When it came time for Madonna to debut her pivotal third album, True Blue, the breakout superstar hit the world with a change-up: "Live to Tell," the dramatic ballad that served as the record's lead single.
"Sometimes when I'm writing songs, I'm just channeling," Madonna told Rolling Stone in 2009. "I could say that 'Live To Tell' was about my childhood, my relationship with my parents, my father and my stepmother. But maybe not. It could be about something in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, or a story that I heard once. It's true, but it's not necessarily autobiographical."
Released in late March '86, the song, co-written by Patrick Leonard, would also serve as the main song for At Close Range, the movie starring her then-husband, actor Sean Penn. The track raced up the charts, peaking at #1 on the Hot 100 for the week June 7, 1986. It hit the top spot after being blocked for two weeks by Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All." "Live to Tell" would only own #1 for a single week, replaced on the following chart by Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald's "On My Own."
"It was kind of inspired by the movie and family secrets and the things that make you who you are, but you don't necessarily want to share," the singer would tell Mojo in 2015. "Mix that in with my own childhood and my own growing up and all that. My real experiences get mixed in with things that I imagine."
Madonna would generate controversy (imagine that) on the 2006 Confessions Tour by performing "Live to Tell" while hanging from a cross.