Nostalgia Jukebox: Getting into a Madonna groove

30 years ago today, an iconic song by an iconic singer/songwriter/actress with a funny name and funnier taste in fashion was unleashed on to an unsuspecting world.

Madonna had already announced her arrival as a rising star before Into the Groove was released. However, it was this single and her co-starring role in Desperately Seeking Susan, the film for which the song was recorded, that really set her on the way to becoming – alongside Michael Jackson – one of the two defining solo artists of the 1980s.

So, to celebrate this landmark anniversary, here are my top ten Madonna songs of all time. You’ll find Into the Groove in there, of course. But where?

1. La Isla Bonita (1987)

Album: True Blue. UK singles chart: 1.

You hear this song on the radio a lot, particularly at this time of year. There’s a good reason why. It’s a magnificent piece full of Hispanic influences, including Spanish guitar and Cuban drums, with a simple but irresistible melody and seductive, floating lyrics.

I doubt you’ll find La Isla Bonita at the top of many people’s lists of favourite Madonna songs. It’s at the top of mine, though.

Little-known fact: the instrumental arrangement of the track was initially offered to Michael Jackson before Madonna grabbed hold of it and wrote the lyrics and melody. Wise move.

2. Like a Prayer (1989)

Album: Like a Prayer. UK singles chart: 1.

The lead single from the album of the same name sold five million copies worldwide off the back of a short-lived Pepsi TV ad which ignited a global storm of protest from religious groups who claimed the video was blasphemous and led to Pope John Paul II calling for Italian fans to boycott her concerts.

Controversy aside, both the video and the song itself draw heavily on Madonna’s Catholic upbringing, with a gospel choir providing backing vocals. It’s one of her most rock-like songs: emotional, melodramatic and stunning.

3. Borderline (1984)

Album: Madonna. UK singles chart: Reached number 2 on re-release in 1986.

To listen to Madonna’s debut album again is to rediscover a host of forgotten synth dance-pop classics which, three decades on, still sound fresh: Lucky Star, Holiday, Everybody and this, her first US top ten single.

I didn’t discover this track until it was re-released in early 1986. It’s an unusually wistful song for early Madonna and demonstrated that she possessed greater songwriting and vocal range than many of her other initial ‘bubblegum’ efforts might suggest.

4. Vogue (1990)

Album: I’m Breathless. UK singles chart: 1.

An iconic song with an equally iconic video, Madonna demonstrated her chameleon-like ability to evolve musically and ride emerging trends, here fusing house and disco influences.

With global sales of over six million copies, this was arguably the high point of Madonna’s career, both creatively and commercially.

5. Into the Groove (1985)

Album: Like a Virgin. UK singles chart: 1.

This unashamed slice of feel-good drum-and-synth dance-pop was first released on July 23rd 1985 – 30 years ago today.

It became Madonna’s first UK number one and had the unusual distinction of holding one of her own songs – the reissue of Holiday – off the top spot, as she occupied both the top two positions on the singles chart.

6. Hung Up (2005)

Album: Confessions on a Dance Floor. UK singles chart: 1.

Featuring a prominent sample of ABBA’s 1979 song Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) overlaid on a beat-heavy dance track, this song remains Madonna’s best-selling single ever, with sales of over nine million.

It’s a joyously upbeat song that represented a welcome return to form after the variable quality of her previous two albums, Music and American Life. In truth, she hasn’t come close to matching it since.

7. Papa Don’t Preach (1986)

Album: True Blue. UK singles chart: 1.

The lead single from True Blue provided evidence of a growing maturity, touching on issues of teenage pregnancy and supporting a pro-life stance (although Madonna did not write the song herself).

The song’s distinctive Baroque-style classical string intro signalled a definite step away from the more lightweight pop of her first two albums into more adventurous territory, which has contributed to a career which now spans more than three decades.

8. Ray of Light (1998)

Album: Ray of Light. UK singles chart: 2.

The mid to late-1990s was a fairly barren period for Madonna, but the title track from Ray of Light and its album-mate Frozen stand out as clear high points.

Written and recorded with star producer William Orbit, this is a fabulous fusion of high energy dance, electronica and trance elements, showcasing Madonna’s ability to combine and transcend musical fashion and put a unique, radio-friendly spin on it.

9. Crazy For You (1985)

Album: Vision Quest soundtrack. UK singles chart: 2.

One of Madonna’s few pure ballads, this track features on a star-studded soundtrack from the little-known (and little-watched) film Vision Quest that also features The Style Council, Journey, Foreigner and Don Henley.

Simple, heartfelt, beautiful.

10. Open Your Heart (1986)

Album: True Blue. UK singles chart: 4.

For my final selection, I’ve passed over serious hitters such as Like a Virgin, True Blue, Holiday and Frozen in favour of one of the least commercially successful singles from her 1980s heyday.

A plaintive love song with a heavy, percussive beat, an earlier version had been penned with Cyndi Lauper in mind before Madonna reworked both the melody and lyrics to fit her dance-pop style. It was nowhere near as controversial as the later Like a Prayer, but with a video that featured a young boy watching a peep-show and lyrics laced with thinly veiled innuendo about female locks and male keys, this was typical Eighties Madonna cocking a snook at her Catholic, male-dominated upbringing.

So that’s my top ten. Do you agree? Or I have omitted some of your favourites? Let me know in the comments below.


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