Deep Album Cuts Vol. 3: Madonna

I started this series, somewhat unambitiously, with Brandy, before moving on to a much bigger star with a longer career who, ultimately, also only had 6 albums, Whitney Houston. But it feels like a big jump to go to Madonna, who, despite having paralleled Whitney's career chronologically with a comparable level of superstardom, has been far more prolific: 12 albums, three soundtracks, just a dizzying amount of music to try to process. Add in the fact that I could only fit 15 songs into my (self-imposed) 80-minute cap, because her songs often run on the long side for a pop artist, and I could only feature more than one song from a couple of her more consistent and highly regarded albums, Like A Prayer and Erotica. So there will almost definitely be another one of these for Madonna at some point, after I've absorbed her catalog some more. I probably could've taken some time with this one, but I'm working on my ballot for a Madonna tracks poll this week, and it was fun to give myself a crash course to dig deeper than just the hits.

Here it is as a Spotify playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 3: Madonna

1. Till Death Do Us Part
2. White Heat
3. Physical Attraction
4. Shoo-Bee-Doo
5. Can't Stop
6. Don't Stop
7. Waiting
8. Easy Ride
9. Gang Bang
10. Forbidden Love
11. Love Song featuring Prince
12. Thief Of Hearts
13. She's Not Me
14. Sky Fits Heaven
15. Nobody's Perfect

Track 3 from Madonna (1983)
Track 4 from Like A Virgin (1984)
Track 2 from True Blue (1986)
Track 5 from Who's That Girl: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1987)
Tracks 1 and 11 from Like A Prayer (1989)
Tracks 7 and 12 from Erotica (1992)
Track 6 from Bedtime Stories (1994)
Track 14 from Ray of Light (1998)
Track 15 from Music (2000)
Track 8 from American Life (2003)
Track 10 from Confessions On The Dance Floor (2005)
Track 13 from Hard Candy (2008)
Track 9 from MDNA (2012)

I structured this a bit like the Whitney playlist, starting with the '80s stuff, then moving into the '90s and '00s eras, and then jumping back a little bit. But with more albums to choose from, it also inevitably got a little more mixed up, in a way that felt intuitive and right to me. I definitely love her buoyant '80s pop period best, but there's a lot to love in the darker '90s. And I was surprised as how listenable her 2000s output turned out to be, given how scattershot and rarely great the singles have been. In fact, I've kind of come away from her later albums with impressions that are almost perfect opposites of the conventional wisdom. The acclaimed comeback albums Ray of Light and Confessions On The Dance Floor come off a little too bland and tasteful for me, while I love the skronky awkwardness of the Mirwais albums. Even last year's MDNA surprised me a bit, given how DOA its singles were. Hard Candy, the too-late attempt to catch the Timbaland/Neptunes wave, is a bit sad, but some of the Pharrell jams work.

But really, of course, it was the first decade or so of her career that was pretty incredible. Those albums that had four or five gigantic singles still had deep cuts that could've been hits. "Till Death Do Us Part" is a big standout, in part for being her most confessional account of being abused by that shitheel Sean Penn, but also just an amazing song. "Can't Stop," the only Madonna song on the Who's That Girl soundtrack that wasn't a single, totally should have been (although I'm Breathless obviously doesn't have anything that can compete with "Vogue"). While Madge's infamous image reboots have helped define her career and cement her savvy as a businesswoman, her shifts in vocal styles and in production styles and collaborators has been a lot more unpredictable and difficult to pin down -- some choices are strange in that way that, really, confirms her auteur status. Not that, say, Erotica or American Life were deliberate attempts to alienate her audience in the style of '80s Neil Young or anything. But for the world's most popular populist pop star, she's lead her fanbase where she pleases much more than she's chased it wherever else it might be headed.
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