[Originally published on the short-lived move of my blog to tumblr, 5 years ago today, 2/8/12.]
So, after reading Alfred’s top 15 Madonna songs, I was inspired to do my own version of the same. My list, of course, has 25 selections because, well, it does. I didn’t include remixes, unless they’re really just extended mixes or single versions, because that’s not the same. I mean, it is. You should know what I mean. (There may be a separate list for her greatest mixes.)
25. “Keep It Together (7” Remix),“ “Keep It Together” single (1990). It’s “uplifting.” Which also means perky, in this case.
24. “Something To Remember,” I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired By Dick Tracy (1990). A co-write with Patrick Leonard, this isn’t quite Sondheim-worthy but it’s at least in the ballpark, which speaks plenty. Lovely strings, and greatly cheesy electric piano.
23. “Shoo-Bee-Doo,” Like A Virgin (1984). Her first great sad song: so simple, pretty, and sad. Bonus points for it not actually being a ballad. As a further bonus, it really does sound like an album track by a 1984 disco dolly – but in this case, one who was taking over the world and had an inkling about it.
22. “Causing A Commotion,” Who’s That Girl Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1987). Leagues ahead of its predecessor, the limp film title track – she has a thing for second singles. She also has the moves, and you’ve got the motion.
21. “Love Song” (Duet with Prince), Like A Prayer (1989). Ridiculous and all the better for it.
20. “Inside Of Me,” Bedtime Stories (1994). The parent album is a/k/a Madonna Does R&B ‘94, with the likes of Dave “Jam” Hall, Dallas Austin, and Nellee Hooper behind the boards (and the co-writes). What you’ve heard is true: in many ways this is her warmest record, and “Inside” is the plushest track on it.
19. “Bad Girl,” Erotica (1992). This might be the only Madonna protagonist I really, truly sympathize with.
18. “Get Together,” Confessions On A Dance Floor (2005). The only track from this century on this list, because without needing a remix to do so, this gets the perfect frisson of the (ahem) dance floor in a 5:31 pop song. Also, her voice doesn’t sound all stupid-post-Evita-fucked-up-from-vocal-“training” here.
17. “I Want You” (with Massive Attack), Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye (1995). Proof that tribute albums don’t have to blow goats, this pairing makes no sense on paper and all the sense on record. Her vocal slips a bit here and there, not entirely sure of itself, which totally works against MA’s disjointed, rich track.
16. “Justify My Love (The Beast Within Mix),” “Justify My Love” (single) (1990). Madonna reads from the Book of Revelation while Lenny Kravitz lays down some “Middle Eastern” samples behind her. And then she says “fuck me.”
15. “Erotica,” Erotica (1992). Underrated, underrated, underrated. MLVC and Shep Pettibone (one of the most important collaborators she’s ever had) craft a true blue ’92 house track while she sexy-talks for real.
14. “Secret Garden,” Erotica (1992). Apparently she read Nancy Friday.
13. “Lucky Star,” Madonna (1983). This absolutely throbs with excitement, even nearly 30 years later. The yearning, pleading in her voice has never sounded better.
12. “White Heat,” True Blue (1986). a/k/a “Open Your Heart” Part 2.
11. “Dress You Up (The 12” Formal Mix),“ “Dress You Up” (12”) (1985). You’ve got style, that’s what all the girls say. One of the two great pieces of popcraft on the PMRC “Filthy 15” (the other being “She Bop,” in case you were wondering).
10. “Bedtime Story,” Bedtime Stories (1994). This wouldn’t’ve been as good with Bjork’s (great but) weirdo vox all over it. A perfect marriage of song, singer, and production, and absolutely classic.
9. “This Used To Be My Playground” (from A League Of Their Own), single (1992). Her finest ballad, simply produced, beautifully written – and it does what a movie song is supposed to do, which is make the movie even more poignant. I don’t love League, but when this song comes in, I get a lump in my throat.
8. “Burning Up,” Madonna (1983). Total trash, which is precisely why it’s brilliant.
7. “I’d Rather Be Your Lover” (featuring Me’Shell Ndegéocello),“ Bedtime Stories (1994). This Isleys-sampling midtempo jam should’ve, and could’ve, been an R&B smash. Sexy without being smarmy or nasty, with a primo assist from Ndegéocello on bass and bridge rap (“tell me whatcha want/tell me whatcha need”).
6. “Into The Groove” (from Desperately Seeking Susan), single (1985). Isn’t it obvious?
5. “Angel (Extended Dance Mix),” “Angel” (12″) (1985). I’m cheating a little bit here, because while this is really “just” an extended version, what especially makes this is the faux-crowd noise mixed in, and the chanting “Madonna! Madonna! Madonna!” which turns into the backbeat OMG!!! Goddamn, the production on this is so gloriously clean.
4. “Deeper And Deeper,” Erotica (1992). Another fine example of her knack for second singles, and another fine example of why Shep Pettibone’s meant so much to her career. Pop-house perfection, no room for argument.
3. “Vogue,” I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired By Dick Tracy (1990). The lyrics, the track (Shep, again!), her nearly-breathless (sorry) vocal near the song’s end, the intent: it’s all perfect, and all comes together. Not to mention that the midsong rap made a generation of American boys homosexual.
2. “Open Your Heart,” True Blue (1986). Not just a statement of intent, this is a series of DEMANDS, and you’re not gonna say no, are you? The guitar line mirroring her vocal on the chorus (and run-ups) is more important than you think it is.
1. “Physical Attraction,” Madonna (1983). May have felt like a throwaway, buried 6 songs into her 8-song debut, but this is as fierce as she’s ever been – because she had nothing to lose and didn’t even know it. Credit as well, to writer/producer Reggie Lucas, and remixer (and boyfriend, whaddaya know) Jellybean Benitez: this song’s open spaces are as key as its occupied ones. And when Madonna asks, at bridge’s end, “What are ya gonna do?,” an entire world answered. Additionally, I’ve never liked her voice more than I do on her debut, so raw and untouched.