Regular readers will know that over recent months I have posted reviews of every single one of Madonna’s studio albums, and some tidy-up reviews of all the non-album singles and whatnot that came in-between. As is traditional, now I’ve finished another back catalogue, I’ll count down my favourite tracks and wait for the abuse to come streaming in. Enjoy!
40. Nothing Fails
from “American Life”
I think “American Life” gets a bit too much criticism, easily done when it’s one of her commerically least-successful albums and a big comedown from predecessor “Music”. Perhaps it just came at a good time for me, I was really enjoying myself at university, was living with some great people and was enjoying the last big year of amazing music for a little while.
While the performance of the album left a lot to be desired, I’m not sure “Nothing Fails” was going to be the one to save the campaign. However, it’s a great example of what “American Life” did well, and a natural extension from the “Music” sound. An intimate acoustic ballad with modern tweaks and twizzles on production. The surprise gospel section going “Praaaay!” was enough to make the loons think this could be “Like a Prayer” Part 2, but that was nonsense.
But what we got was a tender and rousing little love song, and I really like it.
39. Human Nature
from “Bedtime Stories”
Now I’ll say now I wasn’t a big fan of “Bedtime Stories”, but it produced some great singles. Smart, sexy and cool. One of the best was this R’n’B empowerment anthem about being your own person and not taking crap from people. Very ‘on-brand’ for Madonna at least. The slick music video is one of her most striking of the 90s, and it’s very quotable if you’re into that.
While “Bedtime stories” didn’t really set me alight, it at least rehabilitated Madonna’s image post-“Erotica”, a process that was to be extended with a ballad collection, finally a movie breakthrough and an Earth-mother reinvention. ABSOLUTELY NO REGRETS.
from “I’m Breathless”
What are you looking at? Well yes, I’m sure some will call “TREASON” at this low position, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it, I love all the songs in this top 40. I think the problem I have with “Vogue” is overexposure. It was a watershed moment in her career, rounding off a phenomenal decade and launching one of the biggest greatest hits collections of all time.
The pseudo-rap breakdown, singalong chorus and iconic videos are firmly ingrained in pop culture of the time. I’ve just heard it a LOT. No matter what the song, eventually you’re going to need a break, and that’s where I am at the moment. Objectively one of best songs, but personally there’s nothing left to say about this song that hasn’t been said.
37. Paradise (not for me)
Much as I like the “Music” album as a whole, I found it tough to find a place for any of its songs in my countdown. I think a bit of overexposure is to blame there too. But “Paradise” sort of sits apart on that tracklist. Madonna’s distorted whispers kick off a pretty bleak track, one of the highlights from the “Drowned World” tour.
Mirwais puts his best electro twists through the song, including copious amounts of vo-coder and an 8-bit synth breakdown. There’s a French bit, and Madonna plays the song out with such a weird energy. Is she dying or something? Some lovely strings too … a real oddity but still mesmerising.
36. Give it 2 me
from “Hard Candy”
Now for something a touch more light-hearted. “Hard Candy” was panned by many critics and fans alike, but as usual I enjoyed it regardless. “Give it 2 me” is a nice shot of fun (remember that, guys?) in a frothy and occasionally cringeworthy album. Lyrics are pretty inane, but it’s just got an infectious energy to it.
That chorus is basic, but that cheap-assed synth riff always gives me a smile. The “Get stoopid” breakdown is a bit of a curveball too, perhaps this song is a hot mess, but that doesn’t detract from its appeal.
35. Beat goes on
from “Hard Candy”
Sticking with “Hard Candy” for a bit, why wasn’t this a single? This had the potential to save the campaign, possibly. I might only be rating it marginally higher than actual second single “Give it 2 me” but the star power of Kanye West’s guest spot would surely have done some good?
I love the old-school feel to some of the tracks on “Hard Candy”, and this has that quality. The chorus might be a little thin but it’s certainly catchy. It just FEELS like a hit. Madonna might be trotting out her usual lyrical cliches about not wanting to wait or hesitate or anything like that, and I’ve never rated Kanye much as a rapper, but surely this was worth a push?
34. ‘Til death do us part
from “Like a Prayer”
OK let’s rewind a bit for the first of the 80s tracks on my countdown. I never quite got the hype about the “Like a Prayer” album. Sure, it contained some massive hits, and felt like a more organic and diverse album compared to its poppy predecessors. There were some lovely album tracks though, including this deceptively bouncy song about an abusive relationship.
That restless news-bulletin beat throughout lends a lighter tone to the song, as do the vocals, so without really listening it might sound like a sweet love song. But no, this relationship is imploding, as the little sidenote sections lay out in punchy bullet-points. Always a bit of an unexpected delight, this one.
from “Evita” & “I’m going to tell you a secret”
OK a bit of a curveball, but the live version from the “Reinvention” tour was an unexpected favourite from the “I’m going to tell you a secret” live album. Barely audible in “Evita” (spoiler alert) this might have gone under most radars – including mine – but the live version really highlights why Madonna was such a good fit for “Evita”.
Her lament is for spent life, and how she pursued fame and success long ago but it inevitably ended with a premature finish. Let’s hope that isn’t the ending in story for Madonna, but if anyone was going to sell this mini-song to anyone, it would be her.
32. Live to tell
from “True Blue”
This sort-of single was one of the last big 80s songs for me to discover. It’s a bit too drawn-out to be a karaoke classic or a radio staple. The big 80s percussion accompany another mournful Madonna ballad, this time about those deceitful men, boo! Despite the world-weary & wise tone, it doesn’t even sound like she’s over the worst of it, given the “If I ran away…” middle-eight.
This really came alive for me in the “Confessions” tour, just everything about that performance worked for me. Interestingly I’m not sure I’m even that conscious of the Catholic-baiting headline-grabbing disco crucifix she spends most of the song strapped to. A bleak and leftfield song for her, particularly on such a power-pop album as “True Blue”.
31. 4 minutes
from “Hard Candy”
I hadn’t originally rated this particularly highly, aside from heralding the follow-up to the amazing “Confessions on a dance floor” album. We knew about Timbaland’s involvement, and for someone reluctant to duet on singles it was surprising to see Justin Timberlake getting such a big role.
But it turned out to be a big old hit, and I’ve grown to like it even more in recent times (can you believe the Glee version even helped?). It’s bombastic, the video is freaky, those horn samples are crazy, but when that beat kicks in around the 45sec mark, the album truly begins.