Iconography: The Great Madonna Retrospective

Perhaps they wanted to get her name out first, I don't think anybody would expect her very first single to smash. It all worked out for the best didn't it?
I love how different the charts were back then - Madonna didn't enter the UK top 20 until it was repackaged as The First Album over a year after its initial release, and after Like a Virgin had been released. Amazing. Much more exciting times.


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.


Well, Holiday was a last minute addition when they finally gave up on Ain't No Big Deal and had to hunt around for a new song, so I'm guessing it might not have existed when the decision re first single was made. Burning Up, along with Everybody, were the original demos she and Stephen Bray made, so there's no reason we can blame on chronology for it being one and not the other. I think Everybody was just the song that everybody was excited about at the time - it was the one she played for Mark Kamins, and then for Seymour Stein, wasn't it? And in retrospect, it's so archetypally Madonna that even though it's not a favourite of mine, it seems sych an apt first single.

I will post my full thoughts on the album later. Looong day at work, and I can't get my brain to work properly. I will say though that I've really enjoyed repeatedly listening to this over the last couple of days...
I absolutely love her debut album! It's always been one of my favourites. (Brilliant idea for a thread by the way)!

I have the originally released CD (with the so much better original front cover) and it felt good to listen to it again. So many memories.
I remember about 10 years ago in my local gay bar at the time they used to play this album a lot. Me and my friend would always request it after we knew they had it and "I Know It" was always our favourite track.

I love every song on the album. The singles released are brilliant and remain classics. I do wish they'd included "Ain't No Big Deal" though.


Can anyone remember who the original artist was that Holiday was intended for? I'm drawing a blank, but I seem to remember it was someone unexpected and incongrous...

EDIT - Let's go with Wikipedia (though I'm sure they're wrong on the reason Ain't No Big Deal wasn't included - certainly it's not the story told in any of my numerous sources) and believe that it was rejected by Phyllis Hyman and Mary Wilson before it was offered to Madonna.

I *love* Phyllis Hyman's voice, but I can't imagine what she'd be like singing Holiday. I wonder if Baby Clyde is about to tell us whether he thinks a Mary Wilson version would have worked?
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Thanks for the infos on Holiday and that track 'Ain't No Big Deal'. It's quite okay I guess. But thanks to this I just discovered another old song from her, Laugh To Keep From Crying and I LOVE it. It sounds so different from her and her first record, almost like a different person. I wouldn't mind if she gave us one or two album tracks like that one nowadays haha. Re-arrange it and put it on the next album!


But thanks to this I just discovered another old song from her, Laugh To Keep From Crying and I LOVE it. It sounds so different from her and her first record, almost like a different person. I wouldn't mind if she gave us one or two album tracks like that one nowadays haha. Re-arrange it and put it on the next album!

I quite like all those demos that were collected by Bray on 'Pre-Madonna' (good title too). Have you listened to Crimes of Passion too? I remember liking that one as well. But yes, Laugh to Keep From Crying is *great*.

EDIT - Just for a laugh, everyone go listen to those pre-demo demos Shine a Light/On the Ground/Little Boy. I got them on a bootleg CD single when I was about twelve, and I was *terrified* (by On the Ground mainly)...
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Seeing as she described it as an 'aerobics album', I played 'Madonna' in the gym tonight. we're so used to ultra fast tracks in clubs and gyms it sounds positively slow now. I got this album bit by bit. I first bought 'Holiday' on 7" on it's original 1984 version and played that and 'Think of me' over and over. Then my best mate at school (I was 13 then) bought 'Lucky star' and I got to know that and 'I know it' well. 'Borderline' flopped first time round so it didn't register. I next heard 'Everybody' on the b-side to the 12" of 'Into the groove' and even then it sounded light years away from 'Into the groove'. It was like another era, not just a few years before. I finally got 'Madonna' (the original cover) later that summer, just before it was re-packaged as 'The first album' (which I thought was a horrific sleeve).

It is a product of it's time. Most of the album is 12" versions of the tracks (if you think about it, 6 of the tracks were singles, 'Physical attraction' a double a-side with 'Burning up') and is an album aimed at a post disco club scene. Bits of it are very much like other songs (listen to this track by Stephanie Mills which is pretty much the same intro and production as 'Borderline'- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmtQvqRK6oE ) .

I don't see 'Madonna' nor 'Like a virgin' as 'proper' Madonna albums. Like Kylie, the 'real' Madonna started with album 3 'True blue', what came before are great pop songs but an artists who was yet to find their voice. The best songs are obviously the big hits but 'Everybody' is a great track too. I was amazed she ended 'The girlie show' with it. Her first flop single ending a show? Madness! But it worked well.

I don't see the lyrics of some of the tracks as 'weak', they sound to me lyrics from someone used to the shallow promiscuity of the club scene. One night stands, guys who promise you the world then fuck you off the next day. It's kind of 'oh, I'm sad now but I know tomorrow I'll have my best dancing shoes on and forget he even existed' as only you can do when you're young and the world is open to you.

I've a lot of happy memories about 'Madonna', but, my God, it feels like a long, long tme ago and makes me feel very old looking back to those times.
I will fight the fight for Hard Candy when we get around to it...

It's you and me against the world, Itty.

But about the album. Honestly, I've listened to it quite a bit since Thursday, and I'm finding I don't have all that much to say about it. It's the album that started a legacy, and while I used to regard it as one of my favorites from Madonna, I now give it all the respect due, but see it as right in the middle of the pack.

The twinkling that opens Lucky Star kicks off three and a half minutes of pure euphoria. It's not the best song, not even the best single, but it manages to encapsulate an energy that has proven ageless. It's quite good, showcasing Madonna's chipmunk-pitched vocals that were eventually discarded. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a revival for a song or two in the future, if she still has it in her.

Overall, 'Madonna' bounces between a spectrum of emotions that all find their roots in the club. What separates this album from other club records though, is that the artist here is able to take all of those feelings and synthesize them into a wall of sound led by her voice, always in command here. I Know It pulses with anger and frustration. Holiday has a carefree bounce that wouldn't sound out of place in a club today. Think Of Me has Madonna practically snarling at her man, commanding the song to the point where the beat becomes irrelevant. Every single song has a purpose, be it joy, frivolity, weakness or seduction. But even when Everybody closes the album as the most club-ready song, it becomes apparent that the emotions aren't the core of the record. That would be Madonna, a star in the making but already a fully realized queen of the club here. It makes the album both sound like a debut but also an album that could have been delivered years down the line as well.

Back to the songs; there are some weak ones. Actually, just one in particular. Physical Attraction brims with a sexuality and seduction in its first several minutes, but by the five-minute mark, that energy has somewhat slagged, which leads me to believe that a much better song could have been created had this number been compounded to about half the time. If Everybody wasn't the sort of perfect club anthem that it is, the album may have suffered because of Physical Attraction, but instead it immediately bounces back and ends on a high note.

On the flip side, there's Burning Up, the type of song the usual artist doesn't unleash until they are a well-established radio staple. Instead, we get it on Madonna's debut, and in 2012, it's still the perfect portrait of desperation, frustration and lust that it was all those years ago. It's strength lies in the inability to really classify it as just a pop song. It's got rock and punk transfused into its heart, and it tears itself apart until that bridge that's really a mess of panting and guitars. It's the best moment on the whole record, and one that Madonna has thankfully never tried to replicate again.

So basically, I know it seems like I've talked this album up quite a bit. It's a great record, a nearly perfect one, but in a career like Madonna's, it doesn't stand alongside her best material as a whole. The concepts here are relatively basic, but so many of these ideas are part of the very fabric of her latter work, so it's nice to return to the basics, when Madonna was nothing more than a broke girl in New York City trying to snag the spotlight.

EDIT: Sorry. I guess I had more to say than I thought.


Do you want a review from someone who has never heard any of the songs in its original form, had very little idea of Madonna’s beginnings, is not a native English speaker, and loves to overuse parentheses? No? That's too bad because I'm still posting it below...

So a few days ago I listened to the Madonna album for the first time with no expectations or preconceptions about what it might sound like, and this is what I think of it after several listens:

The album begins with the cute Lucky Star – I didn’t know this side of Madonna before, and I certainly like it. It sounds fresh and charming, and it put a smile on my face. The next track, Borderline, sounds much more dated with its flat drum loop and brass-imitating synths in the chorus. The lyrics are more clichéd this time too. Still, it’s a pleasant song for background listening. (Edit: I just remembered I have heard a cover of this song but I didn’t recognise it.)

Burning Up opens with a more pronounced drum machine, handclaps and guitar riffs. It has a more aggressive sound than the other tracks and the vocals show more of Madonna’s personality. It’s by far the best song on the album. I Know It is fairly lively but the lyrics aren’t nearly as bright. While the song’s verses might be slightly pedestrian, the chorus is really catchy and redeems it.

Side B begins with Holiday. “I know this song!” (Because of a cover, again.) The lyrics are really trite but the backing is wonderful: the synths, drum machine, bass, and guitar all go together perfectly. The song goes on too long though, as the seemingly endless repetition of “Holiday! Celebrate!” gets unnerving. In Think of Me Madonna’s vocals get a little whiney. This track is too similar to Holiday for its own good and it seems even more repetitive (that’s perhaps the only reason that the saxophone bit in the middle is welcome).

Physical Attraction might be my favourite on this side. Though nothing in this song really stands out (perhaps only the spoken bit in the middle), it just works for me. This time I don’t mind the track’s length, even though it’s the longest one here. (The bit at the end where she sings “physical, physical attraction” reminds me of Olivia Newton-John’s Physical.) Everybody starts off with a familiar synth motif (probably because I’ve listened to Annie’s Anniemal for the first time not long ago), which is easily the most memorable part of the song. It features the second best vocal performance from Madonna on the album (after Burning Up) but this time it’s the chorus which for some reason leaves me cold. It’s pleasant but ultimately forgettable.

Despite its flaws I enjoyed the album, particularly the first half. My main complaint is the lengths of some tracks (and believe me, I’m used to 10+ minute compositions).

In order from strongest to weakest: Burning Up, Physical Attraction, Lucky Star, I Know It, Holiday, Borderline, Everybody, Think of Me.
I know the part of the point with “The Great Madonna Retrospective” is to encourage us all to listen to Madonna’s albums again to gain a greater appreciation of her work.

But “re-listening” to “Madonna” is almost a fruitless endeavor, and I mean it as a compliment; since my seventh-grade self first listened to it, the hooks have been bouncing around in my head constantly, from “Lucky Star” to “Everybody” to everything in between. I mean, there’s a reason “Holiday,” “Lucky Star” and “Borderline” have been consistent features on the radio for the past 30 years. But beneath the bigger hits lies a cohesive eight debut, surprising strong in a fluffy music era. The criminally neglected “Burning Up,” released before “Holiday” propelled Madonna to stardom, is probably the best track on the album. The urgent, punky bassline features just as much as Madonna herself, with the two charging along in a campy plea for love. It’s to Madonna’s credit that she can sing lines like “You’ve got me buttered up baby,” or puff out the ridiculous middle eight and still sounding detached. I believe her desperation, but I suspect she was smirking the entire time in the recording studio.

It’s the complexity of Madonna’s emotional and personal expression that carries the album. Without her, it would be a mish-mash of 80s beats and some pretty melodies. Case in point: the true underrated gem of “Madonna,” “I Know It,” would sound unspectacular if not sung by Madonna. She infuses every word in the terse chorus not only with the hurt the track demands, but a brattiness that makes her instantly endearing. Also, the song reminds me of the Game Boy Color Mario Tennis soundtrack for some reason, which makes it at least a 8/10 anyway.

There’s not much else to say about “Madonna,” other than nearly every song is enjoyable (in an early 1980s sense) except for “Think of Me.” But there is one thing; neglecting this debut in favor of her later albums does Madonna a disservice. Removed from her later fame, Madonna is at her least pretentious, but perhaps most brash. It’s the sound of Madonna playing by the rules and hating every second of it. But only by working the system first did she start to subvert it in the amazing way she did. Absent of overt sexuality and shock value, “Madonna” is Madonna at her most undeveloped. But even then, only she can do basic better than anyone expected.

Overall: Not her best, but definitely essential Madonna listening. Good album considering the time period.

Strongest tracks: Burning Up, Borderline, Lucky Star, Holiday, I Know It
So-So: Everybody, Physical Attraction
Meh: Think of Me
Going to be as short as I can about this. I was three months old when this album came out, though once I became aware of what music was the main singles became almost instant classics (Lucky Star and Holiday. Borderline was just kinda there, but I did like it.) I only remembered the video to Burning Up (with her crawling and rolling around the street), but not the song. Everybody didn't exist to me, not till much later.

Years later I decided to go on a mission to hear every single Madonna album all the way through, as my first album was The Immaculate Collection and I wanted to understand what set each album apart.

Hearing the album Madonna was interesting. There were so many hits and main staples in Madonna's discography. Instead of listening from the beginning the first thing I did was listen to Everybody. What a funky cool song! It really is the perfect first single, this is basically all Madonna wants from us. After that I went back to the beginning. It was interesting to hear the 'album' versions of the singles and not the 'Immaculate' versions. Can't say much more about the singles, they are amazing for what they are, where they came from, and what they would become.

Now, that aside, there are three more songs on that album. As I've seen a couple of times on this thread, people have made mention of Punk/Dark Disco as a way to explain the types of songs on this. Physical Attraction and Think of Me really fall under this category for me. For me they don't hold up like the singles as far as timelessness goes, but they still have a charm and nostalgia of the 80's.

I Know It. Well, when I hear the beginning instrumental it takes me back to cheesy 80's movies where people would go on driving montages. This song is the only one holding me back from loving this album completely, though it is better then some of the things that are to come.


Sorry, didn't expect my review to be so long.


Lucky Star starts off like a synthy shooting star rising and falling over and over again, an analogy about her ups and downs through the years, perhaps? Hey, it's Popjustice! Although it was dedicated to Mark Kamins for playing Everybody at the Danceteria and for introducing her to Sire Records, the line ‘you may be my lucky star, but I’m the luckiest by far’ makes it clear that she’s the lucky one, after all. 'Shine your heavenly body tonight' is effortlessly cheeky, classic Madonna pun. I love the video and its simplicity. It's basically Madonna having sex with the camera and saying 'I want you to think that I'm the best thing ever'. I would have loved if the album was called Lucky Star, but 'Madonna' was bound to be more iconic in the long run, especially that some people still think that it's a stage name.
I have many issues with Borderline, but it's the most poignant song on the album, its sense of hopelessness is perfect. The echoes on her voice make it sound like she's deeply frustrated, it's like you are listening to her voice, but no one else does. You can't help but think the song builds and builds, but its peak is unreachable. Based on the lyrics, that's quite fitting, isn't it? The video was like a preview of Desperately Seeking Susan, highlighting her New York street persona.
Burning Up remains the ultimate Madonna statement: 'Do you wanna see me down on my knees or bending over backwards now, would you be pleased? Unlike the others I’d do anything, I'm not the same, I have no shame, I'm on fire!' That's Madonna, the postmodern feminist heroine at her finest moment.
Don't let the 'Borderline Part II' intro fool you, I Know It has some 60's feel to it and the synths are summery and eerie at the same time.
The original album version of Holiday doesn't really do justice to this highly infectious song, it really shines live on stage. And to be honest, that's a very unsusual situation for a pop song.
There isn't much to be said about Think Of Me, except it's technically the best song on the album. It's very laid-back and the bassline is excellent.
The scintillating Physical Attraction is a forgotten, synthetic, slutty and extremely well-arranged anthem.
Everybody is a minimalistic and groovy dance tune. Madonna's spoken words can do no wrong.
I don't really understand the lack of love for 'Holiday.' It's flawless and just SCREAMS summer.

YES! I couldn't agree more. To me this is such a timeless pop classic. It seems very dated production wise, but it still is to me one of Madonna's biggest crowd pleasers - and somehow I wish that she actually closed the MDNA tour with an updated version of it, and if they felt lazy I would even go for the Holiday/Celebrate mash up that they rehearsed for the Sticky and Sweet tour (actually I'm not sure if this is real or fake).
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YES! I couldn't agree more. To me this is such a timeless pop classic. It seems very dated production wise, but it still is to me one of Madonna's biggest crowd pleasers - and somehow I wish that she actually closed the MDNA tour with an updated version of it, and if they felt lazy I would even go for the Holiday/Celebrate mash up that they rehearsed for the Sticky and Sweet tour (actually I'm not sure if this is real or fake).

It was on the second leg of Sticky and Sweet - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fXW9oDuYTg
It was on the second leg of Sticky and Sweet - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fXW9oDuYTg

Oh thanks for sharing that! :)

I actually just came across this video of her during a soundcheck this week and she sang Deeper and Deeper, Physical Attraction (!!!!) and Give It 2 Me. I wasn't sure if this would fit this part of the retrospective since it's a very recent video... but it's nice to see her getting the fans to perform Physical Attraction, and it's even nicer to see her being so carefree. I don't think there are many artists out there who are ok with having fans at their soundcheck and much less embracing them while doing it, and it's (good) surprise that Madonna (because she's such a perfectionist) would be doing it.

EDIT: Here's the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=vY7vLKNaR2E


I ended up listening to Madonna at a very high volume yesterday while walking home drunk from town at 3 o'clock in the morning. It was amazing. I think I was planning on writing up a review when I got back, but ended up sleeping instead.

I first heard this album back in 2008. 2007-08 was really when I became a Madonna fan, and started to get more of an interest in music in general. I think I must have read reviews of Confessions, talking about "Madonna goes back to her roots." I enjoyed Confessions, so decided to get this. I think the only song I'd ever heard from it was Holiday, as I was only born in 92, and almost everyone in the world knows Holiday. I think I enjoyed the rest of it, but this album was a bit of a grower.

The word which seems to have come up quite a lot in this discussion of the album is 'basic'. This is a very basic album, especially compared with what Madonna subsequently achieved. It's a rather cohesive album, but still manages to explore lots of different styles. A very impressive début.

How does the woman who eventually got the Pope to encourage boycotts against her open her first album? With a song whose main hook is from a nursery rhyme. Like a lot of the album, the lyrics are simple but effective. The instrumental is wonderful, and as always, Madonna truly sells what she is singing.

The eternal theme of being messed around is what Borderline deals with, and it's done wonderfully.

Burning Up, as has been said, is practically the early Madonna's manifesto. This is the woman who told Dick Clark she wanted to rule the world, and this song tells us that she'll do anything for our love.

I Know It's chorus is particularly fun to sing along to.

Holiday is literally flawless. I think it's way too overexposed though. Its amazingness has been somewhat diluted through people always knowing it. A lot of Madonna's songs have this same message, if you dance and party, problems can be solved. Holiday, Into the Groove, Vogue, Music, Hey You (!), Turn Up the Radio all have this quality. It's a simple and essentially incorrect view, but I don't think that's necessarily it. I think it's more of the feeling that when you're dancing, when you're clubbing, that you can "forget about the bad times," they'll still be there the next day, but the thrill of music can momentarily make them disappear.

I love the submarine sonar-esque sounds in Think of Me, well the instrumental in general. Listening to it, it seems strange that there was ever a time where Madonna could be ignored.

The middle eight of Physical Attraction is wonderful, and the best part of the song, along with the spoken bit, but it is a great song as a whole.


I really love this album. It's my second-favourite 80s Madonna album (after Like a Prayer). I love the frailty of Madonna's early vocals. You can feel the strain and the emotion in them. I won't give a score, because I find it impossible to be impartial towards Madonna.

Madonna spraypainted (her then manager) Camille's two poodles with the words FUCK and SEX.

"Warners don't know how to push me, whether to push me as a disco artist or as new wave because of the way I look. I'd rather just start another category." Madonna, shortly before Madonna was released.

"I'm going to rule the world. I'm going to be bigger than Jesus." Madonna, during an interview on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

I'll post more Facts and Quotes later.