On December 22 1985, John “Jellybean” Benitez’ Sidewalk Talk (featuring Madonna) debuted at #48 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Disco chart (not to be confused with the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Single Sales chart). The hit dance single peaked at #1 on the Dance/Disco chart on February 2 1986.
Sidewalk Talk was written by Madonna, arranged by Jellybean and Stephen Bray and mixed by Jellybean.
Call Sidewalk Talk another Madonna song that got away from her! The real end of the First/Virgin era! With Live to Tell on the horizon, the next chapter in the Madonna story was about to begin!
I’ve never really understood what her vocal contribution was to this single. It sounds like her voice through the entire song, but is she just singing back-up? If she is the primary vocalist, why is this a “Jellybean” song and not a proper Madonna single? I’ve always loved the song.
Hi JC! Although Madonna is credited as a back-up vocalist on the song, in fact she actually sings lead on the chorus and bridge (along with some ad-libs towards the end). Back-up for these sections are provided by two fairly well-known session vocalists: Cindy Mizelle and Audrey Wheeler. Madonna’s vocals are featured most prominently during the bridge section. Catherine Buchanan performs the verses solo. Interestingly, the officially released Acappella mix of the song removes all of Madonna’s lead vocal contributions…it features Catherine’s vocal on the verses and the back-up vocals of Mizelle & Wheeler on the chorus and bridge (which is why most of the lyrics from the bridge are excluded altogether, since most of them were performed solo by Madonna). It’s likely that Madonna’s vocal take was mixed in from the song’s original demo recording which she did with Steve Bray, and thus the quality of the recording was not considered to be high enough to include the vocals in a “naked” state. With the recent leak of the original Into The Groove stems (a song that also features Madonna’s original demo vocals), you can clearly hear limitations in quality when listening to her vocal track alone…these limitations become much less audible once the music tracks are added in to the mix.
As for why it is credited to Jellybean and not to Madonna & Catherine Buchanan, that would have been a decision made by Jellybean and supported by Madonna, since it is her song. Catherine was likely paid for her contribution as a session vocalist on the condition that it would be promoted as a Jellybean song. Generally a song is considered to be performed by its lead vocalist(s), although there is no rule that states it cannot be attributed to its producer instead. An interesting fact is that while the song was originally attributed to Jellybean alone, when it was reissued years later it was promoted as being performed by “Jellybean featuring Catherine Buchanan”. Not sure what prompted the change. Marketing tactics aside, if one were to label the song according to typical standards, it would be considered a song performed by Madonna featuring Catherine Buchanan, and this is what I consider it to be regardless of how it was promoted. In fact, I tend to believe that Steve Bray should have been credited as a co-producer on both this song and on Gambler, and Curtis Hudson should have been credited as a co-producer on Holiday. Jellybean was not a musician, vocalist, songwriter or studio wizard and by all accounts he relied heavily on the contributions of the producers of the songs’ original demos and/or on the assistance of outside arrangers, musicians and engineers in order to create “his productions”. So in my mind, giving him top billing for any song is quite a lofty stretch, to say the least.