One of the ways Madonna made money on her own from 1979 to 1981 was by modeling in the nude. Past biographical explorations tend to paint Madonna as the starving model for art students and photographers who was later scandalized in 1985 when some of these pictures showed up in Penthouse and Playboy magazine. However, her own resume from this period proudly lists her as being featured in the German Penthouse Magazine of December 1981. This resume and other items can be seen at Stephen Caraco’s “Early Era Collectors Guide and Photo Gallery. It was probably no surprise to Madonna when theses pictures resurfaced, at least with Penthouse. Some of them have also turned up on bootleg recording covers, and picture discs over the years such as, “Oh God, She’s Madonna” which features her 1985 Live Aid performance with an introduction by Bette Midler.
In 1979, Madonna hooked up with boyfriend Dan Gilroy who was one of the founding members of the band Breakfast Club, with his brother Ed. Angie Schmit played bass, and Madonna joined the band as the drummer, while continuing to pursue avenues for professional dance. She continually auditioned for parts in Broadway shows and movies. However, it would take a trip to France to give Madonna the confidence to believe that she could be a vocal performer.
One of her auditions in early 1979 was for producer Jan Vanloo, who was looking for backing vocalists to tour with “Born To Be Alive” one-hit-wonder, Patrick Hernandez. It was decided to take Madonna back to France, all expenses paid, to make her into a disco star. After six months, about all that was accomplished was filling Madonna’s head with ideas of pop stardom. Collectors have been surprised that no Madonna recordings of any kind have ever surfaced from this period, and there is no evidence to suggest that anything was ever recorded. Madonna eventually became ill, and claimed that she would return-if she could go back home to NY for a few weeks. She left everything in Paris, returned to Gilroy, and never went back to the Hernandez posse.
Back to New York in October 1979, Madonna was cast as the lead character of “Bruna” in the 8mm-cult film, “A Certain Sacrifice”. Former director Stephen Lewicki described his experience to Goldmine last May; “I met Madonna just after she returned from France. Madonna was very close to Angie (Schmit of Breakfast Club) who was one of the (extra) “slaves” in my movie. It was made for a small group of punk aficionados, and then Madonna became famous, and reached a much larger audience (on VHS). It was an amateur fun thing to do and then it was fun to make money with it, get sued by Madonna, get interviewed countless times, and why not?”
Today Lewicki is “very happy” not being in the entertainment industry. An outtake of this film recorded Madonna singing the Fifth Dimension hit “Let The Sunshine In” with other cast members and a short audio clip of this has been circulating on CD in the collector’s bootleg market. The film itself contains the ensemble chant, ‘Raymond Hall Must Die” and both of these are considered to be some of her earliest recorded performance vocals.
The second portion of “A Certain Sacrifice” was filmed later in November 1981, and in between filming Madonna recorded some bizarre backing vocals for Otto von Wernherr. “Otto” is thanked in the film credits, and it is possible he may have been one of the many extras in the film. Director Lewicki couldn’t recall for sure. These songs were released in 1986 on independent labels after Madonna became a household name, and can be best described as sounding like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, but not as good. On “Cosmic Climb”, Madonna sings the chorus “Man have you got the time, to make this cosmic climb”. “We Are The Gods” features her childlike backing vocals such as: “Oh my god! Mommy, mommy it’s the gods!” and “Hail hail the gods are here”. “Wild Dancing” sounds a little like the early B-52’s with Madonna on the main hook “I’m looking for some wild dancing out on the street, looking for a chance to dance to the beat”. Frequent Madonna collaborator Stephen Bray didn’t know much about these tunes as he explained; “She never discussed these songs with me, and I have never heard them. They were probably just another job in her mind.”
The three original Otto and Madonna recordings would have remained an interesting curiosity, had they been left alone. Greed however, encouraged the additional release of several re-sequenced songs that were never meant to exist. This turned many fans off to the original oddities, and to many other early era releases for the fear that they might be more bizarre tunes like “Give It To Me,” “Shake,” “Time To Dance,” “On The Street,” and “Oh My”. Otto also taped an answer video to “Papa Don’t Preach” called “Madonna Don’t Preach” which aired in part on MTV in late 1986. Today he is reportedly retired somewhere in Europe.
In 1980 Madonna decided to perform lead vocals with her own band called Emmy. Gary Burke played bass (while also playing for Madonna’s former group Breakfast Club), Brian Syms played lead guitar, and Madonna’s college pal Stephen Bray joined them from Michigan to play drums. I spoke with Bray last March, exclusively for Goldmine. He explained how it all started; “Breakfast Club was always Dan and Ed Gilroy as front men with various back up. Madonna played the drums. Her time (with them in 1979) helped develop her early songwriting skills as well as instruction on guitar, which was later helpful when she formed Emmy. She already had 12-14 songs written when I showed up, and I just had to learn them.”
The songs from this period have surfaced on the bootleg release “Emmy & The Emmy’s Live, First Time Out Of Manhattan”. Included are the live tracks “Love For Tender,” “No Time For Love,” “Bells Ringing,” “Drowning,” “Are You Ready For It,” “Best Girl,” “Hot House Flower,” “Simon Says,” “Nobody’s Fool,” “Love Express,” and one studio version of “Drowning.” These songs resemble the punk rock of that period more than the Madonna we have come to know today.
Alternate versions of the Emmy songs and other live cuts have surfaced on various bootleg vinyl and CD releases (“The Early Years”) that were not included on the original “Out Of Manhattan” release such as “Remembering Your Touch,” “Little Boy,” and “Safe Neighborhood” (according to Bray incorrectly called “Shit On The Ground” on bootleg releases). Bray was especially fond of “Shine A Light” which he instantly began to sing on the phone when I mentioned the title. These last three tracks appeared on bootleg vinyl in Europe and are credited as being written by Dan Giorlando. Bray didn’t have any idea who that was, or why they would be listed that way. Some have thought that was a misprint for Dan Gilroy, but nobody seems to know for sure. Madonna recorded the lead vocal, and Bray had always thought that Madonna wrote them. The band played many gigs around town, and soon they got serious about producing their first studio quality demo.