In November 1983, over two years before the Pet Shop Boys became famous, a Smash Hits journalist called Neil Tennant interviewed Madonna.
The story behind how the interview came about goes like this: Neil was in New York, helping to set up an American version of Smash Hits called Star Hits. One day – possibly because A Flock Of Seagulls weren’t available – Neil decided to interview a new singer called Madonna. At that time she wasn’t particularly famous either; she’d had a couple of singles out, but so far only her song “Holiday” had been much of a success. All the same Neil reckoned she was well worth a piece in the new magazine.
Now, of course, they’re both fans of each other (the other day Neil even dropped along to have a chat with her at her birthday party) but at the time of the interview Neil didn’t know her at all.
He set off to meet her in a New York cafe, tape recorder in hand, and then spent the next hour drinking cappucinos and listening to an enthusiastic torrent of words from a young woman who turned out to become just about the most famous megastar on the planet. “I hardly said a word,” remembers Neil, couldn’t stop her talking…”
Neil Tennant: Where are you from?
Madonna: I come from a big Italian family. I have eight brothers and sisters. I was born in Detroit and then moved to Pontiac and then moved to another city just north of Detroit. Those are all car factory cities so everybody’s families worked in the car factories. I went to three different Catholic schools – uniforms and nuns hitting you over the head with staplers, very strict and regimented.
To my supiriors I seemed like a very good girl. I was very good at getting into these situations where I was the hall monitor and I reported people who weren’t behaving. And I used to torture people but in the end it came back to me.
Neil: You used to torture people?
Madonna: Just make up thing that they didn’t really do. But my mother dies when I was really young so the nuns forgave me for a lot of the things because they thought, “well, she doesn’t have a monther and her father’s never there” and I knew it so I milked it for everything I could. From the very start I was a bad girl.
Neil: Were you musical?
Madonna: I had a very musical upbringing. I studied piano for a year but I quit. Actually my teacher made me quit because I never went to lessons. I used to hide in a ditch. I used to turn the timer back. When I was suppose to practise for an hour my mother would leave the room and I’d turn the timer so it looked like I only had 15 minutes left. I convinced my father to let me take dance lessons instead. Everyone else had to take musical instrument study but I got to take dance lessons – ballet and then, when I got older, jazz and tap and modern and tap and all that crap.
Neil: What kind of music were you listening to?
Madonna: The very first records I used to listen to were twist (1960 dance “craze”) records. My mother and father had a lot of twist records I did the limbo to Chubby Checker’s records — you know, you go under a broom — and my mother and father used to twist all the time, believe it or not. And I listened to Johnny Mathis and Harry Belafonte and Sam Cooke and stuff. I got into more pop music when I was older.
Neil: Things like The Beatles?
Madonna: Not The Beatles really. I moved into things like “The Letter” by The Box Tops and The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” — I love that record — and “Incense And Peppermints” (by wonky “psychedelic” pop group Strawberry Alarm Clock) and “Quinn The Eskimo” (old Bob Dylon ditty called “The Mighty Quinn”). All my uncles, who were really young, and my brothers used to buy these records. And then there was the Motown things. I lived in a real integrated neighbourhood. We were one of the only white families living in the neighbourhood actually and all my girlfriends had Motown and black stuff. And they had yard dances in their back yards, little 45 turntables and a stack of records and everyone just danced in the driveway and the back yard.