Who Wrote Madonna’s “Like a Virgin?”

Like a virgin / Touched for the very first time / Like a virgin / When your heart beats next to mine, plays the ear-worming lyrics to “Like a Virgin.”

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One of the most enduring tracks in her repertoire, Madonna’s controversy-courting tune, “Like a Virgin,” was her first of many No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Her 1984 smash hit, “Like a Virgin,” took a dynamic songwriting duo to create a tune inseparable from the beloved pop icon.

The Dynamic Duo

Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg were the pair behind the hit. They were also the duo behind other female-fronted No. 1 songs, like the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”

“I remember writing the lyrics to ‘Like a Virgin’,” Steinberg explained to Songfacts in an interview, “while driving in a red pickup truck that I owned around our dusty desert vineyards.”

He was working with his father, a vineyard farmer, when the lyrics struck him. “I had been involved in a very emotionally difficult relationship that had finally ended and I had met somebody new,” he said. “I remember writing that lyric about feeling shiny and new–I made it through the wilderness, somehow I made it through.

“I made it through this very difficult time so I took that lyric to Tom,” Steinberg continued. “He knew what I had gone through. He read those first lyrics and he sat down at the piano and he tried to write a sensitive ballad to them. He’d come up with a few interesting things but every time we got to the chorus lyric where it said, Like a virgin, it just hit a brick wall. How can you write a tender ballad called ‘Like a Virgin?'”

It wasn’t until Kelly began to fiddle around with a bass line that the soon-to-be pop standard started to take shape. “I said, ‘That’s it!'” Steinberg exclaimed. “He stopped and went, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘That’s it, that’s the song.'”

The lyricist explained, their demo of the tune featured obvious influences from Smokey Robinson’s singing style and touches of the Four Tops’ classic “I Can’t Help Myself.”

“As our demo faded out,” he said, “on the fade of our demo you could hear Tom saying, When your heart beats, and you hold me, and you love me. That was the last thing you heard as our demo faded. Madonna must have listened to it very, very carefully because her record ends with the exact same little ad-libs that our demo did.

“That rarely happens that someone studies your demo so carefully that they use all that stuff,” Steinberg added. “We were sort of flattered how carefully she followed our demo on that.”

Photo by Dirck Halstead/Liaison

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