7 June 2011

over the borderline – Reggie Lucas speaks

This week, 27 years ago, Borderline entered the UK Top 100 singles chart.

Two weeks after its #74 debut, Borderline peaked at #56 – a position greatly improved upon by its January 1986 re-release, which reached the more-deserving #2 – held off the top spot by Billy Ocean’s four-week reign at #1 with When The Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going).

In 2007, I interviewed the writer and producer of Borderline, Reggie Lucas. Reggie has rarely spoken about his work with Madonna, but he shared with me his memories of writing the first of her record-breaking 37 Billboard Top Ten singles:

“I really have a simple process for songwriting for an artist that I’m producing, assuming it’s not going to be a collaborative process. Firstly, I’ll listen to the artist’s demo tape or previous records, just to get a feel for their voice and style. Then, if at all possible, I’ll attend a live performance of the artist. I was fortunate enough to be able to do both of these things with Madonna.

Finally, I just pick up my guitar, and start to play and sing until something seems to click. Then, I’ll create a very, very rough demo for the artist. So Borderline and Physical Attraction were written specifically only for Madonna. They went very quickly from my head, to the studio, and to the radio and charts. This is something Madonna does very well, making records quickly and without excessive fanfare. This has always been and will always be my preferred method of record production.”

the beats within: Borderline sounds almost like a 1980s update on the Motown sound. Madonna of course hails from Michigan and has spoken about how the local sounds of Motor City were ever-present throughout her childhood; citing Motown girl groups like The Supremes as influences. Were you consciously inspired by Motown when writing Borderline?

“What a great question! I’ve never even thought about this before. Motown is inspirational, generational, and cultural for me. I came under the spell of Motown music, like so many of my generation and those after, on a subconscious, intuitive, almost magical level. So I didn’t put the obvious together, Madonna’s from Flint Michigan, I love Motown so I’ll write Borderline. The reference was subliminal, unintentional and automatic.”  

the beats within: Apart from being a great pop song, the success of Borderline was partly thanks to the music video for the song that heralded the beginning of Madonna’s relationship with MTV. What did you think of the video and were you surprised at the success of the Borderline single?

“Like many other artists, songwriters, producers, etc. I was fortunate enough to have a record on the charts when MTV was in its early growth spurt. I thought the video was simple but appropriate. Madonna and Michael Jackson were perfect programming for MTV because they appealed to young people, they crossed over all sorts of demographic categories and they were all-around entertainers with singing, dancing and acting skills.”

Click here to watch the Mary Lambert directed music video for Borderline


Rabbitbunny said...

Again, Sadness, Longing and Tears radiate from the art movie screen and into the Performance!-Borderline convincingly showed that Madonna could Cry as well as Dance, Party and Have Fun. Underneath Madonna's good-time-regular girl persona was an intelligent Lady Evita riding a wave of sorrow that was absolute to the point that there was no turning back. When I saw the Sticky and Sweet Tour with guitar in hand, Madonna-by now Our Metal/Rock Queen relished playing Borderline-"a victim of a kind of rage!"-I felt absolute heartache over the backdrop of Heavy Metal power chords. This is why Madonna will always be the best Heartland Rocker of all time. And even though her tickets are hideously and outrageously expensive, would I see her again? An absolute and resounding Yes! Lady Madonna
-she is brilliant. Borderline is one of her better early pieces
-ultimately, we all love Madonna because we care about Lady Ciccone
-that may be Madge's biggest victory of all! MADONNA ROCKS!

G said...

Physical Attraction was registered as written by Madonna in 1982 and then re-registered as a composition by Lucas. Considering the song is structurally and melodically very different from Borderline and at the same time very similar to other Madonna penned songs, wouldn't you think Warners and Madonna agreed to give him credit and all royalties on that track as a form of payment for his production on the whole recording session that were going on for the first album when Attraction went to clubs and appeared on the B side of Burning Up?

Pud Whacker said...

fantastic post. nothing beats the first album. its timeless and perfection - 28 years in.

G, im convinced that crimes of passion was the seed that eventually became physical attraction. i think shes responsible for more of that song than we know.

Anonymous said...

G and Pud - You're both absolutley right to bring up that copyright evidence that Bruce Baron (my divine inspiration!) first uncovered several years ago.

But I think we need to weigh up the other evidence on the table here.

According to Reggie, he was originally asked to write/produce the follow-up to Everybody and the success of Burning Up/Physical Attraction was dependent on him getting the album gig. So, not quite sure about your theory about this being some kind of deal re payment for the album, as the album hadn't yet been given the green light.

I was aware of the conflicting copyright registration before I spoke to Reggie, but from his account, he wrote the song. Reggie - who's a real gent - was more than forthcoming, very frank and honest in his interview with me. He has rarely (if ever) spoken about his work with Madonna - and in fact, his account of things (backed up several others who I've spoken to who worked on that album) differs greatly from the some of the "myths" that surround the making of M's first album. Plus, it goes without saying that Reggie Lucas is a true musician and songwriter and he has written or produced many songs that are structurally and melodically very different to eachother.

Look out for more from my exclusive interview with Reggie in the future!

Also, it's worth adding that copyright registration errors are commonplace. In fact, I
have even uncovered conflicting evidence re who actually wrote Borderline, but this needs further investiagtion.

So, that's all the evidence so far...

Madonna - care to shed any light on this?

Thanks for the comments guys!

Cartone said...

Steve Bray has stated that he was surprised to discover that "Physical Attraction" was credited to Reggie Lucas, because he thought Madonna had written it. Since Madonna and Steve had fallen out by this stage over her decision to go with Mark Kamins and then Reggie as producers, this would suggest that Steve had heard "Physical Attraction" before Reggie came along. thebeatswithin, if you're still in touch with Steve, maybe you could ask him about this?