Madonna: “It took my breath away.”

20th December 2019

Title: Like A Virgin

Label: Sire

She was a force in music, changing the scene with a combination of pop and disco dance-infused rhythms while lifting other people’s edgy themes and sounds into her sphere, coating them with a commercial veneer and selling them by the bucket load. The fact that MTV emerged at the same time was a match made in heaven for the pair. 

In many ways, she was a David Bowie clone (a difficult concept to grasp, if you think about it) in the way she not only changed her image every five minutes but manipulated that image to hang upon her latest record release, maximising sales alongside.

The celebrate her royal blondness, Sire has reissued her four first LPs ‘as is’. That is, there are no extras included. One of those, Like a Virgin, I feature here but it’s worth looking at the other three because they form a sort of early narrative to who and what the singer became. They set the scene and add context to Like a Virgin.

Her self-titled debut had the style, the image and the sex appeal but also good pop songs. Not great pop songs, you understand but the entire package, mixed in the commercial bowl, produced a new phenomenon. The package (and Madonna was nothing if not a packaged pop star) was a brilliant concoction with the fiery little lady at the centre of it.  

True Blue – album No.3 – offered more manipulative pop – and what is pop if it’s not manipulative? – via Papa Don’t Preach, more gloss, more sex, more paper-thin Hollywood set dressing but it’s classic pop, nevertheless. Not a classic album. Certainly classic pop, though. Madonna is a star throughout. 

The Who’s That Girl soundtrack provides just four tracks from Madonna but even there, you’ll find the title track and Causing a Commotion, relatively minor meteor strikes for this star of pop. 

It was Like a Virgin that was not only the breakthrough LP, the – in computer or smartphone terms – the ‘killer app’ of her position as star but also the LP that would burn itself into listener’s consciousnesses. That is, even when they were hearing later songs, later hits, they were also hearing the title track from this LP, warbling in the background. 

“I may have been insecure,” she told The Guardian, “I may have felt like a nobody but I knew I had to do something. If I was going to make something out of my life, I had to, you know, hurl myself into the dark space, go down the road less travelled. Otherwise, why live?”

This LP turned Madonna into a true superstar. With Nile Rodgers at the helm, it’s no real surprise, but the buxom bride on the sleeve screamed attitude and determination. The title track and Material Girl also provided quality pop fare, even if the rest of the album couldn’t keep up.

Madonna herself was overwhelmed by the entire experience, “It took my breath away. I can’t begin to tell you. I remember the first concert I did on the Virgin tour, in Seattle, when everything became big and I had no way of being prepared for it. It literally sucked the life out of me, sucked the air out of my lungs when I walked on stage. I sort of had an out-of-body experience. Not a bad feeling, not an out-of-control feeling, but an otherworldly feeling that nothing could prepare you for.”

The newly reissued album looks good in audiophile terms. So, apart from the disc appearing on ‘virgin’ vinyl, what’s the mastering like? 

There is a slight digital sheen over the master here. A hard edge around the upper mids with a slightly brittle bass presentation. The effect is relatively minor in broad terms but the tone is there and it effects the entire album. 

I took a moment to do a bit of research on this recording and found that the original master was completed on a Sony DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) multitrack. Hence, the digital highlight is endemic, part of the album’s very DNA. On that basis, the mastering is very good indeed because, although the digital effects are noticeable, they are not dominant and don’t spoil the overall enjoyment of the piece. Yes, it would have been nicer not to have them at all but the master has softened and reduced the impact by injecting as much air and space into the sound as possible. 

If you want to explore a major chapter in pop, this album provides all the raw material (girl) you need.

If you would like to purchase this LP, you can from the following links:

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