Madonna’s Best Songs – Part 1
This is a post about Madonna’s best songs… apart from the usual. But, how many songs does Madonna have? Amongst almost 300 hundred songs, it’s really hard to make a shortlist. I’ll do my best. Let’s go.
Not another post about Madonna’s Best Songs! Please!
Why repeat what hundreds of posts and articles say.
We all know that Ray of Light, Like a Prayer, Vogue etc. ARE BUT A FEW OF MADONNA’S BEST TRACKS and they will forever stick in the collective mind of humanity. So I’ve obviated “massive” Madonna favourites to give a chance to a list of lesser known songs. We all know and love Hung Up, Music, Holiday, Express Yourself, Like A Virgin, Everybody, Papa Don’t Preach, Ray of Light, Borderline, Like A Prayer, Erotica, Who’s That Girl, Open Your Heart, Give It 2 Me, right?
Madonna Favourite Songs
I am going to consider only those tracks in Madonna’s studio albums. Perhaps in the future I’ll write a post about favourite Madonna tracks outside studio albums, such as bonus tracks in compilation albums, B-Sides, covers like Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, I want you, Fever, etc. but not today.
Still, it was so hard to make such a shortlist.
What I’m not going to do is rank them. I just can’t bring myself to do that. It’d be too painful, I’m too involved.
I’d love it if you share with us your own Madonna favourite songs in the comments at the end of this post.
How do you choose Madonna’s Best Tracks?
Indeed. How. To be completely honest with you I have left out so many favourites I couldn’t even count them. I find something beautiful in almost each and every Madonna’s song, with very few exceptions. So it was hard work.
I have taken into consideration both music and lyrics, what they mean to me and how they echo some concealed part of Madonna. There’s a lot of emotion, character traits and own life experience involved in choosing a list of songs.
I don’t pretend to be a critic or a professional reviewer of Madonna’s best songs. My selection is purely based on how they make me feel, what they remind me of, how they made me review my own set of beliefs, or how much they agree with my own view of life. End of.
Let me remind you that this selection is not ranked. The order of the songs doesn’t have anything to do with how much I like them. I like them all A LOT.
Nothing Fails (American Life – 2003)
The emotional Nothing Fails is one of my favourite Madonna songs. I’m not sure if you can never go wrong with a gospel choir or if it’s entirely the other way ‘round: it’s not easy to make a good song just because. For me it’s like a follow up to Like a Prayer, only not as brilliant.
Heart-breaking yet hope-giving, Madonna’s beautifully sung vocals talk about fate. Some would say that it’s arguably the highlight of the whole album American Life.
Burning Up (Madonna – 1983)
To be completely honest with you, I had almost forgotten about this song (a figure of speech) until Madonna performed it live again in the Re-Invention Tour.
What I like about this edgy, punk-infused song is the contradiction found in the lyrics where her supposed submissiveness suddenly changes to a challenge. Madonna rocks!
Btw, it always reminded me of Blue Monday by New Order. No wait. It’s the other way ‘round. Burning Up was released one year before.
Gone (Music – 2000)
Gone is the last track on Music and one of Madonna’s best performances on this album. Emotional and moving vocals give profundity to the somewhat “warning” lyrics: Turn to stone, lose my faith, and I’ll be gone.
I see this beautiful song as an attempt from Madonna to encapsulate everything that she’s been trying to tell us (Survival or Drowned World/Substitute for Love) about being the most famous and scrutinised woman in the world. Of course, there are more, but this song seems to be particularly convincing, along with the next two below.
How High (Confessions on a Dance Floor – 2005)
On this overlooked track of Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna claims that
I spent my whole life wanting to be talked about,
I did it
Just about everything
To see my name in lights
Should I carry on?
Will it matter when I’m gone?
Will any of this matter?
Only to conclude
Was it all worth it?
How did I earn it?
I guess I deserve it
…. Nothing lasts forever
I think I’ve never seen so many questions asked in a song before (see How High lyrics).
Madonna is asking questions to herself that perhaps have no answer. How High explores the motives behind her provocative, controversial, cover-of-a-magazine behaviour of old times, to end up revealing that in fact Madonna has deeply installed herself into the system like everyone else. At least she admits to it openly and unapologetically, same as she did in American Life.
Wash All Over Me (Rebel Heart – 2015)
This is, for me, a sad, sad, exquisite ballad. And I love it. As I said in my post Madonna Albums Ranking, this song is a rumination about the present and the future and Madonna’s feelings about uncertainty. Madonna admits her insecurities about what’s going to happen next, but she also accepts that whatever will be, will be.
There’s much talk about Ray of Light’s songs being Madonna’s most personal. Taking as a starting point that I don’t agree with that (all of Madonna’s albums are very personal, except for, maybe Madonna and Like a Virgin), I find that this song is, perhaps, one of the most open of all. Self-deprecation and vulnerability have never been Madonna’s most typical attributes, but the way she sings Wash All Over Me could make you feel otherwise.
But, see, there’s a huge difference between being personal, sharing your thoughts and even emotions, and laying bare your soul, which is what Madonna does in Wash All Over Me and Gone.
Just for those who don’t know, Wash All Over Me (and other tracks in the Rebel Heart album) was produced, amongst others, by Avicii, who was sadly found dead a few days ago.
Like It Or Not (Confessions on a Dance Floor – 2005)
Perhaps I’ve been exceeding myself in choosing tracks that talk about how Madonna sees herself and the “special world” that surrounds her. It’s just that the subject fascinates me so I get carried away sometimes.
So, here’s another song where Madonna throws a defiant statement at the listener: Like It Or Not. Not her best lyrics, surely (perhaps she’s gone a bit too over the top with the allegoric representations), but they’re quite good overall if you want to hear the message, which is quite obvious. The simplicity of the song and its fuck-you-attitude is what I like the most about it, as well as the instrumentals.
Nobody Knows Me (American Life – 2003)
I don’t know if it’s because I don’t ever buy a magazine and I watch about 10 minutes of TV a day, but I just love how Madonna criticizes the tabloid and TV culture and sets forth how manipulable and ductile people are.
But it’s not only the lyrics. While it might be a bit “hard to swallow” at first, its electro-based, dance-oriented beats and vocoder effects, etc. make this a great song to dance and listen to.
I particularly loved Madonna’s live performance in the Re-Invention Tour and the Tom Munro version and backdrop video in the MDNA Tour.
More (I’m Breathless – 1990)
I posted a tweet the other day (April 2018) saying that I’ve always kind of resented the fact that More was written by Sondheim and not Madonna. The lyrics are so good.
Never say when, never stop at plenty,
If it’s gonna rain, let it pour
Happy with ten, happier with twenty
If you like a penny, wouldn’t you like many much more?
Each possession you possess
Helps your spirits to soar
That’s what’s soothing about excess
Never settle for something less
Something’s better than nothing, yes!
But nothing’s better than more, more, more…
Aren’t they brilliant? It’s irreverent and frivolous but funny. Flirtatious and insolent but catchy. Flashy and cheeky but audacious. What MORE can you ask for in a song. It’s Material Girl remastered and repackaged.
Isaac (Confessions on a Dance Floor – 2005)
I remember listening to this song the first few times and thinking: “God, this reminds me of some song but I don’t know…”.
Of course, some of you, readers, weren’t even born when Ofra Haza’s Im nin’alu was a hit back in 1984 see the video here (Nº 1 in Spain and many other countries).
Aaaww… so THAT was the song Isaac reminded me of! And I was right.
If the doors of the powerful are locked
The doors of heaven are not
One of the most underappreciated and intriguing songs of Madonna’s career lies at the tail end of the album Confessions on a Dance Floor.
An exhilarating hymn which has a fascinating Middle Eastern feel, a soothing melody, and quite remarkable lyrics (not to mention that, after 9/11, anything to do with the Middle Eastern culture was, at the very least, adventurous if not risky).
I don’t think this is intentionally a song about Madonna’s spiritual practices as it’s been labelled at times. Isaac, in my opinion is simply a chant about letting go of whatever load is dragging us down, preventing us from moving forward.
Amazing performance from Madonna and Boutella at the Confessions Tour, by the way.
This is it for today. There are plenty more for another day. To be continued…