Story of the Song: Papa Don’t Preach by Madonna

From The Independent archive: Robert Webb on the Material Girl’s ambiguous 1986 hit

Friday 17 September 2021 21:30
<p>Platinum blonde: Madonna in the 1986 video for ‘Papa Don't Preach’ </p>

Platinum blonde: Madonna in the 1986 video for ‘Papa Don't Preach’

Madonna prefaced the release of “Papa Don’t Preach” with a warning: it was, she said, “a message song that everyone is going to take the wrong way.” Some heard in it Madge's pleas to her father for acceptance of her then beau, Sean Penn. Others assumed it was the words of a confused, pregnant teenager, turning to her caring papa with a tough decision.

“When I first heard the song, I thought it was silly,” Madonna said. “But then I thought, wait: this song is really about a girl who is making a decision in her life. To me, it is a celebration of life.”

“Papa Don't Preach”, more recently a hit for Kelly Osbourne, came from the charmed pen of the songwriter and producer, Brian Elliot. It was originally intended for Christina Dent, a new signing to Madonna's label, Warner Bros, in 1986. Elliot ran his demo past Michael Ostin, Warner's A&R executive. But Ostin had other ideas: he slipped Elliot's tape into the drawer marked “Madonna”.

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