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Lucky Star: The Story Behind Madonna’s First US Top 5 Hit
Warner Music
In Depth

Lucky Star: The Story Behind Madonna’s First US Top 5 Hit

Madonna’s Lucky Star single was so popular, the ‘Like A Virgin’ album had to be delayed to make way for the fast-rising icon’s success.

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A song that refused to give up until it became a smash, Lucky Star would peak in the UK months ahead of its success stateside. It has since become one of the most fondly remembered of the “Queen Of Pop”’s early hits, thanks in part to a magnetic energy which was unleashed after Madonna’s legendarily razor-sharp instincts led her to pass the song’s original recording, overseen by producer Reggie Lucas, to her then boyfriend, John “Jellybean” Benitez, for a peppy remix.

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Writing Lucky Star: Madonna demonstrated her knack for making hits

Madonna’s career is littered with notable collaborations, but the landmark Lucky Star is a song she wrote herself, and it goes much of the way towards demonstrating her writing ability and knack for sensing what makes a hit. The song had been one of the early demos she had recorded while searching for a record-label deal in the early 80s, but though Madonna adored this simplistic but ultra-catchy track, it was among the last singles released from her self-titled debut album, after Like A Virgin producer Nile Rodgers championed the song, even though it meant delaying the release of Madonna’s much-anticipated second album. “It’s one of my favourite songs on the record,” Rodgers later said of Lucky Star. “I mean, she’s already served it, all the stores already have Madonna’s album, so why wouldn’t you push yet another single? It just made sense to me.”

The release: A holy grail for Madonna collectors

On 9 September 1983, just two days after the US release of Holiday, Lucky Star got a limited European release as a single, with a unique picture sleeve featuring Madonna wearing a pair of sunglasses. After Holiday took off, Lucky Star was reissued in a different picture sleeve in the UK, in February 1984, the same month that Borderline was given a single release in the US. Becoming the hit it was always destined to be, Lucky Star peaked at No.14 in April. Today, the “sunglasses” sleeve of Lucky Star is among the most sought-after releases by Madonna collectors, with the rare 7” and 12” versions routinely trading for hundreds of pounds.

Stateside, Lucky Star had topped the US dance charts in late 1983, when paired with Holiday. It finally entered the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1984 and peaked at No.4, just four weeks ahead of the single release of the Like A Virgin song, which had been delayed by the ongoing success of Madonna’s debut album and Lucky Star’s ascendancy towards the top of the charts.

The video: Defining the “Queen Of Pop”’s early visual identity

With her earliest singles, the future “Queen Of Pop” was still developing the cohesive styling and strong aesthetics that would soon define the best Madonna promo videos, though the clips for her debut single, Everybody, and its follow-up, Burning Up, contained bags of sexual magnetism.

Lucky Star’s iconic video marked a significant creative leap. Director Arthur Pierson framed Madonna’s unique pop-punk style against a simple white background, and the singer was supported by dancers Erika Belle and her brother Christopher Ciccone. That soon-to-be famous belly button got its first close-up, and the smart opening and closing shots of Madonna lowering and raising her sunglasses bookended everything perfectly, ensuring the clip would be fondly remembered among the best 80s music videos. It also became, in a slightly extended form, one of four clips packaged on the first Madonna video EP, which became the best-selling VHS cassette of its genre in 1985.

The live performances: A rite of passage

Before she broke big, Madonna regularly performed Lucky Star at the kind of club promotional dates which remain a rite of passage for dance artists seeking a break. The song then inevitably featured in her first theatre and arena dates, The Virgin Tour, which played across the US in 1985. The “Queen Of Pop”’s first international shows, held during the Who’s That Girl World Tour, saw it performed second on the setlist, and it was later resurrected for finale of the Confessions Tour, in 2006, in a medley with the Confessions On A Dance Floor megahit Hung Up.

The legacy: A cultural reference point

In the decades since its release, this synth-heavy pop-dance hit has only further cemented its place among the best Madonna songs of all time. A pop-culture reference point, it soundtracked a classic classroom scene in the late River Phoenix’s hit 1988 film, Running On Empty, and it later featured in Guy Ritchie’s 2000 film, Snatch (in the year of that movie’s release, Ritchie would become the star’s second husband). Lucky Star’s most iconic cultural appropriation arguably appears in Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic Pulp Fiction, when a character references her stomach as being like Madonna’s in the video for the song.

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