by Mark Nobes

"La Isla Bonita" (or "The beautiful island" in English) spent two weeks at No.1 in the UK from 25th April 1987. The latin pop song was a world-wide hit and was the last single to be released from Madonna's third studio album True Blue.

Amazingly, the song was originally turned down by Michael Jackson for his Bad album. Madonna accepted the song (obviously!) but re-wrote the lyrics.
An array of different Latino instruments can be heard in the song including Spanish guitar, Cuban drums and maracas. Both real drums and a synthesized percussion track are used.
The song’s catchy melody and Mediterranean rhymes make it a perfect summertime anthem.
A team of musicians played on the track, including Bruce Gaitsch on Spanish and acoustic guitars, Jonathan Moffett on drums, Patrick Leonard on keyboards (and drum programming) and additional percussion provided by Paulinho Da Costa.
Madonna wearing a black sombrero on the front vinyl sleeve of La Isla Bonita
The four other singles from the True Blue album were "Live to Tell", "Papa Don't Preach", "True Blue" and "Open Your Heart", and they were all Top 5 hits in the UK. True Blue remains my favourite Madonna album, mainly because every track is a perfectly constructed pop song and wasn't destroyed by thumping dance beats. 


In the video, Madonna plays two characters - a devoted catholic girl and a passionate Latina, and she wore a red flamenco style dress for the second character. It was directed by Mary Lambert who also directed the controversial Like A Prayer video, as well as the for Like A Virgin and Borderline. The first airing of the video was on 29th March 1987 on MTV.
In her videos, Madonna often adopts several fashion styles, although she wear just two outfits in "La Isla Bonita". Near the start of the video, the camera zooms in on her, and she can be seen wearing a white vest top whilst sat in a vintage wooden chair in her apartment, daydreaming about San Pedro.
In the next scene, Madonna is in a room full of lit candles and is wearing her aforementioned flamenco dress, which has black polka dots on the shoulder section. The video switches between Madonna in the two outfits several times. Near the end of the video, Madonna ventures outside in her dress and dances with the locals in the street, where the musicians are also performing.

Chart Performance

The single was a huge hit and reached No.1 on numerous charts, including the Swiss Hitparade, GFK Official German Charts, the French SNEP chart, the RPM Canada Top Singles chart and the European Top 100 Singles.
In the U.S., the single reached No.4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and also the Cash Box Top 100. It also topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.
The song reached the top ten on at least 24 charts and in almost every country where it was released, apart from Italy, where it stalled at #18 on the Musica e dischi chart.
"La Isla Bonita" entered the UK singles chart at No.5 on 29th March 1987, while Ferry Aid was at No.1 with the charity single "Let It Be". By 19th April, Madonna was topping the chart, replacing Ferry Aid, which fell to No.4. The single remained on top for two weeks, preventing Judy Boucher from reaching No.1 with "Can't Be With You Tonight". Interestingly, that song was still at No.2 on 10th May, when Madonna had fallen to No.7.


UK 7 Inch Vinyl - Sire - W 8378

A. "La Isla Bonita" (Extended Remix) - 5:20

B. "La Isla Bonita" (Extended Instrumental) - 5:14

UK 12 Inch Vinyl - Sire - W 8378 TP

A. "La Isla Bonita" (Remix) - 3:58

B. "La Isla Bonita" (Instrumental Edit) - 4:20

True Blue cassette album


Madonna’s lyrics evoke the island’s romantic atmosphere, painting a picture of a magical place.
When Madonna sang the opening line "Last Night I Dreamt of San Pedro", as a teenager, I always used to think that this was the name of her lover! Of course, it is, in fact, the name of a stunningly beautiful town on the island of Ambergris Caya in Belize, Central America. However, there are sources that suggest the song was written about a fictional Spanish town named by Patrick Leonard, and that it is pure coincidence that there happens to be a town with the same name. Both Leonard and Madonna co-wrote and co-produced the song, with additional songwriting by Bruce Gaitsch.

Poster ad from Smash Hits magazine (March 1987)