Throughout her career, Madonna has been a risk taker, flirting on the edge, and no wonder: Her first career gamble paid off big time. After waiting for ''Lucky Star,'' the final single from her 1983 debut album, Madonna, to straggle down the charts, the 26-year-old singer released her sophomore effort on Nov. 12, 1984. The gamble: a sexy photo and three little words, Like a Virgin, on the cover. Six weeks later, as preteens around the country pulled cassettes out of their Christmas stockings and asked, ''What's a virgin?'' a nation of Madonna wannabes was born.
Days before the album's release, the New York Post reported the title of her new video as ''I'm No Virgin,'' and the gaffe would prove closer to the truth than the real thing. The album contained such been-there-done-that lyrics as '' 'Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right,'' a line delivered, like many others over the next 11 years, partly tongue in cheek.
The reviews ranged from mildly positive to indifferent (People called the album ''a tolerable bit of fluff''), while Mick Jagger later opined that Madonna's tunes were characterized by ''a central dumbness.'' But something clicked. ''Like a Virgin'' spent six weeks at No. 1 on the singles chart. Other album singles, ''Material Girl,'' ''Angel,'' and ''Dress You Up,'' all hit the top five. By spring, Madonna Madness was in full swing, and girls were raiding stores for anything that accentuated their belly buttons.
Their new role model strutted her stuff with the aplomb of a woman who had dreamed of fame for years. Billboard editor Paul Grein predicted that ''Cyndi Lauper will be around for a long time; Madonna will be out of the business in six months,'' but the Material Girl stuck around, and Like a Virgin eventually sold 15 million worldwide, a feat none of her other collections has matched.
Today, Like a Virgin comes off as a bit repetitious and immature. Even its producer, Nile Rodgers, confesses, ''As a fan, it wouldn't be what I consider my favorite Madonna album compositionally.'' But it was perfect for the mid-'80s, when the country was searching for a pop queen to accompany the pop kings Michael Jackson and Prince. Already dressed for the party, the star announced in her press biography: ''1985 is going to be my year. You watch.'' It was our pleasure.