Does Madonna write her own songs? Yes, and no. She doesn’t write the music, that’s for sure. And now that Ms. Ciccone has been put up for induction in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, I thought it might be interesting to settle the question after all.
Last night I chatted with Patrick Leonard, the great composer of pop hits and sometimes even a ghost writer and ‘enabler’ for rock stars who need help getting their work onto paper. Leonard is a trained musician who can play anything at the drop of a hat. On the phone, from Amsterdam, where he’s working with Leonard Cohen, Patrick played “Like a Prayer” for me in different sections. He wrote the music for that hit, as he did for many of Madonna’s big hits during her top of the chart heyday.
Patrick Leonard wrote the music for, among others: “Like a Prayer,” “Cherish,” “True Blue,” “Live to Tell,” “La Isla Bonita,” “Frozen,” “Hanky Panky,” “Sky Fits Heaven,” “Nothing Really Matters,” “I’ll Remember,” and “Something to Remember.” He was a producer on “Open Your Heart.”
Madonna wrote the lyrics, Leonard says, with him, and helped create the melodies. He considers her a friend and mentor. “She put me on the map,” he says, “I’m grateful.”
“I’m one of those people behind the curtain.” Leonard says. “If she [Madonna] hadn’t sung those songs, no one would have heard them. She’s made it possible for me to do what I’m doing now.”
Their process was simple. He wrote the music, and brought it to Madonna. She would help supply lyrics and offer changes in the music to suit her. “She’d refine it,” he says. “You give her a track, she sings the melody. She’s very very talented.” Of their collaboration, he says, “One doesn’t exist without the other. She always showed up and she was always completely involved. I miss her, actually.”
They haven’t written together since 1997. Would he like to do it again? “Absolutely,” Leonard says. “She writes a lot with deejays now.”
Leonard is credited on all the songs he wrote with Madonna. They include the largest number of chart hits on which she is credited as co-writer. There are no songs that are credited just to Madonna. And a clutch of them were written solely by others including “Holiday,” “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” and “Borderline.”
Leonard told me he didn’t care if Madonna goes into the Songwriters Hall of Fame without him. He doesn’t believe in awards. He doesn’t even hang his gold records. “They’re all in a closet somewhere,” he said. He just believes in moving forward. This week he comes to New York to work with Roger Waters.