March 09, 1983
The 'Burning Up' single is released
Single by Madonna
From the album "Madonna"
B-side: "Physical Attraction"
Released: March 9, 1983
Format: 7", 12"
Recorded: November 1982; Sigma Sound Studios, New York City
Label: Sire Warner Bros.
Producer(s): Reggie Lucas
"Burning Up" is a song by American singer-songwriter Madonna from her self-titled debut album. It was released as the album's second single on March 9, 1983, in some countries as a double-A side single with "Physical Attraction". The song was presented as an early recorded demo by Madonna to Sire Records who green-lighted the recording of the single after the first single "Everybody" became a dance hit. Madonna collaborated with Reggie Lucas, who produced the single while John Benitez provided the guitar riffs and backing vocals. Musically, the song incorporates instrumentation from bass guitar, synthesizers and drums, and the lyrics talk of the singer's lack of shame in declaring her passion for her lover.
Released with "Physical Attraction" on the B side, the song was given mixed reviews from contemporary critics and authors, who noted the song's darker, urgent composition while praising its dance beats. The single failed to do well commercially anywhere, except the dance chart in the United States, where it peaked at three, and the Australian charts, where it was a top 20 hit. After a number of live appearances in clubs to promote the single, it was added to the set-list of the 1985 Virgin Tour. An electric guitar version was performed on the 2004 Re-Invention World Tour.
The accompanying music video of the song portrayed Madonna in the classic submissive female positions, while writhing in passion on an empty road, for her lover who appeared to come from her behind on a car. The video ended showing Madonna driving the car instead, thereby concluding that she was always in charge. Many authors noted that the "Burning Up" music video was a beginning of Madonna's depiction of her taking control of a destabilized male sexuality.
In 1982, Madonna was living in New York and trying to launch her musical career. Her Detroit boyfriend, Steve Bray, became the drummer for her band. Abandoning hard rock, they were signed by a music management company, Gotham records, and decided to pursue music in the funk genre. They soon dropped those plans. Madonna carried rough tapes of three songs with her: "Everybody", "Ain't No Big Deal" and "Burning Up". Madonna presented "Everybody" to the DJ Mark Kamins who, after hearing the song, took her to Sire Records, where she was signed for a single deal. When "Everybody" became a dance hit, Sire Records decided to follow up with an album for her. However, Madonna chose not to work with either Bray or Kamins, opting instead for Warner Brothers producer Reggie Lucas. Michael Rosenblatt, the A&R director of Sire Records, explained to Kamins that they wanted a producer who had more experience in directing singers; hence they appointed Lucas. He pushed Madonna in a more pop direction and produced "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction" for her.
While producing the tracks, Lucas radically changed their structure from the original demo versions. Madonna did not accept the changes, so John "Jellybean" Benitez, a DJ at the Funhouse Disco, was called in to remix the tracks. He added some extra guitar riffs and vocals to "Burning Up". Sire Records backed up the single by sending Madonna on a series of personal appearances in clubs around New York, where she performed the single. They also hired a stylist and jewelry designer called Maripol, who helped Madonna with the single cover. The cover for the 12-inch dance single for "Burning Up" was designed by Martin Burgoyne.
Musically "Burning Up" has a starker arrangement brought about by bass, single guitar and drum machine. The guitar riffs in the songs were not characteristics of Madonna's later records. The tom-tom drum beats used in the song were reminiscent to the records of singer Phil Collins. It also incorporated electric guitars and the most state-of-the-art synthesizers of that time. The chorus is a repetition of the same three lines of the lyrics, while the bridge consists of a series of double entendres in regards to the lyrics of the song which describes what she is prepared to do for her lover and that she is individualistic and shameless. According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Alfred Publishing, "Burning Up" is written in the time signature of common time with a dance beat tempo of 138 beats per minute. The song is composed in the key of B minor, with Madonna's vocals ranging from the tonal nodes of A3 to B4. "Burning Up" follows a basic sequence of Bm–Bm–A–E as its chord progression.
Sire Records commissioned a music video for the song to be directed by Steve Barron. Madonna's friend Debi Mazar was hired as the make-up artist for the video while Maripol was the stylist with Madonna's then boyfriend Ken Compton appearing as her onscreen lover. By the time the video was released, MTV had begun to show dance music videos. Hence the music video of "Burning Up" became a minor hit on the channel. The narrative of the video shows Madonna in a white dress, as she sings the song proclaiming her helpless passion for her lover. She wore her famous rubber bracelets which were actually typewriter belts. Her love for the boy portrayed her as a helpless victim like the stereotyped female portrayed in many silent movies. At one point in the video Madonna is shown being hit by a car driven by a young man, played by Compton. By the end of the song Madonna is shown driving the car, with a knowing, defiant smile on her lips and has ditched the man, thereby giving the message that she was in charge, a theme recurrent throughout her career.
"I went to New York to meet (Madonna), begrudgingly, and showed up at an address at SoHo, which turned out to be a squat basically. Madonna was scantily clad, working out to a massive disco track. She was charismatic. She kept putting her head down on the table and talking to me, very flirtatious, and that gave me the idea for the scene in "burning up", where her face is on the road, and the camera's really low and close."
—Director Steve Barron on his first meeting with Madonna
Though the lyrics of the song like "Do you want to see me down on my knees?" portray female helplessness, the video performance acts as a counter-text to it. When this line is sung, Madonna is shown kneeling on the road in front of the advancing car, then turns her head back while exposing her throat back in a posture of submission. However, her voice tone and her look at the camera portray a hardness and defiance that contradict the submissiveness of her body posture and turn the question of the line into a challenge for her lover.
Author Andrew Morton, in his biography on Madonna, commented that the video was America's first introduction to Madonna's sexual politics. Author Robert Clyde Allen in his book Channels of Discourse compared the video with that of "Material Girl". According to him both the videos have an undermining ending, while employing a consistent series of puns and exhibiting a parodic amount of excess associated with Madonna's style. The discourses included in the video are those of sexuality and religion. Madonna's image of kneeling and singing about 'burning in love' performed the traditional ideological work of using the subordination and powerlessness of women in Christianity to naturalize their equally submissive position in patriarchy. Author Georges-Claude Guilbert in his book Madonna as postmodern myth commented that the representation of the male character becomes irrelevant as Madonna destabilizes the fixing and categorization of male sexuality in the video. Her utterance of having "no shame" was interpreted by author James B. Twitchell, in his book For Shame, as an attempt to separate herself from contemporary female artists of that era. (Wiki)
Track listing and formats
U.S. 7" Single
"Burning Up" (7" version) – 3:45
"Physical Attraction" (7" version) – 3:52
U.S. / France / Australia 12" Single
"Burning Up" (12" version) - 5:56
"Physical Attraction" (Album version) - 6:35
Australian 7" Single
"Burning Up" (Alternate album version) – 4:48
"Physical Attraction" (7" version) – 3:52
Germany / UK CD Maxi Single (1995)
"Burning Up" (12" version) – 5:56
"Physical Attraction" (Album version) – 6:34