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Could ‘Into The Groove’ Be Madonna’s Best Song?

In 2004, Rolling Stone launched its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Tabulated from a massive vote that had artists, industry figures, and critics weighing in, the list has been a source of conversation, inspiration, and controversy for two decades. It’s one of the most popular, influential—and argued-over—features the magazine has ever done.

So we set out to make it even bigger, better, and fresher. In 2021, we completely overhauled our 500 Songs list, with a whole new batch of voters from all over the music map. Our new podcast, Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs, takes a closer look at the entries from our list. Made in partnership with iHeart, Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs finds hosts and Rolling Stone staffers Rob Sheffield and Brittany Spanos discussing a new song each week, delving into its history and impact with the help of a special guest — including fellow RS colleagues, producers, and the artists themselves. It’s our celebration of the greatest songs ever made—and a breakdown of what makes them so great.

This week our hosts Brittany Spanos and Rob Sheffield look at an Eighties dance-floor classic from one of the all-time pop legends: Madonna’s “Into The Groove.” It wasn’t Madonna’s first single (that was “Everybody”) or her first hit (that would be “Holiday”), but “Into The Groove” is the one that instantly evokes Madonna in her raw, gritty early days. It’s a fast, in-your-face disco anthem that hits as hard as punk rock, from the hungry young Madonna, aiming to sum up the whole history of dance music in one song. “Into The Groove” is still the song at the heart of her lifelong bond with the club scene and the dance community. It’s the one that where she sings right into your ear: “You can dance, for inspiration.”

Madonna is obviously all over the list, with three songs: “Into The Groove” placed at #161, “Vogue” was #139, while her 1989 hit “Like a Prayer” came in at #55. (“Like a Prayer” did even better on our recent massive list of the 200 Best Songs of the 1980s — it was right near the top, at Number Two.)  But somehow “Into The Groove” is the crucial song for her disco legacy.

Our hosts go into the weird story behind the song: Madonna wrote it with collaborator Stephen Bray, a low-budget home recording inspired by spying on a hot neighbor dancing in his apartment in the Lower East Side. When Madonna was making the 1985 movie Desperately Seeking Susan, director Susan Seidelman needed one more song for the soundtrack, for the scene in the downtown dance club. “Into The Groove” not only became a hit, it summed up an era in the history of dance music.

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Brittany and Rob delve into the timeless mysteries of “Into the Groove”: Why are we so obsessed with this song? Why does it loom so large over Madonna’s other hits? Why is it the gateway drug that hooks so many generations of Madonna fans? We also discuss some of the most bizarrely forgotten hits in her gigantic songbook, the ones that don’t get played on the radio as much as they deserve. (Nobody will forget “This Used To Be My Playground,” “Take a Bow,” or “What It Feels Like For a Girl” while we have anything to say about it.)

Brittany and Rob are joined by one of the most brilliant music writers around: Suzy Exposito, a longtime journalist for Rolling Stone and the L.A. Times. They break down the song’s impact on club culture, including the goth world—the dancing boy in the video became an iconic goth figure in himself. (Brittany and Suzy also have a lot of dirt to dish about the astrology influence on Madonna.) Check out the episode above, on iHeart, or wherever you get your podcasts, and look for new episodes every Wednesday.

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