Friday, December 31, 2010

Written In Blood - No, Really

So is it OK to laugh at Saddam Hussein yet? I may have been laughing already. Who can forget the indelible image of a cigar-smoking Saddam, standing on his balcony, firing a rifle into the air with one hand? Ah, but little did I know about the Koran written in blood. From Slate:
Saddam Hussein was never one for subtlety, so when it became politically expedient for him to be seen as pious, the dictator decided to show the world that he was willing to literally sacrifice his blood for the sake of his religion. The Guardian reports that over the course of two years in the 1990s, Hussein had regular sit-downs with a nurse who drew his blood and a calligrapher who used it as ink to transcribe a Quran. It took 27 liters of blood to reproduce the entire book, which is now locked away in a vault Baghdad. Having failed to dispose of it during the post-war looting, the Iraqi government now has to figure out what to do with it.
Yeah, you think you're devout? That's devout.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Madonna: Songwriter

OK, so Madonna is a "songwriter," but what does that really mean? Or rather, my first question is this: did Madonna actually write any songs by herself? Are there any tracks credited solely to Madonna and Madonna alone?

The answer is yes. And they are all on her first album: "Everybody," "Burning Up," "I Know It," "Think Of Me," and most impressively, "Lucky Star." Exactly how she "wrote" these songs is hard to say, but no one seems to dispute it. Her then-boyfriend has some entertaining things to say about the recording process, however:
"She was unhappy with the whole damn thing, so I went in and sweetened up a lot of music for her, adding some guitars to 'Lucky Star', some voices, some magic. [...] I just wanted to do the best job I could do for her. When we would play back 'Holiday' or 'Lucky Star', you could see that she was overwhelmed by how great it all sounded. You wanted to help her, you know? As much as she could be a bitch, when you were in groove with her, it was very cool, very creative."
I'm sure it was. But clearly it wasn't that creative, or otherwise Madonna wouldn't have sought out so many collaborators. Either she realized she worked better with a songwriting partner, or she realized she needed the help. Hard to say. But let's take a look at the songwriting credits of some her biggest hits and find out who these mystery men were (and yes, they mostly appear to have been men):

"Into The Groove" (Madonna/Stephen Bray)
"Papa Don't Preach" (Madonna/Brian Elliot)
"Open Your Heart" (Madonna/Gardner Cole/Peter Rafelson)
"True Blue" (Madonna/Stephen Bray)
"La Isla Bonita" (Madonna/Patrick Leonard/Bruce Gaitsch)
"Live To Tell" (Madonna/Patrick Leonard)
"Like A Prayer" (Madonna/Patrick Leonard)
"Express Yourself" (Madonna/Stephen Bray)
"Cherish" (Madonna/Patrick Leonard)
"Vogue" (Madonna/Shep Pettibone)
"Rain" (Madonna/Shep Pettibone)
"Deeper and Deeper" (Madonna/Shep Pettibone/Anthony Shimkin)
"Secret" (Madonna/Dallas Austin/Shep Pettibone)
"Human Nature" (Madonna/Dave Hall/Shawn McKenzie/Kevin McKenzie/Michael Deering)
"Take A Bow" (Madonna/Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds)
"Frozen" (Madonna/Patrick Leonard)
"Ray Of Light" (Madonna/William Orbit/Clive Maldoon/Dave Curtiss/Christine Ann Leach)
"Beautiful Stranger" (Madonna/William Orbit)

All right, so the first question you probably have is, "Who is Stephen Bray?" And "Who is Patrick Leonard?" And "Who is Shep Pettibone?" And "Who is William Orbit?" Great questions all.

Let's start with Stephen Bray. According to Wikipedia, he is "an American songwriter, drummer, and record producer from Detroit" who "began studying music through private instruction in Detroit, and continued his education at Berklee College of Music in Boston." He also "owns and operates Saturn Sound recording studios and the Soultone Records record label" and "is married to movie producer Stephanie Allain, who produced Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan." Interesting. He also appears to have been one of Madonna's many former boyfriends.

So, OK, when Madonna and Bray wrote songs, who did what? In the '80s Bray said, "I've always kind of made the rib cage and the skeleton of the song already—she's there for the last things like the eyebrows and the haircut. She writes in a stream of mood really." Madonna's recollections seem to differ. In the Wikipedia entry for "Into The Groove," Bray's contributions are not clarified. Here's what Madonna had to say:
"When I was writing it, I was sitting in a fourth-floor walk-up on Avenue-B, and there was this gorgeous Puerto Rican boy sitting across me that I wanted to go out on a date with, and I just wanted to get the song over with. I ultimately did go out with him and the song was finished just before my last date with him, which I'm kinda happy that it did not continue ... The dance floor was quite a magical place for me. I started off wanting to be a dancer, so that had a lot to do with the song. The freedom that I always feel when I'm dancing, that feeling of inhabiting your body, letting yourself go, expressing yourself through music. I always thought of it as a magical place – even if you're not taking ecstasy. Hence that came to me as the primary inspiration for 'Into the Groove'."[3]
Yes, dancing can be fun, even if you're not taking ecstacy. Wikipedia goes on:
"She had written the song for her friend Mark Kamins' protégée, Chyne. Kamins made Madonna record a demo of the song, which he wished to modify later for Chyne.[4] However, Madonna believed that the song would be more suitable for her film Desperately Seeking Susan, and re-recorded it with Bray, making it suitable for the soundtrack.[4] When Kamins came to know about it, he was furious that Madonna did not have the courtesy to tell him that she wanted the song for a different purpose. He felt walked over by Madonna, who retorted: "I'm tough, I'm ambitious and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, that's okay."
We'll leave the "bitch" question unresolved for the time being here. Wikipedia says that "True Blue" was "originally written by Steve Bray" although Madonna must have had a strong hand in the lyrics as " 'True Blue' takes its title from a favorite expression of her then husband Sean Penn and to his very pure vision of love[2] and was a direct tribute to him." So I think we're safe in assuming that Bray wrote the music to this one. And Wikipedia doesn't tell us much about "Express Yourself" other than that it was "written and produced by Madonna and Steve Bray."

Moving on. Who was Patrick Leonard? I mean, here's a guy who continued to collaborate with Madonna as late as "Frozen." Somebody give him a medal. It sounds like he isn't much of anybody, although in addition to his work with Madonna he has produced Roger Waters, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Bryan Ferry, among others. So what did he do, and what did Madonna do?

According to the Wikipedia gods, " 'Live to Tell' was originally written by Patrick Leonard for the soundtrack of Paramount's romantic drama film Fire with Fire, but after the company declined it, Leonard presented the song to Madonna.[1] She decided to use it for At Close Range, the new film of her then-husband, actor Sean Penn." And yet Madonna carries a co-writing credit. Hmm. Call me crazy, but it sounds like she didn't do shit. Same here:
"La Isla Bonita" was written by Patrick Leonard and Bruce Gaitsch. The song was previously written as a lament for the mythical Spanish island called San Pedro and was offered to Michael Jackson for his Bad album, who, according to Gaitsch, turned it down.[1] While working with Leonard on the True Blue album, Madonna accepted it in Jackson's place and re-wrote the song's lyrics, thus earning herself a co-writing credit.
So, again, Madonna tinkered with the lyrics but didn't really "write" the song. And Wikipedia doesn't tell us much about the writing of "Like A Prayer," "Cherish," or "Frozen." Why do I have the strange feeling that Patrick Leonard did a lot?

How about Shep Pettibone? Pettibone is a much less obscure collaborator than either Bray or Leonard. According to Wikipedia, he is
...a record producer, remixer, songwriter and club DJ, one of the most prolific of the 1980s ... His prowess at production and mixing led him to work with such artists as Madonna and George Michael in the late '80s during the height of these artists' popularity ... He was instrumental in bringing the early underground sound of house music into the pop mainstream by way of a hybrid sound (much to the dismay of some purists who preferred standard disco/dance and R&B). Though he was contemporaneous to others (such as François Kevorkian and Arthur Baker), he is certainly the most prominent DJ/Remixer to bridge the high Disco and House eras in popular dance music.
Well, OK, but what kind of a songwriter was he? Wikipedia doesn't tell us much about "Vogue" other than that Madonna and Pettibone wrote it as a quick B-side, but "after presenting the song to Warner Bros. executives, all parties involved decided that the song was too good to be wasted on a B-side and that it should be released as a single." Smart decision. No details about "Deeper and Deeper," "Erotica," "Rain," or any of the other material from Erotica, which, it turns out, appears to have essentially been co-written by Pettibone.

Like Pettibone, William Orbit was already a significant dance/electronica producer before he teamed up with Madonna:
Madonna began working on Ray of Light in May 1997, meeting with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, whom she had previously worked with on her 1994 album Bedtime Stories. The two wrote a couple of songs together before Madonna decided the collaborations were not going in the musical direction she wanted for the album. According to Edmonds, the songs "had a 'Take a Bow-ish' kind of vibe, and Madonna didn't want, or need, to repeat herself."[3] After abandoning the songs she had written with Edmonds, Madonna turned to musician Rick Nowels, who had previously co-written songs with Stevie Nicks and Celine Dion. The collaboration produced seven songs in three days, but did not display the album's future electronic musical direction.[4] Instead, Madonna took her collaborations with Nowels and Leonard to British electronic music musician William Orbit. Madonna had been a fan of Orbit's work, and loved the "sort of trancy, ambient quality" he gave to the songs he worked on.[5] She began working with Orbit after he had sent her tapes of musical snippets he was working on, which were usually eight or sixteen-bar phrases and stripped down versions of tracks that would later be heard on the album. Madonna would listen to the samples over and over again until she would be inspired to write lyrics. Once she had an idea about the lyrical direction of the song, she would take her ideas back to Orbit, and they would expand on the original music ideas. The album's title track "Ray of Light" was the only song on the album that Madonna did not have anything to do with creatively, and the last track, "Mer Girl", was the only other song where Madonna did not compose the music along with her collaborators, writing only the lyrics.[3]
So, she sort of wrote some of the music, some of the time, in sort of collaboration, with somebody. I give up.

Or do I? Maybe these one-off collaborations will shed some extra light on the topic:

"Papa Don't Preach":
[True Blue's] first track "Papa Don't Preach", was written by Brian Elliot, who described it as "a love song, maybe framed a little bit differently".[2] The song is based on teen gossip he heard outside his studio, which has a large front window that doubles as a mirror where schoolgirls from the North Hollywood High School in Los Angeles regularly stopped to fix their hair and chat.[3] The song was sent to Madonna by Michael Ostin, the same Warner Bros. executive that discovered "Like a Virgin".[4] Madonna only contributed with some minor lyrical revisions, making "Papa Don't Preach" the only song in the album that she did not have a strong hand in writing.[4]
"Open Your Heart":
"Open Your Heart" was originally a rock 'n roll song with the title "Follow Your Heart" and had been written for singer Cyndi Lauper by songwriters Gardner Cole and Peter Rafelson, although it was never played to her. The Temptations were also considered for the song. Their manager Benny Medina decided that they wanted to record the song after all, but upon hearing that Madonna had already recorded it, changed their mind.[1] The original title according to Cole, was from a local health food restaurant called Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park, California. In Fred Bronson's book The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, Cole explained,

"Peter and I usually write very quickly. It's usually a day or two a song, but for some reason this didn't really hit us as a hit song. We didn't give up on it. We just kept working on it over the course of a year. Thank God we did ... It was the first song that was cut on the True Blue album. It made me nervous as a writer, because a lot of times the very first song that gets cut doesn't make it in the long run. But the song ended up making the album, which really opened up a lot of doors for me."[1]

Cole's manager Bennett Freed was working with Madonna's management and they were looking for new material for her album. Three of Cole's songs were chosen for reviewing including "Open Your Heart". Despite the fact that it did not fit exactly with the choice and genre of songs Madonna was singing at that time, she nevertheless accepted it. Madonna recorded "Open Your Heart", altered the lyrics thus earning a co-writing credit, and along with Patrick Leonard added a bassline underneath the song which turned it into a rock-dance track rather than the original rock 'n roll genre.
So in conclusion: Madonna may have composed many of her own lyrics, but it appears that she almost exclusively relied on collaborators for her (very catchy) melodies. So she is not quite a songwriter in the sense that Paul Simon or Stevie Wonder are songwriters. Which is not to say that Madonna is somehow not talented, or that she rode on the coattails of other, more talented, musicians and took all the glory for herself. It takes a certain kind of talent to pull all those different elements together (music, lyrics, arrangement, vocals, production) and make a memorable hit song out of it all. If she didn't have that talent ... I don't care who she was working with. She wouldn't have lasted two albums.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nixon, Stutterers, Projectionists, Lion Allergies, and More

Ah, the Nixon tapes: the gift that keeps on giving. Just when you're about to re-evaluate the guy and finally say to yourself "You know, that Nixon guy wasn't so bad," another batch of tapes comes out and you're back to where you started. Some anti-Semetic highlights:
Bob, please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats. … All right. Could we please investigate some of the cocksuckers?

The Jews are born spies. You notice how many of them are? They're just in it up to their necks. … Also, an arrogance, an arrogance that says—that's what makes a spy. He puts himself above the law.

I didn't notice many Jewish names coming back from Vietnam on any of those lists; I don't know how the hell they avoid it.
And this winner from Kissinger:
The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.
I'm always a sucker for Slate's year-end "Most Ridiculous Explainer Questions" column. My favorites:
Do passive-aggressive people know they are passive-aggressive? Also, how can you tell if you are passive-aggressive?

If the entire U.S. was put up for sale, including privately- and publicly-owned land, homes, structures, et al., what would be the total asking price on the open market? I know it's not a boom time to sell, but there may be a buyer lurking somewhere!

Are all languages equally lip-readable?

Do real life experts of martial arts really have the capability of take on a dozen armed thugs and beat them black and blue—as seen in films?

Why is hearing about other people's dreams so boring?

Avatar came out in 3-D at a lot of theaters. I saw an ad about the giant cats on TV with my cat on my lap and was wondering, do 3-D glasses work on cats?

Re: Will I die. Hi my name is [redacted] and I was sucking some helium today and I'm really nervous I did it at about 5:00 today and it's 12:00 I just prayed to god to keep me safe I felt my pulse on my wrist and it was normal I just was wondering if it will hurt my older life I am about 10 to 14 years of age.

Could mankind actually blow up the moon? Blast it with nuclear missiles until it was just rubble? What would happen to the Earth?

If a person is allergic to cats (common housecat allergies) would he also be allergic to a lion?
Also, movie projectionists are apparently becoming extinct (although one of our loyal readers may have something to say about that). Indeed, I have fond memories of climbing up to the projection booth to see Yoggoth hard at work at the Holiday Cinema in Davis, pushing a couple of buttons. There was an undeniable vibe in that darkened room filled with spinning discs, but even at the time, I couldn't help but wonder, "Does a person really need to be up here doing this?"

Finally, a history of stuttering in the movies. Sadly, Porky Pig is not included.

Friday, December 17, 2010

KMFDM's "Angst" (1993)

Next stop on my tour of re-discovery is KMFDM's sixth album Angst. It was the early 90s and industrial music was just about to hit its mainstream stride with Nine Inch Nails opening up the floodgates for a slew of me-too imitators. Lest you think that KMFDM were part of this ride, they had at this point actually been chugging along for nearly ten years.

KMFDM were originally founded on leap day 1984 as an art performance outfit. Over the course of several albums the band morphed into an industrial music outfit, but an industrial still very much rooted in the 80s - meaning their songs contained little emotion and had more of a socio-political bent, with a lot of synthesized blips and bloops and very little guitar. While this stuff was OK for the time, I do particularly like several of the songs off of their previous album Money, it wasn't necessarily memorable.

Angst changed all that by, well, basically adding more guitar (in today's internet fueled world someone would say needz moar guitar!). Not only that, but with this album I contend that KMFDM perfected the formula they had been working on for the past decade. They added stronger political messages, stronger female vocals, nearly perfected their sloganeering, and really just reveled in tounge-in-cheek humor.

Many people's first question is "What does KMFDM stand for?" While you can find nearly endless speculation, anything from Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode to Keep Madonna From Doing Music, the real words are Kein Mitleid fuer die Mehrheit, or, No Pity for the Majority. While this sounds like a strong, nearly fascist, viewpoint, especially considering that the phrase is in German, KMFDM really walk a fine line between the political and outright humor, often jumping back and forth in the same song.

The other thing I really dig about KMFDM is that it's essentially a constantly shifting group of collaborators. At it's heart is Sascha Konietzko and, until recently, En Esch. While Sascha is sort of the heart of the band, there are countless other contributors, changing with each album, almost like some artists collective. They're like the Wu-Tang clan of industrial. Everybody's there, from members of former rival industrial groups to Italian female lounge singers. If you want to be in KMFDM it would seem that all you need to do is pretty much call up Sascha and ask.

The band also has a knack for formula and meme-inducing repetition. The most noticeable are the album covers. All of the band's album covers (except one) are done by the same artist, Brute, with a simple square cartoon featuring overly stylized people, with the bold KMFDM printed at the top and the five-letter album name at the bottom. Yes, KMFDM loves their five letter titles, something they carried through until only recently when I think Sascha just got tired of or ran out of remaining five-letter words.

The band also likes to mention their name a lot in songs, something some reviewers find annoying, though these reviewers are completely missing the humor. Another formulaic element of their albums include the aforementioned sloganeering, with particular lines from older songs being reused and re-chanted in later albums, to the point where a fan would almost be disappointed if an album didn't include somewhere the Jamaican voiced sample "Black man/white man/rip the system". It's like expecting to see Hogwarts in a Harry Potter movie.

I also enjoy how KMFDM utilizes female vocals, something I don't think I've ever heard any other industrial band do, or at least do effectively. I love the contrast between the industrial rhythms and the female voiced melodies.

Okay, so what about the music? Like I said, Angst relies heavily on guitars, so it can come across a little 'metal' at times (though no metalhead would probably ever consider the group metal). The album begins with the song Light (five letters!), a perfect example of everything I've been talking about so far. KMFDM self name check? Tounge-in-cheek humor? Female vocals? References to previous songs? En Esch saying mysterious sounding things in German? They're all there! The song is basically a pun on the idea that what you are getting is KMFDM lite (We keep simple/tough and outright/easy to swallow/KMFDM light!).

Arriving instantly on the heels of Light (remember what I said in my last post about album flow?) is A Drug Against War. One of the only two songs by KMFDM to ever get any airplay, A Drug Against War is an insanely fast paced shout-along. Listening to it you're bombarded with a barrage of sound clips dealing with war and violence, taken from god knows where (the best one is 'bomb the living bejeepers out of those forces').

Blood (evil mix) is a mid-tempo guitar grind that fans appreciate, but isn't terribly remarkable. And don't ask me why it's the evil mix because I have no idea.

Lust is a strange little number that's a slice of dancy-disco infused with German lyrics I've never quite understood, but it's kind of fun and funky.

Glory (five letters zomg!) is a great example of KMFDM's strong yet strangely ill-defined political leanings. It's a rant against fat-cat politicians, fair enough. But it's always hard to read KMFDM. Are they advocating collectivism, or are they Tea Party get-off-my-property individualists? I've never really been too sure.

The album moves along from there with the tracks Move On, No Peace (featuring an organ!), and A Hole in the Wall, all good songs if you're a fan of KMFDM, though I wouldn't recommend them as introductions to the band.

Near the end of the album we get KMFDM's ultimate self-referential and self-deprecating masterpiece, Sucks. Essentially a three and a half minute song covering all the reasons KMFDM sucks, it's not high brow or necessarily witty, but it's the perfect example of the band at their sarcastic finest. Sample lyrics:

"Our music is sampled, totally fake/it's done by machines 'cause they don't mistakes"

"We don't like Michael Jackson, we hate Depeche Mode/We don't care for Madonna or Kylie Minogue" (strange that nearly 20 years later those artists still have relevance)

"You might think we're stupid but we're way above it/We don't give a shit and the kids just love it!" (the 'kids just love it' part would go on to become another KMFDM slogan, most notably on the song Beast)

"KMFDM forward the ultimate sound with a message from Satan if you turn it around" followed by the sound of Satan leaving a nonchalant message on an answering machine (get it?). I just always got a kick out of this one.

So yeah, Sucks could be seen as KFMDM's love letter to the fans, a sort of 'thanks for sticking with us' ode to themselves. Or their just assholes looking for money. Whatever.

The final song on the album The Problem is perhaps the most interesting song on the album. I, and many of my fellow high school KMFDM listeners, thought it was the worst song on the album. Some still do. Increasingly I think the opposite. Sung by Dorona Alberti (who now is apparently a jazz lounge singer) the song is a definite departure from KMFDM's usual sound, and it's utterly amazing to think that it shares the same album with A Drug Against War. It's a poppy song about how a kid's problems aren't really his, but a problem with the system (so that makes KMFDM advocating collectivism, right?). I used to hate this song cause I thought it sounded like some sort of Mariah Carey pop song. Now I see it as a song where KMFDM get to show off a different side of themselves (or really Sascha does), and it acts as a nice cool down from the rest of what preceded it. Anyways, it's definitely worth taking a listen to.

Overall Angst is still my favorite KMFDM album. A total departure from the emotionally wrought albums of Nine Inch Nails, I listened to Angst a lot in college at a time when I was forming my political views. After college I turned to yet another acronym infused band (I do seem to have a thing for them) with VNV Nation, but that's not part of this re-discovery.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Madonna: Interpreter

She may have sang "Holiday," but as an interpretive singer, Madonna was probably no Billie Holiday. And yet, particularly early in her career, an interpretive singer is precisely what she was. Here are some of the major Madonna hits that Madonna did not write:

"Holiday" (Curtis Hudson/Lisa Stevens)
"Borderline" (Reggie Lucas)
"Like A Virgin" (Billy Steinberg/Tom Kelly)
"Material Girl" (Peter Brown/Robert Rans)
"Crazy For You" (John Bettis/Jon Lind)
"Dress You Up" (Andrea LaRusso/Peggy Stanziale)

Those are some pretty big hits right there. Indeed, who are these people? Let's start at the start.

In 1983, Madonna was recording her eponymous debut album with Warner Bros producer Reggie Lucas, after Sire Records green signaled it when her first single "Everybody" became a club hit.[2] However, she did not have enough material for the album.[3] Lucas brought two new songs to the project and John "Jellybean" Benitez, a DJ at Funhouse disco was called to remix the available tracks ... It was Benitez who discovered a new song written by Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stevens of the pop group Pure Energy.[4] The song, titled "Holiday", had been turned down by Phyllis Hyman and Mary Wilson, formerly of The Supremes.[5] After the vocals were added by Madonna, Benitez spent four days and tried to enhance the commercial appeal of the track before the April 1983 deadline.[3][5] Just before it was completed, Madonna and Benitez took the tape over to their friend Fred Zarr's apartment in Brooklyn.[5] Zarr added a piano solo in the intermediate section of the track.[4]
So let's hear it for John "Jellybean" Benitez and Fred Zarr. Unfortunately, there is no Wikipedia hyperlink for Curtis Hudson, Lisa Stevens, or even Pure Energy as a group. It turns out that one of the greatest pop songs of all time was apparently written by a bunch of nobodies. Albeit nobodies with royalty checks that are probably larger than my yearly salary.


Wikipedia doesn't tell us much other than that it was "written and composed by producer Reggie Lucas" - the producer of Madonna's debut album. Maybe it does sound a little too harmonically complex for a young Madonna. By comparison, to learn that she wrote "Everybody" is not especially shocking.

"Like A Virgin":
"Like a Virgin" was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Steinberg explained that the song was not only not written for Madonna, it was not even written for a female singer but was inspired by his personal experiences.[1]

"I wasn't just trying to get that racy word virgin in a lyric. I was saying ... that I may not really be a virgin — I've been battered romantically and emotionally like many people — but I'm starting a new relationship and it just feels so good, it's healing all the wounds and making me feel like I've never done this before, because it's so much deeper and more profound than anything I've ever felt.[1]"
Or it could mean you feel like you're being fucked for the first time. Either way it works.
In mid-1984, Madonna met up with producer Nile Rodgers at the then Power Station studios in New York.[3] Rodgers initially did not want Madonna to record "Like a Virgin", as he felt that the lyric 'like a virgin' was not a terrific hook, according to him it was not an all-time catch phrase.[1] Madonna did not care about the song either, after hearing the demo, she thought that it sounded "really stupid and retarded". Later, Madonna had second thoughts, "It's weird because I couldn't get it out of my head after I played it, even though I didn't really like it. It sounded really bubble-gummy to me, but it grew on me. I really started to like it, [...] But, my first reaction to it was, 'This is really queer.'"[4] Rodgers credits Madonna with recognizing the song's potential, he later said: "I handed my apology to Madonna and said, 'you know... if it's so catchy that it stayed in my head for four days, it must be something. So let's do it.'" Hence the song was finally recorded.[1][4]

Steinberg reflected on the recording process and commented that: "When Madonna recorded it, even as our demo faded out, on the fade you could hear Tom saying, "When your heart beats, and you hold me, and you love me..." That was the last thing you heard as our demo faded. Madonna must have listened to it very, very carefully because her record ends with the exact same little ad-libs that our demo did. That rarely happens that someone studies your demo so carefully that they use all that stuff. We were sort of flattered how carefully she followed our demo on that. It was the perfect union, I knew it from the first day in the studio. The thing between us, man, it was passionate, it was creative. [...] Madonna was sometimes temperamental during the recording, everyone told me she was a terrible ogre, but I thought she was great.[5]"
Well, she's got one vote in her corner at least.

"Material Girl":

According to Wikipedia, Peter Brown is an artist, songwriter, and record producer who popularized the ARP Synthesizer and helped found House Music in the '70s. His song "Do You Want To Get Funky" became "the first gold 12" single in history." I guess a lot of people wanted to get funky. Here's what Brown had to say about a slightly more famous creation:
"We were trying to write a song for her and we were brainstorming for some musical direction that seemed to suit her. I was driving home when I started humming the chorus to a song. I could hear the whole thing in my head as if it were a finished record. It was all there in a flash, music and lyrics. Living in a material world, living in a material world. It is the one and only time a song has come to me like that - like a gift from heaven. I remember forcing myself to sing it over and over while I made my way home so as not to become distracted by something else and forget it completely. When I got home I quickly played and sang it into a recorder to lock it in. There was her song."
And there was your songwriting career.

"Crazy For You":

John Bettis bears the noble distinction of having written the lyrics to both a major Madonna song and a major Michael Jackson song ("Human Nature"). Jon Lind is responsible for Earth, Wind and Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" and Vanessa Williams' "Save The Best for Last," a song that will forever give me the depressing junior high school dance creeps. But who could have predicted that behind the seemingly banal surface of "Crazy For You" there lurked an epic artistic struggle?:

The ballad was released as the first single from the soundtrack of the 1985 film Vision Quest, a coming of age drama about a wrestler played by Matthew Modine.[1] Producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber, and music director Phil Ramone was aware of the then unknown Madonna, who was just signed to Sire Records. Ramone took her for dinner at his house in Carolwood Records, where she played some of her music videos. Ramone and the other Warner executives present there, were impressed by Madonna's self-possession and fishnet-crucifix style.[2] So they decided to test her voice in a New York studio. Peters was impressed with Madonna and assigned Joel Sill, an executive in charge of music at Warner Bros. Pictures, to handle the recording of the two songs for the film.[2] Sill sent the script of the film to Bettis and Lind.[1] After going through the script, Bettis wanted to write a song about the situation, where the main characters – a young boy and a girl boarding at a house – dance together at a nightclub.[1]

He elaborated,"We were noodling around and 'Crazy for You' was something that Jon was singing over that section of the song. It was really descriptive of the scene in the film. [...] After that, I was out on vacation out in the desert and [Sill] called and said Phil Ramone was in love with the song and wanted to cut it on Madonna. [Laughing] 'Borderline' was out at that time and I said, 'Excuse me? This is for Madonna? Really? Can she sing a song like this?' Jon and I were surprised at the choice of artist at the time, if you want to know the truth."[1]

After Sill let Bettis and Lind know that Madonna was singing the song, some time elapsed before either of them heard anything from Warner Bros. Records. In between, they went to one of the recording sessions and were not impressed with the process of recording the song.[1] Bettis commented, "We went to one of the sessions, and to be honest, that particular session did not go all that well. [...] Jon and I were depressed about the way the song had come out. We heard nothing else about it and we were a little nervous that the song was going to be dropped from the picture."[1] Bettis went to England to work on the 1985 fantasy film Legend with music producer Jerry Goldsmith. It was there he received a call from Lind, who informed Bettis that a new version of "Crazy for You" was recorded and was made ready for a single release.[1] Bettis was surprised and went over to Lind's house, where he warmly received the new recorded version of the song. It had a different arrangement from the demo version, and the arrangement was done by composer Rob Mounsey who rearranged the original track and added the background vocals. Bettis said: "We owe a big debt of gratitude to [Mounsey]. He really made a hit record out of [the song]."[1]
Yes, Rob Mounsey, without your tireless sacrifice, where would we be? In a world without "Crazy For You"? No, I can't even think of it.

"Dress You Up":
"Dress You Up" was the last song to be included on the Like a Virgin album. Producer Nile Rodgers had initially asked songwriters Andrea LaRusso and Peggy Stanziale to write a chic-styled song for Madonna.[1] However, the writing took time, since both LaRusso and Stanziale were busy with other projects.[2] When the lyrics of the song was submitted, Rodgers rejected it as there was no time to compose a melody and record it for the album. However, Madonna liked the lyrics of the song, and persuaded Rodgers to include it on Like a Virgin.[2]
And when Madonna likes a song, it goes on the album.

So what's the verdict?

1) Some of the most famous pop songs of the '80s were written by some very obscure people.

2) Even though she did not write these songs, Madonna certainly made them her own. So much so that no one would even dare to think of the possibility of their having originated from the talents of anyone else. No one ... other than Little Earl, that is.