A few months after the release of her self-titled debut, a then fresh-faced Madonna went on American Bandstand to perform one of her album’s biggest hits: the six-minute-long, infectiously breezy, post-disco odyssey “Holiday.” Dressed in all black and surrounded by an adoring audience, the “Detroit” native (she’s actually from Rochester Hills, which is located about 20 miles north of the city) gave an energetic performance that marked the first time many Americans got a glimpse of the soon-to-be megastar. In an interview afterward, with Dick Clark, Madonna was asked what her dreams for the upcoming year were; without missing a beat, she responded: “To rule the world.” And while that wouldn’t completely happen for her until a few years later, that such brazen confidence was already on full display makes perfect sense for an artist who pushed to name her album after herself (instead of giving it the same title as its glistening, bassy opener, “Lucky Star,” which was the original plan) and who had the chutzpah to partake in a sexed-up photo-shoot with a Mickey Mouse doll as a clap back at critics who complained that her voice sounded like “Minnie Mouse on helium.” Madonna never patiently waited for an invitation to stardom, but like other truly great pop stars, her success wasn’t just the result of some unabashed behavior, either — she most certainly had the music to justify it.
Madonna never patiently waited for an invitation to stardom, but like other truly great pop stars, her success wasn’t just the result of some unabashed behavior, either — she most certainly had the music to justify it.
Madonna is often labeled as a “singles album,” the non-hits seen as being too melodically straightforward and slight to be taken seriously. But that’s a rather reductive way of looking at it, one that willfully ignores how deeply enjoyable tracks like “I Know It” or “Think of Me” are, in all their synth-heavy, sax-sampling glory. Even “Physical Attraction” (which certainly overstays its welcome) is never anything less than a funky dance floor anthem, one that calls on two star-crossed lovers to “move before the sun is rising.” Still, “Holiday” and “Lucky Star” are two undoubtable highlights, even if they are singles whose layered, electronic instrumentation (courtesy of producer Reggie Lucas) originally didn’t sit well with Madonna; she complained that the album’s up-tempo rhythm took attention away from the music’s central selling point, obviously herself. But it’s the liberal use of Linn drum and electric guitar on Madonna that gives the album its now-retro ’80s sound — and which laid the foundation for the careers of Paula Abdul and Debbie Gibson. The catchier songs also serve to make Madonna’s hooks and cadences stickier and more alluring; the grand culminations though, comes on “Borderline,” which was written by Lucas, remixed by New York DJ John “Jellybean” Benitez, and emotively sung by a Madonna at her most rebellious and fed-up (“Something in the way you love me won’t let me be / I don’t want to be your prisoner / So baby, won’t you set me free?”). The song’s sentiment isn’t terribly profound, but who said it had to be? Like the rest of Madonna, the strength here comes from a satisfaction with loosening up and overcoming one’s inhibitions. As Lucas himself put it: “I don’t think [Madonna] changed the nature of life in America or anything like that. It was just a good record.”
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.