Greetings, glancers, and welcome back to another exciting entry in the Nightman Listens series. Today, we’ll be looking at one of the biggest albums of the 80s, and one which launched the career of one of the most influential women in music.
Madonna’s first album was a decent success and the follow-up was recorded and released a year later to great acclaim. With a number of high performing singles and a distinct sound, it is one of the archetypal 80s records, going on to encourage a bunch of imitators to follow Madonna’s musical approach, fashion sense, and provocative approach. Surrounding herself with some terrific writers, Madonna’s drive for success was spurred by the songs she was recording around this time. Looking at the track listing, I actually only recognise two of the names, though I’m sure I’ll know some of the others once I hear them – I’ve never actually sat down and listened to the whole thing. So let’s do this!
Material Girl: Aah, for someone my age there are any number of songs which instantly transport you back to the 80s. Big synthetic drum blasts and funky beats – as soon as that riff comes in, you’re already back there and when the vocals come in there’s no coming back. It’s all very cheesy, almost deliberately so, with Madonna both mocking and praising the materialistic lifestyle. The chorus is perfect, and the verses are pretty catchy too. Of course, we could do without all the squeaks and squawks, but it was the 80s. The production here is excellent, much higher quality. The song feels a little stretched, possibly for video purposes, but it never out stays its welcome.
Angel: Plinky plonky. Laughs. Hmm, I don’t recognise this one so far. Fairly catchy and sultry vocals. Vocals get more bizarre as the song goes on. Chorus is okay, not overly strong. There’s a nice synth break in the middle, another laugh which manages to not be as cheesy as you would think, so well done for that.
Like A Virgin: One of the most recognisable songs of the decade, and possibly Madonna’s signature song. Opening with honking synths it’s another which instantly grabs hold. Madonna sings in a high register, and both verse and chorus melodies are catchy. The lyrics fitted perfectly with Madonna’s image at the time, as an independent strong woman. Musically it crosses that line between pop and dance brilliantly – a song just as good to listen to in the bedroom, on the dance floor, on your Walkman.
Over And Over: Drums. Fast paced blaps. More synth. It’s another I don’t recognize. It’s good fun hearing all these 80s songs which you didn’t hear first time around, or forgot about as they all manage to pull back memories. I was only a toddler when this albums came out, but nevertheless, the music was replayed on TV and radio for years. Anyway, not many hooks on this one, the chorus is okay, but it’s definitely mid-album filler.
Love Don’t Live Here Anymore: Ah yes, I remember this one, and it is of course a cover. Given the synth treatment, it’s probably Madonna’s first ‘dark’ song with its desolate lyrics about loss. The vocals are fine at the high ranges, but things get a little strange for those lower notes. Nevertheless, the arrangement blending strings, synth, guitars, and booming drums gives that timeless 80s feel, and it sounds a little like something Roxette would have done. The song threatens to drag on a little bit, but Madonna brings it back by some fine yelping and howling for the final moments.
Dress You Up: Thumping drums. Disastrous synth. Nice melody. Hand clap sounds like cardboard boxes being dropped in a puddle. Silly lyrics about clothes/sex. I remember the chorus. The chorus is a little too short and whiney. Feels more like a one hit wonder than a genuine memorable Madonna track. It’s a little weak sounding with flat production, decent melodies. It’s a fun, silly inclusion that doesn’t really go anywhere.
Shoo Bee Doo: I don’t know this one. A piano led ballad with a lot of space for Madonna’s vocals. Now drums, slowly becoming more of a dance track. Some of this sounds a little familiar, but I can’t place my memories accurately so I may well have heard this in my youth, or it could simply be similar to other songs I’ve heard. Something about it is also reminding me of a Michael Jackson song, but I can’t quite determine which one. Oh dear Lord, Saxomophone. Vague, light, forgettable, overlong but aside from those points, nothing particularly poor about it.
Pretender: Weird fast noises. Synth drums and other strangeness. I don’t know this one. Attempts to be funky, but doesn’t quite work. Weird vocals, silly boo-hoo lyrics. Nothing catchy here, no matter how many times ‘He’s a pretender’ is shouted at me. Ooh, an interesting middle section. That almost went somewhere good, but didn’t quite manage it.
Stay: The final track, hmm this is a pretty short album. Then again I’m used to metal and prog albums lasting forever. More weird noises at the start. These last few tracks have been more reminiscent of stuff from the first album – middling dance pop songs with no real hooks. It’s an okay song, but not memorable in the slightest. No, not more speaking parts. When will we learn that talking during songs just DOESN’T work? EVER.
I think I was expecting that to be a bit more. Only the singles have any sort of impact, with the rest of the album being average fluff. Note – it turns out that one of my favourite Madonna songs – Into The Groove – was added to a re-issues of this album, after being recorded for the Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack. Ah well, we’ll have to skip that one. Hey, Crazy For You was also recorded around this time and wasn’t part of any studio album. This album would have been epic had those two tracks replaced a couple of the others! So, nothing overly brilliant here, but it’s easy to appreciate the impact and sales the album had. Next time we visit Madonna’s back catalogue, we’ll be going through True Blue which I know contains at least two of my favourite Madonna songs, and I’ll be keen to hear if there are any classics I’ve missed.
Let me know what you thought of this album in the comments – does it contain any of your favourites, or is it an aged relic of a time best forgotten?