Like a Virgin is an album known to many as the birth of pop as we know it. An album copied more times than the Declaration of Independence, a pop album that has received more praise than any one could have ever predicted. An album that sold millions of copies, even with its sexed up image and title. It was the album that made Madonna a house-hold name and an album that greatly inspired acts as diverse as Sonic Youth and Britney Spears. A revolution. Madonna doesn’t have the best voice in pop music (though it can hold its own to just about anyone), but it doesn’t matter, cause with hooks like these, who needs a vocalist?
Like a Virgin is one of those albums that, no matter what anyone says, still sounds incredibly dated. It is one of those albums that defied odds and outlived the styles and technology used to make it famous so much that it is now considered vintage. I wonder what it would be like to record an album like this, did the crew know what they were digging their paws into? Could they hear the power and creativity coming from inside those four walls? Did they know who was going to be listening to their work? Could they hear the ball being moved? I guess it would be kind of hard not to, but for better or for worse white girl dance pop was born that day and I’m sure all of those guys are still taking it to the bank.
The production on Like a Virgin is pretty grand, it follows that standard bouncy bass, square synths and auxiliary percussion that the 80’s pop scene was defined by, but does something totally different. The production on Like a Virgin is so spectacularly confusing. At one point it will sound that happiest thing in the world, but when you delve deeper you will see how peculiar and dissonant the melodies become. Of course, on songs like Over & Over there really is no secret behind the uplifting pop beats, but Madonna’s vocals really shine on that track, so I let it go. And speaking of those golden lungs, each beat plays off of Madonna’s voice like they were made for each other. The best beats on the CD will let her voice shine without giving her any real help with the vocals. The end product shows a more innocent whispery feel instead of a real up in your face sound. Do you think any woman could get away with singing about touching virgins on international radio without the proper blend of synth pop and soul? Yeah, I thought so.
But of course, it’s not all bounce and sex in the world of a Material Girl. Madonna’s greatest vocal performance of the CD comes in the dark, soulful saddie, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. Minimalist electronic bass, cinematic stings and acoustic guitar chords outline one of the most emotional songs Madonna ever wrote, the reverbed drums that come in a few minutes in give it that retro disco soul feel and the song gets its backbone. “You abandoned me, love don’t live here anymore” Madonna cries as the string section crescendos, in a pained voice that makes you wonder what happened to that happy young girl from tracks 1-4. But being a pop music chameleon is what made Madonna so goddamn famous so for many this isn’t as jarring as it is for a Madonna virgin like myself.
Then again, I guess there is no such thing as a Madonna virgin. This CD in particular has a curious number of huge hits. During my first listen I easily recognized 3 or 4 of the tunes as massive hits I had heard on the radio in my
youth. And keep in mind that’s a good 10 years after this albums massive 1984 success. And you’ve probably heard a bunch too, from the innocent bouncy electro-pop/funk of Material Girl (the album’s opening innuendo filled Talking Heads esque banger) to the hooky disco jam Dress You Up (In my Love). And then comes Like a Virgin. Arguably the most famous Madonna song ever, Virgin begins with a rumbling electronic bass and a slow dancey drum beat, like almost every pop song before it, but the real magic comes in the songs epic build-up and anti-climatic, but catchy chorus. “I was beat, incomplete, I’d been had, I was sad and blue. But you made me feel, yes you made me feel, shiny and new. Like a Virgin, touched for the very first time” purrs Madonna from behind a veil of lace and chorus. Almost everything about this song is famous, from its story to its video (which inspired the scandalous cover art) and beyond. The song has become an institution and rightfully so, as it is revolutionary in so many ways.
And so is the album, it will go down in history as the birth of so many things, but most importantly a fun and new sound for young people to gobble down. This is probably the best pop record I have ever listened to and deserves nothing less than a 4.5/5.