Today in Madonna History: May 31, 1986

On May 31 1986, Madonna’s Live To Tell hit #1 for 3 weeks on US Hot Adult Contemporary singles chart.

The haunting and dramatic ballad, written and produced by Madonna & Patrick Leonard, was the first commercially released collaboration between the pair – a songwriting partnership that is viewed by many fans as one of her most creatively successful.

Leonard had previously been involved with Madonna’s Virgin Tour as musical director, and when Madonna agreed to participate in Live Aid in the Summer of 1985, she asked him to collaborate on a new song for the performance, which evolved into Love Makes The World Go Round.

Although both songs would find their way on to Madonna’s next studio album, True Blue, at the time of Live To Tell’s release the album’s title had not yet been decided. Instead, the song was used to promote Sean Penn’s film At Close Range, in which it was featured alongside an original score composed by Leonard.

He had initially composed the music that evolved into Live To Tell for another film he had been invited to score for Paramount, titled Fire With Fire. The producers of the film passed on the theme. Leonard recalled the subsequent series of events that led to the song’s completion in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits by Random House:

“Madonna said ‘This song would be great for Sean’s new movie.’ She wrote the lyrics–she just wrote them on the spot, which is what we always do. I don’t think we’ve ever taken more than three hours to complete a song from start to finish. She sang it on the demo only once and left with the cassette. That day I went to work with Michael Jackson on some transcriptions for material he was writing for the Bad album. The phone rang at Michael’s and it was Sean. He said ‘I’m over at the director’s house and Madonna just brought the song over. We love it and we’d like to talk to you about it.’ … We recut the song, but we used the same vocal. She only sang it once for the demo and that was the vocal we used because it was so innocent and so shy. She had a legal pad in her hand and you can hear the paper. It’s as raw as raw can be and that’s part of what gave it all its charm.”

When the demo recording of Live To Tell eventually surfaced, it became evident that Madonna had in fact re-recorded the first verse, but all remaining vocals do indeed appear to have been carried over from the demo to the final mix (along with a generously added dose of reverb to smooth over the rough edges of the demo take).

Given the song’s dark undercurrents and unresolved narrative, it was a bold choice for a single release. It marked a dramatic shift from the yearning love song, Crazy For You – her only other ballad to have been issued as a single at the time. But any radio programmers who were hesitant to consider Madonna as a serious artist simply couldn’t deny the artistry of the song and nor could record buyers, with the combined support sending Live To Tell straight to the top of the pop charts.

Live To Tell was Madonna’s third #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, and her #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it would reign for three weeks.

Today in Madonna History: February 20, 1986

On February 20 1986, Madonna and Sean Penn attended the premiere of his film At Close Range at the Berlin Film Festival in Berlin, Germany.

Madonna contributed Live To Tell to the At Close Range soundtrack. Live To Tell was written by Patrick Leonard and Madonna, and was released as the first single from her True Blue album in March 1986.

Today in Madonna History: November 7, 1995

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On November 7 1995, Madonna’s Something To Remember greatest ballad hits collection was released.  The collection was released on different dates in different markets.

Described as a “love letter from Madonna to her fans and music lovers alike” in the album’s liner note, Madonna further explained:

So much controversy has swirled around my career this past decade that very little attention ever gets paid to my music. The songs are all but forgotten. While I have no regrets regarding the choices I’ve made artistically, I’ve learned to appreciate the idea of doing things in a simpler way. So without a lot of fanfare, without any distractions, I present to you this collection of ballads. Some are old, some are new. All of them are from my heart.

Something To Remember included the following songs:

I Want You
I’ll Remember
Take A Bow
You’ll See
Crazy for You
This Used to Be My Playground
Live to Tell
Love Don’t Live Here Anymore (Remix)
Something to Remember
Forbidden Love
One More Chance
Rain
Oh Father
I Want You (Orchestral)

The Japanese release included La Isla Bonita.

The Latin release included Verás the Spanish version of You’ll See.  

Today in Madonna History: May 23, 1987

On May 23 1987, La Isla Bonita hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot Adult Contemporary chart where it ruled for a single week.

It was Madonna’s second Hot AC chart topper after Live To Tell‘s three-week stint at #1 the previous year.

Both releases achieved similar longevity on AC radio playlists, with La Isla‘s seventeen-week Hot AC chart run nearly living up to Tell‘s eighteen weeks.

Today in Madonna History: April 13, 2019

On April 13 2019, two of Madonna’s classic Japanese-exclusive vinyl EPs were re-released on coloured vinyl for Record Store Day 2019: True Blue (Super Club Mix) and La Isla Bonita (Super Mix).

True Blue (Super Club Mix) was pressed on blue vinyl (limited to 13,000 copies) and included the following tracks:

    • True Blue (The Color Mix)
    • Everybody (Dub Version)
    • Papa Don’t Preach (Extended Remix)
    • Everybody (Extended Version)
    • Live To Tell (Instrumental)

La Isla Bonita (Super Mix) was pressed on green vinyl (limited to 12,500 copies) and included the following tracks:

    • La Isla Bonita (Extended Remix)
    • Open Your Heart (Extended Version)
    • Gambler
    • Crazy For You
    • La Isla Bonita (Instrumental)

Jay’s Note: I was in line at 5:35am. Did you participate in Record Store Day? Were you successful in your search? 

Today in Madonna History: February 17, 1996

On February 17 1996, the maxi-single for You’ll See spent its final week on the Maxi-Single Sales chart in Billboard magazine at #40.

The release had a notably short run on the Maxi-Single Sales chart (by Madonna’s typically high standards), spending only three weeks on the proper chart, after debuting on the Bubbling Under chart at #52. It peaked at #18 on February 3rd.

There are several potential reasons that could explain the low sales of its maxi-single. Ballads, unless heavily and successfully remixed, naturally generated less interest with this format, which was primarily geared towards attracting dance music listeners. Many of Madonna’s ballads were not released in the format for this reason. You’ll See was not given an officially released remix treatment but instead featured a Spanish-sung version of the song, an instrumental version, and a live version of another previous ballad hit, Live To Tell.

Further reducing any incentive to buy the maxi-single was the fact that standard U.S. CD and cassette single inexplicably included three of the four cuts featured on the maxi-single, leaving only the Spanish version as an exclusive track on the latter. One wonders if the inclusion of the live version of Live To Tell on the normally two-track standard single was possibly due to a pressing error that they decided to go ahead and release, since it is not listed on the sleeve but is instead promoted as a nameless bonus track on an outer label affixed to the CD and cassette single cellophane (its inclusion is noted on the physical disc and cassette).

Only one Madonna maxi-single issued in the U.S. had both a shorter run and a lower peak on the Maxi-Single Sales chart, and it was another hit ballad. I’ll Remember spent only two weeks on the chart (plus its first week on the Bubbling Under chart), peaking at #30 on May 21, 1994. Similarly, it was also padded with a live cut. However, it also included some creative reworkings of the track by William Orbit, making the reason for its dismal placement on the chart more perplexing. In terms of contents value, it easily outshines the You’ll See maxi-single.

In Canada, You’ll See was only issued as a CD maxi-single, with no standard single being issued on cassette or CD.

Today in Madonna History: December 27, 1986

On December 27 1986, RPM magazine published their list of the top charting singles of 1986 in Canada.

Here’s how Madonna’s singles stacked up in the year-end ranking:

  • Live To Tell – #2
  • Papa Don’t Preach – #13
  • True Blue – #37

A stark departure from her earlier pop hits, Live To Tell was initially considered by her record label to be a risky choice for a single. Its success showed that programmers were willing to give Madonna some room to grow on radio.

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