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Steve Bray and Pat Leonard on Madonna, Like A Prayer – Smash Hits (April 19 – May 02 1989)

Madonna - Smash Hits / April 19 - May 02 1989

Madonna wrote her new LP in 27 minutes flat!!!!!

Er… well, it was two weeks, actually, but that’s pretty astonishing too. Chris Heart “probes” Madonna’s two songwriting pals, Pat Leonard and Steve Bray, who helped invent this miraculous “vinyl statement” and finds that she’s always telling huge fibs and gets children drunk on champagne…

Steve Bray and Madonna met each other 11 years ago, when she was an ambitious dance student and he was a drummer who worked as a waiter in a Michigan disco called The Blue Frogge.

Madonna has always told the story of how she took a fancy to Steve Bray and picked him up — “the first time in my life I asked a guy to buy me a drink — but he doesn’t reckon that’s strictly true.

“It’s completely erroneous (i.e. a lie). The truth is, she was dancing there at The Blue Frogge, dancing up a storm, and she was very attractive, and she is now, and I thought, ‘I’m going to buy that girl a drink.’ So I asked her and she said ‘yeah, a gin and tonic’.”

They started going out for a while then “she abandoned me”. Over the next few years Steve Bray and Madonna went out with each other and split up several times, and played in various groups together. Finally when she got a record contract, he was furious that she wouldn’t let him produce her records and so he trounced off again. “I was pretty childish about it, to tell you the truth.”

Then, after her first LP had been hugely successful, she called him and asked if he’d like to write some songs for the next one. “Like A Virgin”, and since then they’ve continued to write songs – such as “Into The Groove”, “Angel”, “True Blue”, “Causing A Commotion” etc.

These days Steve has about a million other jobs. He plays in the rather splendid group. The Breakfast Club, he writes songs for loads of people and he writes film screenplays, but he still managed tn write two songs on “Like A Prayer” – “Express Yourself” and “Keep It Together”. It is, he says, all quite simple.

“I come up with some ideas,” he explains, “and send them to her on a cassette and she’ll check them out and then we’ll get together and work on the arrangement on the ones she’s chosen?

Madonna will do all the words and will have quite a lot of say in the song’s final trimmings: “I’ve always kind of made the ribcage and the sceleton of the song already – she’s there for the last things like the eyebrows and the haircut, I guess.”

Madonna - Smash Hits / April 19 - May 02 1989

For this LP they recorded four songs — me two that made it onto the final version, and two – “a safe sex song” called “First Is A Kiss” and another titled “Love Attack” – that simply didn’t fit the mood of the record.

“She`s very much into a “confessional attitude,” he says. “It’s like a musical National Enquirer (American so-called “news” paper) episode, that’s what I’m calling it. In Britain it would be The Sun, wouldn’t it? It’s behind the scenes, definitely, in Madonna’s psyche.”

He says that those people who think that Madonna has planned to make a very personal record about her marriage and her parents, and that it’s all a clever scheme, are completely wrong.

“She writes in a stream of a mood really,” he explains. “This album, she needed to do it, I’m sure of it. I’m sure it was a cathartic (i.e. a sort of emotional outlet) kind of thing to do.”

When they worked on the “True Blue” LP he remembers her as being very in love. It was obvious… if she’s in love she’ll write love songs. If she’s not in love she definitely won’t be writing love songs. That’s why the [ove songs we recorded aren’t on the LP – she didn’t feel that they were real enough for her at the time.”

Steve used to get on very well with Sean Penn as well as Madonna. “I think it was just two people who were basically incompatible at the end. They tried very very hard to try to make their relationship work but in the end there was something inherently incompatible in their natures.”

Pat Leonard first got involved with Madonna just before her 1985 “Virgin” tour. He’d been in lots of rather serious groups, written songs for a few half-famous people and had played keyboards with The Jacksons on the “Victory” tour. Madonna’s management phoned him up and asked him if he fancied “musical directing” her tour.

“I just said no,” he remembers. “At that point ‘Like A Virgin” was out and I wasn’t interested. A girl rolling around on the floor ??? I’m not really into that sort of thing.”

But then he was persuaded to meet with her anyway, and decided she was surprisingly all right. “I thought it’d be fun and pretty painless. It was only for a few months.”
He threw a pre-tour party and at it played Madonna some music he’d written. She swiped it and turned it into “Love Makes The World Go Round” (off “True Blue”).

They’ve been writing songs together – such as “La Isla Bonita”, “Who’s That Girl”, “The Look Of Love” – ever since. These days he also has about a million other jobs – he produces millions of people’s records, writes millions of songs and has started his own group – but he still managed to co-write most of the songs on the “Like A Prayer” LP. It is, he says, all quite simple.

Madonna - Smash Hits / April 19 - May 02 1989

“Everything is very quick,” he explains. “We wrote ‘Like A Prayer’, ‘Spanish Eyes’, ‘Till Death Do Us Part’, ‘Dear Jessie’, ‘Promise To Try’ and ‘Cherish’ in a two week period. I was working on another album at the time, so she’d just come in on Saturdays or days off. Nothing took more than four hours ever.”

Sickening, isn’t it ? Pat writes some music, then Madonna simply comes in: “She sits on the couch, takes a pad out and writes the lyrics and sings it and we’re done.”

They also wrote some songs that didn’t make it onto the LP – something called “Supernatural”: “It’s almost a novelty piece. The lyrics are about sleeping with someone who’s dead in a spiritual sense. It’s about sleeping with a ghost. It’s a real kind of weird funk tune with a very strange groove.”

“Dear Jessie”, one of the songs on the LP is, he reveals, about his three-and-a-half year old daughter.

“The music was very playful and it sounded like a child and Madonna started coming up with ‘pink’ elephants and lemonade’. I was saying it’s got a very Beatle-like attitude. like ‘Dear Prudence’ (an old hippyesque Beatles song) and she said ‘Dear Jessie’. Madonna and Jessie have been friends since she was born.

Madonna’s a godmother almost. They play and dance. In fact in London at Madonna’s birthday party they danced for about two hours together. In fact she got her drunk on champagne – I could kill her. Ha ha.

Jessie now apparently listens to the album and announces proudly ‘it’s my song’.”

The very weird affair that ends the LP. “Act Of Contrition”, was, he explains, simply done on the spur of the moment.

“The engineer just flipped over the tape of “Like A Prayer” and played it backwards and Madonna just sat there with the microphone and said a prayer, just like that. The guitar on it is Prince’s, when they worked on their song together he heard ‘Like A Prayer’ and loved it and wanted to do something on it, so we sent him a tape and he played a bunch or stuff, none of which we used on the released version, but it worked beautifully for that piece.”

Pat admits that he is a little concerned about all the fuss about Madonna supposedly showing a lack of religious respect.

“I don’t think a song like ‘Act Of Contrition’ is intended to offend anyone, just to be fun. But,” he confesses, ” I think I would be offended — I was raised by a Catholic family, and the design of the world is made to offend the Christian religion. You’re talking about 50 years of Christian guilt and certain things go through you.”
The “Like A Prayer” video hasn’t been a huge favorite amongst his living relatives.

“My mother got all freaked out,” he explains, “but then my sister told my mother, “What color do you think Jesus is in a black church, Mum?’ She said, ‘Oh, yeah. OK.'”

His band too are getting full mileage out of his guilt.

‘Every time the phone rings,” he winces, “they say ‘The Pope on line three…'”

He doesn’t reckon Madonna made the video to cause a fuss, but doesn’t think she’ll mind it too much.

“She’s always willing to deal with whatever reaction people have. Obviously if you’re on a hill dancing with half a dozen burning crosses behind you, someone’s going to say something.”

© Smash Hits

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