Oct 09

MADONNA – “Into The Groove”

FT + Popular65 comments • 12,635 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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  1. 31
    ace inhibitor on 2 Oct 2009 #

    re #24, her appeal was pretty ubiquitous by this point wasn’t it? to US rawk fans, and to quite a lot of people up the mid-80s alternative/indie/little underground cul de sac over here… madonna and prince pretty much encompassed the dance/pop it was ok to love, for a year or two. I refer as evidence to my small & yellowing collection of ‘Debris’ (a fanzine produced by Dave Haslam pre-Hacienda DJ superstardom) which enthusiastically endorsee the likes of ITG alongside the latest releases from the Fall, Tools you can Trust, the Bodines, Big Flame (ha! mentioned them again!), articles on tarkovsky and the left book club, etc etc.

  2. 32
    swanstep on 2 Oct 2009 #

    @24,31. Relatedly, ITG was definitely the tipping point for other bands with Madonna. Almost immediately, at least where I was (NZ and Australia), all sorts of bands from metal to indie to bluegrass started dropping in covers of ITG into their sets, always getting a massive response when they did so. ITG’s really elastic under re-instrumentation and the different lyrical currents that others have nicely remarked upon that are wound ecstatically tight in the original, have the power to surprise (still) when given some space.

    @30. I know what you’re saying about Mad. as a triumph of the will etc.. It does seem that there have always been, as it were, genetic superiors to her at every turn: better singers, better dancers, better looking popettes, more musically educated, whatever etc.. I do always think of her in connection with the swimming scenes in _Gattaca_ (go here if you’re interested) for this reason. Her genetic superiors see her surge past them, and demand to know how it’s so much as possible that she’s beating them, etc.. She didn’t save anything for the trip back. The over-achievement relative to her evident gifts makes her very inspiring to many (including me of course), but the skeptical note you sound and #29 sounds has been there from the beginning too, and does make some sense.

  3. 33
    TomLane on 3 Oct 2009 #

    Just when you thought Madonna was going to be identified with a “Like A Virgin” or “Material Girl” as her defining moment, she one-ups everybody with a brilliant dance move. Here’s a surprising chart fact: this song never charted in the States. With so much Madonna on the charts, Sire Records decided to release this as a 12inch single only. That was a big seller, and the airplay for “Into The Groove” was enough to make you think that it was a big charted single, anyway. This is an obvious 10.

  4. 34
    Izzy on 3 Oct 2009 #

    ‘Manifesto’ is the word I’ve been looking for all the years I’ve been thinking about this record, and I’d like to give it a 10

    … but every time I look it out I start out all enthusiasm, then I play it once or twice and I think ‘is that it?’. ‘A tremendous disco record’, ‘a sustained hook with no flab whatsoever’, ‘Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free’ – I want all those wonderful things to be true and in my head they are. But I’m not feeling it. The concept is perfect – in truth I’m probably too much in love with the idea to be able to spot it if there was – it just falls a little flat in the simple yet crucial area of being fun to listen to. Only a little, there’s nothing much wrong here that a good remix couldn’t sort out, or a stronger voice. But that’s the problem. In theory it’s an overwhelming experience impossible to derail – but it’s just … good.

  5. 35
    Izzy on 3 Oct 2009 #

    (and congratulations to Tom and here’s to the second half – but can I make a personal plea before we plunge in: can everyone *please* stop saying ‘bunny’ all the time now? I think everyone understands the idea, and the last thing popular needs is an in-joke)

  6. 36
    LondonLee on 3 Oct 2009 #

    This was her “coronation” song wasn’t it? The record that an upcoming act builds towards, then – boom – they’re on top of the pile and seem to hit some pop-cultural sweet spot and be the center of the universe for a moment (though she managed it for quite a while).

    This one almost seems too easy and light though somehow, I don’t know if that’s a flaw really but some of her other singles have more sustained pleasures for me. Still dead good but not quite truly brilliant.

    And I still can’t hear it without thinking of her drying her armpits.

  7. 37
    MichaelH on 3 Oct 2009 #

    Okay, I will clearly be in a minority here.
    1/ Every single sound in this record is horrible. Like every single sound in Level 42 records is horrible. I didn’t much like the sounds in 1985, and at 24 years’ distance they sound even tinnier and nastier. The production of this era is an absolute nadir for pop. This doesn’t have the lushness that one wants of a record of a record for which these claims are made: it sounds 10-bob, but in a bad way – not in a “we’ve got 10 bob and 10 minutes to capture the moment” way! It sounds like a kit record.
    2/ I don’t buy the theory that the innuendoes about dancing by myself/wanting to dance with someone else/at night i lock the door are actually anything more than smutty innuendoes. Unless we’re also going to grant whoever wrote lyrics for Billy Idol retrospective “poet of the semiotics of dancing” status.
    3/ That probably makes it sound like I hate the record; I don’t, I just can’t understand loving it that much. As Tom notes, it’s efficient, and that efficiency is what underwhelms me – on Borderline you sense Madonna is reaching for more than she can maybe achieve, and that seems charming; on Material Girl there’s the playful and ruthless construction of an image; here there’s just, “Right, time for a single.”
    4/ Every single girl I knew in 1985 loved this record. Not a single boy did. Maybe that’s just Slough.

  8. 38
    AndyPandy on 3 Oct 2009 #

    And when she appealed to the girlies (songs, image, dance beats), lads (sexy image) and critics/trendies (what she symbolised etc)she could hardly go wrong could she

    but it was clever marketing and positioning that helped made prety workmanlike product so massive not the spark of magic that a Michael Jackson or a Prince brought to pop. Madonna could be seen as the Kevin Keegan of pop making it to the very top through sheer hard work and making the best of what they had…

  9. 39
    Izzy on 3 Oct 2009 #

    I agree, but there can only ever be one Kevin Keegan of pop:
    (which I quite like, by the way)

  10. 40
    Steve Mannion on 3 Oct 2009 #

    #30 re ‘Trapped’ interesting I’ve never thought of it as a House record really, probably just because it’s not straight 4/4 and for it’s similarity to the likes of ‘Axel F’ instrumentally. Great track in any case.

    Trivial factoids: Later in ’85 a medley of Madonna hits by Mirage entered the top 100. ‘Into The Groove’ has been sampled by Norman Cook’s Mighty Dub Katz on ‘Only When I’m Dancing Do I Feel This Disco’ and Dannii Minogue’s lazy yet likeable ‘Don’t Wanna Lose This Feeling’. Curiously Madge has been less resistant to people sampling her as she’s been to licensing her songs for compilations.

    I sympathise with Izzy a little re bunny excess. Sometimes I doubt whether it even exists to be honest…

  11. 41
    lonepilgrim on 3 Oct 2009 #

    although I said earlier that Madonna’s longevity reflects the triumph of her will to succeed I don’t accept that she is simply workmanlike and efficient. I think that she has written some fine lyrics – many of which are embargoed, but include ‘Live to tell’ (which wasn’t a number 1 IIRC) and she has creatively curated her own image – reframing/reinventing herself like Vivienne Westwood presenting her new season’s collection.

    I think that what I find both compelling/repelling about her is that as much as I value artifice over authenticity for Madonna her artifice is or has become her authenticity. I think it’s why post-Desperately Seeking Susan (where her image was still unformed) she has failed to convince as an actress. I’m so used to her playing a role that when I see her on screen I think ‘oh, there’s Madonna’s new image’ – this may well be a problem for most pop star actors (esp. Bowie – apart from MWFTE) but seems particularly evident in her case.

  12. 42
    Mark M on 3 Oct 2009 #

    Re 41 Or possibly she’s just rubbish at acting.

  13. 43
    lonepilgrim on 3 Oct 2009 #

    re 42 yeah….that did occur to me after I wrote that

  14. 44
    Rory on 3 Oct 2009 #

    Lots of intriguing comment here; I hope you don’t all burn up your Madonna thoughts in one thread, but somehow I doubt it.

    Madonna’s albums were another of my brother’s departments, but I liked some of the tracks on those first two, especially “Burning Up”. It was to be a while before I really appreciated her in my own right. Re-listening to this, I can remember what triggered the switch: it was when she lost the squeaky cuteness in her voice, which I always found off-putting. Squeaky cuteness didn’t bother me in other performers’ songs, though, so perhaps it was the overtones of predatory squeaky cuteness that were, um, unsettling. As in the cover of Like a Virgin. Not for nothing did we and our friends call her “Madoona”. (Doona in Australian English = duvet (UK)/comforter (US). We were teenage boys, after all.)

    Plenty of other things about Madonna marked her out as a performer worth attention, of course, including her playful shifts in persona in 1984-85. But “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” (the first being her first Australian number one, for five weeks from 10 December 1984) both appealed to me more than “Into the Groove”, and personally still feel like the biggest early-Madonna landmarks.

    Madonna owned the Australian charts for eight weeks in mid-1985, first for the double A-side of this and “Angel”, then for “Crazy for You”. This is certainly the highlight of that trio, but it just wasn’t for me, and these days I can only hear it as ’80s nostalgia rather than as a rediscovery… plus I’ve got to agree with the doubters that the production sounds a bit too ’80s-thin from this distance. So all your 9s and 10s will have to cancel out my 6.

    (…7…6… I’m wavering. Not that it matters, it’s still got an awe-inspiring average mark up there.)

  15. 45
    swanstep on 4 Oct 2009 #

    BTW, the version of ‘Into the groove’ on Madonna’s original greatest hits, _Immaculate Collection_, omits the repeated, growing in urgency, ‘now i know you’re mine’s to which Tom rightly draws attention. Given that the version of ‘Holiday’ on that collection omits its piano payoff, the Immac. collection should probably be avoided. (The problem’s worse for ITG because that song didn’t appear on a normal album in many territories.) The new collection _Celebration_ has properly lengthy versions of both ‘Holiday’ and ITG. Here’s hoping that the remastering isn’t brutally bricked/compressed loud.

  16. 46
    thefatgit on 4 Oct 2009 #

    Re:45 ITG on the Immaculate Collection album is a Shep Pettibone remix. The original demo recording taken from Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack doesn’t appear in any vinyl format apparently.

  17. 47
    AndyPandy on 4 Oct 2009 #

    Steve @40: yes very different than the blatant out and out house as we came to know it of the jack tracks that were hits a year later and it still had elements of straight disco but if you look at the reviews from dance columns around then “house” was most defintely one of the words used to describe it and from then on the recods started coming over and featuring in the club charts more or less without break…

    I’d be interested to know when Jazzy M (the first dj to play house in this country) had his pirate radio show on in London – does anyone know if it was as early as 1986 – there would have been enough proper house being imported then I should imagine to base a radio show on it…

  18. 48
    Andy Pandy on 6 Oct 2009 #

    Further to my last comment above the similarities between “Trapped” and the stuff from later is far easier to see between it and the next big house hit “Love Can’t Turn Around” than the more stripped down and radical sound of “Jack Your Body”, “This Brutal House/Lets Get Brutal” or “Jack the Groove”.

  19. 49
    MikeMCSG on 6 Oct 2009 #

    Besides being the halfway marker this is also significant in that for the first time we’ve come to an artist who is more than likely to add to their current total of chart toppers on their own terms. (Elton only gets there in gimmicky collaborations and MJ isn’t around to enjoy his final number one).

    I think this is probably the best number one of 1985. There’s a raw vulnerability to her vocals which added to Steve Bray’s melodic skills make her 1985-7 work her most appealing.

  20. 50
    Gavin Wright on 6 Oct 2009 #

    I’d struggle to think of an artist whose number one singles tell a more interesting story than Madonna’s do so I’m glad we’ve reached this point (as well as the halfway stage of course). Many of the posts above sum up the appeal of this song perfectly so I’ll just add that I’d give it a 10 as well although I think ‘Lucky Star’ edges it as my favourite Madonna overall – the production is just that bit more sprightly.

  21. 51
    loomer on 6 Oct 2009 #

    I thought this would get a 10. The best ever Madonna record and hence one of the best pop songs ever, easily up there with the likes of “Dancing Queen” as magical pop songs go.

    It captured her at the perfect time, before she started to take herself too seriously and was less fun – though much bigger leaps would be made with her music to come. Joyous perfection.

    And didn’t the bassline of this inspire The Pet Shop Boys? Not to mention the US dance #1 “Baby Talk” by Alisha, which was remixed by one Shep Pettibone – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SEOfwfRvAc

    You might like this ultra in depth Madonna blog – http://madonnascrapbook.blogspot.com/

  22. 52
    admin on 6 Oct 2009 #

    URL disaster!

  23. 53
    Promethea on 6 Oct 2009 #

    Madonna’s bestest!
    Random memory: around this time Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl was asked in either Smash Hits or NME a series of questions which included “What is your favourite Madonna song?” Her response was along the lines of “God, they’re all so vile. I suppose Holiday is the least offensive.” As a result I have had an unreasoning hatred of Tracey ever since and cannot bear the sound of her voice. It’s not even as if I was, or am, that much of a Madonna fan, I was just outraged at the time that someone could be so dismissive of excellent pop. Strange the things you remember.

  24. 54
    Steve Mannion on 6 Oct 2009 #

    #52 ha ha yes i’d be afraid that blog was nsfw and devoted to page by page reviews of “SEX”

  25. 55
    logged out Tracer Hand on 7 Oct 2009 #

    Madonna sang this song in the background during a club scene in Desperately Seeking Susan; it was to have been dubbed over with something else. But between the time of filming and the movie’s release Madonna just happened to become one of the biggest stars in the entire world so the producers left it in. She’s anonymous in that scene, virtually ignored, and while the song is great, I agree with The Lex that its greatness is in its lack of ambition – it knows its place and executes.

    Madonna sounds a little weary, like she’s been singing this song for hours, and she sings the entire thing through her nose, which lends the whole deal an authentic bored Jersey girl vibe. A fluke of a hit, a genuinely fun song, but no better than hundreds of similar tracks from that time that have vanished forever. This song’s remarkable only in retrospect, which gives it a special place in my heart.

  26. 56
    swanstep on 7 Oct 2009 #

    @53 Promethea. Good anecdote about Thorn (I too find that I’ve committed odd NME reviews/interviews from back to memory – strange whhat sticks with you). I wonder when that interview was: my experience was that people in other bands were *very* cutting about Madonna until after ITG. Hell, I was in a (no name) band at the time and we picked each early Mad. single that came out to death (while not-so-secretly enjoying dancing to it a lot). So, e.g., Holiday stole the baseline and chords from ABC’s ‘look of love” and ‘like A virgin’ just ever-so-slightly changed the bass-line to ‘billie jean’, and so on. Bitch bitch bitch. It was only after ITG and 1985 more generally (when Mad. had those three, excellent movie-soundtrack songs as well as appearing in Susan) that in some sense it became clear that Mad. was really going to be a cultural force to be reckoned with so that minor musical criticisms were always going to be beside the point.

    As for Thorn. She’s quite the master musician, and has all the melodic chops/interests of the pre-rock era. At least until clever cloggs like the trip-hop crowd came along, she probably wasn’t herself much inclined to see the good in dance or simple pop music. And as a Marine Girl from way back, she probably found the boy-toy girly side of early Madonna hard to swallow, as it were, politically.

  27. 57
    loomer on 7 Oct 2009 #

    #54 There’s only a couple of nsfw pics there, honest!

    Another factoid about “Into the Groove” was that Madonna had originally written it for the singer Cheyne, who was devastated that the song was pulled from her at the last minute and she wouldn’t get the chance to be the black Madonna after she had recorded her Mark Kamins produced version.

    Here’s Cheyne’s US dance #1 “Call Me Mr Telephone”, a cover of an Italo disco song as was often the case back then – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZMsE8iaeDk

  28. 58
    Paris Wilkens on 1 Nov 2009 #

    Thank-you! I am getting into it more and more! Some days it is hard to find the time though!

  29. 59
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    It is only the slightly duff intro that stops this from being the perfect pop record.

  30. 60
    Brooksie on 15 Mar 2010 #

    The ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ movie and this song were the definers of Madonna’s image at that point in time, even moreso than ‘Like A Virgin’ or ‘Material Girl’. It’s also the enduring image of ‘pop star’ Madonna, which was then superceded by her spiky hair megastar image from ‘True Blue’.

    The fact that this song was never released in the US seems almost insane! It was the B-side on the ‘Angel’ single, because the record company didn’t want Madonna competing with herself as earlier in the year with Material Girl and Crazy For You. Really? Angel from Like A Virgin (which was a year old at the time) was a better choice for a single than this?! If they couldn’t hear the difference between a # 1 single and a # 5 single (which they ended up with) then they must have been deaf.

    Very popular joke at the time: What’s Madonna got in common with toilet paper? They both get into the groove.

    It’s hard for me to be objective about this song because it’s so burned into my pop memory, and as it’s still played a lot it doesn’t feel like it’s ever gone away. At the time Madonna was a fast-exploding pop star, but there was no collective “She’s been around for ever”. It’s very hard to remember when she was ‘fresh’. I still love it, but it’s very rooted in it’s era for me. When I hear it I’m back in ’85. This was the point at which pop’s new Princess became a Queen. 9 for me.

  31. 61
    punctum on 8 Jul 2014 #

    TPL finally reaches Madonna. I’ve changed my mind about “Into The Groove” in the intervening five years or so.

  32. 62
    Larry on 16 Dec 2014 #

    Love this record now, though I ignored it then as more disposable pop. “Desperately Seeking Susan” was a fairly faithful (if one allows for a bit of Hollywoodization) depiction of what downtown Manhattan was like in 1985.

  33. 63
    hectorthebat on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Arizona Republic (USA) – Madonna’s 30 Best Singles of All Time (2013) 4
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 87
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 64
    OUT (USA) – The 25 Gayest Songs of the 1980s (2011)
    PopMatters (USA) – The 100 Best Songs Since Johnny Rotten Roared (2003) 71
    Slant (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 1980s (2012) 26
    Swellsville, Chuck Eddy (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 80s (1990) 6
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 58
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1980s (2008)
    Freaky Trigger (UK) – Top 100 Songs of All Time (2005) 25
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Mojo (UK) – 80 from the 80s: Our Fave 45s for Each Year, 1980-1989 (2007) 1
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 64
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 153
    Q (UK) – The 80 Best Records of the 80s (2006) 9
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1980-2004 (2004) 20
    Sunday Times (UK) – Top 10 Madonna Songs (2007) 5
    Vox (UK) – 100 Records That Shook the World (1991)
    Wire (UK) – The 100 Most Important Records Ever Made (1992)
    Spex (Germany) – The Best Singles of the Century (1999)
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 100 Songs from 1984-1993 (1993) 16
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 52
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 11
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 10
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 18
    Spex (Germany) – Singles of the Year 10
    Best (France) – Singles of the Year 5

  34. 64
    Lazarus on 28 Feb 2015 #

    Leaving aside all the acres of talk about That Fall, I’m a bit confused as to what Madge was doing at the Brits the other night. Nothing wrong with wanting to top and tail the show with performances from big US acts – Taylor Swift opened the proceedings of course – but in the past, wasn’t the closing number performed by the winner of the Lifetime Achievement award? (or whatever they call it there) I don’t think Madonna was the recipient – I’ve never known it go to a non-British act. Or did nobody get one this year?

  35. 65
    Gareth Parker on 1 May 2021 #

    Still a wonderful pop record for me 36 years on. 8/10.

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