Though Madonna’s domination of the music scene, newspaper headlines and popular culture seemed absolute in the mid-80s, her film career remained an open question. After the critical and commercial hit Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985 – to many an authentic representation of the real Madonna, who had not long emerged from the hip New York City dance scene – along came 1986’s Shanghai Surprise with her then husband, Sean Penn. A rare commercial misstep without any Madonna songs to bolster it, the singer would seek to rectify that the following year, ensuring that her leading role in the screwball comedy Who’s That Girl had a soundtrack album featuring original material.
Listen to the ‘Who’s That Girl’ soundtrack here.
It appears Madonna had passed on working with George Harrison on Shanghai Surprise’s title track, which he had demoed with Vicki Brown, but there would be no such reticence this time: Madonna’s music would serve as a fantastic promotional tool for any film. Though the singer contributed just four of the record’s nine tracks, the Who’s That Girl soundtrack album certainly did the business, shifting around eight million copies worldwide, and the “Queen Of Pop”’s four songs represent an almost perfect sweep of the mid-80s Madonna hit formula.
Proving her music-making instincts remained intact
First, you get the title track. The latest in a run of Madonna No.1s, it topped the US and UK charts on its release in July 1987, and was co-written with True Blue’s co-producer Patrick Leonard (who would collaborate with the singer many more times, earning later credits for Oh Father, Something To Remember and 1998’s Frozen). Holding its own among the best Madonna songs, Who’s That Girl is “Latin Madonna”, with her command of a gently looping melody complementing a few words of Spanish and presented with a charming, low-key video that owes a debt to the Pied Piper caricature originally showcased on the previous year’s Open Your Heart. Madonna is also here clearly riffing on Michael Jackson’s charismatic everyman appeal, and so certain were executives of the song and video’s success that it ended up retitling the whole movie, which had originally been written as Slammer.