When you’re shedding a tear sidewalks will hear…
One of the many lesser-known Madonna tracks is Sidewalk Talk. Released by her early 80s boyfriend John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, the track is a frenetic hundred-words-a-minute tale of living on the streets and the paranoia that comes from pouring your heart out in places where it may be overheard and become common knowledge.
Madonna is credited with having written the song alone – one of only a handful only ever given that distinction – and she sang quite clearly audible backing vocals on the released version, which although credited as a ‘Jellybean’ single actually features lead vocals by a mysterious session singer called Catherine Buchanan, on whom, very little is known. However, despite it being her main vocal which helped the track climb to the upper reaches of the US Dance Chart, peaking at No.2 in early 1985 (it faired less well in the UK where, as Jellybean’s debut entry, it reached a lowly No.47 a year later), her name doesn’t appear anywhere on the sleeve! When asked how come it is his name that appears on the records, when he doesn’t appear to be singing or performing in any way ‘Jellybean’ compared himself to Steven Spielberg, claiming that ‘no-one has any doubt about what he does in his movies’. Ideas above his station? Never.
By the time the single was ready for release EMI America, the label ‘Jellybean’ was signed to, clearly saw the marketing potential in slapping Madonna‘s name across the project as much as possible, as not only did they print her name clearly on the actual single’s sleeve, but even in the advance promos they gave her writing credit the same size importance on the record’s label as the artist whose single it actually was!
Despite its 85/86 single release, the recording of the single was actually completed much earlier in 1984 and included a host of Madonna regulars. This isn’t surprising as the recording closely followed that which took place for the ‘Jellybean’ produced ‘Holiday‘ which had launched both Madonna and its producer into the big time. Combining the talent of ‘Jellybean’ twiddling the knobs, Madonna writing and singing backing vocals, Steve Bray helping with the mixing and regular Madonna keyboard player Fred Zarr (Holiday, Papa Don’t Preach, True Blue etc) all chipping in for the final recording the song, it’s no surprise that it doesn’s sound a million miles from Madonna’s other early dance-pop tracks.
The song appeared not only on ‘Jellybean”s debut album ‘Wotupski!?!‘ but the six minute extended version also popped up on the later compilation of remixes ‘Jellybean Rocks The House‘ (ah, so that’s what he does then!)