“Borderline” by Madonna (1983)

I have mixed feelings about Madonna for many, many, many reasons. But one thing I don’t deny is that her self-titled debut album is a straight banger. She was completely plugged into the New York scene, and the songs (bar “I Know It”, which is dreadful) are the essence of downtown club culture at the time with a little bit of Motown sweetness plugged in.

“Borderline” (her first top ten hit!) is Madonna at her most vulnerable. It’s got a girlish yearning, but Madge also has a rough edge to her voice that served as an early indication that she was nobody’s pushover.

Kudos to Reggie Lucas for honoring the R&B tradition that Madonna absorbed in her youth (and Madge was a soul singer at heart, at least until Evita and the UK turned her into the Dame Judi Dench of pop vocalists). Lucas’s history was with more substantial vocalists like Stephanie Mills, Phyllis Hyman and Roberta Flack, and he was able to modify the melodic structure and production of “Borderline” (strangely one of Lucas’s last major efforts behind the boards…did he retire?) to be sympathetic to Madonna.

NOT QUITE FIVE STARS…:

“Boogie Wonderland” (Earth, Wind & Fire feat. The Emotions, 1979): EW&F goes disco, but not quite. Maurice said in his book that the message of “Boogie Wonderland” was actually one of anti-hedonism. So did people get the irony back then? Or were people just too busy dancing to pay attention to the lyrical message? If the latter, I totally get it. Just saying.

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