Monday, May 28, 2012

"Madonna" by Madonna (1983)

Sepia image of a young blond female. Her short cropped hair is unkempt on her head. The right hand is placed on her right cheek and with the left hand, she holds on to a number of chains wound on her neck. She wears a number of black bangles on her hands. On both sides of the image, the word "MADONNA" is written, once in black and once in white. In both cases, the "O" is painted red.

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

Filed between: Lynyrd Skynyrd and Manfred Mann

Key Tracks:
Borderline, Holiday, Physical Attraction

Obvious Filer & Swings-and-Misses:
I Know It (obvious filler), Everybody (Swing-and-a-Miss)

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
Average (2/4 stars)

The nostalgia filter strikes yet again.  I remember these songs seeming timeless.  Now, they're a lot of fun, but pretty disposable.  And thus we enter the "pop" discussion...

Along with Michael Jackson and Prince, Madonna defined pop icon for a generation.  Interestingly, on her first LP, that's not really apparent on her first effort.  Like MJ and the purple one, it would be her second release that would catapault her into the stratosphere.  In fact, "Madonna" is much more a dance record than a pop record.  A reflection of her club days, many of the tracks are about twice as long as a standard radio single.  But I think that's important.  This record serves as one of the bridges between disco and what came next.  What came next, it turns out, was Madonna.

I try not to talk too much about songs sounding dated, but in the "pop" discussion, you kinda have to.  It's one thing to have a song that's a hit in its own time; it's an altogether different thing for people to maintain affection for that song and for it to gain a new audience as time passess.  I have heard Brown Eyed Girl and Y.M.C.A. so many times that my ears bleed when they come on the radio now, but that happens for a reason.  They are both monumental tracks and when new listeners come across them, they immediately latch on.

Madonna has several songs like that, but not as many on "Madonna" as I thought.  These are more the kind of true "pop" song - those of us who heard them originally were so inundated with them, that we have developed something akin to Stockholm Syndrome when they crop back up.  We try to convince others of their merits, but the truth is - they're pop songs and will never have the same impact on those who weren't there for the zeitgeist.

Lucky Star is a prime example.  It's fair at best.  The lyrics are pretty dumb when you actually read them.  The melody is a throwaway.  And then there are the synths.  If the eighties taught us anything, it's that if you're going to rely on programmed sounds instead of musicians, you need to bring something interesting to the table lyrically or sonically.  That doesn't happen here.

In contrast, Borderline holds up pretty well.  It's got better lyrics and a richer sound which serve it well thirty years later.  It gets a good Motown-with-drum-machines vibe going.  Physical Attraction should be mentioned as well.  It's basically a precursor to the "Like a Virgin" LP and the sexuality that Madonna built her superstardom on.

So, is it an album?  No.  Holiday is the only track on the record that actually has a drummer.  It's also done by a totally different band and a totally different producer.  Consequently, it's also the only track on "Madonna" that sounds like a real song made by real people.

Up next, one of my favorite R&B groups of all time - The Chi-Lites with "A Letter to Myself."

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