Today in Madonna History: October 20, 1984

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On October 20 1984, Madonna’s Lucky Star hit #4 the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart in the USA.

Jellybean Benitez said this of the Lucky Star recording session:

“She was unhappy with the whole damn thing, 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 play back 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 the groove with her, it was very cool, very creative.”

Today in Madonna History: October 3, 1985

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On October 3 1985, Madonna’s second single from the motion picture Vision Quest, Gambler was released by Geffen Records in select markets.

Gambler was entirely self-written by Madonna and produced by John “Jellybean” Benitez.

Gambler was never released in the United States, but it went to #4 in the UK.  The single also reached the top-ten in the charts of Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Ireland, Netherlands and Norway.

The music video for the song is an excerpt from the film.

Madonna has performed the song only once, on her Virgin Tour in 1985.

Alex Henderson from Allmusic called the song “an ultra-infectious gem that, unfortunately, isn’t on any of the Material Girl’s CDs” and felt that Gambler should have been a big hit.  

Would you like to see Madonna perform “Gambler” on a future concert tour?

Today in Madonna History: April 25, 1988

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On April 25 1988, Spotlight was released as a single by Warner-Pioneer. Issued exclusively in Japan, it was the only commercial single release from the remix album You Can Dance. The song was written by Curtis Hudson, Madonna and Stephen Bray and was produced by Stephen Bray. Madonna wasn’t given a co-producer’s credit on the track – odd considering it was a leftover from the True Blue album sessions, for which she co-produced every song. The track was remixed by John “Jellybean” Benitez for its inclusion on You Can Dance.

In a 2012 interview with blogcritics.com writer Justin Kantor, Curtis Hudson recalled the circumstances surrounding the creation and release of Spotlight:

“During the time right after Holiday, when we’d go to her place and write, I presented Spotlight. I gave her a complete song, Spotlight. I had actually written it in case Warner Bros. asked her for another Holiday. She said she loved it and felt spiritual about it. But she didn’t use it or contact me again about it. It sort of popped up out of nowhere when she was getting ready to do You Can Dance. Her lawyer contacted our manager and said we needed to talk. We went over and met with him. She and Stephen Bray had already done the song; but I hadn’t even heard the version they had done.They took the demo I had given her and worked it into a different song. They gave me credit since I had the original song copyrighted. I would’ve collaborated and made changes. But I was told, ‘Well, she’s too busy. She’s overseas doing a movie.’ I was okay with it, though, because they gave me credit. But the original song had a certain magic, and the changes took that essence away. The original Spotlight was another Holiday—the rhythm, the basic groove. I think they were trying to get away from that sound. Sometimes artists don’t want their sound to be identified with specific writers.”

Today in Madonna History: October 25, 1986

On October 25 1986, Billboard magazine reported that Madonna visited Larrabee Sound studios in Santa Monica to co-produce a track for Nick Kamen with Stephen Bray – and to oversee the mixing of Spotlight and the remixing of Holiday with Jellybean Benitez.

Billboard had previously announced in their October 4th issue that Sire Records planned to release a six-song Madonna EP titled You Can Dance ahead of the 1986 holiday season, featuring a previously unreleased cut Spotlight and five mixes of previously released songs.

But as we all know, You Can Dance would instead be promoted as full-length remix LP and would not hit the record store shelves until November of 1987.

(More on this next month!)

Today in Madonna History: July 27, 1983

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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):

  1. Lucky Star
  2. Borderline
  3. Burning Up
  4. I Know It
  5. Holiday
  6. Think of Me
  7. Physical Attraction
  8. Everybody

Five singles were released from The First Album:

  1. Everybody (October 6 1982)
  2. Burning Up (March 9 1983)
  3. Holiday (September 7 1983 – UK)
  4. Lucky Star (September 8 1983)
  5. 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.

Although its authenticity is unconfirmed, this is said to be an early track list of the album.

Today in Madonna History: April 23, 1983

On April 23 1983, the recording of Madonna’s debut album was mentioned briefly in Billboard magazine.

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.

Today in Madonna History: April 17, 2015

On April 17 2015, Madonna tweeted about her long-lost friends, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring:

Andy and Keith had my back way back when! Miss being surrounded by artists that stuck together and defended one another! ❤#rebelhearts

Madonna spoke at length about Keith — here’s what she had to say about how they met and their journey together:

Keith’s work started in the street, and the first people who were interested in his art were the people who were interested in me. That is, the black and Hispanic community – I’d say people from lower income and background. His art appealed to the same people who liked my music. We were two odd birds in the same environment, and we were drawn to the same world – and inspired by it.

I watched Keith come up from that street base, which is where I came up from, and he managed to take something from what I call Street Art, which was an underground counter culture, and raise it to a Pop culture for mass consumption. And I did that too. The point is, we have an awful lot in common.

Another thing we have in common – and this happened quite early – was the envy and hostility coming from a lot of people who wanted us to stay small. Because we both became very commercial and started making a lot of money, people eliminated us from the realm of being artists. They said, “OK, if you’re going to be a mass-consumption commodity and a lot of people are going to buy your work – or buy into what you are – then you’re no good.” I know people thought that about Keith, and they obviously felt that about me too.

So Keith and I are sort of two sides of the same coin. And we were very supportive of each other in those early days. I remember Keith coming to watch my first shows. That was down at the Fun House, where “Jellybean,” with whom I was involved, was the disc jockey. I’d sing and dance and I’d choreograph these scenarios – and we had taped music and it was great, because this was a Hispanic club-and the atmosphere was just charged!

I don’t know what drew us to these exotic clubs – like the Fun House or Paradise Garage. Obviously, it was the sexuality and the animal-like magnetism of those people getting up and dancing with such abandon! They were all so beautiful! I’ve always been drawn to Hispanic culture – and so has Keith. It’s another thing we have in common.

So these were the people who bought my records in the first place – and they’re a great audience to perform for. Keith keyed into that too. He’d give these great parties, and I’d go to them and I’d give parties and he’d come to them. And we had such fun!

Another thing we have in common… we have the same taste in men! I remember a funny story about people saying that I stole one of Keith’s friends. What happened was that I had a New Year’s Eve party, and Keith arrived with this incredibly gorgeous guy. I remember Keith saying, “He’s yours, Madonna. He’s your New Year’s Eve present!” I said, “Oh, thank you!” And there was this really stunning guy – a great dancer – completely happy and a great positive spirit. And so he became my friend, too.

Anyway, I’ve always responded to Keith’s art. From the very beginning, there was lot of innocence and a joy that was coupled with a brutal awareness of the world. But it was all presented in a child-like way. The fact is, there’s a lot of irony in Keith’s work, just as there’s a lot of irony in my work. And that’s what attracts me to his stuff. I mean, you have these bold colors and those childlike figures and a lot of babies, but if you really look at those works closely, they’re really very powerful and really scary. And so often, his art deals with sexuality – and it’s a way to point up people’s sexual prejudices, their sexual phobias. In that way, Keith’s art is also very political.

What stays with me is that very early on, when Keith and I were just beginning to soar, our contemporaries and peers showed all this hostility. Well, the revenge was that, yes, there’s this small, elite group of artists who think we’re selling out. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is digging us! Of course, it’s what they want too! It’s so transparent! They’re just filled with jealousy and envy. And it certainly didn’t stop us, because Keith didn’t want to do his work just for the people of New York City – he wanted to do it for everybody, everywhere. I mean, an artist wants world recognition! He wants to make an impression on the world. He doesn’t just want a small, sophisticated, elitist group of people appreciating his work. The point of it all is that everybody is out there reaching for the stars, but only some of us get there!

When I think of Keith, I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel alone in my endeavors. I don’t feel alone in my celebration of what I’ve achieved. I don’t feel alone in the odds I’ve been up against. I feel so akin to Keith in so many ways! I really can’t compare myself to many people… and I don’t feel that many people can relate to where I’ve come from and to where I’ve landed. So when I think of Keith and his life and what he’s achieved… well, I feel that I’m not alone.

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