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40 Years Ago, Madonna Changed Music Forever With Her Song “Everybody”

Here’s to four decades of pop stardom.

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On October 6, 1982 — 40 years ago today — pop music changed forever. That’s the day that Madonna, who was then virtually unknown, released her debut single, “Everybody.” The rest, as they say, is history. She’s been a part of American culture for so long — and gone through so many stylistic evolutions — that it’s hard to imagine a world without her in it. However you feel about her, there’s no denying the mark she’s made on music. With this in mind, here’s a look at the song that changed music forever.

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The Story Behind “Everybody”

Madonna’s self-titled debut album, which included “Everybody,” came out in the summer of 1983. When “Everybody” was released as a single the year before, she was unknown. At the time, Madonna Louise Ciccone was living in New York City after moving from her native Michigan in 1978 with dreams of becoming a dancer. Once in New York, she immersed herself in the club scene, finding inspiration in disco, hip-hop, and punk, as well as absorbing the innovations in visual arts and dance that were happening at the time. 

Madonna was a regular at the famed New York nightclub Danceteria. It was there that she gave an early tape of “Everybody” to DJ Mark Kamins, who played the song at the popular club and used his music industry connections to introduce Madonna to what would later become her record label. The two also dated, and Kamins ended up producing the final version of the single. “At that time, there weren’t any female singers in the charts. It was just really the right moment, the right time, for an artist like Madonna,” said Kamins, who died of a heart condition in 2013 at age 57.

The Visuals of “Everybody”

When “Everybody” was released, MTV was brand new. It wasn’t until 1984, when the video for “Borderline” came out, that Madonna became a regular on the channel. It’s hard to believe now, but because the single for “Everybody” featured an illustrated cover rather than a photo of Madonna, no one knew what she looked like — and some audiences weren’t even sure what race she was. As Kamins put it, “There was a reason why Warner Brothers didn’t put Madonna’s face on the cover. They didn’t want people to know if she was black or white. It was just a dance record.”

The video for “Everybody” shows Madonna and her backing dancers performing on a stage in front of twinkling lights as an audience dances below. The video isn’t particularly high-concept or expensive-looking — a far cry from the visuals that would dominate pop culture later in the decade and well into the ’90s — but Madonna’s signature confidence and coolness is clear. 

The Legacy of “Everybody”

In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna recalled the excitement of her debut. “I was living on the Upper West Side… and at about 7:00 at night I had the radio on in my bedroom, on [New York disco station] KTU, and I heard ‘Everybody.’ I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s me coming out of that box.’ It was an amazing feeling.” Soon enough, she’d get used to this feeling — but that first moment of recognition was a memorable one. Recently, there’s been talk of a Madonna biopic, to be directed and co-written by the musician herself. It’s likely that this pivotal period of impending stardom will be included.

“Everybody” wasn’t an immediate hit. It entered Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart a month after its release at number 40. While Madonna’s debut album performed well, it was her second album, 1984’s Like a Virgin, that made her music inescapable. Still, the simple, effective groove of “Everybody” set her career in motion, imploring the audience to join her on the dance floor: “Everybody come on, dance and sing/Everybody get up and do your thing.”

Madonna certainly did do her thing, sharing catchy tunes and an assertive persona that inspired a generation of women to don lace gloves and bustiers and dance their hearts out. Happy 40th anniversary, “Everybody.”

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