On March 2 1989, Madonna’s “Make A Wish” commercial for Pepsi premiered during an episode NBC-TV’s The Cosby Show.
A teaser ad had begun airing in the week leading up to the prime-time reveal of the full two-minute spot, which promised viewers the first opportunity to hear Madonna’s new single, Like A Prayer. Unbeknownst to fans at the time, the teaser featured a brief preview of the 12″ Club Version of the song (excluding any Madonna vocals).
An estimated 250 million viewers in over 40 countries tuned in to watch the only airing of “Make A Wish” – which marked the first time that a mainstream artist had launched a lead single in a promotional campaign before its official release to radio or MTV.
A brief but foretelling comment made by Madonna prior to the airing of the commercial was published in Rolling Stone magazine:
“I like the challenge of merging art and commerce. As far as I’m concerned, making a video is also a commercial. But the treatment for the video is a lot more controversial. It’s probably going to touch a lot of nerves in a lot of people. And the treatment for the commercial is…I mean, it’s a commercial. It’s very, very sweet. It’s very sentimental. The Pepsi spot is a great and different way to expose the record. Record companies just don’t have the money to finance that kind of publicity.”
The remark appeared to go conveniently unnoticed by the executives at Pepsi, who later claimed to have had no previous knowledge about the content of the Like A Prayer music video, despite the fact that it was already completed when the commercial was shot.
Banking on the buzz generated by the “Make A Wish” commercial, Sire Records issued the Like A Prayer single and its accompanying music video to radio and MTV the day after the commercial aired.
As for the ensuing controversy–that’s just another day in Madonna history.
On December 30 1989, Dear Jessie peaked at number-five on the UK singles chart. The track was released as the fourth single from Like A Prayer in Europe (with the exception of France which instead opted to service the North American/Japanese fourth single, Oh Father) and as the fifth single in Australia.
Dear Jessie was written and produced by Madonna and Patrick Leonard and was inspired by Leonard’s young daughter, Jessie, with whom Madonna had developed a special connection.
The psychedelia-infused reflection on childhood fantasy and innocence was particularly poignant within the context of the Like A Prayer album’s sequencing, with its segue into Oh Father offering a stark musical and emotional contrast that is perhaps one of the most effective in Madonna’s body of work.
On December 16 1989, Billboard magazine’s dance music section reported that Madonna had written and recorded a new song with Shep Pettibone titled Vogue. The article noted that the track was set to appear on the b-side of Madonna’s next single, Keep It Together.
These plans would soon change when it was decided that Vogue had too much hit potential to be released as a b-side, and it would instead be issued as a single in its own right once Keep It Together had run its course on the charts. In Europe, where Keep It Together was not promoted as a single, it would in fact be used as the b-side to Vogue.
Vogue would go on to become the best-selling physical single of Madonna’s career.
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!”