FOR INSPIRATION: Madonna’s “You Can Dance”

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Between the years of 1982 and ‘85, Madonna essentially shaped the pop music climate with her cheeky blend of risk-taking dance-pop, but there was still something fresh, something that was revolutionary – at least for its time – that Madonna was yet to try; not only capitalising on the fact that remixes were all the rage in the late 1980’s, but also filling the void between projects she was working on and a marriage that was not far off from slowly falling apart. In the year of 1986, UK pop legends the Pet Shop Boys released the very first instalment of their ongoing remix compilation series, Disco. Neil and Chris may not have been the first official pioneers of the remix album, but it was their adoption of it that lead to the arrival of the Second Highest Selling remix album of all time only a short year laterMadonna’s You Can Dance.

In the middle of a turbulent marriage and right before her first true Imperial Phase, Madonna began to plan her ‘Who’s That Girl?’ world tour, also filming and recording the movie and soundtrack of the same name (which we’ll get to next time). On top of all that, she also went on to co-remix some of her biggest hits at the time for the release of You Can Dance, a striking club record that serves as Madonna’s first ‘retrospective’, but also as a non-stop continuous mix, not unlike a DJs heaving set of disco beats you’d hear out in a nightclub. Forever obsessed with club life culture, the ‘continuous mix’ method is one Madonna would later revisit almost 20 whole years later with Stuart Price; eternally enamored with Nightclubbing and all of the culture that surrounds it. By 1987, Madonna was arguably the busiest person in Pop; implementing a release-schedule-driven work ethic we’d see repeated decades later with the Girls Aloud and Sugababes model of Working Till You Drop/Are Dropped.

In 1988/89, I distinctly remember going into the record store and being told by my Father that I couldn’t buy You Can Dance because it was filled with songs I’d already owned. It was the same excuse I’d gotten every time I asked for the record too! My heart pined for the appearance of “Spotlight” on the back of the cassette case, a song I’d never ever heard of, much less owned. No amount of arguing from a 6-year-old-Adem could convince my Dad “Spotlight” was actually a new song, and I went home empty handed. I never forgot about it though, and would constantly pull copies of You Can Dance off the shelves of every shop I went to from that point forward in the hopes that my parents would eventually let me (use their money to) but it. About a year or two later, I was staying at my cousin’s house and his Mum took us on a shopping expedition. Naturally, I ran for the nearest record store, quickly spotting yet another copy of You Can Dance on cassette. My aunty told my Cousin and I we were both allowed one item each, so the second I had that authority I practically dragged her by the arm up to the counter with my new gift. We left the shopping centre with me holding onto my copy of You Can Dance for dear life, and my Cousin banging on about how cool his new remote control car was. When we went back to their house, I sat in the lounge room and listened to You Can Dance for hours on my Cassette Walkman, watching my cousin play with his remote control toy. After a few hours of the same repetitive motion, my cousin eventually got bored of his gift. Almost 28 years later and I’m still not bored of mine.

When I finally listened to “Spotlight” on my Walkman I was completely blown away. True to its era, “Spotlight” sounds like it belongs on True Blue (because it did), and was a song that probably inspired Madonna a few years later when writing “Express Yourself”. Long before we’d been told we were Fireworks, or that we were Born This Way; even long before we were told by the woman in question not to go for second best, Madonna was telling us to be ourselves and not to compromise who we were just for the sake of fitting in. At that age, I was already being made to feel like an outcast at school because of the music I listened to, so the words within “Spotlight” made me realise that I wasn’t alone. This song alone also deepened the existing connection I had with Madonna. I was already experiencing a lot of issues at school for being ‘different’ and was far from celebrated by many of my school ‘chums’, but when I got home I’d listen to “Spotlight”, I’d listen to Madonna telling me she’d be right there by my side, and I was okay. As a little kid who never understood why he was made to feel different, I was fast approaching one of the most confusing periods of my life, so hearing those words from somebody like Madonna was exactly what I needed to drum up the strength to carry on. I knew she wouldn’t actually physically be right by my side (hell, she can barely bring herself to tour the country I live in!), but I knew that, whenever the bastards at school got me down, all I had to do was find a nice place to hide within the schoolyard, preferably where nobody could see, and I’d press play on You Can Dance and stomp like nobody was watching. At night, I’d lock the doors and repeat until I exhausted myself to sleep.

Outside of “Spotlight”, the mixes on You Can Dance were tough, upfront re-rubs of big hits and fan-favourite album tracks from her first three long players. Side A’s DJ collection mixed new versions of “Holiday”, “Everybody” and “Physical Attraction”, with not too much difference made to the latter. But it was Side B’s ‘mix’ that saw the biggest reconstruction of songs, including album track “Over and Over” which was given a beefier, club-friendly reworking that virtually made the original redundant. The You Can Dance remix of “Into The Groove” would later appear edited down on The Immaculate Collection, and the new remix of True Blue album track “Where’s The Party” still makes me wish it had been released as a single. The transition and mixing between each of the tracks on Side A is technically better, but the actual remixes on Side B are still – to this day – my favourite ‘mix-up’ of the two.

In Australia, You Can Dance peaked at Number 13 on the Albums Chart and was certified platinum in over seven countries, including Down Under. Not bad for an album with only one previously unreleased song on it!

There was one other club-friendly element to You Can Dance that a 6-to-8-year-old-Adem was unable to grasp, no matter how hard he tried. Never having really been a fan of dub mixes, You Can Dance featured a couple tacked onto the end of each side of my cassette, and although I can certainly appreciate these club re-jams a lot more now in my ‘adulthood’, as a kid, I never understood why somebody would want a remix of a Madonna song that cut 90% of the original vocals and lyrics out. It completely baffled me, but at 22 years of age, dancing in a nightclub that started to play the Dub remix of “Holiday”, I finally began to understand this club culture ‘phenomenon’ that little bit more. 

At the time of You Can Dance’s release, Madonna went on a bit of a tirade against the DJs who had remixed her music in the past, saying she actually hated their works and didn’t want to hear her songs like that. The fans loved the remixes though, so it’s believed You Can Dance was born to cater to those very club kids who were fans of her work. It was also born to make the record company even more money off tracks they were already cashing cheques for, but that should come as no surprise and was perhaps the first of many obvious and telling signs as to where the industry would be headed in decades to come.

What’s perhaps the most interesting thing about all of this though, is the fact that Madonna went on record saying she hated her early remixes, yet throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Madonna’s remix packages were actually some of the most exhilarating on record; legendary and Iconic. So much so that the lukewarm and less-than-favourable remix packages she (and EVERY OTHER POP STAR) unleashes upon us in today’s day and age make you wonder if she’s even heard any of her recently contracted rerubs. If she hated those earlier ones, which stayed as true to the original versions as possible, what the hell would she think of all of these horrible new mixes that feature about 5% of her actual original track? I hate listening to that! Maybe somebody should be playing them for her?!

Or maybe, just maybe, all of the DJs being commissioned to remix for Madonna in 2015 are just really, really big fans of all of the hard work she put in on behalf of The Dub Remix? The impact of You Can Dance, everybody.

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