Honoring the album that started it all.
At the time, the music industry had no idea that July 27, 1983, would mark the beginning of the reign of an unprecedented icon. In fact, very few people who bought the album that dropped that day — something called Madonna, with a striking black-and-white cover portrait of the singer — expected that the world would still be listening to it 40 years later.
And not just listening to the eight original songs that made up the album, but also to the artist herself, who would become the undisputed Queen of Pop, the most famous woman — and perhaps person — in the world, and the last of the 1980s music titans to be left not just standing but also dancing, singing, and making headlines.
Best of all, this unlikely fairy tale begins with a truly great album that perfectly captures both what was in the musical air at the time as well as what was to come. Let’s revisit all eight of the killer tracks that introduced the world to … Madonna.
Fittingly, the album kicks off with an electronic trill that seems to herald the arrival of something magical. And whether you’re hearing just the song or watching the video and its instantly iconic black-and-white shot of Madonna stylishly lowering her sunglasses, it’s no wonder this was the cut that solidified her rising, um, star. It was the last single released from this album, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Needing nothing in the music video beyond two backup dancers and an all-white room to sell her sexy ragamuffin swagger, Madonna is at her most magnetic on-screen here, and that’s saying something.
A still electronic but much sweeter sound is on display here, the first Top 10 single of Madonna’s career. Full-throated and fully developed, in many ways it’s the most accessible song of the entire set, something charming enough to make both kids and cool moms sing along. And the video, which uses a simple story of a love triangle of sorts, is the first to showcase Madonna as a “real” person, flirting and fighting and being free in New York City in a way that surely launched a million young hearts to dream of being — or being with — her.
As a lover of ’80s cheese in both music and video form, I have to admit my own bias here — the flashy, tacky, over-the-top video, song, and vocal performance here might have doomed a lesser performer to a future “can you believe this was a real thing?” trivia appearance decades later. But because it’s Madonna, the mightiest of them all, instead everything about this song and video showcases the depth and steel of her musical persona that would push her to explore directions and controversies none of her peers would have the guts to follow. Plus, has there ever been a hotter lyric than “Unlike the others, I’ll do anything/I’m not the same, I have no shame/I’m on fire!” Edgy!
I Know It
So massive were the hits on the album that it’s easy to dismiss the other songs as simply filler, when in fact they have a considerable charm and power of their own. I Know It, for example, showcases Madonna at her most endearingly assertive over a quintessentially ’80s sexed-up elevator Muzak sample. The punky bite disguised by the sugary production sums up Madonna’s secret weapon — this song is proof of how much smarter and savvier than her competitors she has always been. This song is crying out for a TikTok acoustic cover, honestly.
The feel-good song that allowed Madonna to leap from the dance charts to the Hot 100, Holiday has proved to be the gift that keeps on giving. Over the years, it has remained a fan favorite that has been frequently covered, sampled, and played by other acts and across a variety of projects. Its enduring success has a lot to do with the universal message of wanting to escape from a humdrum existence for a little while to enjoy a vacation, and the celebratory, uplifting tone of the vocal and music alike makes the message all the more alluring. You’ll never fail to draw people to the dance floor when you put this one on!
Think Of Me
Surely the only reason Think of Me didn’t get the full-fledged single treatment is because the other songs on this album are so uncommonly strong. With a sexy confidence and signs of the deeper, richer voice she would unveil on future albums, Madonna makes this sprightly kiss-off anthem just about the sassiest goodbye in pop. And that isn’t even getting into the epic saxophone solo that kicks the song into a higher gear halfway through. Iconic.
One of the most interesting, layered compositions on the album, Physical Attraction comes on with a winking subtlety that might seem easy to overlook at first. Slinking rather than storming in, the song swirls and spins Madonna’s emphatic vocals through one of her danciest tracks. The production and its smooth descending keyboard refrain are just so laidback, it’s incredible to hear how beautifully that plays with Madonna’s increasingly commanding vocal persona.
The legend goes that Madonna’s vocal was so soulful on her debut single, Everybody, that many people who bought the single — which did not feature her image — . There is something so arresting about the coldly electronic burbling of the music paired with Madonna’s warm, girlish vocals and almost menacingly womanly spoken word interludes that it’s not hard to understand how this electrified audiences, whether they heard it at Danceteria or on the radio. The is incredible too.