Ever had one of those, “What was I thinking” revelations? You know, a moment when you look back on a “snapshot” from sometime in the past and become completely appalled — I can’t believe I actually wore those, went there, listened to that. Conversely, some of those review reflections often can be less frightening — standing the test of time nicely. Basic blue jeans never have failed. LA is still hip. And Johnny Cash always will be cool. But particularly with music, occasionally, what we miss (completely) in the moment back in the day, actually can speak to us (loudly) years later.
She’d become arguably the biggest pop star on the planet by the time her third LP dropped back in June 1986. But for a metal-crazed 23-year-old, the music of Madonna was way in my peripheral. As a result, despite achieving worldwide status as THE top-selling album of the year, True Blue whizzed past me like a spit ball in study hall.
A collective production effort between Madonna and studio aces, Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard, the recorded owned an authentic ’80s sound straight out of the box. However, by leaning more on advancing audio technology and relying less on fleeting studio gimmickry, the record still sounds fresh — it still pops.
In addition to the album’s overall crispness and Madonna’s massive vocal artistry, what made True Blue so special, so magical were — the songs. The Michigan-born 27-year-old co-wrote all nine tracks, and in keeping with her budding notoriety, the songs ran the stylistic gamut. While the deeper cuts, “White Heat,” “Where’s the Party,” “Jimmy Jimmy” and “Love Makes the World Go Round” all were lively party guests, the album boasted a bounty of Madonna’s all-time biggest and best-loved hits.
With her multi platinum-selling 1984 sophomore set, Like a Virgin, Madonna glorified the self-indulgent attitude of that oft-decadent decade. However, True Blue reflected her maturing musical message. Where Madonna once flaunted youthful sexuality, she now addressed the realities of that carefree lifestyle. “I’m keeping my baby,” she proclaimed in the album’s controversial opener, “Papa Don’t Preach.”
Despite projecting a starkly different visual on MTV, the chart-topping single, “Open Your Heart” was an irresistible, mischievous love song — “I hold the lock and you hold the key.” The album’s lead-off single, “Live to Tell,” was deeper and more personal. Also a Billboard #1 hit, it’s been hailed as one of Madonna’s best ballads.
Also packing plenty of pure pop appeal, the title track was a playful LP highlight written about Madonna’s relationship with (then) husband, Sean Penn. Seemingly from left field came the Latin-flavored “La Isla Bonita” — another international Top Ten smash.
Fast forward 35 years — as a little old man who (now) possesses a far greater appreciation for songwriting, studio production and marketing savvy, I can embrace the record’s vibe and value fully. In sum, after nearly four decades, True Blue remains one of the mightiest titles in Madonna’s iconic catalogue.
True Blue Track Listing:
1. Papa Don’t Preach (4:29)
2. Open Your Heart (4:13)
3. White Heat (4:40)
4. Live to Tell (5:51)
5. Where’s the Party (4:21)
6. True Blue (4:18)
7. La Isla Bonita (4:02)
8. Jimmy Jimmy (3:55)
9. Love Makes the World Go Round (4:31)
Run Time: 40:18
Release Date: June 30, 1986
Record Label: Sire/Warner Bros.