The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #169: Papa Don’t Preach by Madonna (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #169: Papa Don’t Preach by Madonna.

In the 1980s, Madonna was as big a star as there was. A case in point is that throughout the 1980s, Michael Jackson was called, “The King of Pop”, while Madonna was called, “The Queen of Pop”. By the time, “Papa Don’t Preach” came out from the album, “True Blue”, she was a well-established star. “Papa Don’t Preach” was her fourth consecutive song and, like so many of her other hits, sold millions of copies worldwide. Madonna was a talented singer and dancer, for sure, but, one of the things that really set her apart was her sharp business sense. Madonna was a strong, confident woman and knew that this fact, alone, raised the hackles of those in positions of power. But, she also knew that tweaking the noses of powerful men, along with powerful institutions run by men, was a sure way to empower herself but more, it helped to keep her name in the headlines. “Papa Don’t Preach” is a textbook example of how Madonna constantly stood up for her right to chart her own course in every aspect of her life and how she use the concept of “controversy” as a marketing tool.

First of all, “Papa Don’t Preach” tells the story of a teenage girl from a loving, Catholic home, who falls in love with a handsome boy and ends up becoming pregnant. The crux of the song revolves around the girl’s decision to keep the baby and how she plans to tell her father, who she loves and respects very much. In many ways, how the father reacts is much more important than any opinion the boyfriend may have. In the end, the only person who’s opinion matters is Madonna’s, as her character remains unapologetic for making her own sexual choices and is willing to accept the consequences of those choices which, in this case, is to keep the newborn babe. She sees her actions as being responsible, under the circumstances.

Because of songs such as “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin”, Madonna was already under a harsh public spotlight when “Papa Don’t Preach” came out. Reaction to the song was swift and polarized. Conservative groups, led by folks like Tipper Gore (the head of the group that tried to put warning labels of albums and censor their content) hailed “Papa Don’t Preach” as sending a powerful anti-abortion message to young girls. Some other religious groups screamed that the song promoted teenage casual sex as being a lifestyle choice and would cause a spike in teenage pregnancies. Those folks called Madonna incredibly irresponsible, among other things worst than that. Planned Parenthood, who advocated birth control access for teenage girls came out against the song, as well. Feminist groups derided Madonna for her anti-abortion message, in opposition to Tipper Gore and her allies. Through it all, Madonna maintained that “Papa Don’t Preach” had nothing to do with any of that. She said that it was a song about female empowerment. That the lesson for young girls to take away from the song was to not be afraid of being yourself in a patriarchal society. Too often, young girls feel intimidated to live as they see fit because of the opinions of men such as fathers, boyfriends, priests, The Pope, bosses at work (who remain largely male-oriented) and so on. Madonna said that “Papa Don’t Preach” was an example of a woman charting her own course in life and making her own decisions and that the song should be applauded on those grounds.

Regardless of your opinion of her opinion, Madonna pleased no one with “Papa Don’t Preach”, except for the millions of people who brought her record and the scores of critics who thought that “Papa Don’t Preach” was the very best song on “True Blue” and likened it to “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson, which was also about an unexpected pregnancy but which suffered none of the scrutiny that came Madonna’s way. For what it is worth, if you ever find yourself visiting the Vatican, you are unable to buy any Madonna records nor publicly play her songs aloud…by decree of The Pope…..just so ya know.

Before I play the video for “Papa Don’t Preach”, it should also be noted that, for this video, Madonna drastically altered her appearance. Gone were her “Like A Virgin” lacy layered frocks and, in their place, was a close-cropped Pixie haircut, t-shirt, jeans and a leather jacket. Like David Bowie, Madonna was a stylistic chameleon, who underwent many different “costume changes” over the course of her career. For those who were worried about a spike in teen pregnancies as a result of this song…what really happened was a spike in Pixie haircuts.

In any case, here is Madonna with her big hit from the album, “True Blue” called, “Papa Don’t Preach”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Papa Don’t Preach” by madonna, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Madonna, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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