The nine songs on “True Blue,” which celebrates its 35th anniversary June 30, signified her musical maturity, from the somber balladry of “Live to Tell” to the Latin syncopation embedded in “La Isla Bonita.”
Produced by Madonna, Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray, the album spawned five hit singles and sold more than seven million copies in the U.S. and an estimated 25 million worldwide.
The pressure of following the hit parade of “Lucky Star,” “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl” and other fizzy dancefloor dazzlers might have daunted some artists as they embarked on their third release. But, true to her nature, Madonna zigged when most would have zagged. Madonna was also creatively inspired by then-husband Sean Penn (she dedicated the album to him), and the album’s first single, “Live to Tell,” landed in his 1986 crime drama, “At Close Range.”
“The music got more serious, so I think she got taken more seriously,” Leonard, who also co-wrote five of the album’s songs, told USA TODAY. “It was different, and to her credit, she took some chances that I don’t know most people would have. There were things in there that weren’t normal in pop music at the time.”
Leonard was 30 at the time “True Blue” was recorded, and previously served as the music director for Madonna’s “The Virgin Tour” in 1985. But their collaboration at a backyard barbecue on “Love Makes the World Go Round,” which would debut later that year at Live Aid before landing on “True Blue,” marked their first songwriting pairing.
Two of the album’s five singles – the string-laden teen pregnancy drama “Papa Don’t Preach” and sweet “True Blue” – were produced by Bray, who also co-wrote “Where’s The Party,” “Jimmy Jimmy” and the title track. Leonard said he and Bray would assist each other, but the two producers primarily “kept to our own little worlds.”
But even with different captains, the songs shared a common throughline.
“There’s a chemical thing that contributes to that ‘thing’ and why those records are what they are,” Leonard said. “They were relatively spontaneous for the most part. As legend has it, most of those vocals are the only time Madonna sang (the songs in the studio) and I can attest to that. It helped that neither she nor I are second guessers. Period.”
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