Madonna: Holiday

A short history of my friend Hilary’s favorite Madonna song

A clip from “Holiday”

When my friend Hilary C. was young, she did a figure skating routine to “Holiday.” “Everyone has their story!” Hilary exclaimed (via text message) when I prompted her about her Madonna experience on skates. Here is the story of “Holiday.”

Madonna’s self-titled debut album was released in July 1983, and while it didn’t immediately catapult her into superstardom, it was a hit: it sold nine million copies worldwide, compelling Warner Music executives to hold back the release of her second album, Like A Virgin (1984), until the demand for Madonna had subsided. (Madonna was later repackaged and renamed Madonna: the first album.) It received mixed reviews. In Rolling Stone, critic Don Shewey wrote:

Madonna, who crashed onto the dance charts last year with “Everybody,” has a voice that takes some getting used to. At first, it doesn’t sound like much at all. Then you notice its one distinguishing feature, a girlish hiccup that the singer uses over and over until it’s irritating as hell. Finally, you get hooked, and you start looking forward to that silly little catch in her voice. It helps that she writes good tunes — catchy and bare to the bone.
Above: the original album. Below: Madonna: the first album.

When the album dropped, Madonna was dating John “Jellybean” Benitez, who’d worked as a DJ at clubs like Studio 54, Electric Circus, and Funhouse. Benitez was also a producer and is responsible for “Holiday,” the album’s third single, which dominated the charts in the fall of 1983.

Madonna and Jellybean in the early eighties.

Pre-Madonna, Benitez had a demo of “Holiday,” and offered it to singer Phyllis Hyman and Supremes star Mary Wilson. Both turned it down before Madonna accepted.

“Holiday” became Madonna’s first Billboard Hot 100 hit and debuted at No. 88 on Oct. 29, 1983. The cut eventually rose to No. 16 in January 1984 and was the first of three top 20 singles from Madonna. You can certainly hear that “girlish hiccup” in “Holiday,” especially when the singer squeaks the chorus, which is essentially just two words repeated:

Holiday Celebrate
Holiday Celebrate

The Internet offers plenty of opportunities to see Madonna writhe to those two words (plus a few more): the shockingly amateur “official” music video; Madonna at Live Aid in 1985 (following an introduction by Bette Midler!); Madonna on the Blonde Ambition tour in 1990; and this — I really don’t know what this is, to be honest.

Madonna has since admitted that her debut album was “pretty weak,” but she’s never turned her back on “Holiday.” In fact, she seems to have a sense of humor about it. My favorite rendition of “Holiday”? The Tonight Show, April 2015. Madonna, wearing glasses and grillz, is joined by Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, who use classroom instruments as their accompaniment:

“How cool is Madonna?” Fallon said after the clip aired.

“I kind of sucked though,” Madonna said. “I forgot the words.”