This is the 33rd post in a weekly, yearlong series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
By 1985, Madonna — who turns 58 tomorrow — had become internationally famous for her two albums, her handful of Number One hits and her string of popular music videos.
Among the many projects she worked on that year was “Into The Groove,” a dance song meant for Cheyne, who had just signed with Madonna’s friend and former boyfriend, producer Mark Kamins. Kamins paid for Madonna and Stephen Bray to record it, with the idea that Kamins and Cheyne would modify it later.
“When I was writing it,” Madonna said,” I was sitting in a fourth-floor walk-up on Avenue-B, and there was this gorgeous Puerto Rican boy sitting across me that I wanted to go out on a date with, and I just wanted to get the song over with.”
She got it over with, and ultimately, Madonna decided to keep the song for herself. It found a rather huge home: her 1985 movie “Desperately Seeking Susan.” Though it didn’t appear on the soundtrack, it appeared in the film, and was released on the “Like A Virgin” re-issue. Because “Into The Groove” was only available in the US as a B-side to “Angel,” it was ineligible to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It appeared on the charts in several other countries, though, including a dozen where it reached Number One. It ended up being a defining song for Madonna, one that many critics thought of as her “first great single.” At the end of the ’80s, Billboard dubbed the song the Dance Single of the Decade.
But there were at least a few people who didn’t care for the song and its connection to “Desperately Seeking Susan.” Initially, the movie had been meant to be a vehicle for Rosanna Arquette, but her role in the film was completely overshadowed by Madonna’s involvement. That “Into The Groove” was even worked into the storyline was a sore subject for Arquette:
“It was completely unfair. As soon as Madonna came into the picture, the script was changed to suit her. I told them that if ‘Susan’ was going to be nothing more than a two-hour rock video spotlighting Madonna, well, I didn’t want to be a part of it. A disco dance movie isn’t what I signed on to do. However, I couldn’t get out of it.”
Then there was Mark Kamins. As a result of Madonna recording this song and turning it into a massive hit, Cheyne never got to record the song as had been intended. Kamins was “pissed,” as she hadn’t even told him she had decided to use it herself. As biographer Andrew Morton pointed out, many people felt hurt or used by Madonna. If her reputation ever bothered her back then, she hid it well, having famously said, “I’m tough, I’m ambitious and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, that’s okay.”
In other words, you can still like this song now that you know the backstory, because Madonna doesn’t care what we think anyway. And, as off-putting as these anecdotes might be, it’s hard to not like the song. OK, so maybe Arquette, Kamins, and Cheyne probably didn’t rank it on their top 10, but they probably had a hard time not dancing in place when hearing it. Even if the song didn’t begin with coquettish Madonna telling us we could dance, for inspiration, we would dance anyway. You can’t not dance to it.
And you can’t not dance to the subsequent versions, either, though some are easier than others.
Syndicated kids show “Kids Incorporated” featured “Into The Groove” in an episode in 1985, with cast member (and future Wild Orchid member!) Renee Sands performing. Most of the lyrics stayed the same, except a few were altered. And with good reason: you don’t want to hear an 11-year-old singing “touch my body.”
Chinese singer Anita Mui, dubbed “The Madonna of Asia,” recorded a Cantonese version of “Into The Groove” in 1985. It was faithful to the original’s arrangement, such that you could anticipate what was coming next. You might not be able to sing along to it, but I sure knew when she got the “Now I know you’re mine” part. I can recognize that section in any language.
Sonic Youth members Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon were apparently huge Madonna fans in the ’80s, so much so that they were known to pontificate about her in interviews. On a lark, Sonic Youth teamed with Mike Watt for Ciccone Youth, the project taking its title from Madonna’s surname. A joint single in 1986 featured Watt covering “Burning Up” and Sonic Youth covering “Into The Groove.” The latter, renamed “Into The Groove(y),” was a lo-fi masterpiece, with Thurston singing along a sample of Madonna, sounding like an apathetic yin to her energetic yang.
Ciccone Youth’s album, 1988’s “The Whitey Album,” was the group’s last release, which is a shame. It would have been nice to have Moore continuing to be the distorted funhouse mirror to Madonna’s pop, particularly the tracks from “Erotica” and “Bedtime Stories.” And can you imagine what he would have done to “Music”? You totally can, which is why it’s a shame we never got to hear it.
Madonna’s 1987 remix album “You Can Dance” featured two new versions of “Into The Groove,” both by legendary DJ and producer Shep Pettibone. The 12-inch version of the song had begun mid-action, with the song’s iconic riff already playing. In Pettibone’s dub version, the song fades in to drum machines, with a robotic Madonna saying, “C-c-c-come on!”
But it’s Pettibone’s other — longer — version that is the most satisfying. Spanning almost eight and a half minutes, this slow burn of a remix teases and builds up till the last second, which fades into a remix of “Where’s The Party.” How much of a tease is this track? So much of a tease that we don’t get to hear the main treat of the song — the four instances of “Now I know you’re mine” — until about seven minutes into the track. But Pettibone makes it worth it, as he gives us a minute-plus piano interlude that is easily the best piano part in a dance song.
Singer Mina was a staple of Italian pop music in the ’60s and ’70s, in part her soprano voice had no limits. The woman, after all, had a three-octave range. Her 1988 album, “Ridi Pagliaccio,” included a sauntering “Into The Groove” that somehow managed to inject even more swagger into a song already brimming with bravado. Mina worked that track like a drag queen working a room in Provincetown during bear week.
Australian alternative rock/pop band The Triffids included a Duran Duran-esque “Into The Groove” on the 1989 re-issue of the single “Bury Me Deep in Love.” With its airy guitars, crunchy guitars, and guy/girl harmonies, The Triffids’ “Into The Groove” managed to cram almost every aspect of ’80s cheese into one track without sounding cheesy. Not that we’re complaining.
Pettibone remixed “Into The Groove” again for Madonna’s 1990 compilation, “The Immaculate Collection.” It was essentially a truncated version of the sprawling, eight-minute “You Can Dance” remix. This version had the same keyboard opening and the same piano riff in the middle, but sadly cut the “Now I know you’re mine” foursome. Which makes it an unacceptable version to put on a greatest hits compilation, despite that fantastic piano part.
London band Ten Masked Men describes itself as “a crack team of masked musical assassins play homage to their favourite (and not so much) pop songs with a heavy dosage of death metal and a sprinkling of comedy.” The band’s 1998 cover of “Into The Groove” was screamy, in-for-your-face metal track, the likes of which you normally could only get from Scandinavia or Tampa. It’s not a track that begs for more than one listen, or even one complete listen, but it was cute nonetheless.
Former Missing Persons frontwoman Dale Bozzio’s “Into The Groove” was a weird mishmash of sounds and flourishes, made all the more bizarre by the guy with vaguely British but not totally British accent. As he made his announcements and proclamations, it was hard to tell if he was there to be Bozzio’s hype man or her spin class instructor. The way he rapped, I’m guessing the latter.
French powerpop band Superbus condensed “Into The Groove” into two minutes and 51 seconds of emo rage for the band’s 2002 debut album, “Aéromusical.” Jennifer Ayache sang “Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free” as if she was about to explode, so I definitely don’t want to hear how she sounds when she doesn’t feel so free. Oof.
Mad’House was a group mainly known for its Eurodance/house covers of Madonna songs. (Get the name? Mad’House? Get it?) The group’s take on “Into The Groove” was fine, but felt more like something you’d have on a workout mix than something you’d hear at a club. Unless the club in question was a health club, with treadmills and exercise bikes.
In 2003, Madonna teamed with Missy Elliott for “Into The Hollywood Groove,” which remixed “Into The Groove” to feature a rap from Elliott and a verse from Madonna’s “Hollywood.” A remix by Josh Harris and Omar Galeano appeared on Madonna’s “Remixed & Revited” album that same year. A variation of the song also appeared in a Gap commercial, which explained Elliott’s sick rhyme: “Me and Madonna about to hurt them like a tag team/You’re going to love us in our new GAP jeans/Walk by, people ask, where’d you get those jeans?”
Using the moniker Kid Dakota, indie musician Darren Jackson recorded a spaced-out “Into The Groove” for the 2004 compilation “More Than a Woman: Female Artists Covered by 19 Male Bands.” It was a mess of guitars and drums, sounding like it had originally been a sunny shoegaze song recorded onto a casette tape that now sounded warped because it was left in a hot car.
French singer Pascale Borel’s “Into The Groove” felt like a cross between a bossa nova cover and a soft lullaby you might hear on the “Rockabye Baby” series. Stressing every word, Borel sang with a breathy style that had the volume of a whisper and the intensity of a shout.
The 2007 compilation “Through the Wilderness: A Tribute to Madonna” is a tough slog through some pretty weird covers. Diehard Madge fans can find it hard to listen to, as it was such a weird (and jarring) reinterpretation of songs that purists might find perfect as is. All that said, Jeremy Jay’s “Into The Groove” was more of the tamer and more accessible covers on the album, as his take on the song could easily be characterized as a sped-up version of Ciccone Youth’s “Into The Groove(y),” with a heavy drumbeat added. There was more there, of course, but it essentially had that same sinister vibe.
French singer Renaud Hantson included “Into The Groove” as a bonus track on his 2008 album “Je Couche Avec Moi.” It sounded like he was channeling American hair metal bands, except that he was channeling how they might sound in 2008 rather than in their heydays. This was a creepy cover from the beginning, as Hantson’s whisper of “You can dance/For inspiration” sounded like a breathy pervert who calls people up to ask them what they’re wearing. He quickly went to a bark, which sounded downright predatory as he snarled, “Get into the groove/Girl, you’ve got to prove/Your love to me!” It sounded evocative when Madonna sang it, but it sounded creepy and unsettling when shouted as an order from an aggressive male. And this was before he even got to “Now I know you’re mine.”
Synthpop act The Medic Droid, named for the robot that treated an injured Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back,” recorded an “Into The Groove” that placed emo vocals over a synth track. The overpowering track could probably have been dialed back a bit, and while I feel weird saying it, the chorus could have been repeated fewer times, because underneath all the noise, you can hear that the band managed to update Pettibone’s piano interlude into a keyboard riff. If only the song would have let you hear it under the mess of other sounds.
Pieter Embrechts, Thomas De Prins & The New Radio Kings recorded a jazz/swing version of the song for the 2009 album “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.” “Get Into The Groove” was a stylized throwback which the Belgian Embrechts channeled in his inner Sinatra and the swagger of the singers of that era. He pulled it off until toward the end, when the guitar got a little too rockin’ for any track on which Sinatra would appear.
On a 2013 episode of “Glee,” “American Idol” alum Adam Lambert showed up to sing “Into The Groove” with some of the cast. It was what you’d expect from “Glee,” which is to say it was faithful to the original but more polished and produced than you’d hear in a karaoke track. It might not be the best cover of the song, but the clip is fun if just for the fact that Lambert and the cast cannot contain their joy.
The shit-eating grins on their faces were infectious, right?
The song isn’t just a staple of Madonna’s catalog, but the decade as a whole. And beyond that, it’s emblematic of some of the best things dance music can do. I’ve long argued that there are only a handful of songs from the last 35 years that demonstrate the potential of dance music as well as “Into The Groove.” (Those songs, of course, are New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” and Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.” On certain days, I’m willing to throw Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” into the mix.)
It’s hard to hear this song and not want to move. You’ve listened to all these covers, some of which are waaaaay better than others, and yet you still have the urge to dance, right?
And it’s OK.
You can dance.