Madonna’s pop classic, “Holiday,” is an institution. It’s a worldwide anthem bearing a message that resonates with people of all ages, cultural backgrounds, and faiths. The song, penned by Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stevens, is responsible for jump-starting a massive, 30-years-strong career of proportions which few artists experience. Upon the single’s 1983 release, Madonna was a struggling New York performer who had created some buzz in the club world with the dancefloor hits “Everybody” and “Burning Up.” In Part One, Hudson and Stevens share with Justin Kantor how their seminal composition was created; and their thoughts on the lady who brought it universal recognition.
Tell me how you came up with “Holiday.”
Lisa Stevens: I woke up, got on the keyboard and started playing those beginning chords over and over for a day or two. I couldn't come up with anything else. I just kept hearing those chords. Curt said, "Lisa, I hear something with that." At first, I said, "Wait a minute. Let me sit with this for awhile." And then, I didn't come up with anything. He came up with the hook—"Holiday, celebrate"—and that funky bassline. We just kicked it back and forth.
Curtis Hudson: Lisa wanted to go in a different direction. I was inspired by those first two chords. It kind of sticks in your gut. I wanted to write to it while I had that initial feeling. Maybe a week went by. By the time she said "Go ahead, you can write," I pretty much had the whole song in mind. I had been feeling it, so it poured out of me.
LS: When I heard that bassline, I said, "Whoa, Curtis! You're the man."
What about the verses?
CH: I did most of the lyrics.
LS: I threw in a couple. Curt was looking for a line when I said, "How about, 'It would be so nice'?"
CH: I pretty much wrote it from my head in 30 minutes. I did most of the lyrics and arrangements back then.
Do you usually have a concept before you start writing?
CH: It just comes together. The music inspires the feeling of the lyrics. At that time, I remember watching the news and thinking, “Wow, things are so depressing. We need to take a universal holiday—just that one day we could get away. That would be a great thing for this world.”