The full history of Madonna’s career is documented in a great many more detailed sites across the internet. For the first part of her story in this blog, If You Were There presents a list of UK firsts:
The first single
As in her native America, Madonna’s first single in the UK was Everybody, released here in the same week in 1982 that it reached the ‘Bubbling Under’ section of the Billboard chart (those singles falling just short of a place in The Hot 100). Her record company, Sire, gave the record very little promotion, although review copies were sent out. James Hamilton, writing in his Record Mirror column ‘Discos’ in the 22 January 1983 issue, described it as a “trite chic squawked and sighed 120 bpm 12” looping loper … somewhat Eurodisco but saved by a nice easy bass line” and noting that it was “heard best on [its] dub version flip”. Few promo photos of the artist were available, and the style of music made some assume that Madonna was a black singer; in the US, the single was issued in a sleeve depicting an urban street scene, an image which further associated her with the R&B and hip hop scene led by black musicians. In the UK there was no picture bag at all – the single was sold in a generic die-cut WEA sleeve (see my avatar for this blog) and although a promotional video clip was filmed for the single, it wasn’t aired here. For an artist who would shortly become accused of shameless self-promotion in the press, and famously over-exposed in various media throughout the mid-80s, it was a somewhat demure start – and perhaps, unsurprisingly, Everybody flopped.
The first album
Released on 9 September 1983, the album Madonna originally used the same black and white artwork to the US edition. The track selected to be released concurrently with it as a single was Lucky Star, although it would appear on 12” only here (a 7” version was issued in Eire) and consequently again, it wasn’t a hit. Its first release on 7” here was 31 years ago today, and on that occasion it would make the Top 20. The promotional video clip for the track was shot in an infinity cove, and showed Madonna dancing with two others (her brother Christopher Ciccone and her friend Erika Bell). It established absolutely Madonna’s early image: her coquettish looks directly to camera, her black cropped top showing her bare midriff, the cheap costume jewellery and wrist bands that anyone could easily copy; the use of crucifixes as accessories was helpful in establishing an early ‘brand’ for Madonna given the religious connotation of her name. As she had written the song herself, Lucky Star was often used as a phrase to describe Madonna herself – but there was very little luck involved in her stardom at all, as most accounts of her rise to fame testify. It was sheer hard work and self-belief, and nearly every break Madonna got she at least in part orchestrated, using a mixture of street-smarts, natural business acumen, and ruthless determination.
The first hit
It took nearly two months for it to chart, but once it did it quickly made it to the Top 10. Holiday, Madonna’s third single to be issued here, was the first she didn’t write herself. This time there was a picture of the artist on the sleeve, but only on the back: an image of a vintage locomotive was used as the front cover.
The first live date
Madonna’s first gig in Britain was at the Hacienda club in Manchester on 27 January 1984. Still apparently not a priority artist for Sire, her appearance was effectively bankrolled by the Channel 4 show The Tube, which was televising part of the evening’s entertainment from the venue, and paid for her and her crew (Christopher and Erika, a road manager and a chauffeur, and three executives from Sire) to travel to the event. She was already in the UK: earlier in the same week, she had recorded her first Top Of The Pops performance for the BBC, miming to current single Holiday. For her turns at the Hacienda, she performed Holiday together with Burning Up, another track from Madonna that had been her second single at home but not selected for release here. The performances were very much in the same style as the Lucky Star video: Madonna and her two backing dancers, dressed as they appeared in the video clip, performing choreographed routines.
The first Smash Hits interview
Madonna’s first interview for Smash Hits appeared in the issue of 16 – 29 February 1984 but it was evidently conducted on 27 January as her appearance on The Tube was mentioned: “I’m exhausted,” she told Peter Martin, who met her at the Britannia Hotel in Manchester, “I’ve had to cancel two phone interviews today already. I just haven’t had a second. Last night it was Top Of The Pops, today it was The Tube and tomorrow I’m going to LA.” Martin mentions in the article that she has also cancelled an appearance at the Hacienda for later in the evening, verifying a memory the club’s DJ Greg Wilson has of her performance on The Tube: “The people from the Hacienda were scurrying around. There’s a story that they offered her £50 to perform again later, but I can’t see that.” 1 The fee may be what he was disputing, but that they asked her to stay for the rest of the evening was certainly true.
Martin describes her as “constantly [having] a knowing look about her. Some people would call it an aura… she laughs a lot, listens intently and makes more than her fair share of wisecracks … although she appears to be in the mould of the typical blonde female singer, she’s certainly not dumb. Far from it…” He asks her about American stars’ reputations for being ‘difficult’. “’I just play up to that image to keep them on their toes,’ she says cheekily,” he reports. The article ends with a mention of Madonna’s next project: her follow-up LP, to be produced either by Trevor Horn or by Nile Rodgers and John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez. Before that, though, she would have one more minor hit from her debut album, Borderline, which made the lower reaches of the Top 75 in the summer of 1984.
1 De Lisle, Tim. “She mesmerised the crowd – you just knew there was a personality there”, The Guardian, Guardian Media Group, 23 November 2005.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Mar. 9
BOW WOW WOW (Annabella Lwin) W.O.R.K. (EMI EMI5153)
DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS (Kevin Rowland) Plan B (Parlophone R6046)
Julian COPE Greatness And Perfection Of Love (Mercury MER155)
MADONNA Lucky Star (Sire W9522)
JOHNNY HATES JAZZ (Clark Datchler) Shattered Dreams (Virgin VS908)
PRETENDERS My Baby (Real YZ110)
THOMPSON TWINS Get That Love (Arista TWINS12)
WET WET WET Wishing I Was Lucky (Precious Organization JEWEL3)