Madonna’s Manager Suggested Like a Virgin Sound More Like Thriller

If Madonna‘s early manager, Freddy DeMann had gotten his way, one of her most iconic albums could have sounded different.

In a recent sit-down chat with Chic musician and funk legend Nile Rodgers — the sole producer of 1984’s Like a Virgin album — for Paper magazine, the two reflected on their days working together early in the Queen of Pop’s career.

The pair recalled that when Madonna’s second album was finished, her self-titled debut album (featuring the hits “Holiday,” “Everybody” and “Lucky Star”) was “still the focus” and delayed the release of Like a Virgin.

“She was ready to go, like, ‘Come on, come on, let’s put this out,’ and then ‘Borderline’ hit out of the clear blue sky. We didn’t expect that,” Rodgers told the outlet. “I know that you were definitely ready to put out Like a Virgin.”

Madonna, 64, shared, “I was irritated that another song of mine was doing so well, and now I had to wait to put something out that I was so excited about. Not that I didn’t love Reggie Lucas and ‘Borderline’ and my first record, but the thing is, when I put out my first record it didn’t really do that well.”

Nile Rodgers and Madonna.
James Devaney/GC Images

She said Madonna had “a resurgence” right as they were gearing up to release Like a Virgin. Madonna admitted that while it was a “good thing” the album was doing well, its success did cause frustration.

Rodgers said Madonna was signed to a label — Sire Records — that was “sort of a little bit unsure” about her artistic direction and remembered the reaction that DeMann, Madonna’s manager at the time, expressed following his first listen of Like a Virgin.

“I’ll never forget when we played the album, and Freddy [DeMann, Madonna’s manager at the time] said, ‘Can it sound a little more like this?’ And he put on f—— Thriller [laughs]. And we said, you know, Michael Jackson has been a star his entire life, and he worked his way up to Thriller,” Rodgers said. “So he said, ‘Well can you put a little more bass on it?’ And all Madonna did was just write, ‘Bass Up,’ on the record. We never changed a thing. She just wrote it on the box the next time.”

Madonna added that she sometimes incorporates a bit of one of her late-friend Jackson’s signature hits into the track “Like a Virgin” when she performs it live.

“But I mean, ‘Like a Virgin’ does have a little bit of a ‘Billie Jean’ bassline to it, in my opinion,” she admitted. “It’s similar sounding, not that we ever aimed for that. But I’ve done ‘Like a Virgin’ live where I’ve segued from that song to ‘Billie Jean’ just for 16 or 18 bars or whatever, and then gone back to my song, which is always fun to do.”

Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

While appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon earlier this month, Madonna opened up about that time in her career and shared the harsh words DeMann had following her now-iconic performance of “Like a Virgin,” at the very first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984.

Reflecting on the release of her sophomore album, host Jimmy Fallon pointed out that Rodgers wanted her to drop “Material Girl” as the album’s lead single, but “Like a Virgin” was used instead.

“I don’t know why they chose ‘Like A Virgin’ because I thought it was quite controversial,” Madonna told the host, 47. “It turned out that the controversial thing wasn’t the song itself but my performance at the MTV [Video Music] Awards, the first MTV [Video Music] Awards.”

She continued, “I walked down these very steep stairs… and I got to the bottom, and started dancing around, and my white stiletto pumps fell off,” which caused her white wedding dress to flip up and expose her butt as she reached to grab the shoes.

At the time, showing that much skin was scandalous in itself, the star said.

“Those were the days when you shouldn’t show your butt to have a career,” Madonna joked. “Now it’s the opposite… I didn’t even know my butt was showing!”

After the accident, when the performance wrapped, the pop legend said her manager told her backstage that her “career was over with.”

“Wow,” Fallon replied.

“Like a Virgin” would become Madonna’s first of 12 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2014, 30 years after the performance, MTV called Madonna’s performance “one of the most important and most unforgettable VMA performances ever, if not one of the most iconic pop performances of all time.”

On Friday, Madonna released a career-spanning remix album called Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones featuring both classic and fresh mixes of all 50 songs she’s topped the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart with over her decades-long time in the industry. “Like a Virgin” appears on the compilation in its “7” Version” format.

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