Every few days or weeks, I pick a music artist or band, compile a chronological playlist of all of their singles (based on Wikipedia, Discogs and a few other sources) and then try to arrange that playlist in such a way that I like each song more than the previous song. Rearranging the songs is a never ending process so once I’m at a point where I think I’m pretty close to how I feel, I share the results with you 10 or so songs at a time. I’ve come to define “singles” in a pretty broad way so that it includes any song that was used to promote an album (via video or single) or any song that charted in a significant way. Generally speaking, I don’t include remixes or live versions of songs that were previously released as singles.
Madonna has a ton of songs. I’m writing about them without having had a ton of sleep. I apologize in advance.
50. Give It 2 Me
From 2008’s Hard Candy, Second Single
We start the top 50 with an upbeat self-empowerment dance tune created in collaboration with Pharrell Williams. The opening beat reminds me a bit of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” with some additional Williams-esque percussion elements. The song is pretty infectious and I generally really dig it except for the bridge. First, there’s this whole “get stupid” part in the middle that seems completely out of place. Is it a critique of the self-empowering lyric? A strangely inappropriate choice of “call to dance” words? I also find the rhythmic breakdown during this section to sound like it was literally cut and pasted in from an entirely different song. Like they had some extra beats lying around and thought “Oh, we can insert them here for absolutely no reason.” Subtract that bridge and this song jumps up into the top 30. As it is, I just like it instead of liking a whole lot.
49. Nothing Really Matters
From 1998’s Ray of Light, Fifth Single
Ray of Light may be my favorite Madonna album overall. That’s my way of saying its my favorite Madonna album. The video for this song draws heavily from the Butoh dance tradition which is of particular interest to those of us what studied Butoh at UHM. If one accepts the premise that the lyrics are autobiographical, the lyrics are a perhaps brutally honest bit of introspection inspired by the birth of her daughter. I don’t 100% accept that premise about any song by and songwriter, though Madonna pretty much confirmed this premise is actually the case. Anyhow, there’s not a dud song on Ray of Light and while this track isn’t quite as exhilarating as some of the others, its a great cool down dance tune.
48. Get Together
From 2005’ Confessions on a Dance Floor, Third Single
That’s one stylish semi-animated video. You know, I was at a Brian Wilson concert the other day and the wizened oldies radio DJ who introduced it made a point to remind the equally wizened audience that people just don’t write songs like Wilson did anymore. Man, they totally do, its just the people who cheered for that line haven’t listened to music in the same way as they did when they were young. When we were teenagers and college students, we had a ton of time to just listen to music and as we got older and got families and got jobs, the amount of time we had to invest in discovering new stuff shrank. To whit, to Frank Sinatra fans, Brian Wilson was a new kid hack. Furthermore, I’ll note that Brian Wilson has recorded 11 solo albums (one as recently as 2015) and the only song he played from one of those albums was “Good Vibrations” which, of course, was also a Beach Boys single.
Madonna kept on making great music long after we 80’s kids grew up. This was like her 34th #1 dance hit. I think Madonna’s voice has improved significantly with every release and on this song she has a smooth, mellow sound that still projects a confident urgency.
47. Buenos Aires
From the Soundtrack to the 1997 film Evita, Song that Charted
Of all the songs Madonna sang on the Evita soundtrack, I think she nailed this one. Its an upbeat dance song about a woman moving from a small town to the big city trying to find success – I mean, that’s Madonna’s biography in a nutshell. I really feel like with the right director and the write script, Madonna could be the kind of celebrated actress that she always wanted to be. Unfortunately, I think her great skill at recognizing what songs best challenge and support her does not translate into making great film choice. That has nothing to do with how much fun this song is, even if it is sung by a proto-fascist character.
46. What It Feels Like for a Girl
From 2000’s Music, Third Single
That’s Charlotte Gainsberg’s voice at the start – its a sample from the 1993 film The Cement Garden. The film itself doesn’t necessarily directly connect to the song though the quote sets the right note for the lyrics. Madonna directly explores (and explodes) the stereotypes and double standards that girls face. The video is a bit of a hot mess built around a remix of the song but I’m just going to assume that Madonna and then-husband Guy Richie were trying to get at something that goes over my head. On Music, the song is a nice contrast to the rest of the record’s dance heavy tracks.
45. Turn Up the Radio
From 2012’s MDNA, Fourth Single
This is another track that’s been climbing up my list as I’ve worked on this list. I imagine, given another couple of weeks, I’d rank it even higher. This is the most rock and roll lyric Madonna has ever written. A song about the joys of listening to your favorite music on the radio? That’s like 75% of the great rock songs. I mean, everyone from the Beach Boys to The Replacements have done radio songs (and R.E.M. did “Radio Song”). Madonna’s is an infectious, upbeat affair that makes me consider actually listening to the radio (though I won’t for fear that I’ll stumble across talk radio, which is the worst).
From 2014’s Rebel Heart, Second Single
“Ghosttown” is a fabulous ballad about the kind of world we’ll live in if the intolerance Madonna was seeing all around her in France in three years ago leads to Armageddon. LITTLE DID YOU KNOW, MADGE. Despite this grim theme, its a pretty positive song about trying to hold on to love under the worst of circumstances. The song has a great build and both her vocals and the music create a powerful sense of drama, particularly on the choruses. Its also one of Madonna’s finest-ever lyrics.
43. 4 Minutes (featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland)
From 2008’s Hard Candy, Fourth Single
I’m on the record as being a huge fan of big dumb songs. This is a big dumb song. Madonna, Timberlake and Timbaland only have four minutes to save the world and they have to save it to a dance beat. Timberlake in particular seems really, really concerned about how much time they have left while Madonna seems have other things on her mind too. I am totally sold on the stereo “tick tock” business that she does during the bridge. I admit my interest in Timberlake’s career really took off because of his SNL tunes and now I can’t hear anything he does without suspecting it might be intended as comedy. Ah, the song is like ebola-level infectious (with less deadly vomiting) and was a well-deserved top 10 hit for Madonna.
42. This Used to Be My Playground
From the 1992 film A League of Their Own, Stand Alone Single
I love A League of Their Own. Its probably my all-time favorite sports movie (which means it is my all-time favorite sports movie). Its also Madonna’s best acting performance (though I think she’s quite good in Desperately Seeking Susan, too). All-The-Way May is a fantastic match for Madonna and her double act with Rosie O’Donnell is one of the many highlights of the film. I have all kinds of theories about why she is so much better in this film than her others but most of it boils down to her being a part of an ensemble rather than being the feature player. I also love this song – its one of my favorite Madonna ballads. I wanted A League of Their Own to end with a song that sounded more triumphant but, you know, the AAGPBL was gone forever and wasn’t coming back so as inspiring as the movie was, this song sort of pointed to a bit of sad truth. That playground really is gone.
41. Revolver (featuring Lil Wayne)
From the 2009 compilation album Celebration, Second single
If Kiss can sing a whole song comparing their junk to a “Love Gun,” heck yeah Madonna can sing about her love being a revolver. Lil Wayne contributes one of the better raps on a Madonna track and she sounds like she’s have a great, trashy electropop time. I hate guns and I love this song. Go figure. Humanity is complex like a sentient colony of bacteria – which is a thing that would surely dance to this tune.
Coming Soon: I mean, its pretty much all great from here on out. Celebrate!