Madonna – Keep it Together (Single Remix)
The other night I went to a 25th(!) anniversary screening of In Bed With Madonna (for British readers)/Truth or Dare (for everyone else) at London’s Prince Charles Cinema. Readers, what a brilliant event. It wasn’t billed as a quote-along, but that’s what we made it into. Every quotable moment (and that’s pretty much the whole thing) shouted out in unison (swiftly followed by group hysterics). A whole auditorium of people doing Donna’s Belinda Carlisle impression. A whole auditorium going “ah! ah! ah!” during the throat doctor scene, and every tour-specific ad-lib anticipated perfectly during the concert footage (“If it isn’t my lovely family!”) Loving Madonna means loving her flaws – her capacity for mean-ness especially – and here was a roomful of people gloriously aware of them, just as appalled and delighted as they were 25 years ago. It was quite the most joyous night I’ve ever spent at the cinema, and the biggest surprise was just how many people still own (and have looked after) their original tour t-shirts. If I could give my younger self one piece of advice it would be to buy two of everything and keep one pristine for revival a few decades down the line.
When the Blond Ambition tour came to Wembley in the summer of 1990, I was there, despite my grandfather threatening to disinherit me if I went (he didn’t go through with it, and I ended up buying a stereo with my inheritance). It was only my second ever pop concert (Pet Shop Boys was the first in 1989), and my first time in a stadium, my first time in London unaccompanied by teachers. It was also my first (and only) time seeing Technotronic ft Ya Kid K – but it was just the first of many trips to see Madonna. It remains my favourite (by a whisker – the Confessions tour comes very close) because it was the perfect combination of elements. It was a hot, clear-skied summer day, I was filled with anticipation for a brand-new experience, thrilled at the sensation of being part of a massive crowd and I had a youthful bladder of steel to get me through eight hours of standing. And I got to witness a pop star at the absolute, undeniable peak of her powers.
In a funny way, one of the best parts was looking forward to it being over, when it would become a classic, feel good memory to dredge up in later years. And one that’s come up over and over is the last number of the show, Keep it Together.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I was always a bit underwhelmed by Keep it Together prior to this event. A no.8 hit in America (which must have come as something of a relief after Oh Father peaked at a shockingly low no.20), it always struck me as the weakest track on Like a Prayer. I’ve never been that big on sincerity or expressions of actual feelings, and the production felt a bit ordinary – though I did eventually warm to the more stately and ever so slightly grand sounding single remix, which had also given it a pleasingly clubby and Soul II Soul-ish feel. I’m not sure if it was ever pegged for release in the UK (we got Dear Jessie instead) – but it eventually ended up on the b-side of Vogue. I’ve always wondered how it would have done here had it been released – I have a sneaky suspicion that it might have broken her top ten streak (which continued unabated right up until Take a Bow), so on this occasion I have to hand it to the UK record company types for going their own way.
That hot July night in Wembley changed everything. It was the first time I’d considered a broader meaning of the song – one being driven home on stage at that very moment (“you’re my family too”). And just for those few minutes the people with me (all 80,000 of them) felt like family. Obviously I’m highly suggestible and was presumably quite badly dehydrated by this point, but it was a revelation: Keep it Together finally made sense to me. I suppose sometimes the thing you love about a song is almost nothing to do with the song itself – it’s the moment in time it comes to represent. So whichever version of it I happen to hear now, it has the same effect. I’m transported right back to the summer of 1990 and I feel invincible and part of a ruddy great family. Which is pretty good going for a pop song, isn’t it?
I’m now making plans for a 50th anniversary screening of Truth or Dare, which, if the last 25 years are anything to go by, will be along frighteningly quickly. Care to join me?
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Madonna doesn’t get covered very often does she? (which reminds me, I loved the Lucrezia version of Live to Tell) – though Niki and Donna seem to be well up for it.