On January 26 1983, Madonna performed a track date at the Red Parrot at 617 West 57th St in New York City. Also featured on the bill were Planet Rock and Man Parrish.
While unconfirmed, the setlist likely would have previewed the soon-to-be-released Physical Attraction & Burning Up (which were recorded in November, 1982) along with her then-current club hit, Everybody.
A review of the night’s performances was featured in the February 12 1983 issue of Billboard Magazine (pictured with the show’s flyer above).
It may have been the first but it would be far from the last review in which Madonna’s musical talent would be minimized in retribution for her strong visual presence, among other things. Unlike Elvis or Michael Jackson, female artists are often criticized for flaunting the same qualities that make heros out of their male counterparts; for daring to be more than one-dimensional artists. While Madonna is not the first or the last female artist to break through these barriers – and her mission is indeed still a work in progress – one only needs to flip through the pages of Billboard magazine on both sides of the 1983 cultural divide to witness the scope of her impact on music and popular culture.
On September 28 1983, Billboard magazine reported that the music video for Madonna’s second single, Burning Up, had been added into MTV rotation during the preceding week. The video marked Madonna’s introduction to MTV audiences, as the channel had not previously aired the low-budget clip produced for Everybody.
Although the Burning Up/Physical Attraction single had already been out for six months by the time a video finally surfaced, it featured a new mix of the song (which differed from both the 12″ single and from the version that appeared on original vinyl pressings of the album) and was seemingly intended to promote her debut album as a whole rather than the song itself, given that Burning Up had not been actively promoted to radio by her label. Just weeks before the video’s release, Sire/Warner had issued promotional 12-inch copies of Lucky Star/Holiday to gauge public interest for her next single release, and were apparently caught off guard by the swift success of the latter track, as no video or remixes had been readied to promote it.
Indeed, the label’s somewhat haphazard early steps in marketing the album gave very little indication of its impending success.
On May 25 2004, Rolling Stone magazine published a review of Madonna’s Re-Invention World Tour with the headline, “Madonna Reinvents herself. Amid images of war and peace, pop star shows she can sing.”
Here’s the review by Barry Walters:
After twenty years in the limelight, Madonna is expected to cause controversy and reinvent herself for every new tour. So for the May 24th Los Angeles opening of her Re-Invention world trek, Madonna did the most unexpected thing she could: She came back as a great concert singer.
Even the most diehard Madonna fan will concede that her live performances have almost without exception been plagued by a multitude of missed notes, breathy passages, and, as of late, fake British accents. But while Mariah and Whitney have of been losing the acrobatic vocal dexterity and lung power on which their reputations rest, forty-five-year-old Madonna, whom few have ever taken seriously as a musician, has never sounded better than she did during the first of several gigs in her adopted West Coast home. Whether rocking out with classic black Les Paul in hand during a metallic rendition of her early club hit “Burning Up,” or performing “Like a Prayer” behind a screen-projected gospel choir, Madonna belted, and did not once seemed strained. In the midst of a $1 million production festooned with a walkway that jutted out from the stage and over the audience, massive moving video screens, a dozen dancers, a bagpipe player, a stunt skateboarder and a whole lot of emotionally charged anti-war imagery, the focus was nevertheless on Madonna, and how she’s matured into a truly great pop singer.
Opening with a yoga-trained twist on her famous Louis XIV-inspired MTV Video Music Awards rendition of “Vogue” and ending on a kilt-wearing finale of “Holiday” against a video backdrop of national flags that eventually morphed into one, the show was thematically simpler and more focused than her last several productions.
The barbarism of war and the necessity of love were at the heart of the entire show, and both played off each other, sometimes for ironic and decidedly uneasy effect. The original military-themed video footage of “American Life” that the singer withheld at the start of the Iraq war was finally unveiled, and then expanded upon during “Express Yourself,” where Madonna sang her anthem of unbridled, intimate communication in front of dancers dressed as soldiers and goose-stepping with twirling rifles.
By contrast, Madonna closed an extended acoustic section of the show with a straightforward and thoroughly committed rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as images of war and poverty-ravaged children eventually gave way to footage of a Muslim boy and his Israeli counterpart smiling as they walked with their arms wrapped around each other.
The heaviness of much of the imagery was balanced by Madonna’s own presence, which seemed remarkably fun-loving and self-assured for the opening night of her most technically complex production. Only when she strapped on an acoustic or electric guitar during several songs and repeatedly glanced at her left hand to make sure it was playing the proper chords did she seem at all nervous. “How many people out there really think that I am the Material Girl?” she asked during a break in her most iconic early smash as she strummed with much deliberation.
For the last several songs, Madonna and her dancers donned black and white kilts, an apparent nod to husband Guy Ritchie’s Scottish heritage, and black T-shirts that read “Kabbalists Do It Better,” a cheeky reference to both her religious studies and the “Italians Do It Better” T-shirt she wore during her video for “Papa Don’t Preach,” a song that was performed without the “near-naked pregnant women” described in pre-tour reports of the show. In a number dedicated for the “fans that’ve stood by me for the last twenty years,” she sang her earliest hit ballad, “Crazy For You,” earnestly and without contrivance.
Madonna’s continued relevance was impressive, but it was even more striking that she’s putting more love and genuine passion into her spectacle than ever.
On April 30 1983, Madonna’s second single – the double A-side Burning Up/Physical Attraction – moved into the Top 10 on Billboard’s Dance/Disco Top 80 chart (now known as Hot Dance/Club Play), leaping from #18 to #9.
Interestingly, the release charted as Physical Attraction/Burning Up throughout its run on the Dance chart. When two songs are promoted together to dance clubs, Billboard will generally position the track that earns the higher number of spins first in its Dance chart entry.
The same Billboard issue also saw some early radio support for Madonna, as New York City’s WKTU-FM featured Physical Attraction among their top playlist adds for the week.
On April 9 1983, Madonna’s Burning Up debuted at #66 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in the USA.
Is Burning Up one of your favourite Madonna songs?
I grew up with my older sister first loving the Like A Virgin-era, so I wasn’t always aware of it. When I began my adventure into Madonna fandom, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was an edgier Madonna before the likes of Material Girl and Dress You Up. I LOVE the video for this song and the song itself — and I’m so glad that she’s embraced it LIVE over the last few years. – Jay