Like A Virgin
Cover art for 7" U.S. vinyl single
September 16, 1984
Madonna's "Like A Virgin" song enters the Billboard singles chart.
Single by Madonna
from the album Like a Virgin
Released: November 6, 1984
Format: 7", 12", CD
Recorded: April 1984; Power Station studios, New York
Label: Sire, Warner Bros.
Writer(s): Billy Steinberg Tom Kelly
Producer(s): Nile Rodgers
"Like a Virgin" is a song by American singer Madonna from her second album of the same name. It was released on November 6, 1984 by Sire Records, as the first single from the album. The song appears on the greatest hits compilation albums The Immaculate Collection (1990) and Celebration (2009). It was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly and produced by Nile Rodgers; Steinberg said that the song was inspired by his personal experiences of romance. It was chosen for Madonna by Michael Ostin of Warner Bros. Records after listening to a demo sung by Kelly. However, Rodgers initially felt that the song did not have a good enough hook and was not suitable for Madonna, but subsequently changed his opinion after the hook was stuck in his mind.
Musically "Like a Virgin" is a dance-oriented song, composed of two hooks. Madonna's voice is heard in a high register while a continuous arrangement of drums are heard along the bassline. The lyrics of the song are ambiguous and consist of hidden innuendo. In sexual terms, the lyrics can be interpreted in different ways for different people. "Like a Virgin" received positive reviews from contemporary as well as old critics, who frequently called it as one of the defining songs for Madonna. It became her first number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100, while reaching the top of the charts in Australia, Canada, and Japan and the top-ten of the other countries.
The music video portrayed Madonna sailing down the riverways of Venice in a gondola, as well as roaming around a palace wearing a white wedding dress. With the video, scholars noted Madonna's portrayal of a sexually independent woman, the symbolism of the appearance of a man with lion's mask to that of Saint Mark, and compared the eroticism of the video to the vitality of the city of Venice. Madonna has performed the song in six of her concert tours, most recent being The MDNA Tour in 2012. Majority of the time, her performances of "Like a Virgin" has been associated with strong reaction and uproar from the media.
"Like a Virgin" has been covered by a number of artists and has appeared in feature films such as Reservoir Dogs, Moulin Rouge! and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The song is noted for its profound effect on society. Family groups sought to ban it as they believed the song promoted sex without marriage. On the other hand, Madonna's public persona of an indomitable, sexually unashamed, supremely confident woman was widely accepted by the younger generation who emulated her style and fashion. Scholars have credited "Like a Virgin" as the song which cemented her position as a pop culture icon.
"Like a Virgin" was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Steinberg explained that the song was not only not written for Madonna, it was not even written for a female singer but was inspired by his personal experiences.
I wasn't just trying to get that racy word virgin in a lyric. I was saying ... that I may not really be a virgin — I've been battered romantically and emotionally like many people — but I'm starting a new relationship and it just feels so good, it's healing all the wounds and making me feel like I've never done this before, because it's so much deeper and more profound than anything I've ever felt.
Kelly recorded the demo, and invited Michael Ostin of Warner Bros. Records' A&R department to his house to listen to it. Steinberg and Kelly played four or five tunes for Ostin, and further discussed "Like a Virgin" – they were not sure for which artist the song would be suitable. Due to meet with Madonna the next day to discuss her sophomore album, Ostin intended on playing the demo to her, believing the lyrics and the groove of the song were perfect for Madonna. "When I played it for Madonna she went crazy, and knew instantly it was a song for her and that she could make a great record out of it," Ostin recalled. In 2009, Rolling Stone interviewer Austin Scaggs asked Madonna what her first impressions were after listening to the demos of "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl". Madonna replied:
I liked them both because they were ironic and provocative at the same time but also unlike me. I am not a materialistic person, and I certainly wasn't a virgin, and, by the way, how can you be like a virgin? I liked the play on words; I thought they were clever. They're so geeky, they're cool. I never realised they would become my signature songs, especially the second one.
Recording and production
In mid-1984, Madonna met producer Nile Rodgers at the Power Station studios (now Avatar Studios) in New York. Rodgers initially did not want Madonna to record "Like a Virgin", as he felt that the lyric 'like a virgin' was not a terrific hook; according to him it was not an all-time catch phrase. Madonna dismissed the song after hearing the demo, which she thought sounded "really stupid and retarded". Later, Madonna had second thoughts: "It's weird because I couldn't get it out of my head after I played it, even though I didn't really like it. It sounded really bubble-gummy to me, but it grew on me. I really started to like it. But, my first reaction to it was, 'This is really queer.'"
Rodgers credits Madonna with recognizing the song's potential. He later said: "I handed my apology to Madonna and said, 'you know... if it's so catchy that it stayed in my head for four days, it must be something. So let's do it.'" Hence the song was finally recorded. Steinberg reflected on the recording process and commented that:
When Madonna recorded it, even as our demo faded out, on the fade you could hear Tom saying, "When your heart beats, and you hold me, and you love me..." That was the last thing you heard as our demo faded. Madonna must have listened to it very, very carefully because her record ends with the exact same little ad-libs that our demo did. That rarely happens that someone studies your demo so carefully that they use all that stuff. We were sort of flattered how carefully she followed our demo on that.
Jason Corsaro, the record's audio engineer, persuaded Rodgers to use digital recording, a new technique at the time which Corsaro believed was going to be the future of recording because test pressings always sounded consistent. To ensure this, Corsaro used a Sony 3324 24-track digital tape recorder and a Sony F1 two-track for the 12-bit mix. Madonna recorded the lead parts in a small, wooden, high-ceilinged piano room at the back of Studio C, also known as Power Station's "R&B room".
Corsaro then placed gobos around her while using the top capsule of a stereo AKG C24 tube microphone, with a Schoeps microphone preamplifier and a Pultec equalizer. Once the track met with everybody's approval, Robert Sabino added the keyboard parts, playing mostly a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, as well as some Rhodes piano and acoustic piano, while Rodgers also played a Synclavier. Madonna, although not required, was present every minute of the recording sessions and the mixing process, Corsaro commented: "Nile was there most of the time, but she was there all of the time. She never left".
1984 Like A Virgin (In The Making) Larry Williams
Composed as a dance-oriented song, the intro of "Like a Virgin" consists of two hooks. According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Alfred Publishing, the song is set in common time, with a moderately dance-groove tempo of 118 beats per minute. It is composed in the key of F major with Madonna's voice ranging from the tonal nodes of high-tone G3 to low-tone C5. According to Rikky Rooksby, the bassline on the intro is a re-working of the three-note bass motif present in the Four Tops' 1965 song "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)", where Chuck Berry provided the chord arrangement. The bassline also has some similarity with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" especially during the second verse. Madonna sings the song in her high register while drum arrangement by Tony Thompson is heard alongside the bassline, which is also supported by a synthesizer arrangement, giving it a circular progression through all the seven diatonic chords of I–IV–VIIo–III–VI–II–V–I.
Regarding the lyrics, Madonna had commented: "I like innuendo, I like irony, I like the way things can be taken on different levels." This statement highlighted the ambiguity of the lyrics of the song, which is hung on the word 'like'. Rooksby interpreted the meaning of the song in different ways to different people. He said that for women who were really virgins, the song encouraged them to hold their compose before they engaged in their very first sexual act. For sexually experienced girls, the song meant that they would be able to re-live the feelings of their first sexual encounter all over again. For the boys, the song presented a narcissistic image of them making the girl forget her past encounters and enjoy the sexual act as if for the first time.
"Like a Virgin" became Madonna's first of 12 number-one hits on the Billboard Hot 100, where it debuted at number 48 on the issue dated November 17, 1984. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the week of December 22, 1984 and remained there for six weeks. "Like a Virgin" was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on January 10, 1985, for shipping a million copies across United States—the requirement for a gold single prior to 1989. The song also reached number-one on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, and was her first top-ten entry on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at position nine. It placed at two on the year-end chart for 1985, with Madonna becoming the top pop artist for the year. In Canada, the song debuted on the RPM Singles Chart at 71 on the RPM issue dated November 24, 1984, and reached the top of the chart on January 19, 1985. It was present on the chart for a total of 23 weeks and ranked thirty-five on the RPM Year-end chart for 1985.
The song debuted on the UK Singles Chart on November 17, 1984 at number 51, and peaked at number three on January 12, 1985; it spent a total of 18 weeks in the chart, and was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipment of 500,000 copies across United Kingdom. According to Official Charts Company, the song has sold 780,000 copies there. Across Europe, the song peaked within the top-ten of the charts of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. "Like a Virgin" became Madonna's first number-one song on the Australian Kent Music Report chart and on the Japanese International Singles Chart. It peaked at number-two on the New Zealand Singles Chart, number 15 on the Swedish charts and peaked the Eurochart Hot 100 Singles.
he music video, directed by Mary Lambert, who worked with Madonna in her video for "Borderline", was shot in Venice, Italy and partly in New York City in July 1984. Madonna was portrayed as a knowing virgin, a figment of the pornographic mind, as she walked through marble rooms, wearing a wedding gown. It alternated with scenes of a provocative-looking Madonna on board a gondola. She commented, "[Mary] wanted me to be the modern-day, worldly-wise girl that I am. But then we wanted to go back in time and use myself as an actual virgin." The video starts with Madonna boarding on a boat from the Brooklyn Bridge and travels to Venice. As she steps down into the city, she moves like a stripper and undulated sinuously. She wears a black dress and blue pants with a number of Christian symbol embedded jewelry around her neck. She sings the song at full volume as she watches a lion walking between the columns of the Piazza San Marco of Venice and along the statute of Saint Mark. A number of game-playing involving carnival masks, men, lions, werelions are portrayed with allusions to eighteenth-century practices and Saint Mark. Sheila Whiteley, author of Women and popular music: sexuality, identity, and subjectivity, felt that Madonna's image signified a denial of sexual knowledge, but also portrayed her in simulated writhing on a gondola, thus underpinning the simulation of deceit. The intrusion of a male lion, confirmed the underlying bestial discourse of both mythological fairy tale and pornographic sex. Whiteley observed that in the video, Madonna's lover wears the lion's mask and while cavorting with him, Madonna sheds the veneer of innocence and shows her propensity for wild animal passions. Having instilled desire, metaphorically she turns her lover into a Beast. Madonna commented about shooting with the lion:
"The lion didn't do anything he was supposed to do, and I ended up leaning against this pillar with his head in my crotch... I thought he was going to take a bite out of me so I lifted the veil I was wearing and had a stare-down with him and he opened his mouth and let out this huge roar. I got so frightened my heart fell in my shoe. When he finally walked away, the director yelled 'Cut' and I had to take a long breather. But I could really relate to the lion. I feel like in a past life I was a lion or a cat or something."
With the video, scholars noted the expression of Venetian vitality in it. Margaret Plant (2002) commented: "With the lion of Saint Mark and the virginal city to the forefront, old sacrosanct Venice was propelled into a pop world of high-energy gyration, and endless circulation." She also noted that Saint Mark was a symbol of a time when sexual crime was punished severely in Venice and acts of rape, homosexuality and fornication incurred the loss of a nose, a hand or sometimes life itself. Madonna appeared to challenge such brutality and stretch the boundaries of tolerance in the video. As the lion-man carried Madonna to the Venetian palace, it symbolized an instance of the Saint taking the simulated Virgin, where Madonna became a symbol for La Serenissima, the Republic itself. Plant also noted that Madonna, in the video, restored the energy and eroticism of Venice, which had its name taken from Venus in familiar elision. As she exchanged her blue top for a black one during the video, Madonna demonstrated her mastery and bravery of the city, which had a reputation of turning out its visitors as victims. Carol Clerk (2002) commented that with the video, "Madonna's days as a cheap and cheerful video star were over. She was moving into serious spectacle."
"For 'Like a Virgin' I said 'Lets do it in Venice!' The idea of Madonna singing in a gondola was the most outrageous thing I could think of. And Madonna dug it, because she has the whole thing with the Catholic Church and her Italian heritage. It turned into a huge party."
—Director Mary Lambert on the filming of the video.
In 1985, a live music video of "Like a Virgin" from The Virgin Tour filmed in Detroit, was used to promote Live – The Virgin Tour video release. This version was nominated for Best Choreography at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. The live performance of "Like a Virgin" from the Blond Ambition World Tour in Paris, France was released as a music video on May 9, 1991 to promote the documentary film Truth or Dare. This version was nominated for two awards at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards in the categories of Best Female Video and Best Choreography. This video was ranked at position sixty-one on VH1's 100 Greatest Videos.
US 7" single
"Like a Virgin" (album version) – 3:38
"Stay" (album version) – 4:04
US/CAN 12" maxi single
"Like a Virgin" (extended dance remix) – 6:04
"Stay" (album version) – 4:04
Japanese 12" vinyl promo single
"Like a Virgin" (extended dance remix) – 6:07
"Supernatural Love" (by Donna Summer) – 6:11
Germany / UK CD Maxi Single (1995)
"Like a Virgin" (extended dance remix) – 6:04
"Stay" – 4:04
Oprah Winfrey show
September 16, 2003
Madonna appears on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Playlist (Full Show)