The song I am playing is “Bye Bye Baby”. It is from Madonna’s Erotica. It has a light, sultry beat, with soft, whispered disco vocals. “Bye bye baby goodbye,” it goes, “instruction to cry.” Madonna can get heavy with her beat and her pop lyrics, and she gets very emotional. I think she is one of the best artists of her time, or any time. I didn’t always recognize her in this way. I remember driving a friend somewhere in August 1984. A very original song came on the radio. My friend had been talking about Prince to me, and The Eurythmics. This really grabbed me though and touched me – deep. There was an innocence to it, but a bold sophistication. It was “Borderline”: “Your love keeps on pushing me over the borderline,” she sang. and I could feel it, the jealous rejection, the romantic equanimity, the anger. And the promise to survive, and move on, and make a career of romantic and professional experience for herself.
I didn’t pay attention to her for so much time. I heard songs like “Material Girl”, from her next album, and I didn’t think they were meant for someone like me, just for teenage girls. Songs would catch me when I heard them at work or in a shop, but I just wouldn’t take her seriously. I would like the videos, and think they were sexy and exciting, and they absorbed me, and I liked the thigh stockings and the lingerie she wore. I would like a song, then another, and the next I wouldn’t think was for me. I heard “Ray of Light”, from Ray of Light, in 2000, and I realized: she has taken each decade since the 80s and made it hers.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, I finally decided to explore her albums. She is not just a “singles” girl, her albums are highly conceived as wholes, and she keeps moving and evolving from one to the next. The first album I played was American Life. It had a highly evolved disco-techno trance sound, which she had achieved effortlessly, though she is known for her profoundly driven work ethic. The music was driven, with emotional outbursts, and rough punches to the gut, that were like sweet touches on the neck, when she was about to kiss you with her red lipstick lips.
Even the earlier albums are very mature, though they have the sassy, petulant girly-girl sound of a comely teenager. “Holiday” is one of my favorites, “Lucky Star” another. I had heard these songs years before, but I finally admitted that I liked them and loved them, and that they each moved me and touched me in a different way. It was a dance partner in a hot, happening, swinging dance club in the night. Each album is unique, and interesting in its own way. She never steps in the same stream twice, and her bare, sparkling feet get wet with the water, so she is always moist. I believe “Waiting”, from Erotica, is my favorite from all time ever, with the high sophistication of the dance beat, and the rhythm of her vocals, with their heavy repetition of key phrases from the chorus.
Madonna has never sported or presented herself as a great singer, or “the best musician.” She has just tried to be a superstar with genuine impulses and intentions. But her body has the feel of dance, and the body of the feel of her dance comes into her music and makes her something really special. I listen to those albums all the time, all fourteen or seventeen of them. I just play them down the whole list of my album catalogue, without stopping, unless I have to sleep, which sometimes I leave it on even then. And she is still playing, when I wake up, and I feel like moving my hips and shaking my butt and dancing.