On October 1 1983, Madonna appeared on her first magazine cover for Island magazine, shot by Curtis Knapp. The black & white cover image stands out from the many other Madonna photographs of the era due to its minimalist feel, focusing solely on Madonna’s facial features.
The magazine also featured an exclusive Q&A with Madonna:
Interviewer: Let’s go deep into your personal life.
Madonna: No way.
Interviewer: Come on. What do you like? Start with fashion. You’re a girl. You always wear all these great clothes on stage.
Madonna: No I don’t.
Interviewer: Everybody has the Madonna look now.
Madonna: I know. Crotchless jeans, (laughter). Most of the clothes I wear look the way they do because they’re so worn out.
Interviewer: Where’s that stage style from?
Madonna: It’s pseudo-Puerto Rican punk rock freak out. A Motorcycle baby. It’s a combination of my two oldest fantasies. One was to be Nancy Sinatra; the other was to be a nun.
Interviewer: Do you ever do that song “These Boots are Made for Walkin’”?
Madonna: I used to do it in front of the mirror in my uniform skirt.
Interviewer: You went to Catholic school?
Madonna: Uh-huh. The Sacred Heart Academy.
Interviewer: What do you want to achieve now?
Interviewer: Make lots of records, or make lots of money?
Madonna: I want to make a lot of love. (whistle in the background) I don’t think about money. It just gets there. Up until a year ago I was still broke and living on the street. But I still feel the same way. Money will never be a problem for me. If you worry about it, it’s a problem.
Interviewer: Did you draw when you were a kid?
Madonna: Phallic symbols. You know Catholics. I used to draw people naked all the time in my art class and my nun teachers used to tell me I had to put clothes on them. So I just drew lines around their bodies. See-through clothes.
Interviewer: Had you ever seen a naked body at that time?
Madonna: No. I never saw naked bodies. I never saw my parents naked. Gosh, when I was seventeen I hadn’t seen a penis.
Interviewer: So were you shocked when you saw the first one?
Madonna: Yeah. I thought it was really gross (laughter). And I’m not saying anymore.
Interviewer: Did you ever fall in love?
Madonna: I’m always falling in love. But I get in trouble because I think it’s love then I realize it’s not, but the other person is in love and then I have this problem til I think it’s love again and have the courage to get out of the last one.
Interviewer: Your songs are very fantasy. Maybe they help people think they’re in love when they’re not. Is that okay?
Madonna: Yeah. Fantasies are essential. Without fantasies I would have died of starvation.
Interviewer: In New York it’s difficult to be polite sometimes. Do you think being polite is a virtue? Or is it something you don’t have to think about?
Madonna: I think it’s a virtue. I’m sincere to people who are sincere.
Interviewer: What about people like the president of Warner Brothers Records?
Madonna: I’m just charming.
Interviewer: That makes sense. Your new manager is also Michael Jackson’s manager. And you’re planning you first tour with a band?
Madonna: Yeah I’m madly in love with my manager. And you can print that. I’m rehearsing now with singers and dancers, and I’ll have two guitarists, and two synthesizers, the drums and bass will be pre-recorded. We’re doing an American tour, and European track dates. Not til the beginning of the year.
Interviewer: You were talking before about reincarnation. What were your past lives like?
Madonna: I don’t really…I only have images and feelings, no specific chronological events or anything like that. I do feel really transient in a way. I feel like when I meet people I can absorb their character and be them. And I find that no matter what I’m doing I’m always doing the same thing. Basically. What ever it looks like on the outside. And it just makes me feel..I don’t know…I can’t really describe it verbally because no one’s ever asked me this before, no one really cares. Haha! People just want to hear me sing.
Interviewer: How come you do soul music…soul pop?
Madonna: Because I have soul. Because you can dance to it. Cause you can, you know. I grew up in an all black neighborhood and I wanted to be a black girl. I really did. There was something about me that was so much freer than the white kids I knew and they didn’t go to the Catholic schools I went to. They went to other schools and they wore short dresses and they didn’t have to take baths all the time and their knees were always dirty…I liked the fact that they could braid their hair and it would be sticking up…that’s not why I’m braiding my hair right now…First of all, all the black girls in my neighborhood had these dances in their yard where they had these little turntables with 45 records and they’d play all this Motown stuff and they would dance, just dance, all of them dancing together and none of the white kids I knew would ever do that. They were really boring and stiff. And I wanted to be part of the dancing. I didn’t like my friends. I had to be beaten up so many times by these little black girls before they would accept me and finally one day they whipped me with a rubber hose till I was like, lying on the ground crying. And then they just stopped doing it all of a sudden and let me be their friend, part of their group.
On July 27 1983, Madonna’s eponymous debut album was released by Sire Records. The record was renamed Madonna: The First Album for the 1985 international re-release of the album.
The album was released with 8 tracks (produced by John “Jellybean” Benitez, Mark Kamins and Reggie Lucas):
- Lucky Star
- Burning Up
- I Know It
- Think of Me
- Physical Attraction
Five singles were released from The First Album:
- Everybody (October 6 1982)
- Burning Up (March 9 1983)
- Holiday (September 7 1983 – UK)
- Lucky Star (September 8 1983)
- Borderline (February 15 1984)
“Madonna was unhappy with the whole album, so I went in and sweetened up a lot of music for her, adding some guitars to ‘Lucky Star’, some voices, some magic… I just wanted to do the best job I could do for her. When we would playback ‘Holiday’ or ‘Lucky Star’, you could see that she was overwhelmed by how great it all sounded. You wanted to help her, you know? As much as she could be a bitch, when you were in a groove with her, it was very cool, very creative.”
— John “Jellybean” Benitez talking about Madonna and the album.
“I’ve refrained over the years in addressing aspects of Madonna’s career because I’m not a person who likes negative discussions. But what I will say is that in Madonna’s ascent to fame and fortune, there’s been a pretty vicious competition for credit in being involved. In other words, someone will say, ‘I launched Madonna.’ If I talk to a lot of people today, I will say I was Madonna’s first producer. I produced six of the eight tracks on her first record. I would say nine times out of 10, their response will be, ‘Oh yeah, I thought Jellybean did that.’ But Jellybean didn’t do that. Jellybean was a remixer, and we didn’t have time to remix records. It wasn’t something that I was interested in doing. Somewhere in this process of publicists and personal relationships, somehow he came out as the guy. Just for the record, one tires in a lifetime of hearing someone taking credit for something that you’ve done. Jellybean produced ‘Holiday’ and he remixed a couple of tracks, but remixing tracks for radio isn’t the same thing as producing one of the major breakout pop stars of the 1980s…it’s almost like I was fired or something. I wasn’t fired. I finished the record…and they put it out and sold a bunch of records. And everybody else ran around trying to take credit for it because it was so big that they couldn’t help themselves. … I must say, Madonna was great to work with in the studio. She really put in the work. She was a creative person.”
— Reggie Lucas, producer of Madonna’s first album.
The fact that Jellybean was producing Naked Eyes at the same studio provides some context for the vocal Madonna recorded for the remix of their single, Promises, Promises. Perhaps Sire didn’t support the idea at the time, as Madonna’s cameo remained shelved for twenty years until the band finally issued it on a scarce retrospective, Everything And More, in 2002.
On March 26 1983, the music video for Madonna’s Everybody was briefly mentioned in Billboard magazine along side the music video for Konk’s Konk Party, noting that both videos were directed by Ed Steinberg of Soft Focus Productions. What is not mentioned and likely not known to the columnist (considering they think Madonna is the name of a group!) is that Madonna appears as an extra in Konk Party along with her pals Erika Belle and Martin Burgoyne. Original Sonic Youth drummer and member of Konk, Richard Edson, is also featured in the video. Edson would later appear in the film Desperately Seeking Susan, holding open a newspaper box for Madonna, and is pictured prominently next to Madonna in the film’s cast photo – which is unusual considering the brevity of his time on-screen. He worked with Madonna again in 1988, playing the character of Johnny Crackow in the film, Bloodhounds Of Broadway.
Sonic Youth would explore their own fascination with Madonna with their side project, Ciccone Youth. In liner notes for Sonic Youth’s reissue of their landmark album, Daydream Nation (1988), the band revealed that they had given an advance copy of Ciccone Youth’s The Whitey Album (1988) to Madonna’s sister, who was working in Warner’s art department at the time, seeking Madonna’s approval for the use of her image on the album cover (her songs Into The Groove & Burning Up were also covered & sampled). Word came back that Madonna had no issues with it, adding that she remembered the band from their early days in New York.
Sonic Youth made humourous references to Madonna’s place in popular culture in their promotional artwork throughout the 80’s – typically designed by bassist/vocalist/guitarist and visual artist, Kim Gordon. They were even known to use Madonna’s music as interludes during guitar changes at their shows in the 80’s, bewildering audience members who were not privy to their shared origins as part of the early 80’s underground music scene in NYC.
In another connection, Sonic Youth’s 2004 album, Sonic Nurse, featured artwork from Richard Prince’s acclaimed Nurse Paintings series. In 2015, Madonna used a rotating selection of paintings from her own art collection as backdrops for a series of press junket interviews to promote her Rebel Heart album. One of the paintings displayed was Prince’s Heartbreak Nurse from his Nurse Paintings series.