Five years after arriving in New York City from her hometown of Pontiac, Michigan, Madonna Louise Ciccone had little to show for a lot of work. By 1982, she had managed to get only a few gigs singing with drummer Stephen Bray's band, the Breakfast Club, at clubs like CBGB and Max's Kansas City, and the future looked far from bright.
"I had just gotten kicked out of my apartment," Madonna says, "so the band let me live in their rehearsal space at the Music Building, on Eighth Avenue. Stephen had keys to all the rehearsal rooms, so when I decided to make my own demos, we'd go into other people's studios at night and use their four-track machines."
Armed with a tape, Madonna began making the rounds of New York's dance clubs. "I had heard that a lot of A&R people hung out at the clubs," she says, "and I thought trying to go see them at their offices would be a waste of time." It proved a good strategy: Through Mark Kamins, the DJ at Danceteria, the tape found its way to Sire Records, and Madonna was signed by label president Seymour Stein. "Seymour was in the hospital at the time," she says. "I got signed while he was lying in bed in his boxer shorts."
The contract with Sire guaranteed just one single, but it had options for recording albums as well. With Kamins producing, Madonna cut the moody disco track "Everybody" as her debut single. But when Sire picked up its option to record an album, she decided to try a different producer. "I wanted someone who'd worked with a lot of female singers," she says.
Reggie Lucas, the Grammy-winning songwriter who had produced Stephanie Mills and Roberta Flack, was selected. After recording the album's second single, the Lucas-penned "Physical Attraction," he and Madonna cut the rest of the album, with the exception of "Holiday," which was produced by Jellybean Benitez.
"Things were very informal and casual," Lucas says of the sessions. "It was my first pop project, and she was just a new artist. I had no idea it would be the biggest thing since sliced bread."
Indeed, initial response to Madonna gave no indication of the mania to follow. It took a year and a half for the album to go gold. But its assured style and sound, as well as Madonna's savvy approach to videos, helped the singer make the leap from dance diva to pop phenom, and it pointed the direction for a host of female vocalists from Janet Jackson to Debbie Gibson.
"It influenced a lot of people," says Madonna, who cites Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry as her own musical heroes. "I think it stands up well. It just took a long time for people to pay attention to me —and I thank God they did!"