By Adem | August, 5, 2009 | 9 comments

Like A Virgin

In 1984, a young Madonna writhed around the stage at the first annual MTV Video Music Awards, panties and garter-belt in full view, debuting her racey new single Like A Virgin to a shocked audience of her peers. It was the beginning of an often beautiful (and messy) relationship between Madonna and Controversy. Madonna and Controversy; They just seem to fit so well together. Yet, at the time little did anyone know that in years to come, this very woman would release a coffee table collectors book called Sex, or that she would adopt an entire country of orphaned children and have them stay at hers. There was no way to predict any of that. Yet critics were incredibly interested in predicting the pop starlets future based on this record alone.

Interestingly, at the time of release, critics were harsh about Madonna’s sophomore album and reluctant to give her too much praise. Comparing her to Cyndi Lauper, Madonna was slated for her image and her voice, with one critic likening her pipes to “Minnie Mouse on helium,” with several others labeling her a “one hit wonder.” But 25 years later, Madonna’s predicted “one hit” has turned into over 80 of them, and there are now a couple of music writers who will go down in the history books as the journalists who, in plain black and white, are on record as stating she would never make it.

Like A Virgin was a strong and important reinvention for the career of Madonna. The record still held onto the future Queens obsession with dance music and club culture, heavily embedding those roots into modern day pop songs, all with the production help of disco-survivor, Chic‘s Nile Rogers. And although it may not sound as fresh or relevant to todays club circuit as the debut does, Like A Virgin still packs a mighty influential punch, even if, at times, it heavily reflects a quintessential 80′s feel.

The lead single (and title track) catapulted Madonna into a league of her own. Listening to Madonna coo “oooh, feels so good inside” for the first time towards the end of the track remains a poignant moment in my life that I would only ever understand in years to come. She sounded so… vulnerable still at this point. Hungry, determined, but still a little vulnerable, which is perhaps why critics were so harsh.

The follow up single, the cheeky and often-referenced Material Girl, saw Madonna pay homage to Marilyn Monroe‘s performance of Diamond’s Are A Girls Best Friend in its video clip, whilst the glittering Dress You Up saw her using fashion and couture as a metaphor for love. The frantic jolts of the spiky Over & Over could still, some 25 years later, destroy a dance floor with fiery feet, whilst both Angel (a rip-snorter pop moment) and the stunning Shoo-Bee-Doo (a picturesque ballad) stand the test of time, with the formers middle-8 providing some of the records best love lyrics (I believe that dreams come true, coz you came when I wished for you, this just can’t be coincidence, the only way that this makes sense is that; oooh, you’re an angel), whilst the latter’s deal with a love on hold; When I look in your eyes, baby here’s what I see. I see so much confusion, and it’s killing me/I can see you’ve been hurt before, but don’t compare them to me. Coz I can give you so much more, you know you’re all I see.

But perhaps the absolute best moment on Like A Virgin is its double-shot finale; Pretender and Stay. I’ll make him dance with me, I’ll make him tell me why he’s a pretender she sings, before a euphoric middle-8 erupts in which Madonna demands: Don’t say that I am blind; I know all about your kind. Well, Quite.

Stay, which I distinctly remember as being my absolute favourite from the album as a child, may sound about as dated as it actually is, but there’s really something undeniably exciting about it. In particular, that incredible talky-bit during the middle-8. In fact, all these years on, there’s still something undeniably exciting about this whole record.

With Madonna circa the 1980′s, nothing was predictable. You couldn’t say what she was going to do next because, frankly, who saw any of it coming? The element of surprise has definitely been a move Madonna’s often worked well with, and Like A Virgin is a true testament to that. Judging by the debut record, Madonna could have gone complete club-roots for record number two, and instead she reinvented herself as a dance-floor friendly, pop music princess. It was the first (but definitely not the last) time we’d really seen this chameleon change its colour right before our very eyes.

During the first album, Madonna told journalists she wanted to “rule the world.” At this point in her career, she was one record away from doing just that. Upon Like A Virgin‘s arrival, the Queen of Pop had also well and truly arrived.

> This is the second installment of the Madonna retrospective. Read my review of Mo’s debut album here.

9 Responses to Sophomore.

  • Glenn

    Another amazing piece, Adem. Those people who predicted she wouldn’t last sure do look silly, don’t they? I wonder if they ever acknowledged it.

    In regards to “Like a Virgin” in clubs, I heard the Confessions Tour version once and it went, quite literally, “off the hook”. It was amazing and entirely euphoric.

  • Brad

    Once again, an excellent review. I’m very much looking forward to the entire retrospective :)

  • Gordon

    Fundamentally, the most exciting Madonna album, it locks together a sound to match the not-quite-yet hard boiled iconic image. The tumbling ballad Stay is a lusty gauntlet of panic and self-restoration or otherwise. And then there’s Shoo Bee Doo…

    I’m looking forward to the 90s reviews.

  • Paul

    Another great write up – i have to say when I put the album on my mp3 player I always make sure to add Crazy For You and of course the immense Gambler… it just raises it from another A- to an A album for me :)

  • xolondon

    Stay continues the first album\’s trend of epic spoken word segments (\”don\’t be afraid…\”). Why are those so pleasing?

    I remember a local radio station broadcast the audio of the MTV awards (it was either the first one or one of the first!) and so I had Like A Virgin on a cassette – wore that out. It was far more outright pop than her first record. Nile brought a distinct change to her sound.

  • Aaron

    Brilliant review! I really do like the well know singles, but I love hearing you opinions on the album tracks!

  • Adem

    Glenn: That version is AMAZING. I’d love to hear that in a club!

    Brad: Thank you very much :)

    Gordon: Thank you also. I’m enjoying your comments immensely, in fact I forgot to tell you I loved what you wrote on my rnb ladies of the 90′s piece.

    Paul: Those AND Into The Groove all make it on my LAV iTunes playlist!

    xo: I’m not sure, but there really is something magical about those talky-bits. That one in particular…

    Aaron: And thank you to you too!

  • Yuri

    Another ace review, Adem! Can’t wait for the next installment!

    Speaking of Pretender, I do love the “I’m not afraid / To fall 100 times/ And I’ll believe in / All your silly lies / I’d like to think that / I could change your mind…” Very keen observation about the solid “album” tracks she gave us then.

  • D'luv

    You’ve inspired me, luv. Downloading this album tonight! My mom bought it for my dad back in ’84, and we all used to love it then, but I\’ve not listened to it since.


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