Wednesday, January 7, 2015

This List is RANK: The Top 40 Madonna Songs of All Time

She's the Queen of Pop Star Feminism; the reason many female pop acts of today switch up their hair and show skin in-between songs and albums [all in the name of attention and/or artistic expression]. Yes, Madonna has done a lot over her career and in that time (MDNA, Erotica or any American Life track not named "Hollywood or "Die Another Day" being the really bad things.) and these songs are her best...

Here are the Top 40 Madonna Songs of all time as I see fit ***For some reference, I'll be using her compilation album Celebration, her albums Confessions on a Dance Floor, Music & Hard Candy (That sound you heard is a Ciccone-head in your area sharpening a pitchfork and directing it at me.)***

In reality, any song Madonna has put forth is eligible to be on the list in theory, but there is no guarantee the "best" of other people's lists will determine the order of my list. Translation: No overrated shit shall reign supreme nor will absolute shit be allowed entrance (So sorry MDNA tracks; you can't and won't be on the list.)

40. "Spanish Lesson" [from Hard Candy]- The Ciccone-head pet hate is actually one of Madge's lesser offenses. The only thing she has to take righteous hits for is for screwing up even basic Spanish. However, it's Pharrell's production that saves it and allows some enjoyable audio experiences to be had (Basically, it's the "Hollaback Girl" principle in effect.)

39. "Burning Up" [made it to Celebration]- The second song Madonna ever released didn't do much on the charts and on first listen it's sort of hard to understand why. It has all the coquettish idiosyncrasies for which she'd be known for. However, hindsight is 20/20 and this along with the next entry doesn't hold up well.

38. "Everybody" [made it to Celebration]- Madge's debut single (Before "Holiday" had to work 2 jobs to support it and its sister "Burning Up") showcased a lot of potential that ended up paying off...years later. Although a decent offering, "Everybody" lacks instant replay fever. Meaning, you'd have to be in a very specific mood to listen to the song.

37. "Lucky Star" [made it to Celebration]- Compared to Madonna's earliest offerings, this song is simply middle of the road. When on the radio and nothing else good comes on, listen to this pop confection and deal with it. In terms of legacy, it's almost required that more than "Holiday" and "Borderline" be put on a compilation from her self-titled debut.

36. "What it Feels Like For a Girl" [the Music studio album version]- One of Madge's less than subtle attempts at legitimate feminism through music. This song in particular works best in conjunction with the album. On its own, it can't hold a candle past the bottom 5 of this list. Add a mediocre remix that spawned a "controversial" [though not really] music video and this track ran out of interesting things to discuss.

35. "Frozen" [made it to Celebration]- Oh joy; a ballad from Madonna. Considering her balladry is pitiful on a good day, "Frozen" is essentially her best/least offensive attempt. Though it should be noted that brownie points for sonic subtlety are rewarded.

34. "Revolver" ft. Lil' Wayne [from Celebration]- In a battle between Celebration only tracks, "Revolver" technically comes in second [even if the original version of "Celebration" isn't represented here...] Its ranking is not entirely Lil' Wayne's fault; vocally and in terms of presentation, this is when Madonna started to rely on "big names" like a crutch. Still, as an album cut this isn't the worst piece of crap made by her (That distinct "honor" goes to "American Life".)

33. "American Pie" [from the international bonus track version of Music]- Her much maligned cover of the Don McLean "classic". In terms of Madonna catalog, it is a green thumb. However, Madonna's take on certain themes and musical oeuvres is her biggest strength and downfall. So when word of this spread, she was damned from the start. In terms of age, it only ages better than the previous entries.

32. "Material Girl" [made it to Celebration]- This track is often higher on other lists. It won't be here. Why? Her coquettish vocals have seen many a better track; especially when the vocals sound less like a Marilyn Monroe inspired artist and more like a low rent impersonator of Monroe (Though not Ivy Winters in Snatch Game of Marilyn bad.)

31. "Candy Shop" [from Hard Candy]- In terms of songs that would've sucked as a single, this one takes the "Turkish Delight" (Which before "serfboardt", took the prize for the most baffling shit on a female pop record.) As an album cut, it actually benefits from being so genre specific. If Hard Candy had any other song introduce the album, Ciccone-heads might've had a point in hating the album. Still, its super-specific vibes hurt it from advancing into the Top 30 of this list.


30. "Justify My Love" [made it to Celebration]- The Immaculate Collection was defined by this song and "Vogue" [even though "Vogue" was part of that damned Dick Tracy fiasco]. Still, this inadvertent precursor to Beyonce's "Haunted" video (I defy you to watch both in a row and not tell me Beyonce essentially made it wackier and in Technicolor) was considered "controversial" in the 90s. Sexy-times in the music video are as ever overblown as ever and this video was no exception. As for the singing? Gurl please.

29. "I Love New York" [from Confessions on a Dance Floor]- I'll mention this more than once; Confessions on a Dance Floor is the last cohesive and enjoyable album from Madonna. However, track 5 from CoDF doesn't entirely help this assertion. While as retro-disco as the other CoDF tracks, some lyrics show that Madonna tries way too hard to seem edgy. Lyrical pyrite from this song include, "New York is not for little pussies who scream.", "If you don't like my attitude, then you can F off/Just go to Texas. Isn't that where they golf?" & "Other places...make me feel like a dork."

28. "Music" [made it to Celebration]- The title track from Madge's 8th album and as of today, her last #1 on the Hot 100...and this was 14 going on 15 years ago. -_- The song is often overshadowed by a music video revolving a sick obsession Madonna has with a hat. Oh and there's strippers and Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G as well. Madonna when cheeky is a delight, but believe it or not there have been other less genre specific entries that better showcase her as a whole.

27. "Dress You Up" [made it to Celebration]- For all the misgivings of this song giving off 80s B-Movie makeover montage vibes, this cut from Madge's catalog actually services her coquettish vocal era better than remembered. Pop confection and Madonna had a healthy relationship until the beginning of Like a Prayer, so in a way this would've had to do as pure pop from Madonna if that's all you cared about from her.

26. "Impressive Instant" [from Music]- One of the better offerings from an otherwise uneven Music, this futura-dappled cut stands as one of Madge's abstract songs that actually works. Though it's no "Ray of Light"/electronica number, "Impressive Instant" shows that if done right techno can be one hell of an experience.

25. "Beat Goes On" ft. Kanye West [from Hard Candy]- Any claim that Bedtime Stories or God forbid Erotica is Madonna's most under-appreciated work needs to be halted now. Hard Candy had Pharrell handle most of the dirty work of following CoDF. Though Timbaland had "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" on his side of the album, his work is almost entirely negated by "4 Minutes".

As for "Beat Goes On", Pharrell's production along with Kanye's seamless adaptation to a Madonna song make this a deserved track to put on repeat. That and Madonna's icy vocals are showed in some of their finest moments.

24. "Papa Don't Preach" [made it to Celebration]- Its place out of the Top 20 is not related to the Kelly Osbourne cover of it [I actually enjoyed that.] In terms of legacy, "Papa Don't Preach" is one of Madge's less pretentious attempts at "I'VE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY." A lyrical opus [for Madonna's singing anyway] about teenage pregnancy and abortion, this created a moment in the rarely done right trope of socio-political groove.

23. "Heartbeat" [from Hard Candy]- An album cut that could've been a single with modest to surprise success. Another of the Pharrell handled cuts to justify this album's existence, if it were released as a single it may have been met with either success but unfair derision or it might have had to come out of nowhere to make it to at least the Top 15 of the Hot 100. Still, slinky drumbeats make this worthy of that holy repeat button.

22. "Hollywood" [made it to Celebration]- A song that despite its association with Madonna's worst lead single and album, American Life, matters. This song on one hand does read as empty and vacuous criticism of Hollywood/Los Angeles' materialism and vanity calling cards. On the other, it's the non ported Bond theme from this clunker of an album that's actually worth listening to repeatedly. Mirwais' last good screwy techno beat serves as a wonderful audible interpretation of the feeling of disillusion.

21. "Die Another Day" [made it to Celebration]- The ever divisive 007 theme. If you're a Bond fan, you either hate Madge's take on the alleged artistic oeuvre of the franchise or appreciate her attempt at modernizing the franchise (Or simply appreciate that Sheryl Crow wasn't doing the theme again.) In her own catalog, this is exactly what she's known for. Catchy rhythmic hooks and the questionable lyric here and there ["Sigmund Freud; analyze this; analyze this; analyze this, this, this, this..."]


20. "Runaway Lover" [from Music]- This track is actually a justified reason to think music tells stories (Even better, this is a case of its validity without it being pretentious.) Had this been traded for "What It Feels Like For a Girl" as a single, it could've continued the Top 10 streak she was on. On top of fabulously decadent trippy instrumentals, Madge's vocals are presented at its iciest and most well projected.

19. "Celebration" [the Benny Benassi remix]- Although not represented in its original form, "Celebration" kicks "Revolver" in the teeth. The remix made by acclaimed EDM producer Benny Benassi, adds that flavor the original simply doesn't have to be on the list. Need further proof? The video for the song uses the remix audio. If any dance/club cut of Madonna deserves more attention, it's certainly this rare case of remix being better than the original.

18. "Like a Virgin" [made it to Celebration]- The track that unleashed Madonna in her first turned many iterations. Why is out of the Top 15 let alone the Top 10 and Top 5? Despite it kicking "Material Girl" down a flight of stairs, having Madonna's coquettish vocals utilized properly and getting everyone worked up over its chorus, there's simply better songs than this. It's a song ruled by ubiquity and inventing the VMAs for Slightly Better than Worse and Worse.

17. "Secret" [made it to Celebration]- A case of deceptively subtle but oh so intoxicating Madonna done correctly. The single from Bedtime Stories worth a damn, "Secret" was seen as something of a refreshing change of course from the skank/"sexual liberation" of Erotica and its pitiful offerings. Subtlety and Madonna rarely go together but when they do, one such result is the alluring vocals and hypnotic drum patterns found on this song.

16. "Ray of Light" [made it to Celebration]- The song that proves electronica's worth when done correctly. Thanks to William Orbit in particular, this late 90s single is still seen as a bright spot in comparison to the dearths of her career. Icy turned exuberant vocals showcased an "enlightened"/"spiritual" side of Madonna's selling point of being deliciously blasphemous. What keeps this track from the Top 15 and Top 10 is the music video ubiquity.

Meaning, with so many goddamn critics showering the video with praise [the VMAs being of no help] the song itself was lost underneath a barrage of wide cast acclaim. Still, this is a hell of a track worth trying to do this thing called bust a move.

15. "Into the Groove" [made it to Celebration]- The song that was able to catch traction thanks to a film in which Madonna wasn't read for filth in terms of acting (Desperately Seeking Susan; meh; A League of Their Own showcased her limited but endearing acting range better.) On its own, "Into the Groove" showed a theme Madonna rode to success; fast paced dance songs are the reason she's sold a shitload of albums and is the reason she's still a noun in the industry. This also doubles as one of the few melds of rhythmic and melodic hooks Madge excels on.

14. "Borderline" [made it to Celebration]- Before "Like a Virgin", this track from Madge's debut album was the best use of her coquettish vocals. This is a song in which its lyrical frankness melds well with her limited but disciplined vocal range. 80s pop confection Madonna was at its most palatable with this track and with another gem later in the list.

13. "Gone" [from Music]- A surprisingly deep track on an album remembered for "Music" and seemingly nothing else. The closing track [on U.S. versions of the album] is a radical departure from the futura-dappled trance of Music. What this track provides is a lyrically self-deprecating yet amazingly self-aware journey. This is also the song in which Madonna is the most subtle. Not on any ballad she's attempted thus far; it's really on here and nowhere else. Bonus points for alluring guitar-work.

12. "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" [from Hard Candy]- Though Timbaland should take righteous hits left and right for "4 Minutes", he could have his sentence in the Court of Public Opinion reduced thanks to this cut from the Ciccone-head pet hate. This track showcases Madonna's icy vocals in its purest, most bone chilling form. Deliciously evil ambiance is set to an admittedly dated sound ["Ayo Technology" by 50 Cent much?] is still one of the most underrated tracks on a Madonna album.

11. "Give it 2 Me" ft. Pharrell [from Hard Candy]- The best track from Hard Candy that got screwed out of better placement on the Hot 100. One of the many mysteries of music I'll never understand is how "4 Minutes" charted higher and was "more successful" than this superior in every way track. Pharrell instrumentals allowed to roam freely? Check. Exuberant yet deliciously bitchy Madonna vocals? Check. I'll never understand why this track was gypped for "4 Minutes". I simply won't.


10. "Living for Love" [from the upcoming Rebel Heart]- The lead single from the upcoming 13th album of Madonna's career. When the pre-order Beyonce move revealed 6 tracks, this song shined from the rest for 2 reasons: 1. It was the 3rd good lead single since "Music" and "Hung Up" and ended a dry spell of ain't shit lead singles. 2. This was Madonna's most exuberant and sincere effort in years. Diplo production, Alicia Keys piano work and processed Madge vocals that play into the club world [where she belongs alongside radio for this song] show that at least something from Rebel Heart is worth everyone's time.

9. "Beautiful Stranger" [made it to Celebration]- A soundtrack cut that showcased some of Madge's most alluring vocals to date. From the second Austin Powers film, this 60s inspired track has Madonna playing the lovestruck role and amazingly her acting could be believable. Despite a video riddled with crotch shots galore, Madge remembered that the song was more important than just the visuals. It's one of the few entries in which her singing carries the weight of the offering presented.

8. "Holiday" [made it to Celebration]- 80s Madonna was the most palatable vocally on this under-appreciated track. The first track of hers to chart on the Hot 100, this was the trendsetter for other tracks to come. Radio edit or Celebration long play edit, this is "shiny, happy" Madonna that was playing front and center here.

7. "Jump" [from Confessions on a Dance Floor]- Let me reiterate/belabor. CoDF is the last truly unquestionably great Madonna album. One such reason is this released to almost no fanfare cut. A hypnotizing instrumental mixed with Madonna in her wheelhouse vocally and a video that doesn't detract from her song. All elements should've spelled success but instead created an underrated track of glory.

6. "Vogue" [made it to Celebration]- Madonna-mania at its peak. Before you harangue me to within an inch of my being for not putting this in the Top 5, let me state this now. "Vogue" is Madge's most goddamn decadent and pleasing offering. However, the experience almost has to rely on the music video and its ubiquity at the 1990s VMAs with Rococo artistry and all. In terms of singing, Madge gets the emotive aspect of needing to dance on point. Yet, there are some really mood killing moments in terms of singing (Yes, I'm holding her to the same standards of singing as everyone should.) Bonus points for the rap mentioning all of the Old Hollywood royalty.


5. "Sorry" [made it to Celebration]- Another track screwed out of rightful Hot 100 glory. "Sorry" was a track Madge and producer Stuart Price may have admitted to not trying hard on at all. The verdict? They didn't need to try with a retro-disco confection quite like "Sorry". International "flair"/pandering aside, this played into a story Confessions on a Dance Floor doesn't get enough credit for trying to tell. In terms of presentation, "Sorry" excels in what it contributed to Madge's catalog.

4. "Get Together" [from Confessions on a Dance Floor]- The 2nd best track from CoDF. A track that suffered from a fate worse than "Hollywood" [no Hot 100 success and no compilation port], this is simply put, Madonna's most underrated song ever. A straight up dance song with the deliciously retro disco flavors that made CoDF the masterpiece it is. The video edit might detract from the aural experience everyone deserves from this song, but even that is nitpicking a fantastic cut from Madge's last masterpiece of an album.

3. "Don't Tell Me" [made it to Celebration]- The best track from Music...period. Screwy techno in the form of psychedelic country? Yes, yes and yes. In sonic/aural terms, this also has some of the least pretentious vibes of Madonna's entire career [and believe me when I say, that's quite a Herculean feat]. The video is able to play into and support the acid-laced vibes of the song [and has the hottest cowboys in music video history.]

2. "Like a Prayer" [made it to Celebration]- The creative and controversial peak of Madonna's career. Yes I typed that! The track in which she sound the best in terms of singing, has the most emotion and has black Jesus in its video with burning crosses...there's nothing more creative and controversial/deliciously blasphemous she's done since. In terms of albums 1-6 [Madonna to Bedtime Stories] this song takes the grand prizes of Best Lead Single and Best Song.

Before we get to #1, here are 2 tracks that missed the Top 40:

Honorable Mentions: "Miles Away" from Hard Candy and "Into the Hollywood Groove" ft. Missy Elliott from the Remixed & Revisited EP


1. "Hung Up" [first track on Celebration for a reason]- The pinnacle of Madonna is in this Guinness World Record holder of a song. #1 in every country that doesn't use Fahrenheit (The U.S. market eventually paid for its sins with "Give Me All Your Luvin'" so things are even.) ABBA sampled and made better, "Hung Up" represents the best of not only Confessions on a Dance Floor but of Madonna, the entertainer. High energy instrumental, a limited but disciplined vocal prowess and a music video dujour of blaring jewel-tones and primary club colors.

This song snatches the grand prizes of Best Song in Albums 6-12 [Ray of Light to MDNA (Which never happened in my revisionist mind)] Best Lead Single in Her Career and The Best Madonna Song of All Time.

No comments:

Post a Comment