True Blue is Madonna's third studio album that was released on June 30, 1986 by Sire and Warner Bros. Records.
- Papa Don't Preach 4:27
- Open Your Heart 4:12
- White Heat 4:25
- Live To Tell 5:45
- Where's The Party 4:20
- True Blue 4:16
- La Isla Bonita 4:01
- Jimmy Jimmy 3:54
- Love Makes The World Go Round 4:27
On March 6, 1986, at the Kensington Roof Gardens in London, during a press conference for Shanghai Surprise, Madonna confirmed that she was working on a new album named "Live to Tell" (which would be later changed to "True Blue")
She collaborated with Stephen Bray (who had worked on the preceding "Like a Virgin") and with The Virgin Tour's musical director Patrick Leonard. Leonard recalled in 1992: "I was down in the basement with these idiot muso friends, working on a tune. She liked it. And that ended up being one of the tracks on True Blue."
Madonna wrote or co-wrote every song, although her involvement on ones such as "Papa Don't Preach" and "Open Your Heart" was limited to adding lyrics. She was also credited with co-producing every track.
The album was recorded from December 1985 to April 1986, during the first year of Madonna's marriage to American actor Sean Penn. She dedicated the album to Penn, "The coolest guy in the universe."
By experimenting with her image, adopting a more 'traditional' look, and incorporating classical music in her songs, Madonna tried to appeal to an older audience who had been sceptical of her music.
Deemed Madonna's most girlish album yet, "True Blue" deals with Madonna's view of love, work and dreams as well as disappointments.
According to Madonna, the title was from a favorite expression of her then husband Penn and his very pure vision of love. The album was her "unabashed valentine" for Penn. Most of its songs reflect this idea although each was developed separately.
The first track, "Papa Don't Preach", was written by Brian Elliot, who described it as "a love song, maybe framed a little bit differently".
The song is based on teenage gossip Elliot heard outside his studio, which had a large front window that doubled as a mirror where schoolgirls from the North Hollywood High School in Los Angeles regularly stopped to fix their hair and chat.
"Open Your Heart" was the first cut recorded for the album, as early as December 1985 and ultimately made it to the final released tracklist; it was originally intended for Cyndi Lauper.
The third track "White Heat" was dedicated to actor James Cagney and named after the film of the same name from 1949. Two quotes from the original soundtrack were included in the song.
The fourth track "Live to Tell" was written by Patrick Leonard for the soundtrack of Paramount's romantic drama film "Fire with Fire" but after the company declined it, Leonard showed the song to Madonna.
She decided to use it for At Close Range, the new film of her husband Penn. Madonna made a demo of the song; when the film's director, James Foley, heard it, he asked Leonard to write the score for the film, as suggested by Madonna.
"True Blue" was the first album where Madonna included Spanish themes as evident in the song "La Isla Bonita".
The song was written for Michael Jackson's Bad album, but he had turned it down. While working with Leonard, Madonna accepted it in Jackson's place and re-wrote the lyrics, earning herself a co-writing credit.
Madonna described it as her tribute to the "beauty and mystery of Latin American people."
Originally intended as the first single, "Love Makes the World Go Round" (which was first performed at Live Aid a year earlier, in July 1985) closes the album. The song recalled the antiwar music of the '60s.
Musically, "True Blue" was a different direction for Madonna. Her previous efforts had her singing in a high pitched voice. With this album, Madonna toned it down for a more bubblegum-pop voice.
The songs on the album reflect this and a number of instruments were used in the songs to bring out the different moods which the lyrics emphasized.
"Papa Don't Preach" features acoustic, electric, and rhythm guitars, keyboards, and string arrangements. The song samples Beethoven's Appassionata sonata. A continuous percussion filled structure was used in "Open Your Heart".
The sampling for "White Heat" of the film's quotation was included with speech and gunshots. It is an uptempo dance song with synth bass and double-tracked vocals supported by male voices in the chorus.
"I don't write dance music and I don't see it as contributing to the cultural growth of the world," grumbled Pat Leonard in 1992. "At the time we were doing the groove stuff on the True Blue album, it was semi-innovative. There wasn't a precedent that made you gag. God forbid that I might have contributed to the mess we're in now."
On ballads like "Live to Tell", there is background instrumentation from a keyboard, a synthesizer, a funk guitar and a mix of synthesized and real drumming.
"Where's the Party" is a standard dance track with arrangements of bass drums, synthesizer, clattering rhythms and a remixed approach to the whole composition.
The title track featured instrumentation from a rhythm guitar, a synthesizer, keyboards, and drums for the bassline, with a backing track that employed a chord progression commonly used in doo-wop, Cuban drums and Spanish guitar, maracas and harmonicas are used in "La Isla Bonita".
"Jimmy Jimmy" has an early '60s pop influence, its lyrics a tribute to film star James Dean.
Lyrically, "True Blue" reflects Madonna's ideas about love.
"Where's the Party" tells of a working girl enjoying the dancefloor after work. "Jimmy Jimmy" talks about Madonna's admiration for the neighbourhood bad boy.
The Spanish "La Isla Bonita" and "Love Makes the World Go Round" deal with escapism from normal life, with the latter talking about anti-war and anti-poverty and using Latin drums and samba-influenced rhythms.
"White Heat" deals with firmness and quotes Clint Eastwood's "Make my day" catchphrase.
"Papa Don't Preach"'s lyrics talk about a young woman who tells her father that she is pregnant out of wedlock, but is going to keep her baby.
"Live to Tell" portraits the complexity of deceit and mistrust. The song also is about childhood scars and had an extreme emotional pitch, achieving it in a divine sense.
The title track had Madonna talking about romance and 1950s inspired girl group pop. The lyrics of "True Blue" are constructed in a verse-chorus form, with the theme being Madonna's feelings for Sean Penn; she even uses the 1929 archaic love word "dear" in the line: "Just think back and remember, dear".
Madonna expressed her sexual desires in the lyrics of "Open Your Heart" and described the beauty of a Latin paradise in "La Isla Bonita."
The album cover for "True Blue" was shot by photographer Herb Ritts. It features a picture of Madonna from the neck up. The main colors in the picture are gray, white and various shades of blue to reinforce the album's title.
Madonna positioned herself in an elegant pose while wearing pale make up with red lips, tilting back her neck in a swan like pose.
Jeri Heiden, who was working at Warner Bros. art department, was given the task of editing the photos and making them compatible for appearance in an album cover. She had to work with a total of 60 rolls of photos, each of size 35 mm. Heiden ordered about 30 to 40 test prints from Ritts' studio and made recommendations based on it.
Several images from the photo shoot were considered for the album cover, some of which later became the single covers for "Papa Don't Preach", "True Blue" and "Open Your Heart".
The final photo was selected by Madonna, Heiden and Jeff Ayeroff, creative director of Warner Bros. at that time. After the final photo was selected, Heiden commissioned two different versions of the album cover.
The original image was taken in black-and-white, and Heiden experimented with a variety of treatments of the photo, to go along with the album's title, and finally arrived at the blue toned, hand tinted version of the image.
The LP and CD album cover for "True Blue" is a cropped image of a longer picture including torso, more of which is seen in the cover of the cassette tape edition, and was also included as a fold-out poster in the initial pressings of the LP.
A poster of Madonna, mirroring the cover art, was included within the vinyl versions of the album.
In the US and Canada, the cover did not have any logo, but in the European nations, they were sold with Madonna's name and album title on the cover.
Heiden explained in an interview with Aperture magazine that they thought it would be "cool" to use a shrink wrap on the US covers, so that when one took it off, there would only be the photo of Madonna.
For the European nations, Warner felt that the name was needed on the cover, as they did not want to take chance with Madonna's popularity there. The back sleeve and the booklet inside featured the song titles in Heiden's own handwriting.
About cropping the image for the cassette and the vinyl versions, Heiden said: "I think the image became more interesting cropped into a square—and at that time we always started with the album cover configuration. It was like she was floating—her clothing was not visible. She took on the appearance of a marble statue—Goddess like. In the vertical cropping you see her leather jacket and the wall, and it becomes more typical, editorial, earthly."
According to Lucy O'Brien, author of Madonna: Like an Icon, the album artwork was on-par with Andy Warhol's concept of pop art.
She felt that the image was a mixture of innocence and idealism, while incorporating 1950s-style Technicolor and hand tinted color, characteristic of Warhol's silkscreen printed design, prevalent in the 1960s.
Jeri Heiden, the album's cover designer, commented: "She was already highly aware of the value of her image and was in control of it. After I took the photo, it appeared as if she was floating—her clothing was not visible. She took on the appearance of a marble statue, goddess-like."
O'Brien felt that the artwork heralded the arrival of a new Madonna, while drawing on the enduring appeal of her celluloid icon Marilyn Monroe.
According to O'Brien: "With this picture, Madonna made explicit the connection between Warhol and herself, the vivid nexus between pop art and commerce. The late 1980s marked a new era of the pop artist as a brand, and Madonna became the first one to exploit this."
Erica Wexler from Spin described Madonna on the cover as "like a cobra basking in the hot sun, Madonna on the cover of her new album stretches her profile lasciviously."
Author J. Randy Taraborrelli commented in "Madonna: An Intimate Biography", that the album cover indicated how True Blue was a vehicle of growth for Madonna.
He felt that the "washed out color photograph" of her with head tilted back and eyes closed was "understated", especially when compared to the sexier poses she had been associated in the past.
The album's inner sleeve did not feature any photographs, and instead was dedicated to album credits and the song lyrics, since Madonna wanted to be represented by her songs on "True Blue", not her image.
Billboard listed the cover at #34 on their article about the "50 Greatest Album Covers", describing it as a striking image of Madonna.
In the United States, "True Blue" debuted at #29 on the Billboard 200 and reached number one on the issue dated August 16, 1986.
The album stayed on the top position for five consecutive weeks and on the chart for a total of 82 weeks. The album also reached a peak of #47 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
"True Blue" was certified seven times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipment of over seven million units, making it Madonna's third best-selling album in the United States, behind Like a Virgin" and "The Immaculate Collection."
After the advent of the Nielsen SoundScan era in 1991, the album sold a further 404,000 copies.
In Canada, "True Blue" debuted at number 73 on the RPM albums chart for the issue of July 5, 1986. It climbed rapidly upwards and reached number one on the issue dated August 9, 1986. The album stayed at the top for nine weeks and was present on the chart for 77 weeks.
"True Blue" was certified diamond by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) for shipment of one million copies. It was also a commercial success in Asia and Oceania. In Japan, the album peaked at number one on the Oricon LP chart.
At the 1987 Japan Gold Disc Awards held by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), the album received "Album of the Year Pop Solo" and "Grand Prix Album of the Year", which was given for the year's best-selling international album, while Madonna was honored the "Artist of the Year" for the year's best-selling international artist.
In Hong Kong, "True Blue" was certified platinum by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
In Australia, the album topped the Kent Music Report albums chart on the issue date of August 4, 1986, staying there for two weeks.
The album was certified four times platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for shipment of 280,000 copies.
It also reached number one in New Zealand albums chart and was certified five times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) for shipment of 75,000 copies.
"True Blue" achieved its biggest commercial reception in European countries, where it topped the European Top 100 Albums chart for 34 consecutive weeks—a record that has yet to be broken—from issue dated July 19, 1986 to March 7, 1987.
In the United Kingdom, "True Blue" opened at the top of the UK Albums Chart on July 12, 1986, making it the first album by American artist to debut at number one in British chart history.
It remained at the summit for six weeks and on the chart for a total of 85 weeks. It was the best-selling album of 1986 in the United Kingdom.
The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) certified it seven times platinum for shipment of 2.1 million copies. As of June 2019, it has sold over two million copies, the highest sales for any of Madonna's studio albums.
The album also topped the albums chart in France and was certified diamond by the Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique (SNEP) for shipment of one million copies. Actual sales of the album in the country stand at 1,353,100 copies.
In Germany, "True Blue" peaked at number one for eight weeks and was certified two times platinum by the Bundesverband Musikindustrie (BVMI) for shipment of one million copies.
"True Blue" received general critical acclaim.
Jon Pareles, in a review for The New York Times, said that the album reprised the themes of fidelity in its songs and complimented her addition of a tinge of real world storytelling in her songs, making her reach the "fringes of the permissible".
Stephen Holden in another review complimented the album and said that "Madonna goes heavy on heart in this record".
In a Rolling Stone review, Davitt Sigerson stated that Madonna was "singing better than ever."
The album's songs were described as "catchy", but Sigerson also commented on the lack of "outstanding tracks". He ultimately stated that the album is a "sturdy, dependable, lovable new album" which "remains faithful to her past while shamelessly rising above it".
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, in a review for AllMusic, declared it as "one of the great dance-pop albums, a record that demonstrates Madonna's true skills as a songwriter, record-maker, provocateur, and entertainer through its wide reach, accomplishment, and sheer sense of fun." He also felt that Madonna's endeavors in "True Blue" made it "[brilliant], using the music to hook in critics."
Erlewine found that the songs on the album had a poignant mixture of topics, which further solidied its popularity.
Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine called the album "the supreme archetype for late '80s and early '90s pop music.[...] Time stamped with '80s-era keyboard and drum synths, True Blue, though chockfull of hits, is the most dated of Madonna's albums."
He praised the album's songs for being more mature than "Material Girl", and said that the album "includes some of Madonna's greatest, most influential hits (the robust "Open Your Heart" and the timeless "La Isla Bonita"), but it's also home to some of her biggest clunkers."
Michael Paoletta from Billboard commented in 2001 that nearly 20 years after its debut, the album is still irresistible.
Entertainment Weekly reviewer Jim Farber said: "Though Madonna's third project finds her adding to her palette with Spanish pop ("La Isla Bonita") and messing with our heads with its seeming anti-abortion song ("Papa Don't Preach"). Also notable for 'Live to Tell,' her best ballad to date".
Robert Christgau was less impressed, accusing Madonna of pandering to the "lowest common denominator" of young listeners with ambiguous lyrics and over-promotion.
Robert Hilburn from Los Angeles Times stated that "True Blue isn't revolutionary music, but it is imaginative, highly energized pop that recognizes the limitations and pleasures of Top 40 fare."
Erica Wexler from Spin commented that "True Blue is Madonna's rite of passage between pop adolescence and a harsher adult world. With all her contrivances and the delighted tunes that I can't exorcise from my head, her mystique is still explained by the young beefcake who told me, 'I love to pump iron to Madonna'."
Prior to the album's release, Madonna premiered "Love Makes the World Go Round" at the 1985 Live Aid concert.
The rest of the album's tracks were included on the setlist of her 1987 Who's That Girl World Tour except "Jimmy Jimmy" which remains still the only song from the album Madonna did not perform on any live appearance.
It was her second concert tour and promoted "True Blue" alongside the film project "Who's That Girl."
It was Madonna's first world tour, reaching Asia, North America and Europe. Musically and technically superior to her previous Virgin Tour, the Who's That Girl tour incorporated multimedia components to make the show more appealing.
Madonna trained herself physically with aerobics, jogging and weight-lifting, to cope with the choreography and the dance routines.
For the costumes, she collaborated with designer Marlene Stewart, expanding on the idea of bringing her popular video characters to life onstage, reworking scenes from "True Blue", "Open Your Heart", "Papa Don't Preach" and "La Isla Bonita".
The stage was huge, with four video screens, multimedia projectors and a flight of stairs in the middle. Leonard became the music director and encouraged Madonna to go with the idea of rearranging her older songs and presenting them in a new format.
Madonna named the tour "Who's That Girl" after looking up at a gigantic image of herself projected on a screen on the stage during rehearsals.
The show included song-and-dance routines and theatrics, seven costume changes, and an encore consisting of the title song "Who's That Girl" and "Holiday." The tour also addressed social causes like AIDS, during "Papa Don't Preach".
"Who's That Girl" was critically appreciated, with reviewers commenting on the extravagant nature of the concert and complimenting Madonna for her dancing, costume changes and dynamic pacing. It was a commercial success, grossing a total of U.S. $25 million, with Madonna playing in front of 1.5 million people over the course of the tour.
According to Pollstar, it was the second top female concert tour of 1987, behind Tina Turner's Break Every Rule Tour.
Two concerts from the tour were later released on music video "Who's That Girl: Live in Japan" (in 1987), which was exclusive to the Japanese market and "Ciao Italia: Live from Italy" (in 1988) which was released internationally.
Taraborrelli commented that "Many female artists behave like a diva for a period when they reach superstar status, and the 'Who's That Girl?' tour marked the beginning of Madonna's."
The tour is also noted for giving rise to the new Madonna persona, a stronger and more intelligent sexual image of her former self which had given rise to the term Madonna wannabe.
A statue of Madonna, wearing a conical bra was erected in her name, at the center of the town of Pacentro in Italy, where Madonna's ancestors used to live.