Today in Madonna History: November 16, 1989

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On November 16 1989, Madonna’s eponymous album was ranked #50 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Albums Of The 1980s.

Here’s what Rolling Stone had to say of Madonna’s debut album:

Five years after arriving in New York City from her hometown of Pontiac, Michigan, Madonna Louise Ciccone had little to show for a lot of work. By 1982, she had managed to get only a few gigs singing with drummer Stephen Bray’s band, the Breakfast Club, at clubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, and the future looked far from bright.

“I had just gotten kicked out of my apartment,” Madonna says, “so the band let me live in their rehearsal space at the Music Building, on Eighth Avenue. Stephen had keys to all the rehearsal rooms, so when I decided to make my own demos, we’d go into other people’s studios at night and use their four-track machines.”

Armed with a tape, Madonna began making the rounds of New York’s dance clubs. “I had heard that a lot of A&R people hung out at the clubs,” she says, “and I thought trying to go see them at their offices would be a waste of time.” It proved a good strategy: Through Mark Kamins, the DJ at Danceteria, the tape found its way to Sire Records, and Madonna was signed by label president Seymour Stein. “Seymour was in the hospital at the time,” she says. “I got signed while he was lying in bed in his boxer shorts.”

The contract with Sire guaranteed just one single, but it had options for recording albums as well. With Kamins producing, Madonna cut the moody disco track Everybody as her debut single. But when Sire picked up its option to record an album, she decided to try a different producer. “I wanted someone who’d worked with a lot of female singers,” she says.

Reggie Lucas, the Grammy-winning songwriter who had produced Stephanie Mills and Roberta Flack, was selected. After recording the album’s second single, the Lucas-penned Physical Attraction, he and Madonna cut the rest of the album, with the exception of Holiday, which was produced by Jellybean Benitez.

“Things were very informal and casual,” Lucas says of the sessions. “It was my first pop project, and she was just a new artist. I had no idea it would be the biggest thing since sliced bread.”

Indeed, initial response to Madonna gave no indication of the mania to follow. It took a year and a half for the album to go gold. But its assured style and sound, as well as Madonna’s savvy approach to videos, helped the singer make the leap from dance diva to pop phenom, and it pointed the direction for a host of female vocalists from Janet Jackson to Debbie Gibson.

“It influenced a lot of people,” says Madonna, who cites Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry as her own musical heroes. “I think it stands up well. It just took a long time for people to pay attention to me —and I thank God they did!”

Today in Madonna History: November 3, 1989

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On November 3 1989, Bloodhounds of Broadway was released in New York.

Here is the review summary by Hal Erickson of the New York Times:

Produced for theatrical released by PBS’ American Playhouse, Bloodhounds of Broadway is not exactly a remake of the 1952 film of the same name, though both pictures use the same Damon Runyon stories as inspiration. The scene is Broadway: the time is New Year’s Eve, 1928. Madonna plays small town girl-turned-hoofer Hortense Hathaway, who loves gambler Feet Samuels (Randy Quaid) more than somewhat. Since it is known far and wide that Feet has not a penny to his name, he must find some way to pay off his debts in a hurry. So he offers to sell his huge feet to a demented-an operation which will, alas, cost Feet the use of his life. Upon waking up to the fact that Hortense loves him, Feet decides that he prefers breathing to pushing up daisies. Meanwhile, a society doll named Harriet MacKyle (Julie Hagerty) turns on the spigots when her pet parrot is laid low by a clumsy gunman. And while all this is transpiring, high-roller Regret (Matt Dillon) has to beat a murder rap. Even while Regret is sweating it out, “The Brain” (Rutger Hauer), who is bleeding profusely after confronting the business end of a shiv, searches high and low for someone willing to donate blood to save his life. If you can, keep an eye out for author William Burroughs as a butler. Bloodhounds of Broadway was the first non-documentary effort of filmmaker Howard Brookner-and the last, since he died before the film was released. To gloss over the film’s plot holes, the distributors added a Winchell-like narrator to the proceedings, courtesy of actor Joseph Sommer.

Today in Madonna History: October 24, 1989

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On October 24 1989, Oh Father was released in North America as the fourth single from the Like A Prayer album. France, Japan and Australia also opted to issue the single in 1989, while other European markets waited for Madonna’s 1995 ballads compilation, Something To Remember, to promote the song. Oh Father was written and produced by Madonna & Patrick Leonard.

Leonard recalled the recording of the track in a 2014 interview with Billboard Magazine:

My favorite thing that we ever recorded, ever – or wrote – is Oh Father. That to me is the best thing we ever did. So, it didn’t surprise me because we knew when we did it, that there was something about this that was in a way kind of the most real thing.

For that song, the ‘record’ button was only pressed three times. It was pressed to do the track, live, with her singing live. Then we did the orchestra. And then we did a double of her vocal when we were mixing. That’s it. So it’s real. It’s something that I really wanted to do and she was kind enough to say “let’s try this,” and it was not easy.

There’s two or three guitar players playing. I’m playing keyboards. Jai Winding was playing keyboards. There was a percussionist and a drummer – and she’s singing – all at the same time.

These days, people go “wow, that seems crazy.” Those days it wasn’t uncommon for everybody to be playing together even though you’re not a band. But it was one of those things where the arrangement was tricky enough, that it really took some working out to get it all right.

Even all those weird synth overdubs and things – all those things were being done live. We worked out all the parts, had all the sounds. I remember that we cut it live, and then put the orchestra on. You’re not doubling the orchestra, so it’s one pass for the orchestra.

When I say [the ‘record’ button was] pressed three times, it might have gotten pressed 10 [times] that day, but it was ultimately one that stayed there. If you see what I’m saying. When we were mixing it, [mixer] Bill Bottrell suggested that we double the choruses. I remember even being a little upset about it (Laughs). Like, look, “we’ve got an amazing record that we only pressed the record button twice – can’t we leave it?” He said, “three isn’t exactly shameful.” We doubled the lead vocal on the choruses, and that was it.

Today in Madonna History: September 21, 1989

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On September 21 1989, Madonna was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for the second time that year (she was also featured on the cover in March 1989).

Herb Ritts took some amazing shots of Madonna for the cover. We’ve shared a few of what we consider to be the best from that shoot. We can’t look at these photos without hearing Cherish in our heads!

Today in Madonna History: September 6, 1989

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On September 6 1989, Madonna performed Express Yourself  at the 6th annual MTV Video Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, CA. The Express Yourself music video picked up awards for Best Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, while Like A Prayer won the Viewer’s Choice Award.

Serving as a sneak preview for 1990’s Blond Ambition Tour, the performance marked the first of many to feature the vocal trio of Madonna, Donna De Lory and Niki Haris. De Lory and Haris had previously toured with Madonna during the 1987 Who’s That Girl Tour, but had been joined by a third background vocalist, Debra Parsons. The pair would be more heavily featured as vocalist/dancers from this point forward, rather than simply band members who rarely left the confines of their microphone stand.

It was during rehearsals for the 1989 VMA performance that Niki Haris brought voguing to Madonna’s attention, and stylized poses were then fittingly incorporated into the performance’s choreography.

Today in Madonna History: August 26, 1989

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On August 26 1989, Madonna’s third single from the Like A Prayer album, Cherish, debuted at #32 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart.

Song review by Stewart Mason (

True Blue had the gimmicky quality of an early Cyndi Lauper single, like a new waver’s vague approximation of what a 1960’s girl group song might have sounded like. Cherish is a much more successful dip into the musical past, not least because the ’60s flavor is very slight, more of a mood than any kind of particular stylistic pastiche. Perfect pop touches like the flirty “ooh, ooh” backing vocals on the bridge and the dead-on introduction of a short, sharp horn section accent on the final chorus are part of what puts the song over, but the bulk of the credit belongs to Madonna’s bubbly and endearing lead vocal, which uses the helium-pitched high register of her early singles, but minus the occasional harshness of those songs. Cherish is a delight, one of many highlights on Madonna’s best album.