Madonna has definitely made better albums than Like a Virgin — among them, Like a Prayer, Ray of Light and her 1983 self-titled debut — but her second LP changed the course of pop history. Released 35 years ago on Nov. 12, 1984, Like a Virgin touched us for the very first time in so many special ways. Although Chic’s Nile Rodgers served as producer, it was Madonna who was the one making boss moves here.
In celebration of the Billboard 200-topping album’s 35th anniversary, we put on a white wedding dress and ranked all the tracks on this ’80s classic.
There is a big drop-off in quality in the last third of the album, as demonstrated by this, one of four tracks that Madonna co-wrote with Stephen Bray for Like a Virgin. They would go on to do greater things together in the future, including “Express Yourself” and “Into the Groove” (which was added to a 1985 reissue of Like a Virgin), but the forgettable synth-pop filler of “Pretender” shows that their songwriting partnership still needed some work.
Like a Virgin’s last track possesses some of the same ’60s girl-group charm as future Madonna-Bray tunes like “True Blue” and “Where’s the Party,” but it’s not in the same league as those gems. The hook in the chorus is not strong enough to make up for those weak lyrics, which basically repeat “stay darling.” But it doesn’t exactly make you want to stick around for more at the end of the album.
The only song on the album written solely by Madonna, this tracks opens as a stripped-down piano ballad, with the Material Girl displaying some raw, tender emotion.The track then turns into a deceptively bouncy ditty as she tries to get through to her confused guy. It’s refreshing to hear Madonna sounding so innocent here — like she could actually be a virgin.
When it was released as the third single from Like a Virgin, “Angel” had the dubious distinction of having a superior B-side in “Into the Groove,” one of Madonna’s all-time classics (from her 1985 movie Desperately Seeking Susan). Still, the song hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 on the strength of an irresistible giddiness that starts with those twinkling synths and giggles right at the beginning. The swoon is real.
5. “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”
Having included nothing but dance tracks on her self-titled debut, Madonna had yet to prove she could handle a ballad. But on this, the only ballad on Like a Virgin, she demonstrated that — while her vocal abilities may have been limited at the time — she could successfully slow it down. She brings a real authenticity to this Rose Royce cover — it’s by far the most soulful thing on the album — and really lets you see “through the windows of my eyes.”
4. “Over and Over”
It’s a testament to how many hits Like a Virgin had that “Over and Over” was never released as a single. The best of the Madonna-Bray tunes on Virgin, this had single written all over it. A synth-pop throbber with some of the punk attitude of “Burning Up,” it builds and builds to delirious bliss. Taking that uplifting refrain of “I get up again, over and over” to heart, you may find yourself pogoing up to the “highest mountain” by the time it’s all over.
3. “Dress You Up”
On the final single from Like a Virgin — which was the last track added to the album — Madonna promises to dress her man up in some head-to-toe loving. Her fourth top 5 Hot 100 hit off of the LP, it completely captures her in the process of becoming a sex-positive icon. For a song that Madonna didn’t have a hand in writing — Andrea LaRusso and Peggy Stanziale did the honors — it sounds so much like her. Or at least the Madonna she was back in 1984.
2. “Material Girl”
Long before Madame X entered the public consciousness, this was the tune that coined Madonna’s most famous nickname. As with many of her classic ’80s singles, it’s hard to separate the song from the video, but even more so with this one: Her spin on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes established her as a Marilyn Monroe-esque figure in her own right. This was the real beginning of the Blond Ambition era. The song itself may not hold up as well as some of her other early stuff, but this No. 2 Hot 100 hit is still synth-pop perfection.
1. “Like a Virgin”
The title track of Like a Virgin is on the short list of Madge’s best — and biggest — singles. Madonna’s first Hot 100 topper changed the game for her, taking her from the downtown dance diva she was on her eponymous debut to the future Queen of Pop. Written by the ’80s hitmaking team of Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, the song paved the way for other female pop artists — from Janet Jackson and Britney Spears to Beyoncé and Ariana Grande — to unapologetically explore the sexual wilderness. And 35 years later, it’s still catchy AF.