Third Class.

By Adem | September, 7, 2009 | 8 comments

True Blue

This, her third record, was the album Madonna dedicated to her (then) husband, actor Sean Penn, who she called “the coolest guy in the universe” within this LP’s liner notes. It’s also the album some have been known to say is the record which helped cement Madonna as a pop force to be reckoned with. Interestingly, looking back at True Blue now, it’s about 80% hit, 20% miss, with those miss moments aging rather poorly. Thankfully, the 80% hit portion of this long player really made up for what was lacking in that other 20.

Five near-perfect singles would come from this, Madonna’s 1986 follow up to Like A Virgin, True Blue. The first, one of the greatest pop ballads of all time, Live To Tell, came complete with a new look Madonna; fresh faced and recently married, Ciccone traded in her crucifixes and bracelets for a classic, cleaner look, paying homage to the blonde starlets of the 1950′s silverscreen. Singing of deceit and betrayal, Madonna, deeper than ever before, coos the words: A man can tell a thousand lies, I’ve learned my lesson well, hope I live to tell the secret I knew then…/The truth is never far behind, you kept it hidden well… But perhaps the strongest lyrics in the song belong to The light that you could never see, it shines inside you can’t take that from me.” It would be 18 years before she would indirectly pay homage to that very lyric, in the final few seconds of American Life‘s X-Static Process. Live To Tell was the worlds first glimpse into a maturing Madonna – at the age of 27, the Material Girl had turned into a Modern Woman.

And then, just to show she really meant business, Madonna went and chopped all her hair off…

Papa Don’t Preach, whose video clip was the second time Madonna would completely reinvent her image in the public eye, serves as a particularly memorable moment from not only True Blue, but also Madonna’s career. The track, dealing with the sordid topic of Teenage Pregnancy (it was 1986, let’s not forget that), coupled with its subtle pro-life message took Madonna into new levels of controversy. She was older, wiser, and had more to say than she had before; True Blue didn’t just do a good job of making Madonna look mature, it completely re-evaluated the public opinion of her as a singer; she finally sounded mature. No more Minnie-Mouse-on-helium vocal strains, but a more natural and comfortable sounding Madonna whose voice, at the time, was at its absolute best.

Would you believe that it wasn’t up until recently (literally about 3 weeks ago) that I developed an appreciation for Open Your Heart, a song which I’d always thought was a bit of a bore? But listen to those lyrics… maybe I didn’t understand or could identify with what she was banging on about in 1986, but I certainly do now; “Open your heart to me, baby, I’ll hold the lock and you hold the key/I’ll give you love if you, you turn the key/One is such a lonely number.”

That said, my two favourite moments on the record lie with La Isla Bonita [watch the AMAZING Drowned World Tour performance of it here] (the first time Madonna would implement her obsession with all things Spanish into not just ANY pop song, but one of THE best in history), and the adorable True Blue. The latter, a dance-pop hybrid which paid homage to the influential girl groups of the 1960′s (and was written by Madonna with her hubby Penn in mind), saw the popster sing about there being “No more sadness, I kiss it goodbye, the sun is bursting right out of the sky, I’ve searched the whole world for someone like you… don’t you know, don’t know baby/This time I know it’s true love, you’re the one I’m dreaming of, love fits just like a glove/and I’m gonna be, True Blue, baby I love you.”

Album tracks such as White Heat and Where’s The Party have (surprisingly) aged incredibly well, but the album closers; Jimmy Jimmy and Love Makes The World Go Round, two of my favourites when the album actually came out, sound about as exciting and listenable as a Bullet For My Valentine record. Jimmy Jimmy, although playful, sounds somewhat embarassing, and although the message in Love Makes The World Go Round is something you could applaud, the cracks in production certainly prevent anything of the sort. And to think, that was supposed to be the records first single!

Obviously love played a major part in the creation of True Blue. Named after her hubby, dedicated to him, songs spilling with themes of romance… almost picture perfect. But the music depicted the opposite of what would occur. Penn’s temper would get the best of him, and eventually, the Poison Penn’s (as Madonna and Sean were dubbed by the press), were to call it a day. True Blue? No more.

One failed marriage down the gurgler. What would become of Madonna’s art, particularly now that she had portrayed an older, wiser approach to her songs and lyrics?

At this point, no one had any idea what was to come next, or how forceful Madonna’s next move was going to be…

8 Responses to Third Class.

  • Paul

    Love the singles from this album – True Blue remains one of my favourite Madonna singles of all time and this album actually contains the most of any album of my top 20 madonna singles of all time (4 including True Blue, La Isla, Papa and Open Your heart). Though that changes every so often :)

    Is it true that Madonna won’t perform True Blue (the song) anymore? Or is that just one of those wikipedia rumours? And for years i sang “young girls with eyes like potatoes” on La Isla Bonita before finally reading the liner notes. Div.

  • Will-W.

    my guess is that Madonna is a little embarrassed by “True Blue” considering how elementary it is compared to some of the deeper songs she’s written. but i agree overall, this album is one of her weaker ones especially after exciting us so deeply with “Like a Virgin”.

  • xolondon

    At the time, this album seemed like a big leap, at least on the singles. The thing about Live To Tell is that Madonna had been branded as helium voiced for 3 years, so she used a more natural voice on LTT that no one had really heard before. It was very different, as was the music, which was much more monolithic and serious. AMAZING.

    And the Papa is one of the best pop singles of all time, esp b/c of those strings.

    Open Your Heart is the one she has never done justice to live, perhaps b/c she didn’t write it. It needs a reinvention (beyond the Frozen thing).

    Who was it recently that said True Blue has one of the best middle eights ever. Maybe Darren Hayes? Agreed. I used to play that part of the song over and over.

  • Yuri

    One of my fave Madge albums. I remember buying the cassette in a long, electric blue box – one that would not fit in the standard cassette slots at the record store. We should have known them that Madonna was never one to fit into the standard music mold.

    I’m a bit disappointed with your rating, Adem, but you make some good points. As XO says, the strings on “Papa” are still amazing to this day. I, too, didn’t fully appreciate “Open Your Heart” until well after its heyday. It remains one of my faves. And the middle 8 on “True Blue” is magical. It’s a shame that either her memories of Sean or whatever the reason, Madonna is not fond of “True Blue” anymore. Has she even performed it after the Ciao Italia tour?

  • Dan C.

    I do love True Blue, but of the first three albums, it’s the one that has aged the least well. It seems much more “of its time” than either Madonna or Like A Virgin do. True Blue was the first new release Madonna album I bought after becoming a fan, so it will always be special to me for that. I still have the vinyl LP that I purchased way back in 1986 – the cover of which adorns my wall now.

    There is no arguing that “Live To Tell” is among her finest moments. I have always loved the instrumental of that song – not sure why. But my favorite of the album tracks is “White Heat”. It sounds good even today, probably because it did not suffer from incredible overplay.

    I still like “Papa Don’t Preach” but I think it needs to be retired live. I think it’s just silly for a 51 year old Madonna to be singing about teenage pregnancy. But what the hell do I know? ;)

  • Andrew S&N

    True Blue is the Madonna album I would most like to have been my age now when it was released. The cover, the singles, the era it came out in – Madonna doesn’t get much more iconic.

    I agree with whoever said Open Your Heart needs a new re-invention, although I did love the acknowledgement in Frozen on S&S. I think both the WTG and BA tour performances were pretty amazing though, and the excuse that she doesn’t perform it because she didn’t write it is a bit redundant seeing as La Isla Bonita and Holiday are nearly as overdone as Music is.

  • Dane

    Have to say I entirely disagree with you Adem – for me, True Blue has aged much better than the first two albums, and stood as the best Madonna album at its point of release. Cringe-worthy moments like ‘I Know It’ amd ‘Shoo-Be-Do’ are nowhere to be found on True Blue, and even on the bubblegum moments like ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’ there is a maturity and lyrical depth that was entirely absent in Madonna’s early work. ‘Live To Tell’, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ and ‘La Isla Bonita’ all paved the way for the Like A Prayer album, which is probably her best album (either that or Erotica, which was criminally under-rated at the time).

  • Aaron

    Killer review – I haven’t heard the album yet, just picked it up but I can’t wait too now!

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