Iconography: The Great Madonna Retrospective



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.

Wasn't it just the first part? The latter being John Lennon.
I'm going to make a proper post in here over the next day or two, but I will say that, as someone who has never bothered to listen to album (And only given the singles off it the odd spin from The Immaculate Collection.), I was surprised at how enduring it seemed. I mean, it's nearly thirty years old, yet nearly every track holds up as a great pop song. Admittedly, my view is skewed from being sick and tired of current pop music's abusive relationship with electronic production so all the guitars hooked me immediately, but it's a remarkably solid album.

I feel like pop music has moved in cycles to the point where an artist could release album right now and still have it sound current and brilliant. I'm shocked, because I'm actually finding it zoom up my Madonna album rankings as well. It's just very, very good pop. Simple as that.
She dismissed her debut as 'aerobics' music but I think (after this week) she really does it an injustice with that comment. I can see what she means but it's got bite, hasn't it?
I've been so busy, it's hard to have time to do a long review. I didn't have this album and had to buy it. Though, I have had most of the songs in some form.
I have fallen in love with this album. This album was formed around dance, club music. When you think about it, Madonna's addiction was never sex. It was dance. It saw her through everything. Reading all the stories about her hanging out every night at Danceteria and always the center of attention,dancing all night, this album is the perfect reflection of young Madonna with her first album.. When I listen to this album, I see Madonna in the Lucky Star video the whole way through. I love that video. That era Madonna could show up today looking like she did and she would be edgier than most of the young popstars trying so very hard to be cool. There was such an edge and arrogance and confidence about her. When I listen to this album, what strikes me most is this album is simple in many of the beats, etc., and Madonna's voice is really in the forefront. There's no magic in the studio like nowdays and no heavy reverb or layered vocals that came on later and was so popular I think in the mid '80s. Her voice isn't polished in delivery; yet, that is the absolute charm to this album with her. To me, this album has a rawness to it that I like.

I have never liked Lucky Star. Though, it worked in Confessions. But after listening to this album, I now am addicted to that song right now. Where have I been all these years. It's a great song. Of course, Burning Up is a big favorite. Actually, it's my favorite. I can't really find a bad song on here for her debut album back in the '80s. One of my favorites is I Know It. I love Holiday just because I have always loved her performance of Holiday on the Blond Ambition tour and Drowned World Tour. Her infectious energy and her costume was gorgeous on her in Blond Ambition. So I kind of think of her like that when listening. Borderline is just a really beautifully crafted pop song.

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What strikes me most about Madonna is M’s obvious self-confidence and drive. You can already see it in her eyes on the cover: she actually looks like a proper predator, hungry for fame, success and, most of all, you/us. Her look practically commands you to love her. And then of course there is the music which, whilst light-hearted and poppy, is undeniably solid and much better than what Madonna herself gives it credit for. How could anyone possible resist her?

Sure, the subject matters of the album are light-hearted and perhaps monotonous in comparison with later albums, and sure, pop has known more capable singers than Madonna, but she sings every lyric on the album, no matter how banal (I’m looking at you, Lucky Star and Everybody), with such conviction that it, well, lifts the songs to a higher ground. What a difference thirty years can make… Her delivery is a definite added value and gives each song so much more charm.

The production, which is both joyful (e.g. Holiday) and raw, almost Blondie-like (e.g. Burning Up) in the space of only eight tracks, is undoubtedly part of the charm as well, but to me it is mostly Madonna’s undeniable charisma, which is both visible and audible, that still makes her debut album a breath of fresh air three decades on.


This is quite amazing.

Madonna's 1981 Record Label Rejection Letter

So, hindsight is 20/20, but surely Mr. Jimmy Ienner, past president of Millenium Records, regrets passing on a new artist by the name of Madonna in 1981. It's interesting to note that Mr. Ienner claims the only thing missing from Madonna's package is "the material." Maybe that's what pushed Her Madgesty to become the Material Girl?



Does anyone know:

Why the album was re-released with a different cover?
Why the re-release had a different version of Burning Up on it?
Why I Know It seemed to be a bside at least once per album right up to Like A Prayer?
A few days after I posted about Madonna being 'punk' there's a little debate in this week's NME about Madonna being a punk!
Does anyone know:

Why the album was re-released with a different cover?
Why the re-release had a different version of Burning Up on it?
Why I Know It seemed to be a bside at least once per album right up to Like A Prayer?

The album was re-released with a new cover and title to cash in on her new found fame in 1985. The font matches the font on the 'Like a virgin' cover and calling it 'The First album' highlights it to those who may have thought 'Like a virgin' was her first record. 'Holiday' became a big hit again in 1985 as well, it was at #2 whilst 'Into the groove' was at number one. At one point she had both these and 'Crazy for you' in the top 20. That was extremely unusual in those days. I'm not sure of the reason why the different mix of 'Burning up' was used, possibly so they could market it as a 'different' album. 'I know it' was a b-side multiple times as her record lable were very lazy. 'The look of love' was a b-side on more than one occasion as well!
I'm surprised at the relative lack of love for Physical Attraction and at the amount of praise for I Know It. I always assumed it would have been the other way around, as Physical Attraction is so quintessentially Madonna to my ears. It's sexy without trying too hard, it's got a great rhythm you can dance to and, last but not least, nobody does spoken bits better than Madge.
I've never really given this album my full attention; she debuted in 83 stateside but here it was all a bit of a struggle until very late on in 1984 (the Smash Hits review...or was it Record Mirror?...of LaV was pretty withering!), so despite hailing from probably my most fondly-remember era of pop music, I don't associate Madonna with that time as much as 1985/86. Holiday hit the top 40 the very same week as Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and I just leaned towards Cyndi more back then; I was 12, I didn't really go in for pouting, sex-kitten, come-to-bed type sexuality....even now I don't all that much, hahaha...but Cyndi was quirky, cheeky, kind of cute and that appealed to me. I didn't even find Madonna appealing until maybe the rear sleeve of Like A Virgin (the album).

That said, Lucky Star did well on my charts (#6!), and I quite liked Borderline even though its flop status in the UK meant I hardly heard it at all until 1986. IN 1984, for me, Madonna was just kind of there....maybe trying a bit too hard...maybe just a bit too "American" and clearly ambitious for us Brits. With hindsight, the whole concept of the debut album, especially towards the US market, is very smart and contemporary. The UK just wasn't quite ready for what she was doing on the first album - the charts of 1983/84 weren't so receptive, as the higher peaks for Holiday and Borderline upon reissue prove....they were the smash hits they sounded like in the end.

The scrapped sleeve for the debut album is rather cool...never seen that before, or knew of the last-minute changes. The reissue sleeve fits in better with the image she had cultivated by 1985 - the B&W shot has less innocence to it, less Smash Hits/No.1 appeal. It's more grown-up.
I got around to listening to Madonna at the age of 13 encouraged by my father who gave me as a christmast present the 'Music' album in 2001 and an unauthorized biography (his gift changed my life completelly) , ever since then i got on a 'madonna phase' that lasted my whole teenage years. My second album of hers was 'The inmacullate collection' and the third one was her actual first 'the aerobic album' Madonna.

In hindshight it was the perfect album to introduce her to the world because its very easy to get, and completelly catchy, but as someone else mentioned already it feels like her willing to play by the rules (for just one album alone) in order to make it in the music industry, its a very safe album packed with potential hits so in that sense i believe the real Madonna started showing from Like a Virgen onwards not here.
It's a great collection of upbeat tracks packed with joyfull melodies, dance imagery, and the voice of a young woman meaning every single word that came out of her mouth. Even though she didnt write all the songs by herself the album feels like a collection of Madge's confessions over electronic synths where almost every single word she pronounces sound either desperate/Hopefull but most definatelly full of emotion unlike her recent material in which she sounds bored to death.

It's 8 track make a cohesive fun listening but the production sound quite dated if im being honest.
Its also a very sexy album, because she's a very sexual being, may i add if i remember correctly she even started recording her demos with DJ's because she would fuck them in order to get the record done, so she used her sex to get the work done, she's was so driven that she would do anything in order to secure herself a recording contract. She's intelligent and knows who to be around and what to get from then and how. quoting her "unlike the others i do anything, i'm not the same, i have no shame i'm on fire" it really feels like those were the words she lived by during that stage of her life.

The singles off this album sound like classic 80's song now and rightly deserved. but my personal favourites are two full-on attitude songs that went practically unnoticed 'Think of me' (I love the sax) and 'Burning up' even though the latter was releasrd as a single it criminally underperformed so not many people know its existence, i'd love to see her perform those two live.

I adore that Everybody was released as her first single (even though it went nowhere) because its her statement, i believe thats her ultimate goal, thats what she's all about. She's always been a dance artist whose porpuse was to make people come together trough music so it feels very genuine when she asks as to 'dance and sing, get up and do your thing' heck she's still singing about that 30 years down the line!
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Madonna - Madonna

It wasn't until I turned 18 I got my first Madonna album which was Confessions On A Dance Floor for my birthday. But it was Ray of Light that sparked an beginning of an interest when I was 10 (when we get to Ray of Light I shall go more in depth) I already knew Rain, Secret, Live To Tell, Vogue, Don't Cry For Me Argentina and Holiday from when I was younger. From then on I watched everything Madonna from videos, interviews, documentaries and her tours it just took me a while to get one of her albums to kickstart the evergrowing collection I have now and Hung Up did the trick (I will go more in depth when it's Confessions... time to shine). This is my first time listening to her debut album I already know the singles but for years I thought Holiday was her debut I was surprised to find out whilst watching Naked Ambition during a Madonna night on CH4 in 2000 it was Everybody overall I learned a lot about pre fame Madonna from that documentary.

I don't feel I need to say anything about the singles from this album they are a cemented part of her back catalogue I adore them they define 80s dance pop and the sound is still very influential today. I will say the promo of Everybody was genius but for me the sample Annie used on Greatest Hit took it to another level I love that song more than Everybody now but it still respects the original from both songs starting in a similar vain. Burning Up (the 12" version is sublime), Everybody and Holiday are my overall favourite singles from this album.

Out of the songs I'm hearing for the very first time I Know It for me is the weakest on the album the classic trademark of the Madonna rhyming couplet is put to good use the whole album in fact features rhyming couplets. Think of Me took a few listens to grow on me and eventually I was dancing along like I would with the singles but it is very much an album track. Physical Attraction is my favourite out of the three songs it's the strongest out of the non singles from Madonna. I didn't realise I heard part of it on Naked Ambition until I re-watched it this week by then I played this song numerous times.

Overall the album flows well, it's a valiant strong effort for a debut album only two weak songs Lucky Star in the context of the album overall and I Know It but they're listenable compared to many debut albums I've heard with heaps of filler. Hearing this makes me wish I was there at the start.
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The first Madonna album I heard was Like a Virgin (more on that story later). Then, I received a copy of True Blue on cassette for my sixth birthday. After that, Kylie happened, and my interest in Madonna waned for a few years. It wasn’t until 1991 that the girls at school and I started to properly obsess about her, and during that year, I filled in the rest of her discography in my collection.

I can date when I first heard Madonna fairly accurately, as I remember I was in HMV and about to buy the ‘Holiday’ cassingle (so this would be June-ish, and I would be ten years old), but my Grandmother intervened – disgusted at the amount of money they charged for only two tracks, and thanks to her I ended up going away with The First Album instead

I don’t really remember my first reactions to it – it was Madonna and therefore it was brilliant, and I’m not sure it went any further than that. Which I suppose in a way isn’t a hundred miles away to what I think about it now. After listening to it a fair bit this past week, it’s certainly a very strong debut album (it is, according to my RYM list, my 164th favourite album of all time, pointless stat fans).

Unlike some of the other reviews/reappraisals on here, I must say that while it is certainly “of its time”, it doesn’t feel particularly dated to me (though it’s possible that I’m using that word to mean something slightly different than those people). With all the talk of Madonna’s future-facing, I always forget how indebted to the past some of it is – the arrangements of songs like ‘Holiday’ are as indebted to seventies soul as much as they are disco, and the new wave-y bits like ‘Burning Up’ aren’t exactly breaking new ground either. But as a statement of intent, I think this record works perfectly. It sets out Madonna as an artist as completely as one could want – while it doesn’t really hint toward her genre-bending future, I’m never sure that aspect of her career is as essential to Madonna-the-artist as some fans might like to believe. ‘Burning Up’-‘Holiday’-‘Physical Attraction’-‘Everybody’ form a perfect insight into what makes Madonna tick (at least in terms of her musical output). The desire/sex/dancing combo is already there, perfectly formed. And alongside them, slightly cornball, but hugely endearing, and seemingly sincere love songs (‘Lucky Star’, ‘Borderline’). This is pretty much the blueprint for (most) of what was to come next.

The singles – all bloody eight-hundred of them – are all fucking fantastic. ‘Lucky Star’ – which doesn’t get enough love on here, for my liking – is probably my favourite of them, it’s gloriously insistent and that guitar is bloody marvellous. But even a song like ‘Holiday’ – never one of my favourites, far from it – is, on serious reflection, pretty close to perfection. The production on a song like that is top notch. It’s layered, and interesting, and I don’t have anything negative to say about it, really. Compare that to ‘I Know It’ (in my opinion the only misstep on the album), with its more minimal arrangement and those awful plonky keyboards. It just feels to me so wooden and empty compared to the rest of the record. The other song that I remembered less than fondly is, I’m happy to say, much better than I recalled. ‘Think of Me’ is actually much closer to the rest of the stuff on here than it is to ‘I Know It’, which I’d always paired it with. My only bugbear is her vocal, which is the only time here that it becomes too shrill not to begin to have a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the song. ‘Physical Attraction’, the other album track, is brilliant, and I have to say a great vocal performance. Some people have commented on the lengths of the tracks here, but I see that as part of Madonna’s strength – sure it’s a legacy of disco and the idea that this was the norm for music made to dance to, but it’ll actually become something that’s pretty constant in Madonna’s oeuvre. And for me it works – it gives each track a chance to develop and progress, and frankly Madonna’s coda’s are almost always so amazing that I would never want to argue with it. Compare the outro on the album version of ‘Borderline’ to the horrible cut-down on The Immaculate Collection and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

This wasn’t the review I was intending to write. I meant to write a far more straight-forward track-by-track analysis. But thanks to work, it’s taken me long enough to get to the stage where I’ve time to sit down and write anything, so a looser piece it is. Viva Madonna!
I'm with invertedbutterfly on the brilliance (ha) of Lucky Star. I was very disappointed in the British public only getting it to #14. Then, Borderline totally flopped and I honestly thought "oh well, that's it for her". Never expected to hear much from Madonna again, haha.

Buying music was obviously at a premium for a teenager in the 80s, so my first actual Madonna purchase didn't happen until well into 1986. But even if I was lukewarm about Holiday, I'd have bought the first album on the strength of Lucky Star if I'd been able to pick up anything I really liked back then.
I'm surprised at the relative lack of love for Physical Attraction and at the amount of praise for I Know It. I always assumed it would have been the other way around, as Physical Attraction is so quintessentially Madonna to my ears. It's sexy without trying too hard, it's got a great rhythm you can dance to and, last but not least, nobody does spoken bits better than Madge.

THIS. Physical Attraction is arguably one of the best album tracks on Madonna (not there's many or anything).

A few days after I posted about Madonna being 'punk' there's a little debate in this week's NME about Madonna being a punk!

A trendsetter etc.
Well, technically speaking, Physical Attraction isn't even a mere album track, as it was released as a double A-side along with Burning Up. Can someone say: best single release ever? Those two songs are the obvious highlights of the album for me, so the fact that they were released as one and the same single is a fine example of popjustice (though the flopping of the single would qualify as a popinjustice).

Seeing as we are now kind of in between Madonna and Like A Virgin, I thought I'd share the following interview from 1984. M's just shot the video for Like a Virgin and talks about how it is slightly difficult to actually release the single and the album, seeing how there are still so many songs from her debut doing well in the charts. She's so blasé about it, ha!


There she is, sitting next to James Brown and talking about what it's like to be a musician as if she's already been in the business for as long as he was. Amazing. Also, it's rather funny to see in the interview parts that Madge already had that aloof, slightly cocky superstar behaviour down to a tee at a very early stage of her career, even though at that point she hadn't really achieved that much, yet.
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