Beautiful Stranger, Catholicism, Confessions on a Dancefloor, Desperately Seeking Susan, Evita, Ghosttown, Into the Groove, Jump, Like A Prayer, Live Aid, Live to Tell, Living for Love, Lucky Star, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Marvin Gaye, Material Girl, Ray of Light, Secret, Smash Hits, Wembley, Who's That Girl, William Orbit
From the age of eleven, my Saturdays would often include a trip to the record department at Boots to buy a 7-inch single. One of these was ‘Lucky Star’ by Madonna. Along with ‘Holiday’, it was one of her earliest songs played on the radio. Each weekend I stopped to gaze at her gorgeous album cover, but my savings rarely stretched to LPs. When I finally bought it, it had a different cover and my best friend (who wasn’t a fan) borrowed and never returned it.
Reading Smash Hits was a fortnightly ritual, and though I had other favourites, I admired Madonna’s eclectic style and quick wit. I wasn’t enraptured with Like a Virgin at first, though I loved the video. Not having television at home, on the rare occasions when I saw her videos they burned into my memory.
‘Material Girl’ made a bigger impression. I loved its sarcastic humour – this was the 80s, after all – and as I was also discovering Marilyn Monroe at the time, the video was perfect. At thirteen, I watched Madonna’s Live Aid performance on a neighbour’s TV and was smitten by ‘Into the Groove’. It topped the charts that summer, and from then on, there was no other pop star for me.
Desperately Seeking Susan was the first film I sneaked into underage. Its post-punk bohemia was an inspiration – even now, I can describe everything Madonna wore – and though her later films were forgettable, we shared an affinity for the magic of old Hollywood.
She took on Monroe’s glamour for her third album, with its mournful lead single ‘Live to Tell’. In 1987, a friend and I saw the Who’s That Girl tour at Wembley Stadium. My mother still recalls the long hours spent calling the ticket company, and our seats were miles away from the stage – but all the pain was worth it.
Like a Prayer was released not long before I turned seventeen. I’d left school the year before and was studying for A Levels at college. In the midst of these changes, we lost our home and moved away. During this difficult time I turned to Madonna’s most intimate album yet, and began to understand my Catholic upbringing. (She also introduced to me to Frida Kahlo…)
After I left home and went to university, I was busily reinventing myself and didn’t have so much time for pop. But I did catch some of Madonna’s songs and movies as she entered her most notorious era. “She’s gone too far this time,” my mother warned when ‘Justify My Love’ was banned by MTV. Little did we know!
By the mid-90s her influence was everywhere – when I first heard No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’, I thought Gwen Stefani was Madonna. By then I lived in Brighton, and was in love. I was drawn back to Madonna by ‘Secret’, and her cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Want You’ (another of my favourite artists.) When she had her first child and starred in Evita, I was happy for her.
But it was Ray of Light, the amazing soundscape she created with William Orbit, that brought me back into the fold. Our paths once again converged. The CD case is now cracked from overuse, and I have a lingering fondness for ‘Beautiful Stranger.’ Her next two albums coincided with the births of my children, and while I’d long since left London behind, it was comforting to think of her living in the city where I’d grown up.
Confessions On a Dancefloor was another masterpiece, and survival songs like ‘Jump’ helped me through some tough times. Her recent albums may not be as influential as what came before, but she’s still making great music and touring the globe. Now she’s sixty and provocative as ever, I can’t help but think how lucky I’ve been to have Madonna in my life all these years.