Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ranking Birthday Girl Madonna's Albums

Last week while realizing Madonna's 59th birthday was coming up -- 59! -- I started to feel nostalgic about the big sister I never had, and began reflecting on of all the great music she had given us over the years. To say she has provided the soundtrack of my youth is almost an understatement -- seeing her live on The Virgin (Phoenix), Who's That Girl (Detroit) and twice on Blond Ambition (Los Angeles) tours are four of my fondest concert memories -- and I can pretty much tell you where I was when each single and each video from those first few albums was released. (And let's not even talk about agonizing over chart positions -- "Cherish" should have hit No. 1, damn it!) 

 I've always been obsessed with lists -- before the Internet I would makes lists of anything I could think of (tennis rankings, albums I own, places I've been) -- so for fun I decided to rank her 13 studio albums (plus "I'm Breathless" since it kind of was one, too) to mark her special day. As I was doing this, so many thoughts and emotions crossed my mind -- remembering buying the "Borderline" single that folded out into a poster; getting the "True Blue" 45 on blue vinyl with the then-Holy Grail of Madonna songs ("Ain't No Big Deal") as its b-side, and it wasn't long before I began engaging all of my friends in this endlessly entertaining activity. (You don't have to ask a fellow gay twice to send you a list of his favorite Madonna albums!)

Although for years I prided myself -- for lack of a better term -- on saying "Like a Prayer" and later "Ray of Light" were Madonna's best albums, when I really looked back on the past three-plus decades of her music, I had to admit that it was the first two that by far brought me the most joy. They're the two that I know every word and every breath of. Whose videos coming on MTV made my so-called (teenage) life worth living.

I remember shocking Joel Avery in P.E. class when I told him the girl who sang this was white!

They're the two I bought at Fiesta Mall with my friend Greg, that we played incessantly on our little record players while dissecting the album covers and liner notes -- debating which "side" of each was better. (Side 1's opener "Material Girl" was never my favorite and Side 2's "Dress You Up" is the best, but if you can get through the former then you get "Angel" and so much more!) Kind of to my surprise, I realized I was not alone in this way of thinking, as my two best friends -- Mark (from 6th grade) and the aforementioned Greg Jelinek (from 8th) -- Nina (my best gal pal), Scooter LaForge (artist), Greg Endries (photographer) and Bruce Derfler (aka DJ Taffy, who dazzled the crowd at my book-release party) all picked Madge's eponymous debut as their favorite, too. (In statistical terms that's 7 of the 13 people, or just over 50%.)

Madonna biographer Matt Rettenmund and legendary promoter Chip Duckett both put "Ray of Light" on top -- which I would still agree is her best album from an artistic point of view, but lacks "fun" songs save for the title track -- though interestingly picked "Madonna" (Matt) and "Like a Prayer" (Chip) as their runners-up, all concurring with my top four picks. Of the other fans, age certainly seemed to factor in -- as it did with my picks. My 39-year-old boyfriend (Damian) was just the right age when "Bedtime Stories" came out, and that's his favorite. And my theater-loving mid-40s friend Chad (of S'Good Reviews fame) loves "Erotica" best because it was his "coming out" album, although he technically put "Like a Prayer" first out of respect for his elders. (Peer pressure never ends!) The survey sample wasn't big, but I was a little surprised how high "Music" ranked with so many of the respondents. (Damian, Greg and Chip all had it in the Top 3 while Matt and I barely had it in the Top 10 -- and Jelinek and Scooter had it out of the Top 10.) "Confessions on a Dancefloor" definitely wowed others more than it did me. Matt put it on par with his Top 3, Taffy had it No. 2 and Chip, Greg Jelinek and Scooter all had it in their Top 5. Greg Endries made a good point that if compact discs had never come along, "Erotica" and so on would have only had 11 songs or fewer, which would have trimmed some of the fat and possibly changed things.

While lists often feel like they were invented to stir up trouble, I present you mine with love and great respect for the artist. And now I'd love to hear your thoughts and personal rankings in the comments. Oh, and happy birthday, Madonna! Life wouldn't have been nearly as fun without you. xo

  1. "Madonna"
  2. "Like a Virgin"
  3. "Like a Prayer"
  4. "Ray of Light"
  5. "Bedtime Stories"
  6. "True Blue"
  7. "Erotica"
  8. "I'm Breathless"
  9. "Music"
10. "Confessions on a Dance Floor"
11. "American Life"

12. "Rebel Heart"*
13. "MDNA"
14. "Hard Candy"

*Based on her lineup, thanks to not one, but TWO songs about pussy juice(!) and the inclusion of a convicted rapist (I don't ever want Mike Tyson in my life); if I had been able to choose 11 songs from the 25 I got with my Ukrainian version of the album, it would have ranked higher. "Hard Candy" and "MDNA" also had bonus tracks that were better than stuff included on the proper release. All three of these are sort of like Rorschach tests to me -- depending on my mood I can either enjoy them or find them pretty annoying. Still all of them are better than 95% of the new music that comes my way, so it's not as big of a dig as it may sound.

P.S. See some of my friends' lists HERE.


Jorge Clar said...

Hi Kenneth! How great is this! I love lists as well, so here's mine:

1. Madonna
2. Ray of Light
3. Like a Prayer
4. Like a Virgin
5. Confessions on a Dancefloor
6. True Blue
7. Erotica
8. I'm Breathless
9. Music
10. American Life
11. Bedtime Stories
12. MDNA
13. Rebel Heart
14. Hard Candy

That being said, I would love to see the listings of everyone that contributed to your post.

Sending hugs and love!
Jorge St. Clar ;-)

Donny said...

I'm a few years younger than you but have been a Madonna fan since 1983, when I was 12. I believe her first single, Everybody, was actually released in 1982 so I guess I was a little late to the party. Since we're not ranking compilation albums, let's just not forget that a some of her best singles came from those albums... Justify My Love, Rescue Me, This Used To Be My Playground, You'll See. And a few from film soundtracks... Who's That Girl, Causing a Commotion, I'll Remember, You Must Love Me, Beautiful Stranger.


Ray of Light – Just can’t be denied #1
Erotica – Underrated and probably my personal favorite (but we’re rating best, right?)
Like a Prayer
Bedtime Stories
Like a Virgin
True Blue
Confessions on a Dance Floor
Rebel Heart
I’m Breathless
American Life
Hard Candy – Last place and not a horrible album (some good tracks)

Unknown said...

LAP is probably her best, but for faves..
1Erotica (I'm 41)
2 Like a Prayer
3 Hard Candy (excellent songs, why all the hate??)
4 Rebel Heart
5 Bedtime Stories
6 Ray of Light
7 Madonna
8 True Blue
9 Like a Virgin
10 I'n Breathless
11 Confessions
12/13 American Life/MDNA

Dave in Texas said...

This is when you realize how bad her recent releases have been. I did this pretty quickly, but off the top of my head:
1. Madonna
2. Ray of Light
3. Like A Virgin
4. Confessions on a Dance Floor )I give it more love than others)
5. True Blue
6. Like a Prayer
7. Music
8. Bedtime Stories
9. Erotica
10. American Life
11.Rebel Heart
12.I'm Breathless
13. MDNA
14. Hard Candy

J.Me said...

13. HARD CANDY - R&B Wannabe Moll. Funny how a term used to define all Madonna’s legion of followers, wannabe, works so well here as she tries on an embarrassingly bad hip-pop lite vibe to no one’s amusement.

12. MDNA - A return to the dance floor, after HARD CANDY, this album is chilly, detached and surprisingly one of her worst. Impersonal, brash, and at times juvenile, MDNA drags on way too long like a bad trip with Molly.

11. MUSIC - After the sterling RAY OF LIGHT, she attempted to make lightning strike twice but missed the mark with Mirwais stuttering beats, folktronica which in retrospect seems a bit ahead of it’s time. (See or hear Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”)

10. LIKE A VIRGIN - The album that catapulted her to superstardom is also one of her least artistic. Hit singles aside, nothing on here hinted at the talent behind the voice.

9. TRUE BLUE - While LIKE A VIRGIN catapulted Madonna to superstardom, TRUE BLUE cemented it with five top 5 singles. three of which hit #1.

8. BEDTIME STORIES - Her first foray into R&B was a much better venture than later efforts. Credit goes to the producers, like Babyface, who crafted lush, smooth songs that didn’t stray too far from Madonna’s pop sensibilities.

7. EROTICA - An album ahead of its time sonically and culturally. The average pop music fan was not ready for Madonna at her most honest, brazen, and bold. Go behind the sexual innuendo laced songs and you’ll uncover some of the deepest, richest tracks she’s ever served up.

6. MADONNA - The album that started it all. Containing her best early work like “Holiday” and “Borderline”, MADONNA came along and ushered in a new era of dance pop star. One who was just getting started and was ready to take over the radio, media and pop culture.

5. REBEL HEART - After two lackluster and almost unbearable albums (HARD CANDY & MDNA) The Queen returned with her best album in a decade and went to her pop roots while keeping a toe on the dance floor. REBEL HEART succeeds because she stopped chasing the music trends and crafted songs that were right up her lane in sounding current yet classic at the same time.

4. AMERICAN LIFE - Title track and “Hollywood” aside, this album was one of her most personal and contains some of her most underrated album tracks (“Intervention” and “X-Static Process”)

3. CONFESSIONS ON A DANCEFLOOR - The Queen triumphantly claimed her spot under the disco ball with a collection of shimmery, euphoric dance tracks that saw her ascend to the top of the charts everywhere.

2. RAY OF LIGHT - The comeback album. Madonna reinvented herself as a spiritual mother and scored Grammys, hit singles, and respect of everyone who counted her out.

1. LIKE A PRAYER - This was the game changing, career defining Madonna album. Commercial yet artistic, this album silenced her critics and proved she was an icon.

Hunger Games said...

Not to downgrade your story about Madonna, but today is Belinda Carlisle's birthday who is also 59.

materialboy1 said...

Hi!!! Here you have my list:

1. True Blue
2. Like a Prayer
3. Ray of Light
4. Rebel Heart
5. Erotica
6. Confessions On A Dancefloor
7. Madonna
8. Music
9. Like a Virgin
10. MDNA
11. Bedtime Stories
12. I'm Breathless
13. American Life
14. Hard Candy