Today in Madonna History: October 17, 1987

On October 17 1987, Billboard magazine featured a two-page spread taken out by Madonna’s manager, Freddy DeMann, thanking everyone involved with Madonna’s massively successful Who’s That Girl World Tour, which had wrapped up in Europe the month before.

In the same issue of Billboard, Chart Beat columnist Paul Grein marked Madonna’s 13th consecutive top-5 hit as Causing A Commotion moved into the #5 position on the Hot 100. Speculating on how long Madonna’s winning streak could last, he warned of the dangers of over-exposure and artistic complacency. Without the benefit of hindsight, the back-handed compliment and slightly patronizing advice is not altogether unreasonable, and is certainly not unusual for the time.

Less reasonable, however, is his summation that the severity of Madonna’s potential fall from grace would be compounded by the abundance of female singers of the era who “sound like Madonna”.

Because you know, all female singers are only that – female singers. Even though you’re co-writing and co-producing your own songs and radio can’t get enough, neither can your audience or even your peers, you’re breaking records set by top male and female artists alike, you’re selling out stadiums around the world and earning high praise as a live performer – don’t think any of these things should afford you any respect. You may not have entered the business through the back door and you may have paid your dues and then some, but you’ve still just been lucky, that’s all. You couldn’t possibly possess the talent or the drive to evolve or the insight to be able to stay in the game once your luck runs out. Even though you are the one that everyone is copying – you’re still just another female singer, and they’re a dime a dozen.

While we no longer need hindsight to spot the glaring absurdity and blatant sexism of such an argument today, would it be as obvious if Madonna hadn’t stuck around to dispel it?

Today in Madonna History: July 12, 1986

On July 12 1986, Madonna’s third album, True Blue, debuted at #1 on the UK Albums Chart.

Here’s the AllMusic review of True Blue by Stephen Thomas Erlewine:

True Blue is the album where Madonna truly became Madonna the Superstar — the endlessly ambitious, fearlessly provocative entertainer that knew how to outrage, spark debates, get good reviews — and make good music while she’s at it. To complain that True Blue is calculated is to not get Madonna — that’s a large part of what she does, and she is exceptional at it, but she also makes fine music. What’s brilliant about True Blue is that she does both here, using the music to hook in critics just as she’s baiting a mass audience with such masterstrokes as “Papa Don’t Preach,” where she defiantly states she’s keeping her baby. It’s easy to position anti-abortionism as feminism, but what’s tricky is to transcend your status as a dance-pop diva by consciously recalling classic girl-group pop (“True Blue,” “Jimmy Jimmy”) to snag the critics, while deepening the dance grooves (“Open Your Heart,” “Where’s the Party”), touching on Latin rhythms (“La Isla Bonita”), making a plea for world peace (“Love Makes the World Go Round”), and delivering a tremendous ballad that rewrites the rules of adult contemporary crossover (“Live to Tell”). It’s even harder to have the entire album play as an organic, cohesive work. Certainly, there’s some calculation behind the entire thing, but what matters is the end result, one of the great dance-pop albums, a record that demonstrates Madonna’s true skills as a songwriter, record-maker, provocateur, and entertainer through its wide reach, accomplishment, and sheer sense of fun.

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? 

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