It might have been her best song of the decade. But we’d wager she wouldn’t agree. And it went along with her acting pinnacle as well. We’re talking about Madonna, and her song from the movie A League of Their Own, “This Used To Be My Playground.” And it became her tenth American #1 song 30 years ago on this day in 1992.
A League Of Their Own was the powerful dramedy which told the story of the Wartime All American Girls Professional Baseball League and one of their teams, the Rockford Peaches. Although the players depicted, as well as the grumpy, oft-drunk manager played by Tom Hanks were fictitious, the basic story was real. During WWII, a professional women’s baseball league was established in the Midwest, due to worries that Major League Baseball might have to shut down due to so many players being drafted and sent overseas. Madonna played a mouthy, racy New York girl nicknamed “All the Way Mae” in the film, an outfielder for the Peaches.
Now since Madonna was first and foremost a singer, producer Penny Marshall asked her to add a song to the film; a ballad. Madonna wasn’t overly thrilled, and was at the time working on her Erotica album with producer Shep Pettibone. Pettibone also found it a bit of a challenge, since he was usually making dance music and had made his reputation doing remixes for the likes of Depeche Mode. But they perservered and came up with the lovely, orchestral ballad talking of looking back with nostalgia : “this used to be my playground, this used to be my childhood dream.” Pettibone stretched his horizons and resume by bringing in a string section and arranging them to add to the (uncredited) keyboards and drums used. Madonna referred to it as “assignment writing.”
The song won rave reviews when it came out. Billboard called it a “mature and thoroughly satisfying effort,” while Medium magazine noted it was “a gut-wrenching ballad that explores themes related to nostalgia, grief and heartbreak,” considering it “the best ballad of her career.”
It came out as a standalone single, available on vinyl (with an extended version on the b-side), cassette or CD single (which also had an instrumental of it), but not on her album that came out shortly after, Erotica, and more surprisingly, not on the movie soundtrack album. The film and it soundtrack were being put out by Columbia, while she was under contract to Sire, a division of Warner Bros; the two companies couldn’t come to an agreement for including it on the Columbia soundtrack. Perhaps to that end, the video didn’t draw that heavily from the movie and the typical single sleeve had a picture of the singer on a boat, in a retro-style swimsuit instead of as “Mae” on a baseball diamond.
The song was massive, although it perhaps marked the tail-end of her real chart domination. It went to #1 at home (spending just a week, being sandwiched between Sir Mix A Lot and Boys II Men on top, which gives an indication of where American popular tastes were then despite the success of the likes of Nirvana and R.E.M.) as well as in Canada, Mexico, Italy and a few other countries; it got to #3 in the UK. It brought in more gold singles for her, one from the U.S. and one from Australia.
Although it was her tenth #1, it would be years before she’d get there again and to date, she’s added only two more – “Take A Bow” and “Music.”
Perhaps it is a Madonna song for people who don’t like Madonna. It’s reported that she has never yet played the song live.