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: March 26, 1986

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On March 26 1986, Live To Tell was released as a single in North America by Sire Records. 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. It was also a significant Adult Contemporary crossover success, becoming her first single to reach number-one on Billboard’s Hot AC chart where it reigned for three weeks.

Today in Madonna History: March 9, 1983

On March 9 1983, Madonna’s second single, the classic double A-side Burning Up/Physical Attraction, was released on 12″ vinyl.

The sleeve of the single featured a series of sketches of Madonna created by her close friend, Martin Burgoyne.

 

Today in Madonna History: December 12, 1986

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On December 12 1986, Open Your Heart was released in North America as the fourth single from True Blue. The song was written by Madonna, Gardner Cole & Peter Rafelson and produced by Madonna & Patrick Leonard.

The single’s worldwide b-side, White Heat, an album track from True Blue, developed a relatively high profile due to its inclusion as the flip-side to two of Madonna’s #1 hits–the aforementioned Open Your Heart and 1987’s Who’s That Girl, released only six months apart. Gaining further exposure as a set-list staple during the Who’s That Girl Tour, the live performance of White Heat foreshadowed some of the dramatic elements that Madonna would expand upon in future tours.

White Heat’s original submission for copyright was registered to Madonna & Leonard under the working title Get Up, Stand Tall with a 1985 date of creation. Notes from the registration on file also list the title Dangerous–but it is likely just another working title that was being considered rather than a separate recording.  White Heat is thought to have been among the earliest songwriting collaborations between Madonna & Leonard to be completed, coming shortly after their first composition, Love Makes The World Go Round, surfaced during Live Aid in the summer of 1985. The sequence of the registration numbers for the two songs suggests that they may they have been completed within a month or two of each other. Madonna’s version of Open Your Heart (which she revised from the Cole/Rafelson demo) is also thought to have been recorded with Leonard during the same time period.

The liner notes of True Blue dedicated White Heat to actor James Cagney, who in 1949 played ruthless, deranged gang leader Arthur “Cody” Jarrett in the Warner Brothers film, White Heat. Several clips of Cagney’s dialogue from the original motion picture were used in the song for dramatic effect.

Today in Madonna History: November 25, 1987

On November 25 1987, The Look of Love was released as the third and final single from the Who’s That Girl soundtrack in Europe.

The Look Of Love was also released as a single in Japan in January, 1988.

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: October 3, 1985

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On October 3 1985, Geffen Records released Gambler as a single in Europe. It was the second Madonna single released from the Vision Quest soundtrack.

Concerned about potential overexposure, Warner Brothers successfully managed to suppress a North American release of the track, although the music video was serviced to MTV. It was issued as a single in most other major markets – including Japan, Australasia & South America.

Gambler was written by Madonna, produced by Jellybean Benitez and arranged by Stephen Bray. Extended and instrumental remixes by Benitez were also issued commercially outside North America.

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