Don’t just stand there: the worst Madonna songs

I wish I had recorded a version of “I’m Going Bananas” at the peak of my career too; it’s what I expect from artists in their imperial phases. Dipping into her work after 2005’s acknowledged Good Album Confessions on a Dance Floor is an enervating affair, though, so I refrained from listing post-2008 options except for inescapable stinkers. Her last acknowledged mega hit “4 Seconds,” for example, tops my list: a compendium of exhausted Timbaland sounds (synth horns), Justin cameos (Madonna would’ve been less desperate if she’d coaxed a writing credit out of him in 2000), and party-over-oops-out-of-time twaddle.

It’s a testament to Madonna’s quality control that ninety percent of  her singles would pass federal guidelines: attractive melodies, strong hooks, identifiable and charismatic vocal performance. I don’t care about “Material Girl,” “True Blue,” “Express Yourself,” “Rain,” or “Causing a Commotion,” but they don’t offend me. The worst of her big hits remains “Who’s That Girl,” on which she and co-writer Patrick Leonard, gasping for air, reprised the “Oriental” presets first deployed on “La Isla Bonita” and the three other Spanish words that Ms. Ciccone didn’t whisper on that same track. “American Pie” was gruesome when Don McLean sang it in the Nixon era; when Madonna invests its stale pieties with more commitment than is her wont it feels like a betrayal; she’s too smart, too modern, to believe in long-long-time-ago (whatever else she keeps Justin and Avicii’s numbers on her phone). A similar investment in superannuated melodrama sinks the early “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.”

Now for the surprises. I won’t tolerate no votes for Like a Virgin‘s “Shoo Be Doo” and “Stay.” I’ll defend 2015’s Rebel Heart as her most cohesive album since 2005; many tracks give the impression that she actually sat around a room with co-writers the old fashioned way and tossed melodies and lyrical ideas around. Finally, dig past American Life‘s first two singles and what emerges is an album of murmured weirdness unlike anything in her catalog to date. I want a sequel.

1. 4 Minutes
2. I’m Going Bananas
3. Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
4. Where Life Begins
5. Love Makes the World Go Round
6. Hey You
7. Give It 2 Me
8. American Pie
9. Give Me Your Luvin’
10. One More Chance
11. Who’s That Girl
12. Hollywood
13. Bitch I’m Madonna
14. American Life
15. Nobody’s Perfect

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