Thirty years ago this past week, Sire Records released Madonna’s debut album. Although it only created one pop icon, Madonna the album was the culmination of months of effort by diverse artists, photographers, executives and musicians. “The first new wave disco music,” as one of her friends described it, carried plenty in its DNA: bouncy R&B grooves; traces of the last gasps of the pre-AIDS Downtown NYC culture; and, of course, the force of personality of the future Queen of Pop.
In early 1982, Madonna was 23 years old. In the four years since leaving Detroit for New York City, she’d earned her starving-artist bona fides, working at a Dunkin Donuts, sleeping in an abandoned Queens synagogue and rocking studded bracelets, ripped jeans and bleached, cropped hair. She’d traveled as a backup dancer for French disco singer Patrick Hernandez and auditioned for Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ. She’d also gone into a Times Square studio with her ex-bandmate (and ex-boyfriend) Steven Bray and recorded a demo of four songs. With her music, she hoped to capture the attention of “the kind of people who might like Grace Jones.” It was that hope, and that demo, that she brought with her one Saturday night to the Danceteria nightclub.
Seymour Stein, founder, Sire Records:
Mark Kamins was the best DJ in New York. I followed him to various clubs – I didn’t dance, but I liked the way he spun. He could mix Portuguse and Indian music with whatever was going on in England at the time. I gave him some work to remix some things for me. One day he said, “I want to be a producer. Let me work with one of your new artists.” I said, “I can’t do that, Mark. You don’t have a track record.” But I said, “Why don’t you bring me an artist. Then the artist is indebted to you.” I gave him $18,000 to record demos for six artists.
Michael Rosenblatt, A&R, Sire Records:
Mark Kamins told me there was this girl who had a demo and was trying to get him to play it over the dance floor. And he was going to have none of that – he didn’t play any demos. But he said she looked amazing, so I was trying to keep an eye peeled for her.