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Oct 09

MADONNA – “Into The Groove”

FT + Popular64 comments • 12,122 views

#554, 3rd August 1985

Madonna enters this story already a superstar – eight-figure sales of her last album, this her third top-three hit of the year in Britain. “Into The Groove” is no kind of introduction, more a victory parade, and it’s become one of her calling-card singles. Perhaps because it’s a manifesto of sorts: not lyrically, but in the way that everything great about Madonna and her pop – movement, power, willpower, sex, hunger, vulnerability – is in here somewhere.

Actually, most of it’s in one place – the series of repeated “now I know you’re mine”s that serve as the bridge into the final chorus. At first she sings the line at the lower end of her range, with the husky strength that’s made her ballads so compelling, beckoning her dancer-lover closer. And then suddenly she can’t keep it in any more, and “now I know you’re mine!” rings out in her other voice, the sparky, raw, New York clubland hustler voice you get on “Burning Up”, “Holiday”, “Angel”. It’s pure triumph: the moment when a girl singing “you’re mine” to a guy in pop finally, irreversibly flips from domestication to predation.

But most of “Into The Groove” isn’t like that: unlike several of her previous singles which really were all about her and her teasing and shocking and winning the crowd, this is highly functional. A little bit freestyle, a little bit pop, it’s a good, modish dance record. You could imagine this as being by one of the post-disco club scene’s many two- or three-single acts, a Carol Jiani or a Stacey Q but with thinner vocals. Well, you could if Madonna’s presence wasn’t so unmistakable: anonymity’s the only flirtation she could never have pulled off.

Madonna is one of pop’s foundational figures – perhaps the last of them: one of the people without whom modern music just doesn’t decode properly. She’s the closest thing to an Elvis in my lifetime – someone who emerged out of populist, underappreciated musics and whose sheer charisma changed the culture – how pop singers (and their fans) dressed, danced, behaved, thought about themselves. That doesn’t mean all her records are good – though a remarkable number are, this included. “Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free”: this is the dancing queen all grown up, and determined to hold the spotlight on her own terms.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Tom on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Aaaaand that’s halfway.

  2. 2
    Steve Mannion on 2 Oct 2009 #

    *applause*

  3. 3
    Chewshabadoo on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Well done.

    This is a ten for me – she never got anywhere near this good again.

  4. 4
    Tom on 2 Oct 2009 #

    It used to be my clear favourite but I think I’ve heard it too often, and some of her other records are just amazing. It’s a high 9 though.

  5. 5
    pink champale on 2 Oct 2009 #

    *more applause*

    a ten from me, probably my last until the early 00s. as well as the glories tom captures, it’s the enormous certainty of its solipsism that’s so compelling – as you say, this is what’s inside the dancing queen’s “i hope this feeling never ends tonight” seems almost a deliberate denial ABBAs sad carping. as well as a switch from domestication to predation, a big leap is that it’s a female sung love song that’s not about the man and what he does (or doesn’t do, or wants me to do – should i?) but about her and how she feels. and she doesn’t care. she can have this man if she thinks he’s worth it and she fancies it, or she could not bother and it’s the satisfaction knowing that, rather than anything at all to do with him that’s what make her feel so free. on top of this she’s rocking the absolute perfect madonna look on the cover too.

  6. 6
    punctum on 2 Oct 2009 #

    “I’m wai-ting,” she coos at us at the beginning, as though we’ve been slow to catch up. Bearing in mind that there is a lot of Madonna – or lots of Madonnas – to get through on Popular, at this early stage here is a Madonna we all could love with her immense earrings, unshaven armpits, Elvis lips, wonderfully imperfect roots and an endearing underlying gangly awkwardness. At this point we are still able to trace Madonna back to the late days of disco, even to post-punk and No Wave, and certainly to New Pop (“Holiday” would have been unimaginable without The Lexicon Of Love). If “Like A Virgin” and “Material Girl” – yet more productions from the latter days of Chic – had already shown warning glimpses of stubborn ego, then Desperately Seeking Susan and “Into The Groove” signalled a temporary switchback. Watching Madonna interacting with and against Rosanna Arquette, effectively playing herself, you feel that for one of the rare times in her career she is genuinely happy and significantly free.

    “Into The Groove” was co-written, produced and mostly played by Steve Bray, and it remains a marvel of metapop in that, although it can clearly be enjoyed and savoured on a high-grade dancefloor level – that Man Parrish electro stutter throughout, the triple salvos of emphasis in the chorus (“GET,” “BOY,” “YOUR”) – it is also one of the most sublime commentaries on the joy of music in itself, the way in which it can simultaneously absorb the body and free the soul. “Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free” might be the key pop lyric line of its era, and here, coupled with its immediate successor, “At night I lock the doors where no one else can see,” indicates the importance of music as a shelter of refuge from a belittling cold rationalist world – Travolta with his irritating family and crappy paint job who only truly exists when he is dancing. However, Madonna is also wise enough to realise that the shelter can easily become a barrier if one isn’t careful. “I’m tired of dancing here all by myself/Tonight I wanna dance with SOMEONE ELSE!”

    So “Into The Groove” also represents a refractory move back into the world, approaching it, signalling that the singer’s central love of music, if expressed with the right articulacy and honesty, can reach out and be touched by whoever needs to touch her – “Live out your fantasy here with me” – and the final confident and ecstatic affirmation of “Now I know you’re mine!” shows that life has been reclaimed. This is one of the highest and noblest things that music, or any art form, can do, or at least act as a catalyst towards. In that locked room, through those grooves, she finds herself, and by transmitting her feelings outwards, she enables her Other to unlock that Rochester door and find her.

    How phenomenally “Into The Groove” succeeded in this aim can quickly be demonstrated by Ciccone Youth’s “Into The Groove(y)” single from the following year; initially one feels that Sonic Youth are applying the AMM treatment, i.e. painting abstract noises atop the song (in their early mid-sixties days, AMM had the habit of playing contemporary hits such as “Barbara Ann” or “Lightning Strikes” at ear-splitting volume and then attempting to drown them out with their own strategems), turning it into a de Kooning canvas with a touch of Tackhead (those dentist’s drill drum samples at the beginning and end) – but then, via Mike Watt’s lovingly nerdy lead vocal, we realise it is a homage of love, and there is an electrifying and affecting moment halfway through the second chorus when Madonna’s original record, playing in perfect tandem with the band, suddenly comes into the picture to act as harmony with Watt’s lead, and we imagine him, in his locked bedroom, thrashing away at his starter guitar and singing along with the record, trying to keep up, putting the record to the very test which it celebrates. So the Ciccone Youth record closes the circle by confirming the original’s affirmation – and Madonna herself seems to have approved of it.

    In the end, of course, “Into The Groove” signalled the triumph of Madonna’s will; boosted by Live Aid, she repeated the Frankie feat of keeping herself off number one as the revived “Holiday” swept back up to number two – and with “Crazy For You” still in the lower reaches of the Top 20, she was the first female artist to have three singles in the charts simultaneously since Ruby Murray thirty years previously. There was the uncomfortable moment at the climax of her Live Aid performance where she suddenly exclaims: “Sing it to the world – NOW I KNOW YOU’RE MINE!” and there was the palpable feeling that she did not mean that metaphorically. But that mindset(list) can be explored another time. For now, celebrate “Into The Groove” for its uncomplicated, elemental and superbly effective celebration of what music is capable of generating in a human being.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Finding it too difficult to talk about JUST this song and not everything after, the broader context of Madonna’s success (including how what she offered seemed to go down better in the UK than what Michael Jackson had…if you were to go by chart positions generally, but then she wasn’t quite that untouchable or troubled and able to be much more prolific).

    Madonna v1 is eternally pleasing mainly for the simplicity, no real baggage or politics to either enrich or muddy proceedings, just the spark of a new icon rewriting rules and making up new ones as she went along, the world her playground and her playmates mostly under her spell from the beginning. I’d suggest she and this song aspire to sophistication without complication, brilliantly and succesfully. An invitation to dance, or follow any of the other suggestions (at least they still feel like suggestions at this point, turning to commands as her stature shot through the roof) she makes, couldn’t be more appealing.

  8. 8
    Billy Smart on 2 Oct 2009 #

    That’s a really interesting idea – How would we feel about this record if it wasn’t by Madonna? The much-vaunted charisma always largely eludes me – I sense hard work and opportunism, but never much of an enticing or intriguing personality. Which isn’t something that I’d ever say about, say, Elvis or Michael Jackson, and Madonna is clearly in that order of stardom.

    And yet, ‘Into The Groove’ would certainly be lesser without her, although a tremendous disco single. I certainly loved this when I was 12, and haven’t gone off it at any point. The pull of the dancefloor and the release of dancing are evoked as well here as anywhere.

  9. 9
    Rory on 2 Oct 2009 #

    And more applause. What a terrific halfway marker.

  10. 10
    swanstep on 2 Oct 2009 #

    To Tom’s ‘she was already massive..’ point I’d just add that m. simply hadn’t put a foot wrong musically, video-wise, or any other wise since ‘Holiday’. In effect, she’d be immaculate for at least another year or two until some first wobbles around Who’s that girl? and the You can dance remix album. It was an incredible hot streak, one that still genuinely inspires.

    Anyhow, as for this track, have loved it to death so almost can’t hear it now. I guess 9 does feel about right: ITG has to fall below Wuthering Heights/Whole lotta love-level blow-my-mind genius-ness, but it’s close.
    I recently discovered thanks to youtube a track that evidently provided a good bit of ITG’s musical template: YMO’s 1000 Knives, e.g. here (esp., say, beginning 2 minutes in). Evidently that confirms Tom’s point that on one level ITG could have been any disco dolly’s record. But Madonna, the hardest working woman in show business at this point (and probably still), got it and deserved it all. Great stuff.

  11. 11
    Lex on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Hurrah. I prefer other Madonna songs – the idea that she never matched this is pure nonsense! – and this is partly because her incredibly rich, deep back catalogue lends itself well to forming more personal attachments to lesser-known cuts rather than the wedding-disco, still-ubiquitous staples.

    But this would be an easy [10] for me; I don’t think it encapsulates Madonna herself so much as encapsulating the appeal of Pop Music itself. In fact, beyond the determination and hunger of “now I know you’re mine”, what stands out is how little of Madonna’s personality, charisma and ego need to be put into it. Contra “I’m not the same, I have no shame” or “I’m gonna break the circle, I’m gonna shake up the system”, it’s where she submits herself to something greater than herself, the vehicle she uses to create herself – she takes her personal relationship to music as a pop fan and makes it sound like life-changing, life-saving, the very best thing it’s possible to feel. Which it is.

  12. 12
    col124 on 2 Oct 2009 #

    10. Absolute 10. Everything good and fun about pop music in the ’80s is summed up on this single, pretty much. “Borderline” has a little more resonance for me personally, but I’ll take this one whenever it’s offered.

    and congrats on the halfway mark, Tom.

  13. 13
    Richaod on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Insightful review as always, and great comments too. I suppose from a more purist pop perspective, one could call it her greatest song – though I think she almost always hit the mark when aiming for more emotional/musically ambitious highs. Still, if this isn’t a 10, I don’t know what is!

    If I may add a further opinion to the chorus, my full review (and one of every other Madonna single, eventually) relating to the song’s near-mythological status: http://iconography.tumblr.com/post/181297211/into-the-groove

  14. 14
    Tom on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Yes, people into Madonna should 100% be following Richaod’s blog!

  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Total joy and release. Particularly like the coquettish “at night I lock the door…”. For me, Like A Virgin and (especially) Material Girl (re 7: non-political???) were way too “look at meeeee”, and the delivery squeaky and irritating. The production on this makes it feel – like Dancing Queen – like a three minute high, a sustained hook with no flab whatsoever. I’m intrigued to know which Madonna 45s people think are better, but I’m assuming a whole lot of them are in bunny territory. 10.

    Tom – hats off. Amazing. Good luck tonight. And congrats on the Pet Shop Boys piece too, you busy chap.

  16. 16
    swanstep on 2 Oct 2009 #

    @#15. What’s better and unbunnyable? Ultimately Lucky Star is for me the more complete package…. a ripper of a song, and then one of the ultimate videos. *Here* was someone who was *really* ready for her close-up. The whole thing was aerobic but also intimate; danceable but intense and almost psychotically transfixingly sexy. It was like discovering a new energy source.

    And, on a strictly personal level, the moment when the piano comes in at the end of the original mix of Holiday is a more perfect dancefloor memory for me than ITG’s grand final bridge. But….obviously these are very fine hairs I’m splitting here – all of these records are enormously pleasurable stepping-stones in as fine a pop career as we’ll ever see.

  17. 17
    Tom on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Of her records before this, Borderline and Burning Up would have got 10 from me, I think. But on the right day I like this just as much, so don’t worry about the mark too much :)

  18. 18
    koganbot on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Madonna on everyhit:

    Your query has produced more than 50 results… displaying the first 50. Please be more specific.

    In any event, I’d been really conflicted by “Lucky Star” (which I now like quite well) since Madonna was appropriating punkette regalia for girly-girl purposes, it seemed, and she was being really sexy, but I didn’t think she had the right to the regalia if she was just going to attract the world without also upending it. Oh yeah, and she was being really sexy.

    With this one, I was on more familiar ground, ’cause it was a good dance track but it also scared me. Predatory indeed. I did not believe I could prove my love to her, if it came down to that.

    I had to walk into a club and see a whole bunch of twenty-year olds dancing to this track to really grasp what a good song it was. I can’t explain that moment, since I’ve walked into clubs and seen people dancing to songs plenty of times, why this particular moment delivered this one. Was a strange, futuristic club where an indie woman’s band with two basses was booked, and someone somehow got me onto the guest list, and I didn’t quite get what this band was doing in this club, but walking into the room full of dancers, all this steel above them, and “Into The Groove” seemed to fit and create everything, the steel and the motion.

    I’d loved “Everybody” early; it was a terrific New York song. I once saw a girl in a body-building competition doing her routine to it, “Dance and sing, get up and do your thing.” It’s still my favorite Madonna song, but it really was an everybody song, in that some unknown singer other than the unknown Madonna (1982) could have pulled it off too. Same is true of my second favorite (and unbunnied) Madonna, “Justify My Love” (though only Madonna could have taken that track to number two). Whereas I agree with Billy that “Into The Groove” would be lesser without her. But what she brings to it is insistence and even chill. I generally prefer lots of the ’80s freestyle and girl twirl one shots/three shots to Madonna – Shannon and Judy Torres and all, for their heat.

    (By the way, when I did my album of the ’80s list in March ’90, Stacey Q’s Hard Machine was number two. I had Madonna’s You Can Dance at number six: a compilation, dance remixes.)

  19. 19
    Conrad on 2 Oct 2009 #

    “Into The Groove” is probably the quintessential Madonna single, if there can be such a thing in such a chameleonic career. A great track, so simple and perfectly executed. Interesting that the production still stands up really well, which in part I put down to Madonna not yet needing (or feeling the need) to work with the producer de jour.

    It’s effortless, an artist on top of her game. She isn’t trying to be cutting edge, just celebrating the groove.

    8 from me.

    And congratulations Tom!

  20. 20
    Lex on 2 Oct 2009 #

    It’s much of a muchness, with the Madonna songs I prefer being liable to change from hour to hour, but I’d say that on a par or higher are: “Deeper And Deeper”, “Bad Girl”, “Die Another Day”, “Justify My Love”, “Like A Prayer”, “Open Your Heart”…maybe “Take A Bow”, “Secret Garden”, “In This Life”, “Dress You Up”, “Burning Up” omg I love this bad bitch so much.

  21. 21
    Lex on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Oh sorry for inadvertent bunnying, I actually have no idea offhand which pre-1992 Madonna singles were UK No 1s and which weren’t.

  22. 22
    koganbot on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Lex, you only brushed the bunny once there.

  23. 23
    Erithian on 2 Oct 2009 #

    To be honest this didn’t stand out for me as much as “Like a Virgin” had the winter before (and I much preferred “Crazy For You” too), but looking back you could see this was someone making the logical next step to the top of the pile on both sides of the Atlantic. An act creating a fuss as much with what she said as what she sang (remember that “I saw losing my virginity as a career move” quote? – itself calculated to get her where she wanted to be). Creating a sensation, indeed causing a commotion, as pop acts have done at every stage in pop history, but this time, crucially, as a woman setting her own agenda. The image to turn heads and the music to go with it.

    Punctum’s reference above to Madonna having three singles in the chart simultaneously doesn’t tell half the story. I have my trusty exercise book with me detailing the 1985 Top 30 week by week. “Material Girl” drops out of the 30 on 16 April, then there’s a 7-week gap before “Crazy For You” enters on 4 June. That goes 25-9-3-2-3-3-5-6-12-15-19-24; in its 8th week, 23 July, “Into The Groove” enters and goes 4-1-1-1-1-2-4-7-12-20-29; two weeks later, 6 August, “Holiday” re-enters and goes 5-2-3-6-14-23 (she’s at 1, 2 and 19 on 13 August). As “Into The Groove” leaves the top 10 on 17 September, “Angel” enters and goes 10-5-6-8-16-30; in its fourth week, 8 October, “Gambler” enters and goes 20-7-4-5-8-14-22; that leaves the top 30 on 26 November, and the following week “Dress You Up” enters and goes 12-5-8-9 by Christmas. Only four weeks at number one, but eight top ten hits in the year. As an overall chart presence it’s greater than FGTH or Abba at their peak, and no one’s had such an Elvis year since, well, Elvis.

    Scroll back to 27 January 1984. I recently read a piece in a Manchester United fanzine by a bloke who was at the Hacienda that night, watching a young American singer low down on a bill including the Factory All Stars (a couple each from A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column and New Order) and Marcel King, the tragic singer of Sweet Sensation fame. It was going out live on The Tube, and the American singer had her first UK hit single at number 29 that week. I don’t know whether the United fanzine writer was aware of this, but he recorded his thought processes as follows:

    “She looks alright.
    “She’s on her own, probably knows nobody in the place, I could be in here.
    “Mind you if she’s on her own you never know, could get clingy.
    “Come to think of it, she looks a bit weird.
    “Yep, definitely last pint of the night material.
    “And anyway I’m bursting for a piss.”
    “And that (he concluded) is why you never read about me and Madonna in the papers…”

  24. 24
    lonepilgrim on 2 Oct 2009 #

    It is a compelling record – song seems the wrong word for it somehow – one that, like the red shoes, forces you to dance.
    As mentioned in previous threads I was working on a summer camp near Toledo, Ohio at the time this was a hit (on both sides of the atlantic) and it was interesting to see how some of my American co-workers – many of whom were dyed-in-the-wool ROCK fans – responded so positively to this – largely because the whole package of image and sound was so compelling – the post-punk attitude and look may well have sugared the pill of what was effectively the disco revival. Her success in the US Pop charts (rather than just in the dance charts) also seemed to allow them to afford her legitimacy.
    I don’t think any other woman in Pop has maintained such a high profile AND artistically successful career as Madonna. We are halfway through Tom’s project and she is still as likely to produce a number 1 now as she was then. She has managed to do so by removing from the foreground most of the qualities that were previously associated with women performers – vulnerable/confessional lyrics rooted in a stable/authentic musical identity. Even songs which did appear confessional were less authentic than they may have first appeared.
    Being based in dance music allows her the opportunity to change style in a way that seems innovative yet not as fractured as say Dylan or Bowie changing from one genre to another.
    For me Madonna embodies the triumph of the will – summed up in her phrase Blonde Ambition – rather than channeling some essential outpouring of her soul. The imperative mode of the lyrics to Into the Groove reflect the commanding role which has assured her continuing success. It’s easy to submit to that will and let yourself go – even if I can’t warm to her as much as I can to other performers.

  25. 25
    Steve Mannion on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Yes I noticed via everyhit how there had been at least three Madonna singles per year between the very start of 1984 and the very end of 1987, 18 in total. Would this be some sort of record? I can think of at least two 00s groups who come close to this tho.

  26. 26
    anto on 2 Oct 2009 #

    Brilliant record to reach the halfway stage.
    I stumbled across Popular on a search engine just before Christmas last year and am very glad for that.
    Have fun those of you attending this weekend.

    and you can dance
    for inspiration

  27. 27
    abaffledrepublic on 2 Oct 2009 #

    #15: of the hits Madonna had already had by this time, I still prefer Material Girl to this. I love all the double meanings in the lyrics and the music is bubblegum of the highest order. Like Into the Groove, the edit of Holiday has suffered slightly from overfamiliarity, but the album version with all those pianos has somehow kept its surprise factor. I found it on picture disc just last week :) Like A Virgin is the first Madonna song I can remember seeing, because the nine year old me fancied her almost as much as I fancied a girl in my class!

    Of those which might be/are definitely bunnied, we’ll get to them by and by. For me, 9 is right for this, because I can think of at least one that I would rate higher. More generally, I agree with Lex at #20. As with Abba, my favourite Madonna song tends to be whichever one I heard last.

    When we discussed Billie Jean on here, there was a comment to the effect that Jackson’s number ones total wasn’t a true reflection of his popularity. The same is true of Madonna in this period. As mentioned in #23 above, she seemed to have a single out every week, but this was the first one to go all the way. Strange that it wasn’t released in the States because the record label were worried about Madonna competing with herself.

    When my late grandfather mentioned that he liked Desperately Seeking Susan, I was and remain flabbergasted. Until then I’d thought his knowledge of popular culture, particularly something as obviously ‘new’ and American as Madonna, was on a par with that of high court judges. My grandparents didn’t own a TV for years because my grandmother had very definite views on how rubbish the medium was.

    Congratulations Tom on reaching the halfway point!

  28. 28
    johnny on 2 Oct 2009 #

    yes, congrats tom! what a fantastic project, you’ve helped me to discover most of these songs all over again.

    madonna here regains the Dancing Queen momentum of her early work after several “gimmick” singles (“like a virgin” and “material girl”, though these are still brilliant pop songs) meant to quantify her personality for the public. once we knew who she was and what we could expect from her, she went on a run of classic singles unmatched by anyone save perhaps the Rolling Stones in ’65-’66 (the opposite gender side of the same psychosexual coin). a quick shout-out in particular to “crazy for you”, certainly one of the best ballads of the period (which could also be said of another Madonna song from the following year [not sure if the bunny would let me live to tell about mentioning it!]).

    i agree with tom that this is the highest [9] possible. not really sure what keeps it from a top mark but there are certainly better Madonna singles (hello “Borderline”), so everyone wins!

    have fun this weekend, gang! if i wasn’t on the other side of the pond i’d be right there with you.

  29. 29
    tim davidge on 2 Oct 2009 #

    I’m probably more or less on my own on this one. I have to struggle to remember when the various Madonna singles came and went, because they just don’t stand out. I have the same problem with the disco hits of a decade or so earlier. I found this (and her) at best indifferent. A chancer who knew how to sell herself. She is hugely admired for those Eighties virtues of hard work and enterprise, and of course the stuff about about being in control of her own companies. But the problem is, that doesn’t actually make this record much good. I don’t like coming on here to pan records but this one and almost anything else she did was grossly overrated. A 4 from me.

  30. 30
    AndyPandy on 2 Oct 2009 #

    No 73 watch: 3 weeks into this record’s number run at the top the first house record to become a hit Colonel Abrams “Trapped”* entered the charts. It then all went a bit quiet pop chart wise on the house front until the more obviously house stuff one of which I can’t mention over a year later. But definitely the first slight tremor in what would become a cutural and musical earthquake…

    * 24 years later its easy to forget this was classed as house at the time but it most defintely was and for many people its use in connection with this record was the first time they’d heard it

    PS I agree with you Tim at 29 I wonder if it was purely about the music would Madonna be held in anywhere near the same esteem. Surely its more a case of a massively strong will making the most out of a pretty unremarkable “talent”…

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