Today in Madonna History: October 24, 1989

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On October 24 1989, Oh Father was released in North America as the fourth single from the Like A Prayer album. France, Japan, the Philippines and Australia also opted to issue the single in 1989, while other European markets waited for Madonna’s 1995 ballads compilation, Something To Remember, to promote the song. Oh Father was written and produced by Madonna & Patrick Leonard.

According to the song’s string arranger, Bill Meyers, Oh Father was recorded in a “dingy studio” in New York City’s Garment District while Madonna was appearing in the play, Speed-The-Plow. Since the bulk of the album would be completed in California after the completion of her Broadway run, this would suggest that Oh Father was likely the first song recorded for the project. Leonard recently provided further evidence of this when he shared an image of a demo tape sleeve containing working titles of songs from the latter sessions on his Instagram, noting that Oh Father was not among the tracks listed because it had been completed earlier.

Leonard recalled the recording of the track in a 2014 interview with Billboard Magazine:

My favorite thing that we ever recorded, ever – or wrote – is Oh Father. That to me is the best thing we ever did. So, it didn’t surprise me because we knew when we did it, that there was something about this that was in a way kind of the most real thing.

For that song, the ‘record’ button was only pressed three times. It was pressed to do the track, live, with her singing live. Then we did the orchestra. And then we did a double of her vocal when we were mixing. That’s it. So it’s real. It’s something that I really wanted to do and she was kind enough to say “let’s try this,” and it was not easy.

There’s two or three guitar players playing. I’m playing keyboards. Jai Winding was playing keyboards. There was a percussionist and a drummer – and she’s singing – all at the same time.

These days, people go “wow, that seems crazy.” Those days it wasn’t uncommon for everybody to be playing together even though you’re not a band. But it was one of those things where the arrangement was tricky enough, that it really took some working out to get it all right.

Even all those weird synth overdubs and things – all those things were being done live. We worked out all the parts, had all the sounds. I remember that we cut it live, and then put the orchestra on. You’re not doubling the orchestra, so it’s one pass for the orchestra.

When I say [the ‘record’ button was] pressed three times, it might have gotten pressed 10 times that day, but it was ultimately one that stayed there. If you see what I’m saying. When we were mixing it, [mixer] Bill Bottrell suggested that we double the choruses. I remember even being a little upset about it (laughs). Like, look, “we’ve got an amazing record that we only pressed the record button twice – can’t we leave it?” He said, “three isn’t exactly shameful.” We doubled the lead vocal on the choruses, and that was it.

Today in Madonna History: September 9, 2015

On September 9 2015, Huffington Post interviewed Patrick Leonard and asked about the possibility of them working together again:

If Madonna called you up for her next album, do you think you’re still in a mindset where you could direct her tour?

No. No, I couldn’t because the paths that our lives took are appropriate for what they are. When we met and did the work that we did, I was still in my 20s, or maybe my early 30s as we walked into Like a Prayer. I was still really interested in the pop form. I’m not disinterested in it now, but for the last few years I’ve been working with Leonard Cohen and writing piano music. I’m more of a composer. I just wouldn’t be interested in it, and I don’t think she’d be interested in my ideas anymore. I think we could still write a great song — I don’t think there’s any question about that. But my head just isn’t there at all. It would be fun to see her and fun to think together for a minute, because we were good at that at one point. But that was a long time ago, almost 30 years. I think she deserves better than what I would give her right now, for sure. If she wanted to write an opera, I’d be her guy.

Do you have a favorite Madonna memory?  

Yes. When we were on tour. We were in London and it was her birthday. There was a private party in a club, and all these people wanted to dance with her and hang out with her, and Jessie, my daughter, was with us on tour at that time. She was right around 2 years old. You can find things in the press that are still out there — Madonna sat her up on the bar and put half a glass of champagne in her, or a couple of sips or whatever it was, and danced with her pretty much all night. Jessie stood in the middle of the dance floor and spun in her dress, and the next day you saw all these things in all these tabloids with all these faces of celebrities who wanted to dance with her, and Jessie was their foil all night.That was really fun to just see her embrace my daughter and have fun like that. It was really, really special. There are a lot of memories. She’s a good girl. Madonna is a good girl.

Read the full interview here.

Today in Madonna History: August 10, 1985

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On August 10 1985, Into The Groove spent the first of four weeks in the #1 position on the UK Singles Chart. It was Madonna’s first chart-topping single in the UK, where she has collected a total of thirteen #1 hits to date.

As an added validation, Into the Groove was Madonna’s first self-produced release (co-produced with Stephen Bray). While artists co-producing their own work is common today, it was relatively unusual at the time, particularly for female artists. The immense success of the single undoubtedly helped convince the powers at Sire/Warner to grant Madonna the artistic freedom to co-produce her next album, True Blue, together with her collaborators Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard.

Today in Madonna History: June 30, 1986

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On June 30 1986, Madonna’s True Blue album was released by Sire Records. She worked with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard on the album while co-writing and co-producing all the songs.

True Blue was an immediate global success, reaching number one in then record-breaking 28 countries across the world, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. It spent 34 consecutive weeks at the top of the European Top 100 Albums chart, longer than any other album in history. It became the world’s top-selling album of 1986, as well the biggest selling album of the 1980s by a woman and remains one of the best-selling albums of all time with sales of more than 25 million copies worldwide. All five singles released from the album reached the top five on the Billboard Hot 100, with Live to Tell, Papa Don’t Preach, and Open Your Heart peaking at number one.

Today in Madonna History: June 7, 1986

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On June 7 1986, Madonna’s Live To Tell hit #1 in the USA. Live To Tell was written and produced together by Madonna and Patrick Leonard.

Speaking of Patrick Leonard, one of our all-time favourite Madonna collaborators — he currently has a Kickstarter campaign going for a new album called Bring The Circus Home, a collection of re-visited and re-imagined songs (piano-only, no vocals) that he and Madonna worked on and released together. Please check out Patrick’s Kickstarter campaign and donate/pledge if you can — this is an all-or-nothing campaign. He will not be able to proceed with the album if the goal is not met by Wednesday July 4.

Jay’s Note: I’m going to pledge $100 so I can get one of the limited edition vinyl releases! Woo-hoo vinyl! 

This beautiful video shows Madonna collaborator Patrick Leonard playing a solo piano version of Live To Tell:

Today in Madonna History: May 31, 1986

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

The song was Madonna’s third number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100, and her first number-one on the Adult Contemporary chart.

In an interview about the song, Madonna said, “I thought about my relationship with my parents and the lying that went on. The song is about being strong, and questioning whether you can be that strong but ultimately surviving.”

In a review of the album True Blue, Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic called it a “tremendous ballad that rewrites the rules of adult contemporary crossover”.

Jim Farber from Entertainment Weekly called the song “her best ballad to date”.

In a review of her compilation album The Immaculate Collection, David Browne from Entertainment Weekly magazine called it “one of her few successful shots at being a balladeer”.

Alfred Soto from Stylus Magazine felt that “the song’s set of lyrics remain her best” and that the vocals “seethes with a lifetime’s worth of hurts which she nevertheless refuses to share”.

Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine called the song “striking” adding that it “rewrote the rules of what a pop song was supposed to sound like”.

Edna Gundersen from USA Today called the song “a moody heart-tugger, may be her best song ever.”

Today in Madonna History: May 27, 2017

On May 27 2017, the long-running and highly respected authority on record collecting, Goldmine Magazine, inducted Patrick Leonard into the Goldmine Hall Of Fame for his contributions to the music industry as a songwriter, producer and musician. His work with Madonna in particular was highlighted in his induction bio.

Madonna was one of the earliest inductees into the Goldmine Hall Of Fame, having secured her place in the second round of inductions. Leonard was inducted in the 95th round, which is impressive nonetheless for an artist who has always kept a relatively low profile despite working with some of the biggest names in the music business, including Michael Jackson and Leonard Cohen, and is certainly well-deserved.

As Madonna fans, we respect that she is a forward-thinking artist and our hope is that she will always continue to follow any creative path that inspires her. While we do not discount the many other brilliant songwriters Madonna has collaborated with, nor do we deny Madonna’s own gifts of writing brilliant melodic hooks and conveying universal truths through her words, the proof that Madonna and Leonard bring out the very best in each other’s craft is right there in their songs. Whether destiny holds future collaborations between Madonna & Leonard is entirely their decision to make, but should the pair find themselves inspired to work together again, it would certainly be to the delight of most Madonna fans, and potentially to fans of great music in general.

Our view is that when strong chemistry exists in a songwriting partnership, especially one that has produced such varied output as Madonna & Leonard’s, there is always an opportunity to reconnect and create something fresh and relevant. This was proven when the pair reunited for 1998’s Ray of Light, an album which, promotional tactics aside, owes as much in substance to Madonna/Leonard as it does in style to Madonna/Orbit.

The bottom line is – great songs are great songs. You can restyle a great song to make it fit with the production trends of the day, but if a song is all style with little substance it won’t stay fresh for long. The songwriting partnership of Madonna & Leonard has yielded a body of work that has consistently proven itself to be timeless. And is this not the ultimate goal of any forward-thinking artist – to produce work that is substantial and transcendent enough to remain relevant well into the future?

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