Song of the Day, May 19: Borderline by Madonna

MadonnaBorderlineToday’s song is the first Top Ten by a chart powerhouse. When Madonna hooked up with producer Reggie Lucas for her debut album, she brought in three of her own compositions. Lucas helped her track down a few other songs and offered her one of his own, Borderline. They recorded it, but Madonna was never happy with Lucas’ arrangement of the track, finding it cluttered. Lucas left the project, and Madonna asked her boyfriend, Jellybean Benitez, to re-mix the song.

Despite the rough start, the result is amazing. A powerful song of romantic frustration, it features one of the singer’s best vocals. Musically more complex than the rest of the album, Borderline introduced the smart, rich dance music that Madonna pioneered. The second Hot 100 single from the album, it peaked at #10 in an impressive 30-week run, breaking the singer into the Top 10, a place she would remain for her next 17 singles.

Enjoy this dance-pop masterpiece today.


Song of the Day, April 18: Like A Prayer by Madonna

MadonnaLikePrayerToday’s song is one of a pop diva’s finest moments. By 1989, Madonna was omnipresent. Her first three albums were progressively bigger hits and she had begun to appear in films. With her sidetrack soundtrack album Who’s That Girl, she was starting to look overexposed. As she has done many times, she defied expectations.

Like A Prayer — her fourth proper album — is a strong, mature work that builds on all the performer’s strengths. Featuring some of her finest and darkest writing, it maintains the varied dance textures while exploring more aspects of pop music. The title track is a mini-masterpiece. A gospel-tinged ode to the power of love, it features one of Madonna’s best vocal performances over a smart, sophisticated dance groove. The result was another #1 hit (her seventh of 12 so far), a “scandalous” video that kept her in the public eye, and a clear sign that this star was in charge.

Enjoy this big hit today.

Song of the Day, February 29: Crazy For You by Madonna

MadonnaCrazy4UToday’s song helped cement Madonna’s position as a superstar. When producers Jon Peters and Peter Gruber were assembling the soundtrack for the movie VisionQuest, they decided that the singer would be perfect. They commissioned a song from John Bettis and Jon Lind, who drew inspiration the meeting of the movie’s lead characters in a nightclub. Longtime Madonna collaborator Jellybean Benitez was brought in to produce the track. His dance-pop background was at odds with the ballad, but eventually the whole team turned out a version that satisfied.

Madonna’s label was reluctant to allow Crazy For You to be released as a single, worried about competition with releases from her Like A Virgin. They eventually acquiesced, and the result was Madonna’s second #1. Musically different, the slow-burn ballad allowed her to show off some versatility while the lyrical innuendo fit perfectly with her persona and style. The song debuted at #55 on March 2, 1985 and rose steadily, cracking the Top 10 in its fifth week with an impressive #20 to #9 leap. It soared to #4, #3, and #2, then got stuck behind the We Are the World juggernaut for three weeks. Just when it looked like the single had lost steam, it sneaked to the top for one week, then spent a final week at #2 before easing down the charts. Despite its lone week at #1, the song’s longevity and runner-up persistence brought it in at #9 for the year.

Enjoy this charming single today.

Song of the Day, January 20: Don’t Tell Me by Madonna

MadonnaDon't TellToday’s song is a standout track from Madonna’s eighth album, Music. Working with Joe Henry and Mirwais Ahmadzai, the Queen of Pop found new energy. She kept her strong dance grooves, mixing in a smart blend of musical styles. On Don’t Tell Me, she adds some folk and country elements to the edgy trip-hop sound.

Opening with intentional stutter and musical gaps, it grabs the listener’s attention and holds on for the whole ride. Madonna turns in a strong, soulful vocal as she declares her independence. A bold statement of romantic energy that won’t be locked down, it’s one of the finest moment’s in the singer’s later career.

Enjoy this fun song today.

Billboard’s Top Hits of 1985!

This week’s Time Capsule!

Every year Billboard freezes the charts for the last week of December or first week of January, holding all the hits at the same position as the previous week. The charts published in that week’s magazine show the top hits for the whole preceding year. Let’s take a moment to look at the chart champs for 1985 as revealed in the January 4, 1986 issue.

Wham-Careless-WhisperTop 10 hits on the Hot 100

  1. Carless Whisper – Wham! featuring George Michael
  2. Like A Virgin – Madonna
  3. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go – Wham!
  4. I Want to Know What Love Is – Foreigner
  5. I Feel For You – Chaka Khan
  6. Out of Touch – Daryl Hall + John Oates
  7. Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears For Fears
  8. Money For Nothing – Dire Straits
  9. Crazy For You – Madonna
  10. Take On Me – a-ha (the only time a Norwegian act cracked the year-end Top 10!)

Madonna began her chart dominance in 1985, ruling the year-end list with five singles, two in the Top 10. Phil Collins had five as well, including a duet with Marilyn Martin and a major assist to Philip Bailey. George Michael and Wham! did well in their first chart year with four singles on the list including two of the Top 3. Five acts managed a trio of songs on this chart: Bryan Adams, Kool and the Gang, Bruce Springsteen, Tears For Fears, and Tina Turner. With twelve acts managing a pair of songs (including Duran Duran, which also had two members in the Power Station), a total of 69 different acts appear on the list.

The biggest hits of 1985 on the other Billboard Charts were:

  • ADULT CONTEMPORARY: Cherish – Kool and the Gang [6 weeks at #1, #17 on the Hot 100 final countdown]
  • COUNTRY: Lost In the Fifties Tonight – Ronnie Milsap [2 weeks at #1]
  • R&B: Rock Me Tonight – Freddie Jackson [6 weeks at #1]
  • ROCK: Lonely Ol’ Night – John Cougar Mellencamp [5 weeks at #1, #86 on the Hot 100 final]
  • ALBUM: Miami Vice Soundtrack [11 weeks at #1, including two songs on the Hot 100 final: the title theme at #27 and Glenn Frey’s You Belong to the City at #30]

It is useful to note Billboard‘s methodology for the year-end charts. They use an inverted point system for every week a hit is on the chart (#1 = 100, #2 = 99 and so on). This means that a song with longevity may rank high relative to its peak and a flash-in-the-pan #1 may rank relatively low. This allowed Chaka Khan to land her #3 song I Feel For You at an impressive #5 on the year-end list because of its 26-week run. The Time had the lowest peaking single on the chart, landing their #20 Jungle Love at #91 thanks to 25 weeks of chart activity. On the opposite end of the spectrum was David Lee Roth’s cover of California Girls. Despite going all the way to #3, the song’s rapid rise and fall landed it at #88, below many lower-peaking songs.

It’s also significant that points are calculated by a very strict 12-month window for tabulation and publication purposes, usually ending in early November. That means that any song that debuts in the latter part of a year may split its score across two years and rank fairly low in each year despite a high total score. That kept Madonna off the top of the list; despite six weeks at #1 to Carless Whisper‘s three, Like A Virgin split its run neatly across two years.

1985 was a very different year than 1984. Songs generally moved through the chart faster and peaked for fewer weeks. As a result, most of the final Hot 100 were Top 10 singles. As a matter of comparison:

  • In 1985, only three songs in the Top 50 peaked below #5, compared with eight in 1984.
  • Only four songs that peaked outside the Top 10 showed up on the 1985 list; 1984 had an impressive 15.
  • In 1984, only three Top 10 singles missed the year-end list, one of them due to the split tally; 1985 lost 13 Top 10 singles, all due to competition and short runs.

The year-end chart had a bit of fun as well. Billy Ocean’s Loverboy and Teena Marie’s Lover Girl wound up side-by-side at #28 and #29 respectively. Julian Lennon’s first two singles kept each other company with Too Late For Goodbyes at #77 and Valotte at #78; Duran Duran may have been fractured for most of the year, but they stayed cozy at with A View to A Kill at #35 next to #36 with The Wild Boys.

It was also a year of super-groups. USA For Africa landed at #20 with their fundraiser single We Are the World. The Honeydrippers sailed the Sea of Love to #34, and the Power Station plugged Some Like It Hot in at #79.

Album of the Week, November 15: Madonna

Madonna(debut)The woman who would become the phenomenon was born in Bay City, Michigan and raised in the suburbs of Detroit. Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was a successful student and skilled dancer, winning a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. In short order, however, she decided her path to success was in the big city, so she dropped out of college and headed to New York. She found work as a dancer and also began singing, first with the Breakfast Club and then with Stephen Bray — who would become a regular collaborator — in Emmy. Her energy and sense of fun came to the attention of producer Mark Kamins, who helped her land a solo deal with Sire records. She teamed up with writer and producer Reggie Lucas, releasing two singles and recording her debut album. Not fully satisfied with the results — demonstrating a life-long dedication to her musical vision and a solid work ethic — she enlisted boyfriend Jellybean Benitez to re-mix several tracks. The final result was a delightful collection of dance tracks that slowly took hold of the pop world as well.

Title Madonna
Act Madonna
Label Sire Release Date July 27, 1983
Producer Reggie Lucas with Jellybean Benitez and Mark Kamins
U.S. Chart  #8 U.K. Chart  #37
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Lucky Star [#4]
  2. Borderline [#10]
  3. Burning Up
  4. I Know It
  5. Holiday [#16]
  6. Think of Me
  7. Physical Attraction
  8. Everybody

Let’s start with the hits. After two successful dance singles, Madonna released the album’s only track written by outside talent. Holiday is a joyous confection, a fun, infectious number that makes the most of her early talents. It entered the charts as the 1983 holiday season got started, and the combination of a seasonal feel and a smart song eased the track into the Top 20 in an impressive five-month run. As it faded, she released the Lucas-penned Borderline. A wistful bit of romantic frustration with a solid pop groove, it made a perfect second single, showing off a bit more depth and arguably her best vocal of the album. With an enviable 30 weeks on the Hot 100, it became her first Top 10 and kept up the momentum. Then came Lucky Star, one of the tracks she wrote herself. A splendid, happy celebration and a smart dance number, it combined her musical passions in one fabulous package. It went quickly to #4, making it clear that the future Queen of the Dance Floor was here to stay.

Lucky Star is also the perfect kick-off to the album. Madonna is brilliantly sequenced, a steady flow of varied grooves that could run uninterrupted in the clubs. Borderline is a smart second track, changing up the energy. Burning Up is a club sensation, a rush of hormones that you can — indeed you MUST — dance to. The singer wrote both that track and the side one closer, I Know It, a great love-is-doomed song that flirts with the classic girl group sound.

Side two opens with the shimmering Holiday. Up next is a declaration of independence, Think of Me, a great tell-off song delivered with just the right edge. Showing off more of her sense of musical history, it references the Queen of Soul while remaining distinctly Madonna’s own. Physical Attraction parallels Burning Up as a song of passion. Where the latter was urgent, however, this track is simmering. A mature I-want-you song — hinting at future directions in Madonna’s catalog — it’s the slowest dance number on the album, featuring some classic disco sounds in a shiny new wrapper. The album ends with a powerful exhortation. Everybody is a dance anthem, one of the finest in the Madonna catalog. It was her first single (#3 Dance and a near-miss on the Pop charts) and a perfect introduction to the star’s energy. It could have opened the album, but saving it for last is a great move, encouraging the listener to keep the glorious party going.

When Madonna started recording, dance music had been shoved off the charts and back into the clubs. Disco was dead, and while the occasional dance number sneaked onto the airwaves, the New Wave sounds of the second British Invasion dominated. Rather than force her talent into the popular mold, Madonna stayed true to her own vision. Slowly introducing her sound to the airwaves, she spent over a year easing out tracks from her debut. It worked. She made dance cool again and built a steady momentum that would catupult her into superstardom in 1985. It all started with a short, smart collection of fun tracks that may not be her finest effort, but is certainly the perfect introduction and holds up as one of the best launching pads in pop history.

FURTHER LISTENING: Madonna is one of the most successful and influential entertainers of the past 40 years. Her musical catalog is full of great songs: dance tracks, pop gems, rockers, and ballads. Her first four albums — excluding the lightweight, multi-artist soundtrack Who’s That Girl — are amazing. Like A Virgin is the perfect second album, a pop tour de force. True Blue shows more diversity and sophistication while clearly a part of a strong trajectory; it’s also one of the best-selling albums of all time (and my personal favorite). Like A Prayer is arguably her best long player, a stunning set of songs with energy, passion, and great vocals. Since then her many projects and media omnipresence have often overshadowed the music, but she has released a fairly consistent, if not always magical, series of albums. Ray of Light and Music are standouts.

Sadly, even though she has been a hit machine — the most successful artist on the Billboard dance chart and the most successful female artist on the Hot 100 — she lacks a single, solid compilation. The Immaculate Collection is a good overview of the first phase of her career, but has odd remixes, truncated songs, and some glaring omissions. 2009’s Celebration is a decent package, but suffers from the inclusion of some Immaculate versions. Both are good representations, but we’re still waiting for the definitive overview of  this amazing career.

Song of the Day, May 1: Into the Groove by Madonna

MadonnaGrooveToday’s song is one of Madonna’s most famous singles, despite its lack of chart presence in the United States. In 1985 the singer was white hot. She had a massive #1 smash with the title track from her second album, Like a Virgin, the first of a rapid-fire string of Top Five hits. She was also readying her movie debut, a charming turn in the comedy Desperately Seeking Susan opposite Rosanna Arquette.

Madonna wrote Into the Groove, inspired by an attractive man that she wanted to ask out. She fused that desire with her love of the dance floor and created an infectious dance track. She was going to offer it to her friend Mark Kamins to produce for one of his artists. She decided to record her own version for the movie, a brilliant decision that resulted in one of her finest moments on record. She turns in a perfect vocal over a surging, urgent groove, creating an irresistible dance rhythm that surges with sexual tension.

She had just had a chart conflict arise from a movie song, however, when her single Material Girl and her contribution to the VisionQuest soundtrack, Crazy For You, wound up on the charts at the same time, possibly diluting their chart power. Since Angel was about to be released, Into the Groove was relegated to the B-side of the 12″ version of that single. It was released internationally, however, going to #1 in Australia, the UK, Ireland, and a half-dozen other countries.

Ironically, the single that never was has been hailed as Madonna’s “first great song.” It hit #1 on the Billboard Dance Charts, which relied on club play rather than commercial availability and was recognized by the magazine as Dance Single of the Decade for the 80s. It has been recognized on numerous best-of lists and remains a fan favorite and one of Madonna’s most lasting grooves. It’s also in my Madonna Top 3.

Enjoy this brilliant dance classic today.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending February 2, 1985

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 I Want to Know What Love Is Foreigner 1
R & B Mr. Telephone Man New Edition 1
Country A Place to Fall Apart Merle Haggard with Janie Fricke 1
Adult Contemporary You’re the Inspiration Chicago 2
Rock The Old Man Down the Road John Fogerty 2
Album Born In the U.S.A. Bruce Springsteen 7

JellybeanSidewalkThis week sees a long-lived song peak for the first time. DJ John “Jellybean” Benitez rose to prominence in the New York club circuit in the late 70s. He became known for remixing singles around the same time that he met a then-unknown singer and dancer named Madonna. He produced a couple of tracks on her debut album, including her first Top 40 hit, Holiday. As her star began to rise, she returned the favor, offering Jellybean a song she had written for inclusion on his first EP.

This week Sidewalk Talk — with lead vocals by Catherine Buchanan and backing vocals by Madonna — became Jellybean’s second #1 on the Dance chart. It managed this solely through club play, since no official 7″ or 12″ version was yet available. Ten months later, after Madonna’s remarkable year on the charts, EMI released the single officially. It entered the Hot 100 on November 16, 1985 and peaked at #18 on February 1, 1986, almost exactly a year after its dance peak.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending January 5, 1985

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Like A Virgin Madonna 3
R & B Operator Midnight Star 3
Country Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind? George Strait 1
Adult Contemporary Do What You Do Jermaine Jackson 3
Rock The Boys of Summer Don Henley 4
Album Purple Rain Prince and the Revolution 23

MadonnaVirginThis week sees the queen of the 1985 Hot 100 reign at the top of the charts. After a pretty good year in 1984, including three Top 20 hits making it into the year-end countdown (Borderline at #35, Lucky Star at #66, and Holiday at #79), Madonna wrapped up the year with her first #1 single.

Like A Virgin blasted onto the Hot 100 at #48 on November 17, 1984 while Lucky Star was at #30 on its way down. It zipped up the charts [38 – 21 – 11 – 3] before hopping over Duran Duran’s The Wild Boys to take the #1 spot on December 22.

As 1985 dawns on the Hot 100, the Material Girl holds down the top spot for the third of an impressive six-week run. She charted four more hits during the year (three more from Like A Virgin plus the #1 Crazy For You from the VisionQuest soundtrack), all of which made into this year’s final top 100 list. Along with Phil Collins, Wham! and Tears For Fears, she ruled the airwaves for the year.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending August 25, 1984

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Ghostbusters Ray Parker, Jr. 3
R & B Ghostbusters Ray Parker, Jr. 1
Country Long Hard Road
(The Sharecroppers Dream)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 1
Adult Contemporary Stuck On You Lionel Richie 4
Rock Missing You John Waite 1
Album Purple Rain Prince and the Revolution 4

MadonnaLuckyStarThis week sees the most successful woman of the rock era begin to see real payoff for her early patience. Madonna’s eponymous debut album was released in late July 1983. Over a year later, it had logged two Top 20 singles — Holiday [#16] and Borderline [#10] — each of which climbed slowly and lasted months on the chart. Rather than rush out singles, Madonna and her label eased each one out, building enthusiasm for her distinctive dance-pop sound. This week the third and final charting single entered the Hot 100, headed to the Top 5. Lucky Star came in at a strong #49 and, unlike its predecessors, raced up the charts, peaking at #4 in late October. That set the stage for her career to take off with the release of Like A Virgin. Her next thirteen singles went Top 5, six of them making all the way to #1.


Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight uses statistical analysis — hard numbers — to tell compelling stories about politics, sports, science, economics and culture.


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