Today in Madonna History: March 10, 2016

On March 10 2016, Madonna performed the first Tears Of A Clown show at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne, Australia. Since Madonna had not performed in Australia since 1993, she decided to put on a unique show for her Australian fans. The show included some of her lesser performed songs, covers, hits and some fan favourites that were not being performed during the Rebel Heart Tour (which was going on a the same time as the Tears Of A Clown show).

Madonna wanted the show to combine music, comedy and storytelling, with a circus or clown theme in mind.

Only members of Madonna’s official fan club, Icon, were able to acquire tickets.  1500 fans attended the show.

Madonna performed the following songs:

  • Send In The Clowns
  • Drowned World/Substitute For Love
  • X-Static Process
  • Between The Bars (Elliot Smith cover)
  • Nobody’s Perfect
  • Easy Ride
  • Intervention
  • I’m So Stupid
  • Paradise (Not For Me)
  • Joan Of Arc
  • Don’t Tell Me
  • Mer Girl
  • Borderline
  • Take A Bow
  • Holiday

Cameron Adams (News.com.au) had this to say about the show:

“Madonna poured much of her sadness into her intimate two-hour Tears Of A Clown show, peppering emotional renditions of her hits with cheeky jokes and banter. It’s the sort of thing you never thought you’d see a superstar do. The show was fascinating — and difficult — to watch. We’re not used to Madonna on stage doing anything less than a fully rehearsed, slick stage show.”

Today in Madonna History: January 27, 1984

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On January 27 1984, Madonna performed Burning Up and Holiday on the UK television program, The Tube.  The show was broadcast live from The Hacienda club in Manchester.

Malcolm Gerrie, executive producer of The Tube, has been quoted as saying that the show paid for Madonna to travel to Manchester because Warner Bros. didn’t yet consider her a “priority artist” and were unwilling to cover her travel costs.

Today In Madonna History: January 26, 1984

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On January 26 1984, Madonna performed Holiday on BBC1-TV’s Top Of The Pops in London, England during a promotional visit to the UK. She was also interviewed by Number One, The Face and Record Mirror magazines.

With no original music video produced for Holiday, Warner serviced the Top Of The Pops performance to music video stations in some countries, including Canada.

Blogcritics contributer Justin Kantor interviewed Holiday songwriters Curtis Hudson & Lisa Stevens of the group Pure Energy in 2012 about the writing and recording of Madonna’s first pop cross-over hit:

Tell me how you came up with “Holiday.”

Lisa Stevens: I woke up, got on the keyboard and started playing those beginning chords over and over for a day or two. I couldn’t come up with anything else. I just kept hearing those chords. Curt said, “Lisa, I hear something with that.” At first, I said, “Wait a minute. Let me sit with this for awhile.” And then, I didn’t come up with anything. He came up with the hook—”Holiday, celebrate”—and that funky bassline. We just kicked it back and forth.

Curtis Hudson: Lisa wanted to go in a different direction. I was inspired by those first two chords. It kind of sticks in your gut. I wanted to write to it while I had that initial feeling. Maybe a week went by. By the time she said “Go ahead, you can write,” I pretty much had the whole song in mind. I had been feeling it, so it poured out of me.

LS: When I heard that bassline, I said, “Whoa, Curtis! You’re the man.”

What about the verses?

CH: I did most of the lyrics.

LS: I threw in a couple. Curt was looking for a line when I said, “How about, ‘It would be so nice’?”

CH: I pretty much wrote it from my head in 30 minutes. I did most of the lyrics and arrangements back then.

Do you usually have a concept before you start writing?

CH: It just comes together. The music inspires the feeling of the lyrics. At that time, I remember watching the news and thinking, “Wow, things are so depressing. We need to take a universal holiday—just that one day we could get away. That would be a great thing for this world.”

Curtis, you played on the actual recording of Madonna’s version.Tell me about the sessions.

CH: It was a complete arrangement with vocals, percussion, and everything. We took the demo into the studio and matched the new tracks to it. Fred Zarr played keyboards. My brother, Raymond, played bass. I played guitar. We pretty much did the same things we did on the demo.

LS: Fred added a lick in there, the piano solo at the end of the song. Everything else is exactly like we did it for them to follow; except, I sang all the backgrounds on the demo, and Madonna had the vocalists she was going to use—Norma Jean Wright and Tina Baker.

CH: We cut the rhythm track in a day and got the song really poppin’. Everybody was really happy. Madonna was in the studio throughout the recording of the rhythm tracks. She’s a very hands-on type of person. But matching the demo was a big concern for us—down to the string sounds. I didn’t want to get away from that, because Jellybean and Madonna felt the demo had a certain magic. On the demo, I played Rhodes, [programmed] strings, and drums. It was pretty much transferring what we did to a bigger studio. We had used a Linn drum, but Fred Zarr brought in his Oberheim.

However, I didn’t get a production credit on the record. Jellybean presented the song to the label. They had slated him to produce it, as he had an existing relationship with Madonna. It came with the territory that he would be credited as a producer. We debated amongst the group. I wanted a production credit. But we said, “It’s one song. Let that song be the way to get us out there.”

LS: I was there for the recording of the rhythm tracks; but Madonna wanted to do her own thing on the vocals and backgrounds—with no one else in there. She wanted to get her vibe, and she did a great job.

CH: The vocals are one of the major differences between the demo and the master for Madonna. Lisa’s were more soulful, had more of a gospel flavor and were a bit more energetic. Madonna’s style made it more poppish.

LS: But she got some of that soul in there. That’s what the public was saying. I was real happy with the way it turned out.

CH: I think Madonna doing the song is part of the magic of it doing what it did. It was a timing situation. Madonna was ready to happen. Pure Energy needed that one song to legitimize us, to say we can write hit songs. It was a perfect match for Madonna. She’s a hardworking artist. She did justice to it. She stayed true to the melody of the song. She didn’t take anything away from it.

LS: She added her thing to it. I like the fact that she didn’t try to copy me. She put herself into it. She’s a songwriter herself, and a great artist.

Did you know that the song was going to be released as a single?

LS: We didn’t know. “Lucky Star” was supposed to come out first. But the radio stations picked up “Holiday” and started putting it in regular rotation. The song just took off after that. We were happily surprised. It didn’t even have a music video to support it, because Warner Bros. wasn’t prepared.

CH: We would get calls from radio stations that people knew it was a Pure Energy song. They knew our vibe. At that time, a lot of people also thought Madonna was a black artist. When we’d go around doing radio promotions of our own records, people often would tell us that they sensed “Holiday” was our production, even though they saw Jellybean’s name on it. They could hear our stamp all over the song, and they asked, “How could you just give that way?” That could be your number-one song.

Madonna has cited “Holiday” as one of her favorite songs she’s recorded. What do you think makes it stand out to her?

CH: When the song was starting to chart and everybody was buzzing, we would run into her at airports. We were performing in some of the same places. She told us, “Thank you for writing this song. You guys don’t know what you did!” She was really excited about it. I think that might be why it’s a favorite, because the song really put her out there and made her a legitimate artist.

Warner Bros. didn’t produce a music video for it at a time when music videos really started to make songs. Had they done a video, then “Holiday” probably would’ve been a much bigger song than it was at the time; probably #1 pop.

What memories do you have of working with Madonna? Any thoughts on her impact on the music industry?

CH: She definitely knows what she wants—what works for her, what doesn’t work for her. I’ve heard a lot of people criticize her vocals; but she knows what works for her range and how to get the best out of her sound.

LS: You know it’s Madonna when you hear her. She’s got her own sound, her own look. She’s a great businesswoman and very talented individually.

CH: We felt she was going to be a big artist. I remember when she came into the studio: her style of dress was so different. She had these rags and pieces of material attached to her clothes. There was something about her. I remember telling her, “I think you’re going to be a big star next year at this time,” and she said, “You really think so?” At the time, it seemed like she was going through a whole lot of stuff with her management and career.

She knew how the business worked early on. Some people complained that she uses you up; but I never felt that way. I felt that she, being a woman in the industry, knew how difficult it would be. And she wasn’t in a group; she was by herself. She knew the games people play; so she said, “I’m gonna play this game for me to come out on top.” I respected that about her. She wasn’t going in like some artists, who let people take total control of them—what to do, when to do it, how to do it. They don’t know anything about the business; and once their time is up, they’re thrown aside for another artist.

She’s a very hands-on person. I remember when I was cutting the guitar track for “Holiday,” there was a little something I do in the rhythm where she was, like, “Do you have to do that?” I told her that it was part of the funk in the rhythm. She said, “Are you sure you have to do that?” She picked up just that little part in the guitar rhythm and really wanted me to play it another way. I assured her that it was best the way I was doing it. But I was impressed; a lot of times singers don’t notice stuff like that.

Nowadays, we’re missing that element of everybody going in there and doing it. Many times, artists don’t do anything but go in and learn the song from the songwriter’s demo. They then cut it phrase by phrase to the track. That’s it. They have no input. It’s whatever the writer hears. That’s why most writers now are very good singers. Most of the top ones are artists who didn’t get signed. But the artists don’t have any real work to do. They just copy everything, even the ad-libs.

LS: Being a songwriter and producer, she handles things. She was there from beginning to end of the recording session. She’s an on-point performer. A lot of singers can’t get up there and dance and sing at the same time—they go flat. But she stays strong.

CH: A lot of people compare Lady Gaga to her. But there was no Madonna before Madonna. She had no blueprint to go by when she came out. So you really can’t compare the two. Madonna created so many different things that young people can draw from now.

Thanks to blogcritic contributer Justin Kantor for the interview excerpt. Check out the complete interview here.

Today in Madonna History: January 14, 1984

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On January 14 1984, Madonna made her North American network television debut, performing Holiday on ABC-TV’s American Bandstand – hosted by Dick Clark.

Dick Clark asked Madonna, “What do you hope will happen, not only in 1984 but for the rest of your professional life? What are your dreams? What’s left?”

Madonna answered simply, “To rule the world.”

Today in Madonna History: November 28, 2000

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On November 28 2000, Madonna performed a mini-set at London’s Brixton Academy. The show was part of the Don’t Tell Me Promo Tour, which began only two months after the birth of her second child, Rocco, and consisted of a few small club dates as well as television performances and interviews to promote the second single from her Music album. Aside from the promotional aspect, Madonna also used the club shows as an opportunity to test the waters for performing live shows again following a seven-year hiatus from touring. The Brixton gig closely mirrored her set at New York’s Roseland Ballroom several weeks earlier, with one notable exception being the addition of Holiday to the UK set-list.

The full London set-list consisted of:

  1. Impressive Instant
  2. Runaway Lover
  3. Don’t Tell Me
  4. What It Feels Like For A Girl
  5. Holiday
  6. Music

The Brixton Academy performance was streamed live across the internet to an estimated 9 million viewers.

Today in Madonna History: November 16, 1989

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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!”

Today in Madonna History: October 13, 1983

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On October 13 1983, Madonna performed Burning Up, Everybody and Holiday at Camden Palace’s Thursday Party Night in London, England.

The following article about Madonna’s performance was originally published on October 15 1983 by The Guardian:

This could be the way pop promotion is going – new artists launched not with a full concert, but with the live equivalent of a video clip.

The scene at the Camden Palace in the early hours was like something from a British version of Flashdance. The place was packed with the usual exotically dressed clientele – there to see and be seen rather than just listen to the music – when the dancing was interrupted by what’s known on the American disco scene as a “track date.”

Pioneered by the likes of Grace Jones, this is a cut-price promotion device in which a disco artist suddenly appears for half an hour, singing live to backing tapes.

This demonstration was by a white girl in her early twenties, known simply as Madonna, a dancer who moved to New York from the Mid-West as an ambitious teenager and is currently the most important new figure in the American dance scene.

She succeeded partly because she makes great records and partly because she has turned the boring idea of a track date into an exotic event.

Dressed in holocaust chic – black top, black skirt and leggings, lots of bare midriff, and hair in ringlets – she sang well, with a husky, black-sounding voice, and danced even better. She hurtled around the stage, mostly swivelling her hips like a belly-dancer while performing her songs like Lucky Star and the stirring Holiday.

Given a full set and a live band behind her, Madonna would seem to have the makings of a major star, so it’s no wonder she is now being managed by the man who guided Michael Jackson’s recent career.

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