It was July 27, 1983. It had already been a momentous summer across the globe. Margaret Thatcher was re-elected, Sally Ride became the first female to orbit in space and Return of the Jedi (featuring Carrie Fisher in her iconic role) was released in theaters. And so, it only made sense that, one, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, would continue this motif of female empowerment with her self-titled debut, Madonna. Released after four years of struggle and flirting/sleeping with the right people, the miraculousness of this album’s very existence is still appreciated thirty years later. Recorded from May of 1982 to April of 1983, the album marks Madonna’s shift from a downtown scene queen into a full-blown pop star with the demanding attitude to match. Not only is Madonna significant for setting the stage for Madonna’s quest for world domination (see: American Bandstand), but also its use of innovative production methods for dance music at that time (e.g. the Moog bass and Linn drum machine).
Fueled by blind (or blond) ambition, Madonna came to fruition on the success of the underground dance track, “Everybody.” After taking it to local clubs around the East Village and Lower East Side, Madonna finally set her sights on DJ Mark Kamins of Danceteria to play her record. Did she use her feminine wiles to make that happen? Most definitely. The result was an audience reaction that was immediately positive. Soon, “Everybody” was everywhere—and this is what ultimately got the attention of Seymour Stein (with a little help from Mark Kamins), the then president of Sire Records. Madonna was unfazed at having to meet him at Lenox Hill Hospital--where he had just undergone surgery--to get her record deal signed. On the strength of “Everybody,” Stein signed her to a deal that would allow her to record two 12-inch singles. Mark Kamins usurped Madonna’s longtime friend and collaborator, Stephen Bray (who played with Madonna in her earlier bands, The Breakfast Club and Emmy), to professionally record “Everybody.”
With “Everybody” garnering enough notice on the dance charts, Madonna finally got signed to record an LP. Produced by Reggie Lucas (known for collaborating with such acts as Miles Davis and Roberta Flack), Madonna has a decidedly R&B sound. Contention between Lucas and Madonna on the direction of the album led her to call in the help of her producer and eventual boyfriend, John “Jellybean” Benitez. It was Benitez who brought in the demo for “Holiday,” which would become one of Madonna’s most recognizable tracks.
Like Madonna’s career, MTV was also in the infancy of launching into a major music medium. Perhaps because there were so few videos in rotation at the time, Madonna’s video for the single “Borderline” received the benefit of so much airplay. Addressing the taboos of an interracial relationship (as she would continue to do time and time again) and establishing her brazen persona, “Borderline” helped Madonna on the slow crawl to the top ten albums on the Billboard 200 by October of 1984. Although Madonna had already segued into her Like A Virgin period by then, she continued to promote the tracks off Madonna on The Virgin Tour in 1985.
Though many would argue it was her 1984 VMA performance that made her, Madonna might never have ascended so quickly without such a solid debut--and the correlating attitude to back it. And even though critics of the time—and even critics now—sustain the same level of ire for such exuberant, unpretentious dance pop tracks, Madonna (and Madonna) was and remains a classic example of true pop genius (and all without Auto-Tune!).