Do you hate everything about modern pop music, from the sexual themes to the overblown stage acts? We suppose we mean: Do you hate Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus? You probably really hate Madonna then. It's tough to come up with a performer that has altered the course of the genre more so than Madge—it seems unspeakable, but even Michael Jackson reflects less on the last 15 years of pop.
November 12 marks the 30th anniversary of Like A Virgin, arguably the most influential and biggest album in the performer's epic career. It's gone diamond since then (an appropriate registration for Madonna) and its singles remain huge. Music Times is going to count down every one of the album's nine tracks, from least to greatest.
Madonna can handle a ballad and she does so with much more success earlier during the album, but "Shoo-Bee-Doo" doesn't jive with the quality songwriting and themes present throughout Like A Virgin. The titular "scat" vocals go well with the saxophone solo but really have nothing in common with the "confusion" that's the vocalist's baby is undergoing and how much it troubles her. It's a clichéd lyrical concept (confusing on a Madonna album) and her attempts to sex-ify it up with a sultry "come here baby" pre-solo doesn't help. Is it worth noting that this is the only track that she wrote solo?
"Pretender" at least gets us back into the groove that makes Like A Virgin a classic dance-pop album but it still seems an unlikely track for the pop star. The title "pretender" just wants a one-night stand with Madge but she's up for the struggle of converting him into more than a short fling. We're certainly not the most equipped to discuss feminist themes, but isn't it counterintuitive for for Madonna to be attracted to such a figure? Or is she being noble in her pursuit for that very reason? Either way, this story's been told before.
Concluding our conclusion that Madonna was skilled in her alignment of tracks on the album, our least favorite trio come as the last tracks on Like A Virgin. "Stay" almost serves as a sequel to her desire to wrangle the player from the previous track ("Pretender"). It seems that she's taken the upper hand at this point however, telling her man that "you know you've got to stay," exerting her dominance over him despite her "lies and deception." Her tone isn't as imperious as we make it sound but the slight shift in attitude should be noticed.
Ah, the singles. And on Like A Virgin, there are plenty. "Angel" is unusual in that it's literally about a woman who falls in love with a heavenly figure. So yeah, it's a tad more sugary than the rest of Madonna's discography but she pulled the act off for the single "Lucky Star" on her debut album. That said, "Angel" doesn't quite have the same irresistible hook as that song or the rest of the singles dropped from this record. It's still a good track but what bothers us most is the performer's borderline demonic laugh that flashes throughout the track. If there's another angle to this story, there's not enough to flesh it out.
05) "Over and Over"
Of all the tracks on Like A Virgin, none have gotten better with age as well like "Over and Over." The reason being that the song, in retrospective context, defines what's made Madonna the most relevant female performer of the last 30 years. The vocalist comments on her constant work and the drive the propels her success, taking time to note that she "got past her first mistake." It's basically a how-to, for men and women, on the only way to get to the top of your respective fields.
04) "Love Don't Live Here Anymore"
We mentioned that Madonna can pull off a ballad and here's the proof. Of course it helps that she was reprising a soul single put out several years earlier by Rose Royce, but Madge gave it proper treatment. This single got slammed by critics (and largely ignored by listeners) when it debuted and maybe that's because they were just averse to covers. We find the employment of classical strings (both in large numbers and as simple pizzicato) par excellence.
03) "Dress You Up"
Many are aware of what an impact Madonna had when Like A Virgin dropped during 1984, particularly how it addressed sexuality in music. But she was far from releasing X-rated books and simulating masturbation at this point in her career. "Dress You Up" ended up on the Parents Music Resource Center's "Filthy Fifteen" list for that year. The most obscene thing she even says during the track is "dress you up in my love," which, while probably a metaphor for fornication, is lightyears away from what we find acceptable today. Modern listeners will be far too distracted by the groovy bassline of producer Nile Rodgers and the second catchiest hook on the album to notice however.
02) "Like A Virgin"
"Like A Virgin" isn't the catchiest hook on the album it takes its title from but it certainly (well, maybe not that certainly) generated the most conversation. Along with "Dress You Up," critics took to the single as proof of the vulgar nature of Madonna's music. The idea of even discussing virginity in music seemed to appall conservative listeners, as if the concept of making love so well that it outshines all previous encounters was disgusting. It's especially ironic to consider the outrage over this track when Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Issac Hayes and many more had been preaching the virtues of sweet loving for years at this point. The songwriters (Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg) knew what they were doing however: The "shocking" line—"like a virgin/touched for the very first time"—comes as a jolt after the relatively vanilla lyrics of the first verse.
01) "Material Girl"
We'd argue, overall, that the influence of the album's sexual nature is somewhat overblown when it comes to discussing Like A Virgin. There's no denying the impact one track, the album's first, made with its brutal honesty. It represented a paradigm shift in the attitude of female pop stars up to that point. Cyndi Lauper had released her smash hit "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" a year earlier, suggesting that ladies were out for a good (and relatively innocent) time. Madonna's hit came straight with it: Girls can have less than honorable intentions too. Any outrage at the concept could be swept away from the fact that men had been behaving under false pretenses in music for years, and now the tides were ready to turn. Iggy Azalea ("F--k Love Buy Me Diamonds") and others are still recycling the concept 30 years later. Even male rappers have bought in. What are you more likely to hear as a come on in a rap track? Sexual prowess or the expensive things he can buy?