From the outset, I had pigeon-holed Madonna as someone who was very capable of offering up pop fodder, either in the form of catchy but lightweight upbeat songs or moody ballads that wouldn’t have been out-of-place on albums by the poodle-rock brigade. I had every belief she was someone who would disappear off the radar just as quickly and unexpectedly as she had come to the wider attention, cast aside by the record label moguls as soon as the next sex-kitten emerged.
And then I heard this:-
Long-time readers won’t be shocked by the revelation that I’m a huge fan of this song. It ticks all the boxes when it comes to disco-pop in terms of its simple lyrics over a killer tune that’s filled with hooks and little bits going on in the background that you don’t appreciate on initial listens. OK, it has what can be accurately described as a very mid-80s production, but it’s done in such a way that it transcends the mediocre and becomes memorable and more than capable of repeated listens. It’s aged way better than almost all of its contemporaries.
The other thing that I found quite remarkable was that Madonna was the co-author of the song, along with Stephen Bray, a Detroit-born musician she had met in the late 70s when she was studying dance at the University of Michigan. I had assumed, wrongly, that she was the type of singer for whom all the songs would be written by others – in other words, that she was a performer rather than a talented artiste in her own right.
I think it is fair to say that Madonna’s audience expanded as a result of the success of Into The Groove, helped also by the fact it was closely associated with the film Desperately Seeking Susan in which she gave an assured screen performance in a production that was as much a critical hit as it was a commercial success. What I hadn’t appreciated until doing a wee bit of background research for this piece is that while it was a #1 hit in many countries (her first here in the UK), it was ineligible for the Billboard charts in the USA as it had previously featured as a b-side to the hit single Angel. Someone at Warner Bros must have got their backside booted for that basic error…….
I love the fact that the song can be interpreted in a couple of ways. On the surface, it is really just a girl thoroughly enjoying herself on the dance floor but wanting a handsome boy in the room to start strutting his stuff right beside her – and more than likely being careful not to tread on her white handbag! But it’s also a lyric with a fair bit of innuendo and undertones – not least the line ‘Live out your fantasies here with me’
More than 30 years on and it’s still a piece of music that attracts critical acclaim. It’s been described as the ultimate 80s song which is maybe stretching things but understandable (for what it’s worth, not that I’m a fan of it, but Do They Know It’s Christmas? surely has to be given that accolade). A writer in Rolling Stone magazine points out that Into The Groove has an amazing bassline, which harks back to my own earlier point about it having things going on in the background that you don’t appreciate at first.
And of course it led to the most unexpected of tributes from Thurston Moore and Co:-
This was one of the tracks played by Stewart Braithwaite at our recent Simply Thrilled evening – it was received rapturously.