Today in Madonna History: June 8, 1992

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On June 8 1992, Madonna began recording sessions for the Erotica album at Soundworks, in New York.

While the writing and recording of Madonna’s previous albums had typically unfolded rather quickly, Erotica marked a change of pace in the creation of a Madonna record. Songwriting sessions for the set had occurred sporadically throughout the previous year with Shep Pettibone, Tony Shimkin and Andre Betts, in between movie projects and photo shoots for her upcoming coffee table book, Sex.

In contrast to the slick production qualities of the albums that preceded it, Madonna wanted Erotica to feature a darker, more gritty and less polished sound. This led to the decision to carry over many of the original demo vocals recorded during the songwriting process at Shep’s home studio to the final versions, with mainly lyrical additions/changes, musical overdubs, background vocals and final mixing taking place during the sessions at Soundworks.

One notable change that did occur in these final recording sessions was Madonna’s decision to swap her original lyrics for the song Goodbye To Innocence (which had gone through various incarnations in an attempt to keep the track off the cutting room floor) with the lyrics of the torch classic, Fever.  An earlier arrangement of Goodbye To Innocence with lyrics intact was later featured on the pro-choice compilation album, Just Say Roe, while a dub version of the same arrangement was retitled Up Down Suite when it appeared as a b-side on the Rain maxi-single. Another rough demo of the same track (streaming above), which is referred to as the “Straight Pass” mix on its original submission for copyright registration, leaked to file sharing services in February, 2008.

Today in Madonna History: May 29, 1992

On May 29 1992, the FBI recovered 44 nude photographs of Madonna from a collection by photographer Steven Meisel that was set to appear in her upcoming book, Sex. The “thief of nudes” was arrested in West Hollywood, California for trying to sell the pictures for $100,000 to an undercover FBI agent.

Today in Madonna History: April 30 ,1992

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On April 30 1992, the black bustier worn by Madonna in the Open Your Heart video was stolen from Frederick’s Of Hollywood’s lingerie museum during the 3-day riots in Los Angeles, California.

Today in Madonna History: February 22, 1992

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On February 22 1992, Madonna made a surprise guest appearance on NBC-TV’s Saturday Night Live, where she lovingly spoofed longtime publicist Liz Rosenberg (and herself as well) in the recurring skit “Coffee Talk” alongside her favorite SNL alum Mike Myers and host Roseanne.

But the biggest surprise turned out to be reserved for Madonna, Myers and Roseanne when the subject of their adoration in the skit, Barbra Streisand, made a rare public appearance by sauntering on-set as they were finishing up the sketch.

Today in Madonna History: December 5, 1992

On December 5 1992, Madonna’s Deeper and Deeper single was the week’s Hot Shot Debut entry on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., bowing in at #38.

Pop radio had taken an immediate liking to Deeper and Deeper upon the album’s release, with some stations choosing to spin it in favor of the album’s darker lead single, well ahead of its official promotional launch. The support wasn’t unanimous, however, as Madonna was facing a severe public backlash following the release of her Sex book and the forthcoming release of the film Body Of Evidence.

The fact that Deeper and Deeper managed to climb to #7 on the Hot 100 amidst a tidal wave of contempt is a true testament to song’s irresistible appeal.

Today in Madonna History: November 26, 1992

On November 26 1992, Rolling Stone magazine published their review of Madonna’s Erotica album, written by Arion Berger:

It took Madonna ten years, but she finally made the record everyone has accused her of making all along. Chilly, deliberate, relentlessly posturing. Erotica is a post-AIDS album about romance — it doesn’t so much evoke sex as provide a fetishistic abstraction of it. She may have intended to rattle America with hot talk about oral gratification and role switching, but sensuality is the last thing on the album’s mind. Moving claustrophobically within the schematic confines of dominance and submission, Erotica plays out its fantasies with astringent aloofness, unhumid and uninviting. The production choices suggest not a celebration of the physical but a critique of commercial representations of sex — whether Paul Verhoeven’s, Bruce Weber’s or Madonna’s — that by definition should not be mistaken for the real thing. It succeeds in a way the innocent post-punk diva of Madonna and the thoughtful songwriter of Like a Prayer could not have imagined. Its cold, remote sound systematically undoes every one of the singer’s intimate promises.

Clinical enough on its own terms when compared with the lushness and romanticism of Madonna’s past grooves, Erotica is stunningly reined in; even when it achieves disco greatness, it’s never heady. Madonna, along with co-producers Andre Betts and Shep Pettibone, tamps down every opportunity to let loose — moments ripe for a crescendo, a soaring instrumental break, a chance for the listener to dance along, are over the instant they are heard. Erotica is Madonna’s show (the music leaves no room for audience participation), and her production teases and then denies with the grim control of a dominatrix.

Against maraca beats and a shimmying horn riff, Erotica introduces Madonna as “Mistress Dita,” whose husky invocations of “do as I say” promise a smorgasbord of sexual experimentation, like the one portrayed in the video for Justify My Love. But the sensibility of Erotica is miles removed from the warm come-ons of Justify My Love, which got its heat from privacy and romance — the singer’s exhortations to “tell me your dreams.” The Madonna of Erotica is in no way interested in your dreams; she’s after compliance, and not merely physical compliance either. The song demands the passivity of a listener, not a sexual partner. It’s insistently self-absorbed — Vogue with a dirty mouth, where all the real action’s on the dance floor.

Look (or listen) but don’t touch sexuality isn’t the only peep-show aspect of this album; Erotica strives for anonymity the way True Blue strove for intimacy. With the exception of the riveting Bad Girl, in which the singer teases out shades of ambiguity in the mind of a girl who’d rather mess herself up than end a relationship she’s too neurotic to handle, the characters remain faceless. It’s as if Madonna recognizes the discomfort we feel when sensing the human character of a woman whose function is purely sexual. A sex symbol herself, she coolly removes the threat of her own personality.

Pure disco moments like the whirligig Deeper and Deeper don’t need emotional resonance to make them race. But the record sustains its icy tone throughout the yearning ballads (Rain, Waiting) and confessional moods (Secret Garden). Relieved of Madonna’s celebrity baggage, they’re abstract nearly to the point of nonexistence — ideas of love songs posing as the real thing. Even when Madonna draws from her own life, she’s all reaction, no feeling: The snippy Thief of Hearts takes swipes at a man stealer but not out of love or loyalty toward the purloined boyfriend, who isn’t even mentioned.

By depersonalizing herself to a mocking extreme, the Madonna of Erotica is sexy in only the most objectified terms, just as the album is only in the most literal sense what it claims to be. Like erotica, Erotica is a tool rather than an experience. Its stridency at once refutes and justifies what her detractors have always said: Every persona is a fake, the self-actualized amazon of Express Yourself no less than the breathless baby doll of Material Girl. Erotica continually subverts this posing to expose its function as pop playacting. The narrator of Bye Bye Baby ostensibly dumps the creep who’s been mistreating her, but Madonna’s infantile vocal and flat delivery are anything but assertive — she could be a drag queen toying with a pop hit of the past. Erotica is everything Madonna has been denounced for being — meticulous, calculated, domineering and artificial. It accepts those charges and answers with a brilliant record to prove them.

Today in Madonna History: November 21, 1992

On November 21 1992, Madonna’s Erotica peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart in the USA.

Scott Kearnan (Boston.com) had this to say about the controversial hit single when reflecting on Madonna’s best songs:

“No pop star of her fame has been this sexually transgressive before or since… Rihanna sings about “S&M” like it’s a song about My Little Pony, but Madonna dishes on pain, pleasure, and power with the conviction of a whip crack”.

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