Live To Tell

Album: True Blue (1986)
Charted: 2 1

Songfacts®:

  • This was written for the movie At Close Range, staring Sean Penn, who Madonna was married to at the time. In 2004, Penn won an Oscar for his role in Mystic River. To this date, Madonna has never won an Oscar, not even for Swept Away.
  • Madonna wrote this with Patrick Leonard, who worked on many of her albums. Leonard also produced and played keyboards on albums by Rod Stewart and Elton John.
  • In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna said, "Sometimes when I'm writing songs, I'm just channeling. 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."
  • This was one of Madonna's first ballads. Early in her career, she relied on dance songs like "Lucky Star" and "Borderline," but she has done very well with slow songs like "Take A Bow" and "This Used To Be My Playground." It took her a few years to develop the vocal range for the ballads.
  • On her 2006 "Confessions" tour, Madonna performed this song while suspended from a giant cross and wearing a crown of thorns. Predictably, this caused a great deal of controversy and angered certain religious groups. When NBC aired a special of Madonna's concert, they refused to show the cross scenes. An uncut performance is available on Madonna's Confessions Tour DVD/CD collection.
    Madonna told Rolling Stone : "When I performed "Live to Tell" on a cross, I was supporting Jesus, paying homage to his message, which is to love your neighbor as yourself, to treat people with dignity. The Christians didn't like that."
  • Madonna told Mojo March 2015: "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. 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."

Comments: 16

  • Firsthand Knowledge from The Spaces Between PlacesThe main thing to consider is that while it's Madonna singing it, the words are from a man. First section, He has a secret, mutual love between two people, that must remain hidden. Second section, he assures her that the secret will remain confidential as men are used to lying to conceal things. Third section, he let's her know how beautiful and amazing she is and that even if she doesn't see it, he does, and no one can take that away. Fifth section, he warns her that they must be cautious as the truth may come out despite best efforts to conceal it and then he wonders if in the future he will ever have a chance to openly love her. Sixth section are all of his insecurities trapping him, he can't leave her, he can't let anyone know how he feels, he's worried that people will find out anyway, and that over time and their mutual love may pass him over.
  • Firsthand Knowledge from The Spaces Between PlacesI imagine this is a song where a man has learned that a woman he is in love with also loves him back, but due to both of their situations (other relationships, fame, or fear of people's perception) they cannot express it. So basically Madonna must have confessed her mutual love to someone but because of her fame or other relationships at that time the man had to keep it a secret causing him to misdirect or lie to others, while keeping it a secret that her heart belonged to him. Strong man.
  • Overhand Left from Middle Class UsaProbably Madonna's best song. I watched the movie At Close Range this week when I was on weed. The song comes in and out of the movie the entire time. I think of my prior girlfriend in the very beginning when he's driving down the street in the truck and spots the girl for the first time. That's how I used to look at mine. When I would meet her early in the morning to work out, when I would meet her anywhere, I would anticipate her arrival and just look at her as Something special. I used to smile different with her. There is a gift she possessed in the way of "healing," when we would sit together I would either place her leg on me, place her barefoot on mine, or placed her hand on my leg. As if she could heal me. I wanted to feel her comfort. I don't know why but I always think of her with the tune in this song. I used to steal s--t and break the law all the time and I stopped doing that when I was with her. I was lucky to have her because she has gifts that I never could. We wanted different things and thinking about that makes me sad but the good times with her we're worth it. Time is a valuable thing.
  • The Sad Man from Sacramento CaReally good song, kind of a sad one with the lyrics.

    I watched the movie again this week when I was on weed. I prefer watching the movie high on weed.
    Mira ese, I can afford whatever I want, I can afford dime piece (fill in the blank), I can go wherever I want absent the goddamn virus.

    But you know what I think of when I watch this movie? I think of an old girlfriend. One that actually made me happy. One that made me feel like, Sean Penn in the scenes where he was stealing stuff and then giving her necklaces with the stolen proceed money, etc.

    She would be so happy when I would give her gifts, jewelry, little things. Gestures of affection. Just to make her smile. I went out of my way to pick up things just to make her smile. She seemed really genuine in her appreciation.
    It made me feel good. It made me feel like I wanted to keep doing it. Because she would tell me: “you speak my language of love.” And it was sincere.

    Stuff like that would put the hook into me.

    And then things went south and I’m not gonna get into that here but I tell you something, I always think of her when I watch this movie and I miss those days.
    And I think of her with the song though I never lied.

    I was happier then.

    Time is a valuable thing
  • Left High Kick from Middle Class UsaAwesome song to the 1985 movie “At Close Range.” They keep playing the song in and out without the lyrics until the very end credits.
    The song is actually kind of haunting.

    “I have a tale to tell...”

    I had an old girlfriend, beautiful lady. Looks 10 years younger. She had a rough upbringing. She confided in me that she was molested by her dad and her uncle. Horrible stuff. Then no surprise, goes into an abusive marriage.

    I think she was either borderline personality or have BPD traits because she sure fit the description. But I’m no doctor.

    I could’ve helped her more; I could’ve saved her. But I didn’t. I chose my own sanity. I chose my own personal well-being after several years with her.

    She trusted me with her past. And I felt very endearing towards her. Like I wanted to protect her. But I couldn’t. It became too much. Too much burden. And too many fights for us etc. I couldn’t take it anymore.

    I wonder what she thinks of, when she thinks of her dad and her uncle. Probably scum of the earth.

    I wish her the best. And happiness. And a new beginning. She used to tell me, I want to run away with you. And I guess she meant it.

    I miss the old days with her - before the relationship became toxic.

    Great song here. Thanks for reading my story.
  • Tj from TorontoThe song is very plausibly about Madonna selling her soul for success:

    "I have a tale to tell, Sometimes it gets so hard to hide it well, I was not ready for the fall, Too blind to see the writing on the wall.
    A man can tell a thousand lies, I've learned my lesson well, Hope I live to tell The secret I have learned, 'till then It will burn inside of me."

    Pretty clear, if that's what it's about. Oddly, some of the very best songs seem to be about selling souls. Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was.
  • Molly from Niagara Falls, NyBetween the verses, the electric guitar is very subtle. (And almost completely mixed out of the 1990 remix, unfortunately)
  • Leo from Westminster 1, MdBeautiful song by Lady Madonna. In Live to Tell, Miss Ciccone's voice trembles, beseeches, seethes and cries with sadness and raw emotion. This song mad me a devoted fan of Madonna because in Live to Tell, Madonna realizes there is hope even in a no-win situation. It's no surprise that the beautiful ballad is her favorites song out of all the artworks she has done. Madonna's performances of Live to Tell on both the
    Who's That Girl? and the Confessions Tours are brilliant, sad and heartfelt. Yet in the end, Madonna is happy she wrote and sang Live to Tell for those like me who just some hope and encouragement in life. Thanks, Madge-for being my friend because of this beautiful
    art song. Live to Tell is a hopeful ballad that deserved its #1 position on the charts and made rock scribes believe in her. Live to Tell is her best song and my favorite Madonna tune
    -it's about being hopeful in hard times.
  • Ian from Nyc, NyThis song appears to have been written by Patrick Leonard. This is even noted on Wikipedia (relax, there is a citation). He wrote it for a movie other than Close Range. Another site had the original Leonard demo of the song, but it was removed from Youtube. Madonna's songwriting credit seems to be a subterfuge.
  • Rod from Gainesville, FlI don´t really think she wrote this song. Note how clueless she is when they ask her what it´s about.

    It is the best thing she ever sang I guess credit should go to this Patrick Leonard guy.
  • Marcus from Houston, TxThe song is very haunting. Definitely one of her best. The 12 inch version of this song is the best. I used this song in one of my mixtapes of 80's ballads and love songs. It came together perfectly. Loved the video. The movie was mediocre but the ending of it was sad and powerful.
  • Adam from Boyce, VaCan't believe nobody mentioned how well this song blended in with the movie AT CLOSE RANGE. It is the PERFECT song for the film and I will forever love the movie because of the song and vice versa, and where in the hell do you hear an electric guitar in this song? LoL...
  • Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnHer best ballad by a mile! This song made me a Madonna fan. Love the sound of the electric guitar, gives me goosebumps.
  • Shawn from Green Bay, WiVery underrated, seldom heard song that is actually Madonna's best. Being from a movie soundtrack can do that to a song. The song is about the movie it was written. Pretty good though not great movie.
  • Cooper from Somewhere, Althis is a song madonna wrote for a gay friend of hers who died. i'm guessig he died due to contracting HIV.
  • Jonathan from Natchitoches, LaAppeared in Season 1 Episode 4 of Cold Case on CBS. The name of the episode is "Churchgoing People."
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