When Madonna released her album Erotica in October of 1992, she was called a slut, whore, and every other name used to demean women. She was even compared to Hitler. Madonna talked about the aftermath of the backlash while receiving an award from Billboard last December.
The book SEX, which was (incorrectly) seen as a pictorial accessory to the album, also caused a lot of backlash. It was at this point in her career that headlines ran day after day about Madonna's career being over with. People were celebrating her alleged failures even though the book sold over a million copies worldwide while Erotica, which might not have lived up to sales of previous Madonna albums, still sold around six million copies.
The album actually earned some praise before the backlash really settled in. Rolling Stone gave the album four stars in November of 1992, calling it a post-AIDS album about romance. Entertainment Weekly, a magazine that had been so pro-Madonna throughout the early 1990s that some even joked they were on Madonna's payroll, completely turned on Madonna with the release of Erotica. Music critic David Browne ripped on Madonna's voice, her "coldness," and her bad lyrics.
Erotica became known as the album that ended Madonna's career. Of course, two years later, she released Bedtime Stories, which has sold around eight million copies worldwide and launched the longest-running No. 1 song of Madonna's career,"Take a Bow." Then, there was 1998's Ray of Light, an album many consider the peak of Madonna's career. However, 25 years later, Erotica is considered a classic. Some even say Madonna's most maligned album (at the time) became a groundbreaking moment for feminism.
This past week, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has recognized Erotica as one of the most revolutionary albums of all time.
"If Madonna spent the '80s detonating sexual boundaries, then she doubled down on her provocative stance with the release of 1992's Erotica. From the first track, Erotica celebrates the agony and ecstasy of sex and desire. To articulate her lustful vibe, the album blends sinewy hip-hop grooves and glittery club beats," the narrator says in the video, which features scenes from the video of Erotica, which was banned.
While Madonna fans celebrate the album being recognized, the sexual imagery in the video (as well as the book) has continued to be divisive within her fan base. There are those who think Madonna made an absolute mockery of herself at the time. However, there are others who think that by exploring her sexual fantasies, Madonna was groundbreaking in giving the world hardcore sexuality from a woman's point of view – something that was a definite taboo in 1992.
It's important to note that the album Erotica, as a whole, isn't aural sex; it deals with self-destruction, AIDS awareness (another taboo topic at the time), tolerance of homosexuals (even more taboo for 1992), and one who is yearning for love. It produced some minor hits. The title track was one of the highest debuting singles ever, but immediately dropped off the charts. However, "Deeper and Deeper" became a decent hit in January of 1993. When the third single "Bad Girl" only peaked at No. 36, even Madonna's biggest supporter Kurt Loder at MTV did a segment which announced the end of her career. It was a truly dark time for Madonna and the supporters she had left.
There are fans that are begging Madonna to release an updated 25th anniversary edition of Erotica in time for the holidays. However, judging by the way she was treated when the album was first released, perhaps Madonna doesn't want to invest in something that will only bring back horrible memories.
Madonna is bringing her skincare line, MDNA Skin, to the United States next month.
In a new interview, Madonna reveals the move is due to Stateside demand: "I'm tired of hearing people complain here that they can't get it in America."
The singer also plans to create products that are "connected more to color," and expand her line to men's grooming. With these new inclusions, Madonna insists that MDNA is a line for every day and every person.
"It's a line I can use every day," she says. "Some things I use when I don't wear makeup and am not doing shows, and others are specifically good for having to apply makeup and be on stage under lights.…I developed it for me specifically, but it also feels universal. I mean, my children use it, my friends use it."
A Madonna favorite from the collection? The Eye Mask, which helps tighten and wake up the eye area. "I throw them in the freezer so they are icy cold. I sleep on my face so when I wake up my eyes are always puffy so I really need them," she explains. "I put them on for a couple of minutes before I get out of bed. As they thaw out on your face, the ice aspect reduces inflammation and the serum has the hyaluronic acid in it. These are simple things. You can get on with your day and use them all."
Products like the popular Chrome Clay Mask and The Rose Mist toner will be available at Barney's, barneys.com, and mdnaskin.us starting September 26, with prices ranging from $50 to $600.
If you find MDNA outside your budget, fear not. A lower priced skincare line is in the works, and set for Fall 2018.
Madonna has premiered the Rebel Heart Tour performance of Material Girl on her Vevo account.
The song is also available as instant pre-download when you pre-order the Rebel Heart Tour live album on iTunes / Apple Music.
In addition to yesterday's announced tracklistings, we learned that the Japanese edition of the Rebel Heart Tour DVD and Blu-ray will contain an additional bonus feature: the performance of Take A Bow. This song was first performed during the Asian tour leg in February 2016.
You can pre-order the Japanese DVD or Blu-ray here.
Madonna celebrated her 59th birthday by dancing the traditional Puglian 'pizzica' in a flowery black-lace dress in front of friend and family in a luxury villa in southern Italy Tuesday night.
The US pop superstar posted pictures of her well-received dance on Instagram.
Madonna chose to take her summer holidays on the Salento peninsula in southern Puglia for the second year running, this year with her four-and-a-half-year-old twin daughters, Stella and Esther, whom she adopted from Malawi.
The singer was born Madonna Louise Ciccone on August 16, 1958.
She is staying at the Borgo Egnazia resort hotel in Savelletri di Fasano, where she stayed last year with a group of female friends.
The star is documenting her stay on her Instagram account, much as she did last year.
Madonna's paternal grandparents were immigrants from the pretty Abruzzo town of Pacentro, near L'Aquila.
She has another two, older adopted Malawi-born kids. Madonna is also the biological mother of daughter Lourdes Leon, 20, and son Rocco Ritchie, 16.
International pre-orders for the Rebel Heart Tour release are now available, on the same day that Madonna celebrates her 59th birthday.
Madonna.com has finally confirmed the tracklisting to each of the formats. It turns out that the DVD/Blu-ray has the same tracklisting as the Showtime broadcast. So Love Don't Live Here Anymore, Lucky Star and Take A Bow remain excluded. Like A Prayer is included as bonus material, as well as an excerpt from Tears Of A Clown.
It also seems that Bol.com had its formats wrong, because the bundles come with a 14-track CD, while the 22-track double CD is only available separately.
The double CD is also available for pre-order in iTunes / Apple Music, with Material Girl as instant pre-download.
Packages for pre-order in Madonna's official store can also include an exclusive t-shirt based on the cover artwork.
DVD+CD / BLU RAY + CD
DVD / Blu-Ray
01. Rebel Heart Tour Intro
03. Bitch I'm Madonna
04. Burning Up
05. Holy Water / Vogue
06. Devil Pray
07. Messiah (Video Interlude)
08. Body Shop
09. True Blue
10. Deeper and Deeper
12. Like A Virgin
13. S.E.X. (Video Interlude)
14. Living For Love
15. La Isla Bonita
16. Dress You Up / Into The Groove
17. Rebel Heart
18. Illuminati (Video Interlude)
20. Candy Shop
21. Material Girl
22. La Vie En Rose
23. Unapologetic Bitch
01. An Excerpt from "Tears Of A Clown"
02. Like A Prayer
01. Rebel Heart Tour Intro
03. Bitch I'm Madonna
04. Burning Up
05. Holy Water / Vogue
06. Devil Pray
07. Deeper and Deeper
09. Living For Love
10. La Isla Bonita
11. Rebel Heart
12. Candy Shop
13. Unapologetic Bitch
DOUBLE CD / DIGITAL AUDIO
01. Rebel Heart Tour Intro
03. Bitch I'm Madonna
04. Burning Up
05. Holy Water / Vogue
06. Devil Pray
07. Body Shop
08. True Blue
09. Deeper and Deeper
11. Like A Virgin
01. Living For Love
02. La Isla Bonita
03. Dress You Up / Into The Groove
04. Rebel Heart
06. Candy Shop
07. Material Girl
08. La Vie En Rose
09. Unapologetic Bitch
11. BONUS TRACK: Like A Prayer
Online store Bol.com is now offering pre-orders for Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour. The much anticipated release will be available in 5 different combinations:
DVD, containing the show and extra's
Blu-ray, containing the show and extra's
2 CD, containing 22 tracks of the show
DVD + 2 CD combi
Blu-ray + 2 CD combi
UPDATE 16/8: according to Madonna.com, the bundles come with a 14-track CD.
When you pre-order, you will receive the product on the release date of September 15, 2017.
In this franchise, we look back on songs that deserved a little more love and attention.
The Gods were not on Madonna's side as she prepared to release her 13th LP, Rebel Heart. A series of leaks sprang in the final quarter of 2014, spewing out more than a dozen demos meant for the album. Although the pop legend had planned to unveil the project gradually in 2015, she was forced to recalibrate her plans and rush release half of the album before Christmas with the second half following in March, after yet another leak or course. It seems as though the 58-year-old was doomed from the very beginning. However, the album contains some of the best music she has recorded in the last decade including the project's anthemic lead single, "Living For Love."
The triumphant house cut was a return to form, recapturing the glimmer of her earliest releases. With production from Diplo and Ariel Rechtshaid, a piano line from Alicia Keys, and writing from a bevy of the industry's most talented, the track seemed like a surefire hit to launch an album campaign. On it, the "Material Girl" faced the heartbreak of a failed relationship but refused to give up her faith in love. She told Rolling Stone that although she was emotionally shattered she didn't want to share a song in which she felt like a victim. "This scenario devastated me, but it just made me stronger," she told them. Ironically, the sentiment drew parallels to her stance following the leaks as she put on a brave face and soldiered on.
Opening with a stuttering synth and distorted vocals, the beat falls out before coming back in underneath a confident vocal performance from Madonna. "Took me to heaven, let me fall down. Now that it's over, I'm gonna carry on," she boldly proclaims as the production builds up to an whirling battle cry on the chorus with the world-weary hitmaker finding strength in healing. "Love's gonna lift me up," she belts over a choir. Diplo and Ariel's production was a throwback to house music of the 90's, and, coupled with Alicia's piano and the determined lyrics, it was a standout release regardless of its messy unveiling.
Ever the groundbreaking artist, Madonna continued to change the pop game when it was time to release a video by signing a contract that made her the first artist to host a video on SnapChat. With direction from Julien Choquart and Camille Hirigoyen (known collectively as J.A.C.K.), the visual featured a variety of high fashion looks and saw the songstress face off against a team of dancers while dressed as a matador. She valiantly fought off the advances of the dancers, eventually standing victoriously above her vanquished assailants as rose petals rained down around her.
"Living For Love" also received a handful of performances that replicated the set-up of the music video. Her rendition at the 2015 Grammys was one of the most watched of the evening, and a performance at the BRIT Awards made headlines after a dramatic wardrobe malfunction resulted in the singer taking a tumble mid-song. She also performed it on The Ellen DeGeneres Show with a comedic cameo from the host. Unfortunately, the heavy promo push didn't do much for the promising single.
Despite being one of Madonna's best singles in years, the track failed to dent the Billboard Hot 100 and made little impact outside of the United States. It did manage to net the hitmaker her 44th Billboard's Dance Club Songs charttopper, tying a record set by country crooner George Strait for the most top placements on one chart. Ultimately, "Living For Love" kicked off an era that glimmers with hope regardless of the adversity that it faced. Through it all, the Queen of Pop retained her style and refused to be silenced, eventually emerging as the "Unapologetic Bitch" that she is. After all, bitch, she is Madonna. Revisit the epic house anthem below.
Darlene Lutz, the defendant, claims to have an agreement with the pop star, and adds, "If Madonna truly wanted privacy, then mailing her lingerie was not the way to go."
Madonna is now demanding the return of personal property including underwear, her original résumé, handwritten song lyrics, a checkbook, a used hairbrush with her hair still on it, the headpiece she wore during the filming of Evita, cassette tapes of unreleased sound recordings and memorabilia from her storied career.
The pop legend scored a temporary restraining order last month with regards to "intensely personal" letters to Tupac Shakur. On Tuesday, she filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court looking to stop Darlene Lutz and Gotta Have Rock and Roll from consummating the sale at auction of some of her other alleged belongings.
She's alleging conversion, describing Lutz in the complaint as a "former friend" who provided services to her as an "art consultant."
"On several occasions, Plaintiff welcomed Defendant Lutz into her homes, including as a frequent overnight guest," states the complaint. "Defendant Lutz also assisted with the packing up of Plaintiff's former homes, including a former home in Miami and a former apartment in New York. Upon information and belief, Defendant Lutz gained possession of certain of Plaintiff's belongings when they were sent to Defendant Lutz's storage facility in order to aid in facilitating the sale of Plaintiff's former residences at a time when Plaintiff and Defendant Lutz were friends and when Defendant Lutz performed professional art consulting services for Plaintiff."
Madonna acknowledges that at the time Lutz took possession of her belongings, it was lawful. But the singer says the two had a falling out in 2004 and that she wasn't personally aware that Lutz continued to maintain possession.
Notice of an online auction changed that.
Although Madonna raced to court and enjoined sale of the Tupac letters, an auction for some of the other memorabilia commenced on July 19.
The property was consigned, but the complaint says Gotta Have Rock and Roll and its owners "performed little or no due diligence to ensure that the consignors of the Madonna Memorabilia had good and marketable title to, or any other legitimate basis to consign for sale, the Madonna Memorabilia."
The items were sold at auction, but like a prayer for relief, Madonna demands an injunction on transfers, a judicial accounting of proceeds, the directing of return of property and compensatory and punitive damages.
Lutz has a different story.
She, of course, has not yet responded to the just-filed complaint, but her version came in a July 19 motion to vacate the temporary restraining order over the Tupac letters.
"This lawsuit is pretext for Madonna's personal vendetta against Ms. Lutz, whom she already has sued once over a decade ago following a personal falling out," states the memorandum. "Trying to publicly smear Ms. Lutz — which apparently has worked, as one media publication already has referred to these items as 'the trophies of a seasoned stalker' — Madonna claims that Ms. Lutz stole 'intensely private and intimate property,' including 'previously worn underwear.' But Madonna conveniently omits that she had sent her 'under-wear' with a handwritten note to a former love interest 'as you requested' 'for love & luck.' If Madonna truly wanted privacy, then mailing her lingerie was not the way to go."
According to Lutz, the two entered into a settlement agreement with each other in 2004.
"The Settlement Agreement required Ms. Lutz to pay Madonna a certain sum of money, which she did," continues the Lutz memorandum. "Under the Settlement Agreement, Madonna (individually, and on behalf of her heirs, executors, administrators, and trustees) provided the broadest possible general release to Ms. Lutz releasing all claims, known or unknown, 'by reason of any event, transaction or other relationship or cause whatsoever.'"
The Madonna complaint makes no mention of previous litigation between the two, nor the settlement, but in a footnote in her initial court papers, the pop star suggested the release didn't address future claims and that the release "was contingent on Ms. Lutz satisfying particular conditions, which she did not."
Yesterday, Boyculture published the first part of my chat with Patrick Leonard, the musician who co-wrote so many classic songs with Madonna, and who is bringing an instrumental show of their work to NYC on September 12 at Joe's Pub.
Now, check out the second and final part of the interview, in which Leonard talks about how his daughter inspired "Dear Jessie," the time he lost seven Madonna tracks in a limo and his work with Ms. Ciccone on the aborted film project Hello, Suckers! ...
BC: "Who's That Girl" is one of those songs whose title is used over and over to describe Madonna. Was there any thought put into its application to her overall mystique, or is that way reading into it? [Laughs]
PL: Way overthinking it. [Laughs] We were working, and there was a movie, and she needed songs for it, and we wrote them. And the movie was called Who's That Girl. [Laughs] Or did they change the name of the movie after we wrote the song? [The film was originally entitled Slammer. — Ed.]
BC: So many of Madonna's movie songs are superior songs. What was it about doing what was essentially an assignment that led to such amazing records?
PL: This is heady, philosophical bullshit, but when you have a 90-minute piece of content and a bunch of people involved with different desires and needs and agendas and storylines, there's just a lot of emotional energy that you can put your toe in. Suddenly, there's this giant, moving thing around you that took people years to make. I believe you can tap into that. It's a lot harder staring at a blank piece of paper alone.
BC: Madonna is often characterized as manipulative and very planned out. When you were working on Like a Prayer, did she come to you with any direction as far as this being a more personal record, a real reinvention?
PL: I think it happens naturally. In hindsight, I can see it. I remember the conversations we had, even questions about lyrics. She'd ask, "Is this too direct?" I remember these things happening innocently. If there was a grand plan, I didn't know what it was.
BC: I've always thought she was just better at working with what happened to her rather than knowing how everything she did would be received.
PL: That's what an artist's job is — to reflect what's going on; in some ways, to reflect and enhance and embellish.
BC: I must ask you about "Dear Jessie" since it was named for your daughter!
PL: I have a moment in my mind that I remember, because in my studio, Madonna would sit on the couch and I would sit at my keyboard and I would show her what I had and we would make adjustments and we started working on that song and it just didn't quite make any sense at first — it was a subject matter question. I remember using the song and title "Dear Prudence" as a reference and she said, "What about ‘Dear Jessie'?" and I said, "That'll work." She then wrote those lyrics and sang that demo. Bad-ass. And I have that demo, too, the day we did it. I put a little snippet on Instagram and people were saying, "God, it changed so much." Truth is, we took the drums off. Otherwise, it's the same recording. [Laughs] We added a couple other little things to it.
BC: When did your daughter realize how cool it was to be the basis of a song composed by her father and Madonna?
PL: I think she was in her twenties. People started saying, "You're the Jessie from ‘Dear Jessie.'" She thinks it's cool. There's quite a few pictures of them together. Madonna's an incredible mother and loving parent and in those days, here was this adorable little girl that was around all the time and they bonded, they really did. For that laugh on "Dear Jessie," Jessie came down to the studio on the last day and I think my assistant chased her around the room to make her laugh. It was her first overdub. [Laughs]
BC: I wanted to ask you about non-Madonna album tracks, like "Just a Dream" for Donna De Lory, "Possessive Love" for Marilyn Martin and "Tell Me" for Nick Kamen. You worked on these with Madonna, but were they intended for her and then handed off?
PL: I think "Possessive Love" was just me asking her a favor. And the Nick Kamen song, I remember she knew Nick and Nick's brother Chester had played guitar on Like a Prayer, so it was just something like, "Keep it in the family." I don't think any of those songs were songs we wrote and didn't use and somebody else got them. There's only a couple of songs, and there might not even be a couple — "Angels with Dirty Faces" is the only song I can think of where we wrote a song and wrote a lyric and made a demo and didn't use it.
BC: People freaked out over "Angels with Dirty Faces," an unused track from the Like a Prayer sessions. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
PL: I was surprised to find that one. When I heard it, I thought, "Oh, yeah, I forgot about this." It all came back to me, and as it was playing, I thought, "This doesn't quite work." [Laughs] If you heard it, there's all of these good things about it and it sounds great and she sounds great singing it and it seems like a must, but there's that weird, intangible thing where you go, "There's something missing. This one isn't gonna work." I have an issue with record companies that release albums from people that were made years ago and they put these bonus tracks on it of stuff that didn't make it on the original release. Most likely, the artists didn't want you to hear this in the first place; they probably still don't.
BC: Did the '30s Tin Pan Alley sound come easily for you when you did the I'm Breathless tracks with Madonna?
PL: It was easy-ish because my dad was a jazz sax player, influenced by that era. So I grew up with Gershwin and swing and big bands. I played "standards' with my dad when I was 10 years old. So that style is somewhere tucked away in me.
I was just looking at the original chart for "Something to Remember," and there's not even an eraser mark on the page. Almost like I knew what I was doing. [Laughs] We did the whole thing, start to finish, in about three weeks. I remember that it was fast and fun to do.
BC: After that, it was a while before you did "I'll Remember." Madonna is often attacked as a love 'em and leave 'em artist; did you ever think you had just worked with her for the last time? Was that a concern?
PL: No. We weren't a band. These were choices. ""I'll Remember" came with With Honors. I did the score for With Honors, which was directed by Alek Keshishian, who was a very good friend of hers. Richard Page [of Mr. Mister] and I actually wrote the initial version of ""I'll Remember" and I don't remember, I think Alek asked her if she would come in and sing it. She came in, she made some changes in it, I don't remember how much she changed, but I know that Richard is credited on it and I know that he and I worked on the song initially. I found a cassette with just piano and her singing it the first time and her saying, "Okay, let's try it." Like always, she nails things. I don't know exactly where the lyric content came from. I don't know if Richard wrote ‘em or Richard wrote ‘em and she changed ‘em — I don't know. ""I'll Remember" is not about my memory. [Laughs]
BC: After all the '80s pop, the rock of Like a Prayer, the '30s ditties — how at ease were you with Ray of Light, another right turn for Madonna on which you worked?
PL: We went to Florida to write those songs. She and I were in touch, and we hadn't been in touch for a long time. I recently found the letters that went between us before we started work, where we decided to do this again. These letters say a lot about the decision process. It's, "Oh, yeah, we wrote some really good songs together, let's do it again." [Laughs]
She did give me some direction early on. For "Frozen," she said, "I would like something that's The English Patient meets Nine Inch Nails." We'd done the demos in Florida, which were quite different than what the record ended up because of William Orbit — who did genius work — but it was exotic, maybe not electronic necessarily, but maybe more exotic ... we had chant samples and were really planning on going for it in some crazy way, and then William came along and she wrote me and then we spoke and she was very generous about saying, "Is it okay if I do this, because I think he's brilliant and I think it's a good idea." In the way these things go, all I could do was be supportive and as it turns out, I'm very glad I was.
But the demos for that record are fun, like for "Skin" and "Sky Fits Heaven" — they're so bizarre! And I've never even heard of anyone having them.
I had a terrifying experience. When we were leaving Miami, having written them, I had a cassette that just said "M" on it and I had a rental car and when I returned the car, I left the tape in it. When I got on the plane, I thought, "Oh, my God ... I just left seven new Madonna songs on a cassette in a rental car ..." but they never turned up. So someone took that cassette outta there and they threw it away. [Laughs]
BC: Every true-blue Madonna fan knows about Hello, Suckers!, the proposed movie musical about Texas Guinan you worked on with her in 2004 but that was ultimately abandoned. What do you remember of those sessions?
PL: It was a re-imagining of cabaret stuff, and I don't remember how many songs we did — I'm currently transferring those drives just for safety's sake because they're on an old format — but they were reimagined things and I think we wrote two new songs. I don't remember the names of them. One of them was a ballad. And I remember that we sat and wrote this song, I think I'd done the musical part in the morning and she showed up and wrote the lyric and went in this little booth in this little studio I had at the time and sang it and came out and said ... what did she say? "Just like the old days" or "Some things never change," something along the lines of, "Sounds like another great song."
These were funky, funky demos. These weren't the kind of demos we were doing in the early days where I was doing them in my studio with all my stuff hooked up and knowing that potentially everything we recorded was gonna turn into a record, so, "It should be as good as we can get it right now." This was kinda funky, like, "Let's just get these demos done."
It got caught up in some kind of political thing and it just went away. I thought it was cool at the time. I thought it was a good thing, and there were some things on there that were really fun. I'm remembering that she was ferocious like she always was, doing these performances that were really off-the-wall, but really brilliant.
BC: Madonna once said Patrick Leonard "encouraged her as a songwriter to dig deep and explore areas of my emotional life that I possibly hadn't really gotten into yet." You gave her that ... what do you think she gave you?
PL: She's so much stronger than me; if I taught her anything, it was how to be weak.
BC: You taught her well! She has many beautiful moments of vulnerability in her work, most of which are overlooked in favor of the tough stuff.
PL: That's for sure. What did she do for me? It's a big question. There's a lot that she did for me. In all these years in all this stuff, there was a flicker of unintended disrespect on my part. We got over it. There's always been mutual respect, and I think that it isn't often where the artist and the unseen collaborator feel like they shared equally and fairly, and I do.
Something about humility and gratitude, really. When I'm on Instagram and people say, "You guys need to work together," and, "She needs you," I wish there was a way I could get them all in front of me and say, "You guys, this isn't right and this isn't fair to her. You're still fans and you need to really look at what she's doing and what she's trying to say. It may well be that there's a subtlety in it that's everything you need, you're just not looking ‘cause you're stuck in the past." It's not fair to her and I don't like that, nor would I want someone saying it about me. It's one of the reasons I've avoided looking back on music. I don't want to go back to something and have people say, "That's the best thing you've done." I was 28 years old then, I'm 61 now. So what should I do? Bury myself in the yard? [Laughs]
It's difficult for artists. There are almost none that I know that've actually been able to somehow do it more than a couple times. At some point, it's sort of your job to teach, and you teach with what you've created because it's your reference book, it's the textbook you made, and it's just the way that we're wired. As much as I'm still trying all the time, it has occurred to me that it's time to look back and talk about these things a little bit because they have value to people ... and maybe there's some lesson or some story or something in them.
BC: Madonna is consistently attacked as a non-artist, someone who has somehow skated by for 35 years on sex and hype. How do you react when people scoff at her musicality, who don't see her as an artist?
PL: It pisses me off, to be honest. The people that do get credited as being real artists oftentimes are just "cool" and that gets interpreted as art. And these days, there are way too many talent-show winners, and they get called artists because they have some crazy-good voice. I have issues with these things, but I won't go into it because I'll probably have my house burned down by the people that make Auto-Tune. I can assure the world listening and looking at Madonna that they don't have any reason to ever defend her or feel insecure about it and all I can say is I've worked with a lot of people — I've worked with a lot of people — and ... hard to be any better or more artistic than her.
There's people with a more controlled voice — the word "better" is not fair, because how can you have a better voice than the voice that sang "Like a Prayer"? You just go through the list of singer-songwriters through the years — Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, none of these people were "singers" But these are the ones that the most art came from. I think her lyrics were taken for granted all those years ago; you look at the individual lines and this is what people need to think about now, those statements she made all those years ago. I'm certain she's still doing it.
My knee-jerk is to defend her always, but when I have the demos where she sang a song, having written it 15 minutes before, and it was a #1 record and remains valid 30 years later, who's gonna tell me that's not a real artist?
Songwriting legend Patrick Leonard may not be a household name, but he's certainly a Madonna fan's household name.
She has worked with many brilliant collaborators, from Stephen Bray to Shep Pettibone to William Orbit, but it would be hard not to settle on Leonard as her most important, considering his work with her across three decades that produced a diversity of hit singles representing a huge part of her legacy.
And his own. ...
As he prepares for a September 12 show in NYC at Joe's Pub (with proceeds going to the VH1 Save the Music Foundation) in which he and a small band will play approximately eight of his classic Madonna co-creations and during which he will speak about his work with the Queen of Pop, Leonard — as forward-looking as his old boss — reflected on his motivation in a leisurely call with me last week. Saying the show is "me looking to embrace something that I didn't really realize was, and this is in big quotes, a legacy for me," he also humbly muses, "I always knew it was there, but I never considered it mine because it was never my picture on the album cover."
We owe a debt of gratitude to John D. Lee for the show, which is selling out. Leonard's daughter Jessica — she of "Dear Jessie" fame — is now a screenwriter, and Leonard connected with Lee, a film consultant who previously worked at the Tribeca Film Institute, via her. Lee, a longtime Madonna fan, was instrumental in helping make the show happen once Leonard — a latecomer to Instagram — realized there was such a demand.
He joined Instagram when Leonard's musician son Sean read a 2015 interview with Madonna in which she was asked about his dad. Part of her response was, "Pat Leonard? I mean, he might have an Instagram account, I don't know." Leonard laughed when he read that, but signed on, posting items related to artists he's worked with, like Leonard Cohen, Roger Waters and Madonna. Since it was right around the time he had moved his storage locker, he'd just found a cache of Madonna tapes and papers he hadn't seen in forever. Posting tantalizing tidbits elicited a hungry response.
"Suddenly, I had all these Madonna fans that started to hit me up and I realized that they were pretty into being able to see what there was and what I had and be in touch with me in whatever way, something I'd never really considered, not in all of these years," he says.
Shockingly, Leonard — referring to social media as "a bit of an awakening" — says he hadn't spent much time with his most famous songs from the time they were recorded 20 and 30 years ago until prepping for the NYC show over the past few weeks. "There's some of these songs that I'm playing with a little bit now, just trying to find a way to play them, that I've haven't played since back when we recorded them," he confirms, "which, there's a good chance is the only time I played it. Wrote it, recorded it and never played it again."
We're talking about songs like "La Isla Bonita," "Live to Tell," "Who's That Girl," "Like a Prayer," "Cherish" and many more.
Speaking with him about his upcoming show, I was able to ask Leonard about Madonna's musical chops, the origin stories of their best-known works, how he feels about her many reinventions of their songs over the years, and just how many unreleased songs he's got up his sleeve.
Boy Culture: Madonna is basically anti-nostalgia, though she has warmed up to her back catalogue some in recent years. For you, what is it like looking back as you put together your show?
Patrick Leonard: I'm thrilled to go back and look at these things, and to look at what's inside of the composition that I can mess with now so it feels like it's something I'm doing presently and not just going back and playing through the chord chart from something that I wrote 30 years ago. The exploring of them is fun for me, but in terms of nostalgia or looking back — not really my way. I'm always looking for what I can do, not so much what's new or different or anything like that, but I work almost every day. I'm still just looking for things.
BC: What can fans expect from your NYC show?
PL: It's instrumental, so songs, no singing. But I feel like the songs have been sort of embedded in us over the years, so we only have to hear a hint of them and it's like it turns on a switch and the song plays along with it. I used to hate when I'd go see a band and they'd change something, anything. It can piss you off. I'm gonna see if I can not piss people off. [Laughs]
BC: You've worked with Leonard Cohen, Robbie Robertson, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Beck, Elton John [pictured] — Madonna sticks out on the rock-and-roll-oriented list. How did you come into her orbit? I know you worked on the Victory Tour for the Jacksons so was wondering if she, as a Michael Jackson admirer, sought you out?
PL: I had done the Victory Tour and quasi music-directed it. It wasn't a formal title, but it turned out to be my job. When that tour was over, her (then) manager called my (then) manager and asked if I would be interested in putting her first tour together. I wasn't initially, then we met and talked and I agreed to do it. The connection that we had ... we're two completely different artistic spirits, we couldn't be more different, and consequently when we did work together, there was a very interesting chemistry that's still palpable.
BC: You were brought on to do a small tour, but her Virgin Tour blew up quickly.
PL: The first show was in Seattle, I think it was a 2,000- or 2,500-seat proscenium theater, and I think there were 10,000 people outside and so it was the last theater we played. That's what the tour was gonna be, it was gonna be 2,000-seaters, and it went from that to 10,000-seaters in a week. Nobody really knew. They didn't realize how much people loved her. That was pretty cool to see.
BC: Did she come to you with set-in-stone ideas?
PL: In terms of staging and choreography and things, I had no say or no part of it and it wouldn't be my place to say anything anyway. It was her first tour and she was really clear that she had never done it before and there would be very little pushback (musically). What I wanted to do was how it would get done. We did some really interesting things, like using emulators for background vocals that later on became much more common, but I don't think anyone, at that point, had done it. She let me do the job. It was really nice to have that trust from her.
BC: Were you responsible for the Michael Jackson mashup?
PL: The "Billie Jean"/"Like a Virgin" thing, that was something that started as one of those musical anecdotes: If you play "Billie Jean" in a major key, it's "Like a Virgin." And so, having just done the Jackson tour, we started doing "Billie Jean"/"Like a Virgin" at the early, early rehearsals kind of just to wind her up and she dug it so it stuck. [Laughs]
BC: How did you come to write together?
PL: We got back from the tour and just kind of by accident wrote "Live to Tell." I'd written some music for a film, trying to get a film score, and they didn't hire me for the film, so in a 24-hour period it went from that film to At Close Range. Madonna had agreed, just as a favor, to write the lyrics for me because it would give me a leg up on getting this film score for her to write the lyrics to the end title, which was based on one of the themes that I was writing for this other movie. It became the score for At Close Range and "Live to Tell."
"Love Makes the World Go Round" was our first song and then "Live to Tell" was the second song that we wrote.
BC: Wow, so your first-ever collaboration was "Love Makes the World Go Round" — the True Blue song she debuted at Live Aid. Did you write it on the road?
PL: My memory's gonna be a little hazy around when we wrote what and people will probably correct it. Feel free, gang. We didn't do a lot of writing on the road. "Love Makes the World Go Round," I had a barbecue at my house and she came and I showed her the track. I think she wrote it right then and there, or else she took a cassette away. Can't remember, honestly. I actually found that cassette the other day, too, the first song idea I ever handed her and the first thing we ever worked on. It wasn't until after the tour that we wrote "Live to Tell" and that started the True Blue record and then we wrote whatever other songs we wrote together for True Blue.
BC: Your influence was immediately detectable — she hadn't done socially conscious stuff prior to "Love Makes the World Go Round," and "Live to Tell" is a dramatically different ballad than the couple she'd done prior.
PL: I don't think it was me that brought her into a place of social consciousness. [Laughs] I'm a guy who's been staring at a piano and avoid social consciousness. [Laughs] I don't think it'd be so good for me. I think I'd end up writing a lot of blues.
BC: What were your working sessions like when you were creating the True Blue songs?
PL: At the time, my studio was in my house, and I think she used to come to the house and we would work there from my demos. I had a Tascam 8-track and a lot of keyboard/synth gear. Usually, I would get up in the morning and go to work on something without any real idea of what it was gonna be, using whatever technology was available at that point — there weren't computers yet, so there was just analog sequencers and synthesizers and drum machines, basically.
I would come up with something and I would show it to her, normally in two or three different sections. She'd give her input and we would make adjustments. Whatever things she heard, we would address and then she would sit and write the lyric and write a melody and then she'd sing it. The next day we'd do another song. I don't remember any song that we spent two days on. I mean, when we went into production, we would work on them then, but during writing I remember it being a song a day.
I don't remember a whole lot of "rejection notices." I mean, we worked on almost everything. There's a few things that I'm finding now that we never got to, but I'm not even sure that I even played them for her — maybe I knew they weren't good enough. Pretty much, if something got started, it got finished, one way or another.
BC: Your Instagram followers were thrilled by the teaser you posted of the "Where's the Party" demo.
PL: On that tape, she sings a verse and a chorus and a verse and then she goes, "How's that?" I know it was the first time she sang it, but when I hear it it reminds of how really great she is as a writer. In the final version, there were no notes different, no lyrics different, just a different performance. The woman is a bad-ass. [Laughs] The demos from Like a Prayer that I found — of course, people want me to post these things and I cannot do that and I hope everyone understands — in listening through these things, the lead vocal she did for "Like a Prayer" the day we wrote it is the lead vocal on the record, and it's the same with a lot of those. That was it. "Cherish," same thing — she sang it the day we wrote it, that's the vocal. Again: bad-ass.
BC:: Your description of creating with Madonna sounds nothing like the process today, when every pop song has 20 writers and producers credited.
PL: In the days when I was working with Madonna, most of the times, these things would start at a piano with a piece of paper and a pencil. I'd actually sit at the piano and work out the chord changes, and then sit at the sequencer and work out a track myself. There wasn't anybody doing anything to the demos, at that point, but me. The songs were constructed with the two of us in the room. If there were four people in the room, it would be difficult to argue that all four didn't have a contribution. I think that's what we're seeing today with the multiple credits. It's less isolated than the way we did it.
BC: "La Isla Bonita" is one of Madonna's early-years songs to which she frequently returns — she sang it as recently as a couple of weeks ago in Saint-Tropez. Why do you think she's so fond of that one?
PL: The story about that one is, after the Victory Tour, I was still in touch with Michael [Jackson] and Quincy [Jones] and doing some work with them and Quincy called me and said, "I want to do something sort of Sade-like for Michael — would you write something?" and so I wrote that song and sent it to him with some form of a vocal on it and the phrase "la isla bonita." He called up and said, "Ah, I just don't think it's for Michael." Madonna and I were getting together, so I showed it to her and she said, "Oh, I like this, let's work on it." So we sat and changed, you know, whatever we changed and she changed lyrics and we reconstructed it. It's a good song, for sure. I don't know why she would return to that one more than others, to be honest. But I like it. It's always easy — over the years, I learned to play "Live to Tell" and I can play "La Isla Bonita." All the rest I have to re-learn them.
BC: "Live to Tell" was re-imagined with Madonna on a cross during her Confessions Tour. "Like a Prayer" is maybe the definitive Madonna song, and one she has performed in many different ways. How do you feel seeing such theatrical presentations of the songs you created?
PL: I grew up with prog rock bands who would dress up like neon triangles and say and do silly things and odd dramatic things — I think the right way is whatever way the artist wants to express it. As time went along, she certainly became far more expressive in the performances than when I worked with her. At that time, when I had little kids, I think I felt a little prudish about it — but I got over that. It's that thing where sometimes people in the band don't think lights are necessary because they're playing so well, who needs lights, right? [Laughs] That's bullshit, because you need it all and she certainly has done that brilliantly along the way. Truthfully, I saw the Super Bowl because someone sent it to me. Other than that, I haven't seen much of these things ... There's some part of me that doesn't wanna see, I think. I care deeply about the work we did, but right now, what's happening and how it's reinvented and what it does ... I care that it means something to some people, but how it's done, how it's presented, just to sit and listen to it, this might seem weird, but I feel really detached from it.
My connection to it is musical; it's not media-based at all. It's notes on the piano and words.
BC: Does the same apply when she changes the songs musically, not just the staging, during tours?
PL: Again, I'm not really familiar with the later versions.
BC: Did you always know which songs would become singles, and did you campaign for any?
PL: I don't know that I had that much of an agenda there. But I will say that it wasn't gonna be decided by anybody but her. So, the songs that were the best songs, the songs that we all loved the most, they were the ones. She knew. We knew. Having said that, "Live to Tell" wasn't a popular idea with the record company when she wanted it to be the first single [from True Blue] with no edit on it, this six-minute thing that stopped and started three or four times — they weren't happy. It was the same with "Like a Prayer" — they weren't happy and they thought it was gonna be too complicated for people. I think she knew it and I think we believed in it together, in some way, but it wasn't my place to decide. I would say if I thought something was a certain way, if I didn't agree with her — but I don't think it would've mattered. That's not what I was there for. I wasn't there to decide how she was going to represent herself.
The pieces that I liked the best, that I felt were somehow an accomplishment, that fulfilled something I was trying to fulfill — and really did get there — they've proven to hold up over time, but often they weren't gonna be the first single, and I knew it then. I mean, I knew that "Oh Father" was not gonna be the first or second or third single, not when you have "Express Yourself," "Cherish" and "Like a Prayer." It's gonna be a ways down the line. I was just grateful that it's on a record that people are buying and you know they're hearing it.
This Used To Be My Playground, theme song of the 1992 comedy A League Of Their Own (which also starred Madonna), became Madonna's 10th #1 hit single on the US Billboard on August 8, 1992. Bilboard celebrated this 25th anniversary with a short video on Facebook today.
Read all about this single release and its lyrics here.