Jan 10

MADONNA – “True Blue”

FT + Popular38 comments • 3,157 views

#577, 11th October 1986, video

Musically, if the Madonna brand stands for anything it’s for smart, up-to-date club pop. But there’s often been a side to her that’s attracted to pastiche, as if she wants to prove she can take on styles way outside her era and range and master them as slickly as she dealt with freestyle, R&B, and electronica. “Hanky Panky”; the Evita incident; and this bouncily backwards-looking girlpop tribute.

Can she do it? Formally speaking, of course she can: she has the songwriters and the work ethic and “True Blue” bubbles and blushes in all the correct places. It’s fun! But even discounting the wall-of-tin production it seems to lack conviction. The girl group sound Madonna is playing with worked not just because of its catchy sweetness but because – whether coded or not – there was an awful lot at stake in the songs: the best of them grab a moment or a situation and freeze-frame the immense ridiculous intensity of teenage feeling. Exactly what “Papa Don’t Preach” did, in other words, and to go from that song’s frustration and dread to lines like “I’m so excited that you’re my best friend” is a shift in emphasis from content to form that sacrifices a lot. Still she could have pulled it off – the opening exchanges with the backing singers hint at something tougher and sassier than the song we get. But the rest of “True Blue” is deliberately flimsy and brittle, and before the end Madonna sounds a little bored. Like most of her pastiches it feels like a distraction.



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  1. 26
    MikeMCSG on 14 Jan 2010 #

    I think Mads omitted it from The Immaculate Collection (in favour of No 4 hit “Open Your Heart”) because the lyrics were too personal to her and Sean. It’s OK but not one of her best.

    Interesting that it got to number one at the same time as she was being absolutely trashed for her performance in “Shanghai Surprise” (Sean Penn reportedly made his friends pledge never to watch it). What was that saying about no such thing as bad publicity ?

  2. 27
    pink champale on 14 Jan 2010 #

    i said on the ‘frankie’ thread that there was a great girl group pastiche coming up, but it turns out memory was playing tricks on me and, the great bridge apart, this really isn’t much cop. dave marsh didn’t think so though, putting it at number 258 in his list. unfortunately this isn’t one of the entries that’s online but i think i remember from my repeat readings 15 years ago that he thought it was the contemporary production that took it from being a simple pastiche into something more special. but a lot of his eighties picks are kind of mental.

  3. 28
    AndyPandy on 14 Jan 2010 #

    I know that Madonna always had her name listed as a songwriter on her tracks but always with someone else – did she really have much input in their composition or was it just a trick done through a combination of her as the sassy businesswomen maximising the profits and an attempt to give her credibility with the rock bores with whom “its oh so important to write your tracks”?
    Fake songwriting credits obviously reached the farcical in the era of the Spice Girls and other girl bands where I don’t think anyone was fooled that any of those groups had anything approaching real input in the composition of their songs.
    But with Madonna however does anyone know if she had anything more than a minimal input into writing the songs – I’d be interested to know if anyone know the truth on this issue.

  4. 29
    swanstep on 14 Jan 2010 #

    @28. At least on some occasions (e.g., Lucky Star, Burning Up) Mad. gets the sole writing credit, and on many other occasions (Holiday, Borderline, Like a Virgin) she takes no writing credit. This suggests that she played things pretty straight credit-wise at least early in her career. My sense is that on her recent albums, say since working with William Orbit on Ray of Light, her writing credits have been more pro forma. She’s thinking about just writing and producing the album as a whole with a given collaborator, so that that’s what gets noted each time rather than the exact % contributions each party made to each individual song. That seems sensible to me, but it does open the door to certain sorts of skepticism about Mad’s contributions.

  5. 30
    Mark G on 15 Jan 2010 #

    Well, it’s like the old Lennon/McCartney thing, it covered contributions from Mal Evans, Donovan, and whoever was in the room at the time.

    People would quite often get some sort of ‘percentage point’ for songs they were not officially credited for.

  6. 31
    spaceboy on 16 Jan 2010 #

    If I was going to play anything by Madonna at a wedding, this would probably be it. It sounds like it could have been written in the 50’s. If you were to play some of those girl group pop songs and slow them down a bit, it could have sounded a little like this.

  7. 32
    abaffledrepublic on 16 Jan 2010 #

    Seems that there’s something of a downer on this one on Popular. I didn’t like it at the time, finding it far too cutesy, but since then I’ve come to like it a lot. As noted upthread, its non-inclusion on Madonna compilations means it hasn’t been overplayed. I certainly prefer it to the single which followed it. Open Your Heart strikes me as space filler, a flavourless, dull song with an air of ‘will this do?’ about it (it’s safe to discuss it because it didn’t get to number one).

  8. 33
    swanstep on 16 Jan 2010 #

    @32,abaffledrep, I felt the same way that you do about OYH until I heard the original 12″/extended mix. It’s on youtube, unfortunately in fairly poor audio quality, here. With 9 minutes to stretch out the slight stiffness of OYH that’s a liability in the standard mix becomes an advantage. It’s really one of the great missing-link tracks between the Kraftwerk of TEE and the brutal techno that would soon rule some clubs (and that doubtless Mad. herself was grooving to early versions of in 1986).

  9. 34
    Caledonianne on 22 Jan 2010 #

    Sorry – best thing about this for me was the YouTube comment –

    “Good God. Was she BORN looking forty years old?”

    As I had been thinking exactly the same thing.

  10. 35
    DV on 31 Jan 2010 #

    I’m with that guy from Reservoir Dogs on this one.

  11. 36
    Brooksie on 15 Mar 2010 #

    I don’t get the dislike for this at all. I have to say this is one of my faves. Here’s how I see it:

    Madonna doesn’t put it on her compilations because it was about Sean (Penn). “True Blue” was an expression he used. I doubt that she has any issue with it apart from the emotional connection to a declaration of love that went south.

    This song (to me), is what I believe Madonna to really be. There is no deliberately provocative content, no producer-oriented ‘strings’ on the intro, no labored depth, it’s a barely-layered piece of pop dance fluff, and I think this is what Madonna sounds like when she isn’t trying to be impressive. Bear in mind Madonna often uses other people’s songs, then she ‘tweaks’ them (and gets a credit) and works with a producer to create the whole sound. If this sounds a little thin and weak, maybe that’s because Madonna herself – when not aided by producers and other people’s material – isn’t very deep / heavy. It sounds simple and honest to me.

    Finally; I think that song fits perfectly with the requirements of a teen pop album. The teenage psyche – particularly that of the teenage girl – is an almost schizophrenic one, therefore there must be a song for all moods. This song, when matched with all the other tracks on the album, has a perfect emotional place. It’s the song I can most picture girls dancing and singing along with using a hairbrush in front of the mirror at a ‘sleepover’. Remember that Madonna’s core audience was primarily teenage girls (she appealed to much more than that – as a star has to – but certainly they were her biggest demographic). This song speaks to teenage girls probably more than any other on the album, lame pastiche or not. I’m willing to bet if the genders ranked the singles from True Blue in order of favourites, you’d find the girls would rank this (on average) a lot higher than the guys. This song is uptempo, catchy, and it’s about “true love”; if you’re a teenage girl with a hairbrush and a mirror, then this song would be hog heaven. If you’re a middle-aged man then this song probably doesn’t sound anywhere near as high in quality as ‘Papa Don’t Preach’. For me – this song is great, but then again I always liked pure joy in pop music.

  12. 37
    DJBobHoskins on 5 Jan 2014 #

    Why is the single version so hard to find?

  13. 38
    hectorthebat on 18 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 258
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

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