Produced by Nile Rodgers, Madonna and Stephen Bray
Label – Sire
Madonna’s desperation for stardom knew few boundaries and a new, more visually attentive MTV fed music audience of the early 80s was the perfect springboard to launch her bid for world domination. Built on an image of street sassy “boy toy” bravado, her sexually charged persona seemed attainable to hungry teens of both genders. If her music didn’t ignite then there was always her midriff, or suggestive dance routine to occupy the mind and keep the column writers busy. Sex sells, and the Detroit native knew every salacious trick in the book and wasn’t afraid to use it in order to achieve her goal. Her slow burning self titled debut album from the previous year contained enough decent dance pop to stir the power pot, but this Nile Rodgers produced follow up would be the game changer and launch the Material Girl out of the commercial stratosphere and lay the bedrock for her total domination for the next two decades. No innocence lost here; the irony of the cover art shows the singer in virginal white when we all knew she was far more experienced than we would ever be, and maybe the grand tease was part of the alluring appeal that would bring the necessary teenage worship she craved.
As a standalone album, “Like A Virgin” is a mixed effort. Firstly Rodgers production is bizarre in that it carries none of the trademark disco influence that made albums by Chic, Sister Sledge and Diana Ross so remarkable. Indeed, one wonders how much inspirational input the guitarist provided particularly when one considers that he left large parts of the recording process to Madonna and Power Plant engineer Jason Corsaro. Co-writer, drummer and producer Stephen Bray provided sparse demo’s which largely remained intact creating a spacious, rhythm heavy backdrop, with banks of synths filling the gaps. Madonna’s intention was to create a synth/pop sound, akin to Duran Duran, INXS and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, and the essence of these is carried through to the opener “Material Girl”, which is sharp, snappy and direct in both delivery and sentiment and remains one her best songs. However, the deliberately meagre instrumental backdrop only highlights some glaring deficiencies in quality songs and Madonna’s vocal sounds thin, lacking the spark which would come more naturally on later recordings. She would work hard on her voice in the period between this and her follow up (1986s “True Blue”), and one only has to listen to the ballad “Live To Tell” in comparison to the onerous cover of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” to realise a vast improvement. Whilst the singles “Dress You Up”, “Angel” and the title track would maintain the chart momentum, the conversely immature “Shoo –Be-Doo”, “Over And Over” and the particularly puerile “Pretender” go to prove it will be years before the singer would go on to produce a consistent set of songs (1989s “Like A Prayer”).
Whilst her image was fully formed, at this stage in her career Madonna’s music still remained strictly juvenile.
1 – Material Girl 8
2 – Angel 7
3 – Like A Virgin 7
4 – Over And Over 6
5 – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore 5
6 – Dress You Up 7
7 – Shoo-Bee-Doo 6
8 – Pretender 5
9 – Stay 6
Like A Virgin