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The Glenny Guide To… The Top 12 Madonna Tracks That You’ve (Probably) Never Heard But Really Should Have

February 5, 2012

So, the interwebs are abuzz yesterday as reigning Grand Dame of Pop dropped her video to new single Give Me All Your Luvin’.  While the song has divided fans and critics alike, it does provide an interesting insight in what we can expect from her forthcoming album MDNA.  Basically the sound of her thirty year career almost turning completely inward on itself and coming full circle, it’s a delightfully bouncy old-school Madonna track, redone for the new millennium and, dare we say it, the first time ol’ Madge sounds like she’s actually having fun since the Bedtime Stories days.

After the whole Hard Candy debacle (aka the one where Madonna stopped creating trends and starting desperately following them), it’s nice to hear something unique and distinctly Madonna-ish from her again.  Whether the album will follow suit or not is yet to be seen but, in the meantime, lets take a trip down Madonna Memory Lane and remember some of the best songs she’s done that (outside of hardcore fans) you’ve probably never heard.  All album tracks, one can only hope MDNA contains anything half as brilliant as some of these..

01 – Over and Over

While a lot of her first album is, by her own admission, “music to aerobicise to”, the Like A Virgin album saw Madonna come out with all pop guns blazing.  Nine tracks that start to finish could have all been singles (something increasingly rare in the commercial pop landscape), some were unfortunately destined to to be overlooked.  This has always been a favourite of her early work, it’s peppy beat and unironic lyrics representing everything that was so joyful and good and fun about not just Madonna’s early work but of 80’s pop in general.  And, 28 years on, it still sounds as joyous and fresh now as it did back then.

And HERE’S an amazing clip of her doing it live on The Virgin Tour.  God bless.  Makes you long for the days when she still looked like she enjoyed being a pop star..

02 – Till Death Do Us Part

If Like A Virgin was the first album where Madonna solidified her status as the most enjoyable pop star on the planet, it was 1989’s Like A Prayer that cemented her as the worlds most important.  Taking every single pop hook, music trend and piece of iconography she had under her industrial-sized Boy Toy belt, she lifted her game into the next pop solar system by making a uniquely personal pop album that is still pretty much the greatest of all time. Over sinister skittering synths, she recounts an abusive doomed relationship in a thinly veiled deconstruction of her own trials with ex husband Sean Penn.  Rarely has pop music been so catchy, personal and affecting all at the same time.

(ten more after the JUMP)

03 – Something To Remember

Madonna might always be remembered first and foremost as a pop artist, but it is some of her ballads that have proven to be her biggest hits.  And, with a back catalogue of them as big as hers, there is a serious chance that this number off I’m Breathless may arguably be the best.  This Dick Tracy spin off may always be remembered for tracks like Hanky Panky and the general revivalist attempt to become this generation’s hyper-sexualized Carmen Miranda, but it was the slower torch numbers that were huge artistic successes.  Few pop artists have as an emotive voice as Madonna and this mournful track highlights it perfectly, alternately hitting notes out of the park and vunerably cracking in all the right places.  The lyrics are, to this day, some of the best she’s ever done too.

 

04 – Secret Garden

While the whole Erotica project was the sound of Madonna all but bending over backwards (clearly she hadn’t discovered her now famous Geri Yoga yet) in an attempt to appear sexy, this was pretty much the only track that just effortlessly was.  Other tracks may have got bogged down in crass lyrics (the awful Colonel Sanders ‘finger licking good’ metaphor in Where Life Begins is still pretty single handedly responsible for turning a lot of us gay.  And off KFC) but this relaxed and progressive Jazz-tinged Drum’n’Bass number more than made up for it.  Intimate and casual, it proved that, when Madonna stopped trying to hard, she could be the perfect soundtrack to sexy time after all.

 

05 – Survival

After the public fallout with the Erotica project, 1994’s Bedtime Stories saw Madonna look back to her roots and embrace the poppier R’n’B sound so prevalent on radio at the time.  While the single campaign of Secret – Take A Bow – Bedtime Story – Human Nature was one of the most progressive of her whole career, the album itself was full of beautiful trip-pop moments and sweet R’n’B numbers like this.   Using the more girlish side of her voice  for possibly the last time in her career, it was both warmly defiant and as fresh as she’s ever been.

 

06 – I Want You

Originally slated as the first single from compilation slash contract filler Something To Remember, I Want You was pulled from release schedules at the last minute due to some presumed legally wrangling on behalf of Marvin Gaye’s estate.  Which is a shame, as this sexy, darkly percussive trip-hop number is just beautiful.

 

And HERE’S a link to the gorgeous orchestral version with Massive Attack.

07  – Impressive Instant

In 23 years, Madonna has never quite managed to top her seminal Like A Prayer album.  But 2000’s Music came close, especially with tracks like this futuristic club number.  A densely layered, all-consuming techno epic, it was a dance anthem unlike any Madonna had ever unleashed before.  Loses a few points for the cringe inducing “I like singy-singy-singy like a bird on a wingy-wingy-wingy” breakdown in the middle, but all it’s tweaking and knob-twiddling help make it one of the most adventurous and most important Madonna tracks of all time, as well as one of her best.

 

And HERE’S her going all out on the Drowned World Tour.  Interesting comparing this to the girl singing Over and Over back a few songs ago..

08 – Gone

A personal favourite of mine.  One of the most honest, raw and unadorned tracks Madonna has ever released, this alt-country number is just perfect.  I still remember the first time I heard it and literally lying, curled up in a ball on the couch crying, listening to it again and again and again.  There is something so steely and determined and true about this, it’s almost conversational, like a personal statement of intent.  Few global superstars get as personal as this anymore..

 

And HERE’S the original William Orbit Demo, in case you’re curious.

09 – Nothing Fails

And here it is, the Grand Daddy of all AMAZING Madonna Album Tracks.  Out of every song she’s ever done, the fact that this was never a proper single** remains the biggest injustice in the history of pop.  Basically, it’s Like A Prayer Pt 2, without being derivative or calculating in the slightest.  A haunting, down-tempo guitar number, it was everything that was brilliant about the American Life album – warm, honest and earthy – before exploding in a spine-tingling gospel chorus that both soars sky high and sears itself into your brain.  Probably the last chance she had at a slam dunk surefire US Number One singleso , do yourself a favour and listen to this.

** And, yes, we’re fully aware that this technically got served to radio in some countries, but without a video, a full campaign or any sort of real promotion, it doesn’t really count.

 

And here’s the hard to find Re-Invention Tour version, as well as a rather lovely MTV Live performance complete with choir and, of course, the truly bizarre thrash surf electro pop Jason Nevins remix.

10 – Intervention

Along with Gone, this is modern-day Madonna at her most personal and, in our humble opinion, at her absolute best.  There is something so pure and unadulteratedly hopeful about this track though that makes it such a thing of honest beauty.  The warmest and most optimistic she has sounded since 1989’s Dear Jessie, what starts off like her own personal Joni Mitchell moment becomes almost like a lullaby for adults that can’t help but warm even the coldest of hearts.  Give it a listen, you’ll be glad you did.

 

And HERE’S a rather amazing electronic remix of it..

11 – American Life (Headcleanr Rock Mix)

Because you know what was missing from the American Life album?  Nu-metal Death Rock Guitar numbers.  While, to this day, no one is entirely sure what the point of the Remixed and Revisited mini-album was, the fact that this Kylie meets Metallica moment came out of it makes it all worthwhile.  Basically answering the age old questions of what would Madonna sound like fronting Linkin Park, the (deservedly) divisive lead single was re-imagined as a thrash rock number and, suddenly, all that inane rapping about soy lattes and nannies made SENSE.  Managing to give the song both a sense of conviction and  a healthy dose of much needed intentional irony, it sounded both cohesive and actually enjoyable for the first time in it’s recorded history.

12 – Incredible

Ahhhh, now THAT’S the stuff!  Hard Candy may be the most reviled Madonna album ever, for everything from it’s apparent and downright vampiric desperation in chasing down trends to it’s hideously garish artwork.  But, in our opinion, it’s biggest crime was just the fact that, for a pop album, it committed the cardinal sin of not being any fun in the slightest.  Never has Madonna sounded more bored or less interested in making music than on here.  While the same could be argued for Erotica or American Life, both albums had an overwhelming sense of both artistry and creative drive that redeemed them as projects.  Neither can be said for Hard Candy.  Thankfully it had this track, a joyful, summery six and a half minute pop masterpiece that would have sounded right at home back on her first album.  Very few music tracks can last past the six minute mark without becoming redundant, but this track is just exhilaratingly fun.  If MDNA can be even half as enjoyable as this, maybe we’re in for a treat after all.

So, what do you think folks?  Any new discoveries?  Or any that you think I’ve missed?  The original shortlist was probably about 20 odds songs long, sound off below on what you’d include yourself..

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 6, 2012 3:14 am

    Great choices but I think Hard Candy is fun and funky. Tracks like She’s not Me, Dance Tonight, Spanish Lesson and Candy Shop are most fun and pop Madonna since the early 1980’s. Many critics said the same in USA when this was released. I personally think it is her most solid pop album to date. Everyone of those songs could’ve been a single. And the last two songs on Hard Candy are quite dark and artistic. So its a perfect combination.

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