Monday, June 22, 2009

June 22: Madonna, "Madonna"

Artist: Madonna
Album: Madonna
Year: 1983
Label: Sire

By the time 1983 rolled around, disco was long dead, hip hop was beginning to stir, and new wave was in full swing. Yet somehow, a twenty-five year old girl from Michigan managed to crack the Top 10 on the charts with her debut record that was most certainly a disco-powered pop album. Nearly thirty years after its release, she remains one of the most respected and successful performers in music history, and there is only one word that can describe her: Madonna. If Michael Jackson is the "King Of Pop," then one can make a strong case that Madonna is fitting of the title, "Queen Of Pop," as she was a "pop princess" before the term existed. Yet, with more than fifteen albums to her name, it is her 1983 self titled debut where one can find her finest work, and the blueprint for nearly everything she has done since.

As the story goes, Madonna offered whomever got her a record deal the right to producer her first album. When New York DJ, Mark Kamins, delivered the record deal, other producers were tapped for the project. Perhaps one of the reasons why Madonna has the pop variety that it does is due to the fact that production duties were shared by a few of the most talented men in the business. A majority of the album was produced by Reggie Lucas, and he also co-wrote the top 5 hit, "Borderline." John "Jellybean" Benitez produced a majority of the album, and it is he who is responsible for Madonna's first two number one singles, "Lucky Star" and "Holiday." Lucas and Benitez share production credits on another song, and Kamins got his only chance to produce when he took over for the song, "Everybody," yet the album itself is a cohesive pop masterpiece. One interesting note about Madonna is that the record originally featured vastly different cover art, and the name of the record was originally Lucky Star. Though a few African countries received this version, the rest of the world received the version which is still distributed to this day. It is this album cover that turned Madonna into a risqué sex symbol, as she is pictured in a seductive pose with a dog chain around her neck. Her midriff bared stomach is also featured on the inside cover, and though her later albums would push these same themes far further, at the time of its release, her debut cover caused enough controversy to help album sales eventually top eight million copies.

The music found throughout Madonna is truly everything one needs within a pop song. Taking the sound and soul of dance and disco hits and combining it with the modern, synthesizers and beats, the songs are perfect dance songs. Whether it is the soft keyboards of "Borderline" or the bright, catchy sounds of "Lucky Star," or the slightly darker, yet equally danceable mood of "Physical Attraction," there is not a dull moment anywhere on the album. While from a modern perspective, the synthesizers and drum programming seem very simple, at the time, they were truly cutting edge. At the same time, it is in this simplicity where the songs become even more catchy, and also let the vocal performance of Madonna shine. This is of the most amazing things about Madonna; the way in which the music is so fantastic and powerful, yet it still manages to let the dynamic and delightful vocals of Madonna keep center stage. However, another truth is, without the music behind her, Madonna's singing would not be much of note, yet the combination of the music and vocals create a truly addicting sound. The simple, bouncy sounds and enchanting vocals found on Madonna set the model for female pop success that is still very much followed to this day.

The real reason why Madonna has become as successful as she is lies in the way in which her voice draws you in to each song. Her personality, her passion, and her amazing voice set her high above nearly every other female performer in history. Though her later work would be far more intimate and sensual, there is still a great deal of love, lust, and passion running through each song on her debut record. Madonna's voice is as strong as they get, and she also presented a bit of a "girl next door" sound, as well as being able to hit both the lowest and highest notes back to back. Her vocal diversity was complimented by the fact that her attitude was consistently bright, and it was clear that she was having as much fun making the songs as those dancing to them. Nearly every song on Madonna has a similar, love or longing theme, yet even on her first album, Madonna was already walking the line of what a woman could say or imply on a record. With EmpTV also on the rise, it was the way in which she presented herself in videos that furthered her image and both captivated fans and angered conservatives simultaneously. Yet, at the end of the day, Madonna's stellar voice and the bouncy, exhilarating way in which she sang each song made her songs intoxicating and they are still amazingly catchy and enjoyable decades later.

Simply mentioning the name "Madonna" brings many opinions and images immediately to the mind of every person. Perhaps equally as well known for her superb songs as much as the controversy they create, the only thing one cannot do when it comes to Madonna is ignore her. Having pushed the limits on what can be said and done by a female entertainer throughout her entire career, she is very much responsible for the freedom and latitude that current female performers enjoy. A true musical icon, she remains one of the most recognized and respected entertainers in the world. Her influence and impact can be seen in everything from modern pop music, to the fashion trends she has created even as early as her style on her debut album. While later albums were more commercially successful, it is on her self titled 1983 debut where one can experience Madonna in her most pure form, and each and every song is an irresistible pop and dance gem.

Standout tracks: "Lucky Star," "Borderline," and "Holiday."

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