If you think you know the early Madonna, you don't.
"In The Beginning" is a surprisingly solid collection of Madonna's early songwriting with partner Stephen Bray. Unlike the trademark "Minnie Mouse on helium" singing style of her first two albums, "In The Beginning" showcases a deep-voiced, sultry Madonna that will make you do a double-take at first listen.
Some of these songs made the cut to Madonna's first album... but in radically different forms. "Burning Up 1981" is a far cry from the familiar album and single version from 1983. Here you get a glimpse of what might have happened if Madonna had pursued a career in rock rather than dance music. "Everybody" is presented in two different versions here: the original dance version (not too much of a stretch from the familiar album version) and a 1997 reggae (yes, reggae) remix that Madonna probably would not have commissioned.
Getting back to the rock 'n' roll Madonna... "Laugh To Keep From Crying" could well be this album's standout song. Like "Burning Up 1981," "Laugh..." is guitar-driven rock. Not heavy metal by any means, but 80's girl-group rock. Somewhat like The Bangles, The Pretenders, or the Go-Gos. Lets you know that, had she wanted, Madonna could have been a rocker: she had the attitude, and the deeper voice she sings in here sounds strong, confident, and very effective.
The rest of the collection consists of additional unreleased tracks ("Crimes Of Passion," "Ain't No Big Deal" and "Don't You Know") that sound like the beginning of the 80's New York dance sound of Madonna's familiar early works. "Crimes of Passion" sounds like a preliminary version of "Into The Groove" (completely different lyrics, of course, but the musical arrangement has the same feeling as ITG).
If you're a hardcore Madonna fan, "In The Beginning" will show you an interesting dichotomy between the dancefloor diva that she became versus the rocker she easily could have been.