought and training had been put into making his hand and body perform with maximum efficiency. This preparation allowed him to embody the moment and turn out fluid, un-self-conscious work.

Perhaps because they were friends and contemporaries, and because Madonna had been on my mind, as I walked through the gallery I couldn't help but draw some parallels between the processes he and Madonna employed. Madonna sounds so fresh and spontaneous, yet she had pretty much been training for it her entire life. This album was the first step towards the immortality Madonna had always envisioned for herself, and because she was prepared, she was able to enter the moment and create it. Now I shall try and fail to do the same with this review hehe.

It’s hard for me to speak about Madonna objectively, in that I was dancing around the living room to it in in elementary school and revisiting it nostalgically in high school, and certain songs like Holiday I’ve heard so many times that I honestly would prefer to not hear again for a nice long while. (But of course I can’t call it anything less than an amazing, classic earworm.) There isn’t a bad song on this album in my opinion, which for me is a very rare thing, but in order to wrap this review/reverie up in a few more paragraphs I’ll concentrate on three of my favorites.

Let’s start with the song that started it all: Everybody. Madonna, as dance floor siren, lures you in and encourages you to wade into the murky beat with her. It’s a theme she revisits from Into the Groove to Heartbeat, a classic one that, as a trained dancer who additionally clocked many after-hours on the floor, she has the experience to take past cliché and into authenticity. Watching her (first?) live performance of it on this thread I was struck once again by her voice. So maligned and overlooked, it’s forever my favorite in its expressiveness and ability to plead, flirt and confide. Paired with dancing that looks avant-garde even today, it’s an explosive debut that’s impossible to ignore.

When Born This Way was received by many as the “first” explicitly gay anthem I couldn’t help but think of all the others that came before, and especially Physical Attraction. Madonna was rumored to help Keith Haring procure men back in the day and clearly their sexuality was another facet of their shared ability to be in the moment. How many mainstream pop divas were expressing the following in 1983: “You say you wanna stay the night/ But you'll leave me tomorrow, I don't care”? She wasn’t ashamed of taking what she wanted then, and as her current relationships attest to, she’s not about to start now. Physical Attraction is one of the first instances of Madonna’s uncanny ad libbing ability, a talent requiring an ability to occupy the present moment as well. The last minute or so are a master class in reworking and rearranging the lyrical themes of a song to bring about an epic finale.

Speaking of which, I’ll end on one of my favorite Madonna songs of all time, one that is criminally ignored. I Know It may sound somewhat dated to millennial ears but to me is an absolute classic. From turning gender on its ear by singing to her “pretty angel coming down” to the chanting middle eight which ends with a spoken, challenging “huh, you can’t fool me,” I Know It takes a classic, fifties-sounding sweet song structure and infuses it with Madonna’s irrepressible, insistent personality. Although future songs such as Cherish would mine the same vein, I Know It is singular, and impossible for me, whether in elementary school or today, to keep from singing along to.
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Ok so this is what I think of this album.

I have never liked Lucky Star I think it is immature but it actually opens the album quite well with that beginning noise. I love Borderline it's a classic and her vocals are amazing on it.. I especially like the 'la la la la' bit at the end.. she ruined it on the Sticky and Sweet tour though! I never got why Burning Up is such a popular song.. yeah it's alright but there is definitely better songs on the album but it does sound a bit different to some of the others. I Know It has a really cheesy opening which makes you think the whole song is gonna be cringe but it is actually good and gives you a taste of some of her future songs. Holiday is another classic, I love it.. can't help but make you happy even if it does go on a bit long..! Think Of Me is my favourite track on the album, really catchy and her voice is great on it as well, this song is so 80s. Physical Attraction is quite bad.. I have also associated it with You Can Dance so normally forget it's on this album.. I think it is pretty bad. Everybody is good but it is too repetitive for me and gets a bit boring. The album is better than what I remembered.. I have never listened to it that much but it is actually pretty good but a bit heavy on sort of drums and that. I never thought it would of lead on to the career she has had from listening to this though.
How I'd rank the album:
1. Burning Up 5. Lucky Star
2. Everybody 6. Physical Attraction
3. Borderline 7. Think Of Me
4. Holiday 8. I Know It

I think it's a very good point that unlike modern bubblegum pop, Madonna's was very DIY and stylish at the same time. It amazes me the same artist who made this album could make something as different as Erotica or Ray of Light. Madonna's career began showcasing the two qualities that carried her 80s career, jubilation (Holiday, Lucky Star and later on True Blue, Cherish, etc.) and melancholic drama (I Know It, Borderline and later on Papa Don't Preach, Crazy For You etc.). I also admire that she started off her career with such a solid album, In my opinion this album has more timeless singles on it than any other Madonna album. Holiday, Borderline, Burning Up and Lucky Star can all still regularly be heard on 80s radio stations in my area.


Staff member
Might put more effort into this later, but for now:

Great songs: Borderline, Burning Up, I Know It
Good songs: Lucky Star, Think Of Me
Meh: Holiday, Physical Attraction, Everybody

Overall it's a pretty pleasant well-aged pop album really, but definitely not one of her more consistent ones, even though I must say even the 3 'meh' songs (for me) still are 'classics' so I can't hardly say there's any filler there either. All the 5/6 minute versions are not helping for me.
When I first got the album it was quite exciting to hear new bits of the songs I already knew (owning the Immaculate Collection first), but overall I really don't have the attention span for anything longer than 4:30.

Madonna (or The First Album as I mistakenly called it for years) has never been a favourite of mine and listening to it again (probably the first time in 20 years all the way through) I'm afraid that hasn't changed. When I was young I thought Like A Virgin was the first Madonna single as it was certainly the first one I was aware of. I have never liked Holiday (sacrilege I know!) but I do love Lucky Star, Borderline and Burning Up. I wish Burning Up had been a hit as it really is a brilliant pop song, love the video too. My favourite album track is I Know It, just really good bubblegum pop. I always really want to like Everybody as it has a brilliant baseline but it does go on a bit and I always get bored before the end. I think a lot of the songs are too long and for that reason I prefer The Immaculate Collection edits.

I much prefer The First Album cover to the Madonna cover as to me it sums up Madonna's early 80s effortless cool (indeed this look had a big effect on me as a fledgling gay and over the years I've had a variety of black rubber bangles, crucifixes and mesh vests in my wardrobe!)

Overall I would give this album 6 out of 10. It does sound very dated to me in a way that the rest of her back catalogue doesn't, but thankfully (for me) much better was to come with the next album when she made the leap to superstardom...
I was, and still am, obsessed with Madonna's image during the eponymous album era. To me, it's definitely more about the image than the music; I don't think the music got important until a bit later on in her career - I'm not saying it's not important now (I think every Madonna album has its place in pop music history), but I think back in the day it was a bit throwaway. Catchy songs, but not saying much. Does that make sense? The main outcome of that is, on every Madonna album I can pick a favourite lyric. On this one, I can't. Nothing stands out in that regard. However, I do love the opening of 'Burning Up'; the double handclaps and then the way she purrs, "Don't put me off... cuz I'm on fire" is so fucking sexy and commanding. It's definitely all in her delivery.

For me, the highlights are obviously the singles (bar 'Holiday' which I've never really rated), 'I Know It' and 'Think of Me', which I realise is most of the album. Melodically, they're such strong songs. Jumping forward to 2008, I can see the links between Hard Candy and Madonna in that they're both pretty throwaway records made to make people dance.

That image posted a couple of pages ago of the original album cover accompanied by this amazing picture of Madonna side-on bathed in a holy circle glow of light? That. That should have been the album cover. I'd never seen it until now. I don't think the album covers (Madonna and The First Album) used are particularly brilliant or foreboding of her iconic status, but that image would have set her off to a good start - plus it would've introduced her obsession with religious imagery perfectly.

For the record, I still think rubber bangles, baggy t-shirts and hair rags are the absolute shit.
It annoyed me so much when Timbo & the rest kept trying to compare what they were aiming for on 'Hard Candy' to this in particular.

Timbaland and Pharell tried to replicate her debut album sound for Hard Candy?? If so, mission completely failed. It's rather the opposite.
It's really fresh and uplifting, has a lot of energy whereas parts of Hard Candy sound stale.

Strongest song: Holiday
Weakest song: I Know It
Highlights: Burning Up & Borderline
Personal favourite: Think of Me

At the moment I'm actually listening to this album quite a lot in the morning to get me in the right mood (this one and Music do the trick). It's really carefree and quite a strong debut. It's only 8 tracks, and if you remove the weakest song (I Know It, but I still enjoy how she delivers it, it's just nothing special) you have a sort but amazing EP.

I just always wondered this:
Why was "Everybody" chosen as her debut single?
It's good but very repetitive. And she had the amazing Burning Up and Holiday on the album to choose instead.
Burning Up sticks out because it has some sort of a rocky attitude which I quite like.

I really like HC but the quote was "Holiday with an RnB groove" and that just annoyed me.

How funny that it was turned down by TWO lesser singers before Madonna got to it as well. It's like one of her signature songs.
Everybody has been in my head all day. Which is funny because I always disregarded it as her shitty first single.

Also, Rihanna's totally been aping her Holiday chereography lately - the louche, lazy, laid-back legwork. Very reminiscent.