Madonna/The First Album (1983)
Disco isn’t dead, it just became Madonna.
"I thought then as I do now that Madonna is a gay man trapped in a woman's body." Boy George.
Twenty years on and Madonna remains an appealing pop album. It’s an album of two distinctive types. There are the sweet and unpretentious pop songs such as Borderline, Lucky Star, and Holiday. Lucky Star remains a favourite even though the lyrics are relentlessly dumb. Were they clichéd even then? The lyrics make a comparison between her lover and the heavenly body of the sky. It’s a bit laughable in hindsight, but she manages to convincingly carry off the song with a very high sweet voice. She makes it believable. So I can’t be too harsh on Lucky Star because no matter how poor some of the lyrics are, the sentiment feels completely real. Holiday is a familiar friend and was a deserved success. The bass line is a work of pop art. The song sums up precisely what Madonna represents to her fans despite not really containing anything of MADONNA in it other than her voice; what is she about if not the joys that come from freedom of expression? Holiday was an enormous hit record and deservedly so. And yet there’s a small part of me that still considers it to be inferior to Everybody. I’ve always felt that about those two songs. Everybody was released first – the original single covers to Everybody and Holiday both lacked Madonna’s soon-to-be-iconic face for some weird reason – but Holiday took the success and legacy. Interestingly enough, it was the demo of Everybody that got Madonna signed in the first place. Legend has it that she stormed into the record executive’s hospital bed and made him sign the contract; presumably she wanted to make sure her future ambitions weren’t thwarted by something as inconvenient as death.
Since re-listening to Madonna, I’ve now altered my opinion on parts of the album. Everybody is a brilliant track but it definitely lacks the appeal of the effervescent Holiday. Annie would later do the rare thing of sampling a Madonna track and improving upon it. Everybody falls into the second type of song on the album together with Burning Up, Physical Attraction, and Think Of Me. These songs, unlike Borderline/Lucky Star/Holiday, are best described as dissonant dark disco or possibly even disco punk. That isn’t to say this isn’t a straight up pop album, it’s quite uncomplicated, but it sounds dirty, the soundtrack to a murky club. Out of the Danceteria and into the charts! The only real anomaly is I Know It. The production on that song sounds very dated, the keyboards lacking the same sort of timelessness the rest of the album contains in abundance. This outmoded sound is callously exposed on the digitally remastered version of the album – which incidentally is the one I listened to in preparation for this retrospective. My favourite track is between Holiday (the sort of song I’ve played too much but I remember why it’s so brilliant when I hear it again), Everybody, and Think Of Me. The lyrical subject of Think Of Me, however, is quite unbelievable. Can you really imagine Madonna crying over an errant lover? Doubtful! One of her main appeals (other than representing to her fanbase 'freedom of expression') is how she embodies supreme power and ultimate self-control. We believe above all other things that No Man Gets The Better Of Madonna! But we couldn’t have known that at the time, so it’s harsh to judge Think Of Me by what we’ve come to know later on. It’s still the song I’ve overplayed since revisiting the album for this review. Physical Attraction’s instrumental contains a very similar musical motif to that of Crazy For You. Listen to it after she sings, “Physical Attraction,” and you’ll hear those tell-tale bars.
The visuals of this era leave me panting because they contain everything I would possibly wish for in a popstar. Whenever I see those photographs of Madonna drowning in bangles and punkish rags, certain words and phrases come to mind: cool, hard, stylish, fashionable, dirty, underground. She looks like she’d be fun to go clubbing with and you’d hang on every word she said during the night. Her face is as addictive as her music.
Overall Madonna is still every bit as brilliant as it was in 1983 when it first appeared in record stores across the world. It sounds unusually unspoiled from the ravages of fashion. It’s a worthy debut from an icon.
Everybody looks exactly like the sort of video a newly signed artist in the eighties would put out. It’s a cheap and cheerful disco video populated by friends and family. There is nothing about Everybody that gives away the fact Madonna is about to become the greatest female icon in pop music history. It really is unspectacular. Holiday is the same. Very unspectacular and yet Madonna remains a compelling creature of the camera regardless.
Burning Up is the zenith of Madonna’s early promo videos and perfectly exemplifies what she is all about as an artist. Filmed in the 80s, it looks like it, with a Miami Vice extra driving a car down a street as Madonna writhes around declaring her lack of shame for the word to hear. But note what happens at the end when suddenly it transpires that Madonna is now driving the car. Yes, she’s in the driving seat. She’s in full control: feminism and Madonna together forever and ever. My favourite part of the video is the scene Madonna uses her bangle to aim a stray laser beam at an innocent goldfish! Only twenty seconds into her first attempt at a big pop video and she’s wreaking havoc. And is it me or does the hooded top Madonna wears look very similar to the Miss Jones designed suit Kylie wore in the video for Can’t Get You Out Of My Head sans slit? I think Miss Jones might have been influenced by Burning Up. It isn't impossible.
Borderline and Lucky Star both effortlessly capture the irrepressible zing of the song and gives Madonna her first proper popstar video. Burning Up is brilliant, but so weird in places that it was left to Borderline to suitably present Madonna to the flourishing MTV age.
I didn't have a chance to edit this review, but I hope you like it anyway.
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