Saturday, October 15, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Madonna - True Blue (1986)

This was the first true album by Madonna that I owned, and in 1988 I listened to it pretty much nonstop, instantly falling for its bold productions like the dark ballad “Live to Tell” and the gutsy “Papa Don’t Preach”—both of which were “story” songs, although not necessarily personal stories from Madonna’s own life (that would come later on Like a Prayer).

As much as Like a Virgin was big leap from Madonna, True Blue was yet another big step forward for the singer, who opted for a more mature and broader sound here. Notably, she began preferring her lower vocal register, so she sounds quite a bit different (and better) on True Blue than on her previous albums. The sugar-coated pop sound of Like a Virgin is mostly abandoned for a more adult pop sound, particularly on the album’s first half. The instrumentation is richer too, with strings and electric guitar forming a muscular sound for “Papa Don’t Preach,” while thick layers of keyboard coat “Live to Tell” in a sort of beautiful gloom.

She employs a lighter touch on the album’s second half for the sprightly “Where the Party” and the retro sounds of “Jimmy Jimmy” and the title track. She also unveils her first Latin-influenced song, “La Isla Bonita,” which would be a running theme for some time (“Who’s that Girl,” “Spanish Eyes,” Evita, for example). All of these new sounds paid off: True Blue is Madonna's biggest-selling album internationally and her biggest hit-producing album, generating five top 5 hits in both the US and the UK, including three #1 hits in each country.

The album benefits greatly from the 2003 remastering, more so than Like a Virgin, which didn’t have as strong a production in the first place. The richness of the album’s sound really shines now. I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite among Madonna’s first three albums, but this is definitely a strong contender. Best: Papa Don’t Preach, Live to Tell, Open Your Heart, True Blue, La Isla Bonita.

Further Listening: You Can Dance (1987)

You Can Dance was one of the first remix albums by a major pop artist (following Pet Shop Boys’ Disco), which helped usher in the format, which is still popular today (Radiohead and Britney both released remix albums this week). Although some might consider it a cash-in, I’ve read that Madonna was intimately involved in creating the album, as she was very protective of her sound. After the Who’s That Girl soundtrack, this was the second work I ever bought of Madonna’s. I remember opting for You Can Dance over True Blue at the record store because it had “Spotlight,” which was on the radio at the time. Curiously, there are four versions of this album. The vinyl LP contains the seven songs proper; the CD version adds dub versions of “Holiday,” “Into the Groove,” and “Where’s the Party”; and then the cassette version drops the “Where’s the Party” dub but instead has dub versions of “Spotlight” and “Over and Over”--one of those instances where the cassette has more songs than the CD. Additionally, there is a very rare version of the album that contains only single edits of seven songs—something I would love to get my hands on at some point. Also of note is that the songs are mixed together to form two continuous suites, a technique Madonna would use again on Confessions on the Dance Floor (2005).


Chris B. said...

I love the mental image of Little ADH, standing the record aisle trying to decide whether to buy "True Blue" or "You Can Dance."

ww_adh said...

Isn't it sweet? It was only a few months later that Like a Virgin was in the mix too!