THE FT TOP 100 SONGS
99. Madonna – “Papa Don’t Preach”
On the day this list was made I was kindly given Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection, which means that I finally own a copy of “Papa Don’t Preach”. It also means that nearly eighteen years since this song was released, I finally know all the words. The line “You’ll give us your blessing right now”, had always escaped me, and I often paraphrased it into something to do with laughing. The importance of this, past a column filler in the Guardian magazine, is in the degree you need to know a song to love it. Certainly I have heard “Papa Don’t Preach” hundreds of times on the radio. Equally I approve of the songs underlying pro-choice philosophy (it is clearly Madonna’s choice that she is keeping her baby, and other options are certainly also available). But basically it is a great sing-a-long song. And as such I have sung along lustily to it.
Knowing the words has never really bothered me. Possibly because the words themselves do not seem to dwell on their importance (the pairing “I’m in trouble deep/ I’ve been losing sleep” is a perfect piece of dodgy phrasing to provide the rhyme). Kelly Osbourne’s version is totally superfluous, memorable only for the inconsistent spectre of Ozzy Osbourne preaching. Perhaps this castigation of hypocrisy lies at the heart of Madge’s version too, but frankly the song does not need another layer to justify its brilliance.
The older I get the more trite this song seems and the better In To The Groove sounds. Only a fluke of (late) puberty and intellectual snobbery makes this still my favourite Madonna song.
You see, what stands out about this track at first is not the clever AA rhyme scheme, but the bit in the video where it seems possible that her tits will pop out. Pop legend says several out-takes prove the possibility, but that’s surely a legend probably borne of the wishful-thinking adolescents with those smash-hits posters of her on their wall. Or possibly in the 80s no tit-tape was strong enough to hold back those puppies.
I had this on my taped top-40 countdowns throughout the summer of 86 (the one between 6th form years, so you know), and being more high-minded (i.e. too embarrassed to have aforementioned posters) I would say it was the lengthy (synth) string intro that hooked me into this song. I liked synth strings. They were the mark of serious music. And Poppadom Preach (© Simon Mayo) seemed like Madonna’s first attempt at serious. The “mature” nature of the story; the music that was still danceable without being the out-and-out pop of In To The Groove, or the sillyness of Holiday (both much higher in the FT list I trust). And I’m sure I told this to myself and to others, while I listened on the walkman and imagined those pups on the loose.
On lyrics, I still sing “Maybe we’ll be alright, from 9 to 5” instead of “It’s a sacrifice”. Also, I wanted Kelly O to pronounce “papa” more foppishly as “pah-par” instead of the cutesy-kiddie “popper”. That way I might have cared.