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The Madonna Timeline: Song #105 – ‘Dress You Up’ – 1985

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

The year was 1985. In the wood-paneled family room of my childhood home, the remains of a Saturday morning of cartoons had faded away, and the early afternoon chill of the second half of the weekend had begun. Our parents were off somewhere else, leaving my brother and I deliciously alone for a couple of hours. On the television, Madonna’s ‘Virgin Tour’ began, and the opening salvo of ‘Dress You Up’ sounded.

I didn’t know her then. I also didn’t know how concerts worked, or whether she would sing more songs that I recognized. All I knew was that one hit after another came over the TV, and I alternately sat and danced along with this woman who would change my life from that moment forward.

You’ve got style,
That’s what all the girls say
Satin sheets, and luxuries so fine
All your suits are custom-made in London,
Well I’ve got something that you’ll really like

If ‘Material Girl’ made me a Madonna fan, ‘Dress You Up’ solidified that status. It was catchy, had a driving beat, and on the surface it was all about fashion. It spoke to me in ways overt and subliminal, and it may just be my favorite cut off the ‘Like A Virgin’ opus – no small feat considering the lead-track (MG) and the title-track (LAV). ‘Dress You Up’ touched something deeper in my gay psyche: a love of glamour, a perfectly-crafted pop song, and a dream of something better. (It also marked my most egregious lyrical misunderstanding of all time – instead of ‘All your suits are custom made in London’ I thought it was ‘All your suits are custom made and laundered.’ Such was the thought process of a ten-year-old gay boy. Either way worked.)

Gonna dress you up in my love
All over, all over
Gonna dress you up in my love,
All over your body.

In my brother’s boyhood bedroom, I played this song over and over on his stereo, rewinding it and jumping on the bed to the Nile Rodgers beat. In the same space where we re-created ‘You Can’t Do That on Television’ (recording our own ‘You Can’t Do That on Tape’ audio cassettes and staging earthquakes with falling debris in the place of green slime – hey, I may have loved Madonna but I was still just a boy), I listened to her sing about the stuff of fantasy and fascination. The underlying metaphors might have been lost on my virgin ears, but there were more powerful forces at work.

Feel the silky touch of my caresses
They will keep you looking so brand new
Let me cover you with velvet kisses
I’ll create a look that’s made for you
Gonna dress you up in my love
All over, all over
Gonna dress you up in my love,
All over your body.

Far more than come-hither sexiness, Madonna showed me the art of seduction – not so much as a means of gaining access to the bedroom, but as a pathway to acceptance and love. With her strut, her cockiness, and her devil-may-care sense of fashion, she taught me confidence – and even if that confidence wasn’t real, even if it was just a front – there was power in that. When Madonna looked out at the world as her own, she made it all right for me to look too, and if I could get there by dressing myself up, so much the better. Because that was something I could do.

From your head down to your toes…
Song #105 – ‘Dress You Up’ – 1985
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