When “Borderline” was released as a single in February 1984 I was 11: not quite old enough to be in love with a boy, just the right age to fall in love with a pop song. We fell en masse, the girls in my Catholic middle school, and as much as we could look like Madonna — lacy bows, mousse-mussed hair, fingerless gloves — while still pulling off the uniform kilt, we did. (Maybe the kilt didn’t hurt, actually.) What was it about “Borderline” that hooked us? That slightly adenoidal, approachable voice; the look Madonna had in the video of a cool big sister crossing over into womanhood, deciding what kind of woman she wanted to be; the tantalizing frustration not just of being in love but of constantly having one’s love pushed over the borderline. Madonna went on to sing more-clever songs (“Material Girl”), more-showy songs (“Like a Prayer”), more-sexy songs (“Justify My Love”). But “Borderline,” her first top-10 hit, captures the essence of her pop appeal, its freshness, simplicity and vitality.
(Browse the All-TIME 100 Songs and more than 100 other pop culture lists on TIME’s Populist iPad app)
Next ‘September Gurls’