Revisiting after Prince’s death Eric Henderson and Sal Cinquemani’s 2013 list of Madonna’s best album tracks led me back to 1989’s co-write/co-production “Love Song,” which in turn reminded me of what I already knew: boy, Madonna has more essential album tracks than her singles reputation suggests, and they proliferated after 1989.
To note those tracks is difficult at first: the eponymous debut kept “Think About Me” and “I Know It” to itself yet I heard the former often in early ’85 when public ardor matched her chart ambitions (Jellybean’s Madonna-written “Sidewalk Talk” got Miami airplay much earlier than its Hot 100 chart peak, for instance). But if I concede that Like a Virgin is her weakest long player, then I have to explain what “Stay” is doing on my list and I don’t feel like it; like all her Stephen Bray collaborations from this period its joi de vivre justifies itself (you can do what you like with “Shoo-Be-Doo”). Plus — it’s got firework effects! Even greater is “Over and Over,” whose symmetrical title emphasizes the will to power inseparable from physical and even spiritual attraction that was Madonna’s contribution to the language of pop semiotics. Plus — it’s got the best wordless hook of her career, rendered even more thundering in its You Can Dance remix version.
Matters were still simple for True Blue and Who’s That Girl; not much unreleased shit. Two of my closest junior high girl friends adored “Jimmy Jimmy,” while “The Look of Love” was a British top ten but a nothing here beyond the playground; I included it because it’s the period’s most poignant ballad, showcasing the best of co-writer Patrick Leonard’s atmospheric keyboards and in “All the books I’ve read, and the things I know/Never taught me to laugh, never taught to let go” some of Madonna’s best ah-bitter-fame lyrics.
Finally, let me point out “Supernatural,” a Like a Prayer outtake with fabulous self-harmonizing and sharp drumming that shows what a roll she and Leonard were on in 1989.
1. Words (Erotica)
2. Bye Bye Baby (Erotica)
3. Over and Over (Like a Virgin)
4. Let It Will Be (Confessions on a Dance Floor)
5. Where’s The Party (True Blue and You Can Dance)
6. Stay (Like a Virgin)
7. Love Tried to Welcome Me (Bedtime Stories)
8. He’s a Man (I’m Breathless)
9. In This Life (Erotica)
10. Forbidden Love (Confessions on a Dance Floor)
11. Gone (Music)
12. Love Song (Like a Prayer)
13. Sky Fits Heaven (Ray of Light)
14. Thief of Hearts (Erotica)
15. Till Death Do us Part (Like a Prayer)
16. I’d Rather Be Your Lover (Bedtime Stories)
17. Impressive Instant (Music)
18. Forbidden Love (Bedtime Stories)
19. Swim (Ray of Light)
20. Gang Bang (MDNA)
21. Nothing Fails (American Life)
22. Think About Me (Madonna)
23. Thief of Hearts (Erotica)