Thirty years ago today, an ambitious bleached blond from the downtown NYC music scene named Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone released her self-titled debut album. It may seem hard to fathom now, but before Madonna, mainstream pop artists, particularly white female pop artists, did not dabble in the worlds of R&B and dance music that often. Throughout the 60's and 70's pop music, along with much of pop culture, was centered around rock music. Outside of blue-eyed soul singers like Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin and the criminally underrated Teena Marie, Blondie's Debbie Harry or one-hit wonder disco queens, the biggest female artists in the era--Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett and Pat Benatar--were firmly entrenched in rock and roll or its mellower cousin, folk rock.
However the early 80's marked a shift in pop music. Along with Michael Jackson's Thriller and Off The Wall, and Prince's 1999 and Purple Rain, and Cyndi Lauper's debut She's So Unusual, Madonna's mix of post disco dance, R&B, new wave, rock and early electro helped open a new musical category for artists, resurrecting dance music from its disco graveyard while creating a template virtually every modern pop star, both male and female, has drawn from. Almost every big pop/R&B album since, from Control and Rhythm Nation to CrazySexyCool, to Confessions, Justified, Future Sex Love Sounds, to Dangerously In Love, The Fame and Britney Spears' entire catalog has been shaped by those albums.
Contrary to popular belief, it took a while for Madonna to catch fire. First single "Everybody," and its follow up "Burning Up," didn't make a dent on the Billboard Hot 100, only showing up on the dance chart. The album itself didn't make a mark on the album charts until September 1983, debuting at number 190. Then came "Holiday," her first hit, opening the door for the one-two punch of "Borderline" and "Lucky Star," which went on to become the first two of Madonna's 38 top 10 hits.
Of course, no discussion of Madge's cultural impact is complete without talk of her image. That classic black-and-white cover shot of Madonna, her arms covered with bracelets, clutching a dog chain and boring a hole into the camera with her eyes, inspired millions of girls (and boys) to bleach away dark roots, tie bows in their moussed hair and discover the power of lace, crucifixes and lingerie. Female stars before her--like a few mentioned above--hadn't completely shied away from flaunting their sexuality, but often presented themselves as trying to be one of the boys. Madonna however, expressed her sexuality in a way that was both feminine and strong, alluring and aggressive, and her early image, like all her subsequent ones, typified this.
All of those things aside, what makes Madonna's first album still listenable is the music. "Holiday," "Lucky Star," "Borderline," "Everybody" and "Burning Up" are timeless pop songs that sound as at home on the radio now as they did in 1983. Madonna went on to create more musically complex and sonically sophisticated albums such as Like A Prayer, Erotica, Bedtime Stories, Ray of Light, Music and Confessions On A Dancefloor. But Madonna was the starting point, kicking off three decades of reinventions, controversy and fantastic, indelible pop tunes. Listen to the whole thing below.