40 years of Madonna: Ranking every track on the Queen of Pop’s iconic debut album
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of Madonna’s self-titled debut album, PinkNews has revisited the record and ranked its eight tracks.
Forty years ago, on 27 July 1983, a little-known singer from Michigan named Madonna Louise Ciccone took her first step towards becoming a global pop phenomenon.
While “Everybody” was the record’s lead single, released in 1982, it was the tracks that followed – “Borderline”, “Lucky Star” and “Hollywood” – and the resulting album that catapulted her into the higher echelons of the music industry machine.
In the four decades since, she’s built a discography that’s broader, richer and wildly more successful than most of her industry peers could dream of. She’s starred in films, broken world records and raked in more than 400 awards worldwide – including seven Grammys.
She’s divided opinion, riled critics, overcome health scares and become a beacon of light for her LGBTQ+ fans. Her music is, and always will be, the blueprint for the best pop records of our generation. And it all began with Madonna.
8. I Know It
Among a discography as sprawling as Madonna’s, there will always be those songs that get lost in the sediment. “I Know It” is one such track – you’ll never find it on any “best of Madonna” lists, mainly because it’s easy to forget it exists. Yet on a re-listen, it’s a quirky, creeping slab of ’80s melodrama that could easily be found on stage in a campy, off-Broadway musical. Or on a vengeful break-up playlist on Spotify. It lacks Madonna’s later magic, but it’s pretty decent for a debut.
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7. Physical Attraction
At almost seven minutes, “Physical Attraction” is the longest track on the album and, unfortunately, it feels like it too. The funky bass that strings the song together feels a bit samey after a few minutes, while the sub-par lyrics don’t really justify the song’s length. Plus, at points, it sounds almost like an underdeveloped demo of the far superior “Dress You Up”, released the following year.
In its best moments, it’s a steamy foreshadowing of the Madonna to come: absolutely unafraid of sharing her desire for physical intimacy. The sultry spoken word bit halfway through is a highlight.
Back where it all began, “Everybody” was Madonna’s first single, and the song that launched a 40-year career. However, if it wasn’t for Madonna’s dogged commitment to becoming a pop superstar, the song might never have made it on to the airwaves.
After failing to find success in rock bands Breakfast Club and Emmy, Madonna hit the clubs of New York in 1982 with a demo for “Everybody”, which she’d created with her then boyfriend Stephen Bray.
With the tenacity of a door-to-door salesman, she approachecd DJs in NYC’s club scene and beg them to give the song a go. Eventually, Mark Kamins, at Danceteria, played the track – to a rapturous response from the crowd.
Kamins later produced the single and introduced Madonna to Seymour Stein, the co-founder of Sire Records. He signed her and, in her own words, “changed the course of [her] life”.
Now, for a cold, hard truth – “Everybody” is not, by a long shot, one of Madonna’s best singles. Unlike the Beyoncés and Britneys of the world, whose debut singles remain, to many, their most iconic offerings, “Everybody” is a bit of a damp squib.
It’s not bad by any means, but what it has to offer has simply been replaced by Madonna’s far greater singles. Looking for a commanding call to the dancefloor? There’s “Music“. For a slab of exhilarating ‘80s nostalgia, “Into the Groove” is superior. In addition, “Everybody” is too long and gets repetitive to the point of feeling somewhat lifeless.
However, it kick-started her career and laid the foundation for what Madonna would become: the godmother of pop music. For that, “Everybody” deserves its dues.
5. Think of Me
The best of just three tracks on the album that weren’t released as singles, “Think of Me” is smooth and sophisticated, if a little repetitive. It’s one of several moments on the record where Madonna errs on the side of R&B, with a slinky saxophone solo splitting the song in two. It wouldn’t be out of place on an early Janet Jackson album, and as one of the deepest cuts in Madge’s discography, it’s not bad at all.
4. Burning Up
It says a lot about Madonna’s debut record that the fiery “Burning Up” isn’t even in the album’s top three best tracks. Alongside “Everybody” and “Ain’t No Big Deal”, the latter of which became the b-side for her 1986 single “Papa Don’t Preach”, “Burning Up” was one of three demos that Madonna created before her career even began.
It ended up serving as the album’s second single, a bold choice considering its smorgasbord of influences. It’s dance pop, of course, but there are striking elements of rock ‘n’ roll, glam rock and new wave. Brimming with attitude, it’s potentially the song from the album that sounds closest to what Madonna might release today.
Plus, it included a cheeky nod to what was to come. While Madonna is one of the superstar’s safest-for-work records, “Burning Up” suggested that she was a pop legend who wasn’t ashamed of flaunting her sexual desires. “I’m not the same,” she declares on the post-chorus. “I have no shame.”
3. Lucky Star
As disco’s light dimmed in the late ‘70s, the early ‘80s spawned a spin-off: dance pop. Madonna’s “Lucky Star” is the embodiment of the genre’s early days. It’s fizzy, effortlessly cool and subtly sexy. If you’ve ever wondered why Madonna is credited with giving birth to the modern day pop star, don’t bother looking any further than “Lucky Star” – its slickness can be heard on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, its shimmering synths on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.
While the song was almost never actually released – Jeff Ayeroff, the boss of Madonna’s record label at the time, revealed in the 2011 book I Want My MTV that the singer balked at releasing it as a single – today it’s an essential part of her discography.
Most of the songs on Madonna stand the test of time, but none do it with such ease as “Holiday”. Put it this way: if it were released in 2023, with a bit of a production tweak, it would sound fresher than most of the singles riding high in the charts today. The sweltering summer anthem is far and away one of her most catchy songs, and even Madonna’s biggest detractors can’t deny its dancefloor-filling power.
Produced by her then boyfriend, DJ John “Jellybean” Benitez, and originally offered to The Supremes’ Mary Wilson’, “Holiday” remains one of Madonna’s brightest, breeziest hits.
Madonna has rarely been as vulnerable and as charming as she is on “Borderline”, the album’s fifth and final single, and its best song. The sugary sweet, wistful track was the first glimmer of a pop star who could do more than record a good dance smash – she had depth, too.
On “Borderline”, Madonna’s vocals are at their shrillest, while the song remains one of her softest. While the history of the track is slightly marred by a falling out with the producer Reggie Lucas – Madonna didn’t love the alterations he made on the song’s demo – the song remains a warm, comforting hug and a reminder that everything will be OK.
It was also the music industry’s first inkling that Madonna wouldn’t just be a good pop star, she’d be a seismically successful one. “Borderline” was her first top 10 US hit and peaked at number two in the UK.
It remains a staple in her live performances and a glistening gem in her repertoire.
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