Saturday, July 27, 2013

The 25 Best Non-Singles by Madonna

Madonna's done it all and we've pretty much covered it all. So when we sat down to decide the best way to celebrate the anniversary of Madonna's debut album, released 30 years ago tomorrow, we elected to dig up some of the forgotten or unheralded gems scattered liberally throughout her three-decade-spanning catalogue rather than predictably rank her best albums, singles, or videos—which we've more or less done on various other lists over the years anyway. With the exception of one B-side, one compilation cut, and one remix, all of our picks can be found on a Madonna studio album—a testament to the singer's strength as an album artist, particularly in the '90s. These are songs that, in a more adventurous world, could have been hits, and in some cases where the releases were nixed last minute, almost were, their breadth and depth reflective of an artist unwilling to allow herself to be defined. And just for shits and giggles, we ranked 'em.

25.  "Love Song" from Like a Prayer
A daring and unconventional duet with Prince, 'Love Song'  is not regarded as a classic in the same way as Like A Prayer but it’s every inch as clever. Almost gone completely is the pop suss of the opening two tracks and in comes the art. That is what Love Song is, true art. It has the feel of Prince’s slightly more obtuse songs from the 80’s and yet always sounds just a tad out of whack even for his purpleness’ most odd moments. Saying that, take away the odd beeps and low key approach to it and Love Song is at heart a belting ballad. During those days Prince wasn’t about to put his name to anything run of the mill, considering at this point he and Madonna were the two biggest names in pop it couldn’t have worked out any better.  Anyone notice how madonna used same lyrics here as in hung up ?? " Time goes by so slowly for those who wait"?

24.  "Inside of Me" from Bedtime Stories

With full, round production by Nellee Hooper, "Inside of Me" on the surface sounds like a warm, intimate sauna of slack slow jack built on a foundation of Aaliyah and the Gutter Snypes samples, but radiating a sensuality that's all Madge. But like every track on her prior album, Erotica, this song's breathy hedonism masks an inner devastation: Underneath those tear-stained suggestions of sex mournfully deferred is actually a heartfelt tribute to her mother. Staring down a crossroads in her career, Madonna couldn't help but make grief sound like fornication. Henderson

23.  "Forbidden Love" from Confessions On A Dancefloor
This version of “Forbidden Love” sends the message that religious creeds, political persuasion, sexual and racial prejudice, and the violence that often accompanies the ignorance and exclusionary tactics of these agendas, have no power over love and desire. Love knows no color, no belief system, no agenda but its own, and that is to break the ego of its self-centeredness and show it the beauty of sacrificing the self’s own needs and wants for those of another greater than oneself. True love conquers all, defying all boundaries that anyone puts in its place; in the eyes of love no embrace, no kiss, no touch, no expression of desire is forbidden or taboo because love is blind to the differences in others which humans see with the clouds and dust of ignorance and hatred in their eyes and their minds. It is ironic that the cliché “Love is blind” has lasted so long, when truth be told, Love is the only thing in the world that truly sees.

22.  "Where Life Begins" from Erotica
Madonna waxes erotic on the perks and pleasures of oral sex on "Where Life Begins," the Erotica's most overtly sexual track, but also the only one to reference safe sex: "I'm glad you brought your raincoat/I think it's beginning to rain." Both "Where Life Begins" and "Waiting" draw heavily from Motown and were produced by Andre Betts, who cut his teeth as associate producer of "Justify My Love."

20.  “Swim” from Ray of Light
Here you have it: a sign that Madonna may have her feet planted in this world. Like an ethereal, patrician version of Marvin Gaye, she croons the headlines: “Children killing children while the students rape their teachers / Comets fly across the sky while the churches burn their preachers.” It’s heavy and heavy-handed, but it’s also fitting for Ray of Light’s fixation on consciousness.

21.  "Think of Me" from Madonna

We’re already getting to the point in the list where I want to caption everything with “I effing love this song.” Well, get this: “Think of Me” is a lovable plea for sexual consideration in the vein of Teena Marie and Lisa Lisa. You can’t argue with early Madonna. She’s too damn real.

19. “Thief of Hearts” from Erotica

It does not get sweeter than this. Allow me to recite the slut-shaming rap that Madonna prattles off: “You do it / You take it / You screw it / You fake it/ Undo it / You break it / You’re over, you can’t take it.” Evil. And legendary.

18.  "Secret Garden" from Erotica
The day she ever stops "wanting, needing, waiting" will never happen, a point Madonna drives home at the climax of Erotica when she muses, "I wonder when I'll start to show/I wonder if I'll ever know/Where my place is/Where my face is." Andre Betts's shuffling breakbeat and the jazzy piano and sax flourishes serve as a musical palate cleanser following Shep Pettibone's highly icy house beats. But make no mistake, she's no closer to wrapping up this story, and the way her discontent radiates even through lines about how "the sun has kissed me" is a lens through which her entire rocky career can be viewed. Henderson

17.  "Something to Remember” from I’m Breathless

I’ll continue to tout Madonna’s skills as a balladeer, but who could deliver a line like, “I hear you still say ‘Love yourself’” with as much visceral hurt?

16.  "Easy Ride" from American Life

The literal and figurative denouement to both 2003's divisive American Life and, more broadly, Madonna's folktronica period, "Easy Ride" is the ultimate exemplar of Madge and Mirwais's obsession with marrying acoustic guitars, squelchy synths, and deconstructed orchestral arrangements. Her vocals start off raw, nearly unrecognizable, and eventually grow fuller and richer until she admits what nearly every move of her 30-year career attests to: "What I want is to live forever." Sal Cinquemani

15.  "Your Honesty" from Remixed & Revisited

I’ll be honest: Though “Don’t Stop” is a nicely Madonna-fied version of new-jack swing, I wouldn’t have hated it if this discarded Bedtime Stories cut replaced it on the final track listing. “Your Honesty” is a bopping, swaying love train, and its ebullience is catchy as hell.

14.  “Spanish Eyes” from Like A Prayer

One of the saddest songs on the list, Madonna’s bleating ode to a fallen friend is a devastating vigil. We needed a music video to this one.

13.  "Sky Fits Heaven" from Ray of Light
Lyrically inspired by British poet Max Blagg's 1992 poem "What Fits?" (later used in a Gap jeans commercial), but the song is a marvel not for Madonna's new-age pontifications, but for its heavenly hook and William Orbit's impeccable use of both analog and digital technologies, marked by expressive electric guitars and explosive drum fills constructed from tiny fragments of sound. Cinquemani

12.  “White Heat” from True Blue

Not only is “White Heat” a slick and unabashed tribute to Jimmy Cagney, but Madonna is clearly torqued to revel in the classic Hollywood whizzbang. Her love is dangerous!

11. "I Want You" from Something to Remember
Madonna's haunting rendition of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" is, if not more soulful, infinitely more desperate than the 1976 original. The confidence and determination in Gaye's voice is replaced here with the kind of naked vulnerability Madonna perfected on Bedtime Stories a year earlier. Her feat is no doubt aided by the song's transformation from a conga-accented disco number into a more languid trip-hop track, courtesy of Massive Attack and producer Nellee Hooper. Cinquemani

10.  "Has to Be" from Ray of Light single 

Ray of Light may have marked the queen's return to her EDM throne, but it was her reunion with longtime songwriting partner Patrick Leonard, as well as producer William Orbit's more subdued ambient soundscapes, that elevated the project above a mere electronica cash-in. Putting the law of attraction to the test, "Has to Be," the meditative B-side to "Ray of Light," is an anguished appeal to the gods above from the loneliest, most famous woman on Earth.Cinquemani

9.  "Masterpiece" from MDNA
Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly described the song as a throwback to Madonna's mid-1990s style and felt that the song would slot neatly onto her 1995 ballads compilation Something to Remember.  The simplicity of the production allows the listener to focus on the beautifully-penned lyrics and her smooth voice that never fails to impress.  This really should have been release as a single to help promote her 'W.E.' directorial debut and would have been a nice segway into her MDNA album, ala 'Live to Tell' for True Blue back in 1986.  

8.  “Spotlight” from You Can Dance

There’s no telling why this bad-ass dancefloor beast is so underplayed. It features all the empowerment, urgency, defiance, and scrappiness of Madonna’s standards, and it even boasts the immortal line, “Everybody is a star.” This is your time to shine, dear listener!

7.  "Beat Goes On" from Hard Candy

“Beat Goes On” (featuring Kanye West) is classic Madonna, reminiscent of "Holiday", was destined to become a hit single.  Why she did not release it is yet to be discovered; it surely would have given her first No. 1 in almost a decade with the help of two of hip hops finest.  Oh Madge, why not just release the amazing 'Sticky & Sweet' Tour footage for the video?  It was such an easy sell. 

6.  “Where’s the Party?” from True Blue

Though it’s a minor moment of jubilance on an album chockablock with joy, “Where’s the Party” is such a fun-loving, twinkly bit of girly urgency. It’s effect on the viewer is threefold: you smile, you skip, you werq.

5.  "Till Death Do Us Part"  from Like a Prayer
How well the song has aged sonically may be at the mercy of Patrick Leonard's then-state-of-the-art 1988 Yamaha keyboards, but the producer's pointillistic use of synthesizers is, like on "Open Your Heart" before it and "I'll Remember" after it, a thing to behold. No more so, however, than Madonna's autobiographical account of her turbulent marriage to Sean Penn. In a song filled with lyrics that sting, this is but one: "You're not in love with someone else/You don't even love yourself/Still I wish you'd ask me not to go." That barely perceptible whirring engine at the very end of the song is the sound of her going. Cinquemani

4.  "Physical Attraction" from Madonna
Maybe we were meant to be together/Even though we never met before." If that doesn't sum up the relationship between Madonna and her instant fanbase circa her self-titled debut, I don't know what does. "Physical Attraction" finds Madonna, still believably coquettish and naïve at this early point, tellingly offering her permission to take things to the next level. The girl was in the driver's seat from day one, and never slid aside for anyone. Eric Henderson

3.  “Forbidden Love” from Bedtime Stories
The deep, sweltering R&B groove here feels like a scalding hot shower that Herb Ritts would’ve enjoyed filming. Madonna also shifts from “sexy” to “revealing” midway through the song, admitting in a lovely hush, “Rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac.”

2.  "Waiting" from Erotica

"Waiting," a veritable sequel to the steely, in-your-face spoken-word of "Justify My Love," addresses rejection and unrequited love in a more brutally honest fashion: "Don't go breaking my heart like you said you would," she sings despondently yet sincerely. Here's a woman who entered into a relationship after the man she loves told her he wouldn't be able to love her back. And yet she still took the risk. "Waiting" is the ultimate masochism, one that's entered into with full knowledge of what the emotional consequences will be. The very first lyric, "Well, I know from experience that if you have to ask for something more than once or twice, it wasn't yours in the first place," which she utters with the same amount of interest a star of her stature might apply to buying a new pair of shoes, also happens to be one of the best opening lines to a pop song since "I guess I should have known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn't last."

1.  "Gang Bang" from MDNA

Even before she splattered blood across three-story projection backdrops during her MDNA Tour, the gruesome imagery, the seemingly contemptuous snatches of dubstep, and the purely exploitative application of violence in what is otherwise an exercise in horror as fashion statement ("He deserved it") within the Nancy Sinatra-swiping "Gang Bang" already positioned Madonna right alongside the new French extremists. There is no statement here, no empowerment, no redemption. Just a thrilling moment of reckless respite, the sort of indulgence only someone who has attained a certain level of renown can truly savor. Henderson