Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: Madonna, “This Used To Be My Playground”
22 years ago today, Madonna hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with a song which, despite serving as the theme song for A League of Their Own (even if licensing restrictions ultimately kept it off the soundtrack), has continued a slow slide into semi-obscurity for reasons which we’ll get into a minute.
“This Used To Be My Playground” was a co-write between Madonna, Shep Pettibone, and – although he’s not actually credited on the track – Tony Shimkin, who also had a hand in composing seven of the 14 songs on Madonna’s 1992 album, Erotica, including the singles “Deeper and Deeper,” “Bad Girl,” and the title track. (Not coincidentally, “Playground” was written and recorded just before the completion of Erotica.)
In an interview with the website MadonnaTribe.com, Shimkin clarified that he wrote the string parts and the violin section solo for the song. “When we recorded it with Al Schmidt at Ocean Way studio in L.A., we had a 30-piece orchestra and Jeremy Lubbock did the string arrangements, (but) we never included the demo that had the solo string part in it when we had him chart everything out for the orchestra,” revealed Shimkin. “On the day we were recording, we thought we were done and realized we forgot the solo. I quickly sang the part to the copyist, who then charted it out for the violin players, and they got it recorded with one minute to spare on the clock. When you have a thirty piece orchestra, it can be super expensive to roll into a second hour of their time!”
“This Used To Be My Playground” was released on June 16, 1992 and, as evidenced by this piece, the song obviously went on to become a huge hit in the US, but it also did quite well in Australia (#9), Holland (#8), France (#7), Belgium, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland (#6), South Africa (#4), the UK and Norway (#3), Ireland (#2), and Canada, Finland, Italy, and Sweden (#1). Heck, she even got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song! But here’s the funny thing: Madonna has never performed it in concert, she never turned up to sing it on any TV shows, and although it can still be readily obtained via her 1995 ballads compilation, Something to Remember, it hasn’t made the cut for either of the greatest-hits collections she’s put out since then.
Is there a reason? You’d think there must be, but if there is, we don’t know what that reason is. All we know is that it’s still a lovely song 22 years on, and it’s certainly worth revisiting on the anniversary of its greatest U.S. success.