For a solid two decades, from the early 80s to the turn of the millennium, Madonna was one of the undisputed biggest names in music. She effortlessly evolved from pop gimmick, to sex pot, to innovator and a few other things along the way. During those years, she reinvented herself with pretty much every album and was always ahead of the curve.
Which has made the last 20 or so years that much sadder. As she refuses to age gracefully, Madonna has chased one fad after another, and ended up further behind with each attempt. Even though I have grown up with Madonna as a radio and TV constant my entire life, I’ve only ever heard the hits. So I thought it was time to give the modern day, sad version of Madonna a little context, by going all the way back to where it all began, with 1983’s Madonna.
Opening with one of the mega hits that has been a radio and TV constant my entire life, Lucky Star is a pretty great pop song that justifies her early success. Lucky Star is perfectly suited to Madonna’s nasally delivery of the time, that while not all that strong, it’s just right here. Speaking of perfect, the synth bass line on Borderline is such a perfect encapsulation of 1983, that I think it should be a time capsule. It’s gloriously cheesy, and so of the moment.
Opening a pop record with two songs that clock in at over five minutes each must have been a gamble. Especially since it’s a debut pop album. Or maybe, people just had longer attention spans in 1983. And while both songs are pretty good, they would both be a lot better at under four minutes.
The glorious synth bass sticks around for Burning Up, but this time, it’s joined by a glorious 80s “rock” guitar. It’s the kind of guitar sound that middle aged producers and studio musicians back then would have considered “rock” or even “metal”. Slow this guitar tracks down just a few BPMs, and you have the perfect soundtrack to a sex scene in Lethal Weapon.
I Know It is the kind of disposable, bubble gum pop I would have expected from a debut album from some then unknown in 1983. Well, being three years old, I probably didn’t have such a fully formed or cynical expectation of any album in 1983, but hearing it now, I Know It is the epitome of disposable, bubble gum pop from a then unknown in in 1983. Luckily it’s followed by Holiday. If you don’t like this song, you really are a miserable son of a bitch.
That inessential accusation could be thrown at most of the second half of Madonna. Think of Me and Physical Attraction are perfectly fine, they’re just nothing more than that and do nothing to stand out. But Lucky Star and Holiday really are such perfect pop songs, that those two alone make it obvious why Madonna broke through in such a big way with this album.