By Justin Chadwick
Happy 30th Birthday to Like a Virgin, Madonna’s 2nd and arguably most iconic LP, originally released November 12, 1984.
Just a young buck of seven years when the album was released, my pop music palette was admittedly rather shallow at the time. Growing at full-speed, mind you, but certainly not as extensive as it would become in the years to follow. But despite my musical naiveté, upon hearing Like a Virgin – both the lead single and album – for the first time, my ears instantly registered that this was pop of a totally different and thrilling breed.
Sure, at its core, it was pop music unabashedly designed to make bodies move and dominate radio playlists. Nothing overly cerebral was on offer here – this was Provocative Pop with a capital “P.” An arousing collection of songs that challenged the listener to contemplate not just Madonna’s overt sexuality on full and glorious display, but also his or her own feelings about sexual freedom, repression and the thin line that often separates the two.
So yeah, it’s safe to say that Madonna was my first bona fide pop star crush, and this album – coupled with the ubiquitous images of the 26 year-old Ms. Ciccone that pervaded MTV and virtually all other media in the year following its release – sealed the deal for me. Granted, at seven years old, I didn’t really understand the point of it all, the more subtle innuendos and subtext in the lyrics were largely lost on me. What I did appreciate was that Madonna commanded a stage and screen unlike any performer that came before her, and most importantly, her songs were catchy as all hell.
It’s this latter point that still resonates for me, thirty years on from Like a Virgin’s inception. For such a blockbuster mainstream record – one that has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide – Like a Virgin has aged so well, as it still sounds as fresh and exciting now as it did then. Hold this up against any contemporary pop artist’s albums (think Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, et al.), and Like a Virgin still makes for a more deeply addictive and rewarding listen.
And while Madonna’s dynamic persona was unquestionably the driving force behind the album’s appeal, the overlooked secret weapon behind the songs’ appeal was prolific mega-producer Nile Rodgers, of Chic co-founding fame (you’ll also recognize him from his much more recent contributions with Daft Punk). Rodgers uncanny knack for crafting danceable pop songs with irresistible hooks and unforgettable melodies ensured that the album commanded and sustained the rapt attention of its listeners.
Madonna has made a handful of fantastic long players since her sophomore LP – Like a Prayer, Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light come immediately to mind. But for me, Like a Virgin is and will always be her crowning achievement, the apex of her impressive and inspired career.
My Favorite Song: “Angel”
- Material Girl
- Like a Virgin
- Over and Over
- Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
- Dress You Up