Madonna is undoubtably one of the biggest powerhouses in the music industry, and has been since she released her debut single back in 1982. Since then she has continuously reinvented herself, experimented in style and pumped out a collection of incredible studio albums. Her insatiable determination to dominate popular music has seen her become one of the worlds biggest icons of pop history, fashion, Hollywood and radio stations.
August 16th saw Madonna celebrate her 62nd birthday, so it only feels right to take a walk down memory lane and bask in the glory of some of her hits. So here are my top 10 Madonna singles;
10. Ghosttown- Rebel Heart
In my opinion, Ghosttown didn’t get the attention it deserved upon its release in 2015. It’s certainly one of Madonna’s less commercially renowned singles, but this doesn’t reflect on the quality of the song. The production and vocal delivery behind the track are marvellous and the music itself sounds like a modern and well crafted ballad. Demonstrably coming from a more technically matured Madonna since her Like A Virgin days. It’s cinematic music video fits perfectly with the track and shows a dystopian Madonna surviving through a post apocalyptic world and eventually dancing through the wreckage in a stunning dance sequence. An underrated gem.
9. Express Yourself – Like A Prayer
This upbeat song comes from Madonna’s Like A Prayer album and encouraged women everywhere to never settle for second best. It was also the opening song to her famous Blond Ambition tour, as she appeared on stage shouting “Do you believe in love?” to the audience, while donning her notorious ‘cone bra’ corset. The single is a deep funk and pop creation and it’s lyrics celebrate female empowerment. It’s thought to have inspired many of today’s female music artists with its feminist message.
8. Music – Music
If I think back to the year 2000, this song perfectly sums up my pre-teen years. Getting home from school, the video to this song was on TV and turning on the radio meant listening to Music on repeat. It was also the only CD single I wanted to buy in HMV to go in my discman. Madonna had reinvented her image once again to release this dance record and it immediately became one of the sounds of the early noughties. The video of course featured (a then pregnant) Madonna living it up heading to clubs in a gold limousine, driven by Ali G, while dressed in a white fur coat and a cowboy hat. As you do.
7. Material Girl – Like A Virgin
Material Girl’s video saw Madonna strutting her stuff in a Marilyn Monroe influenced role. Draped in diamonds and a fancy pink dress, she could have any man she wanted – and his money. Material Girl was a stamp of power in Madonna’s career and was one of the songs that established her as the icon she is today. The electronic sounding vocals and synth arrangement of the track still give it a futuristic feel, even though it was released over 35 years ago. The song is a pinnacle of pop music and continues to have a strong influence on the genre today.
6. Like A Prayer – Like A Prayer
“When you call my name it’s like a little prayer”. Madonna certainly had us down on our knees as she took us there. Like A Prayer is one of M’s best known songs and received critical acclaim across the globe after its release in 1989. Unlike some of her other releases, this single speaks of her relationship with God as she praises him as, well, Godly. Of course, the song could have other meanings depending on how you listen to it, but it’s rooted in religion. The video for the song caused deep controversy as it featured Madonna steamily kissing a black saint in church and the burning of some Ku Klux Klan-esque crucifixes. All heavy stuff that lead to the Vatican having a big fall out with our Madge.
5. Frozen – Ray of Light
Frozen is in my top 10 Madonna singles because it’s, for want of a better word, a bit weird. It doesn’t sound like anything else and seems like it should have been on the soundtrack to some sort of Sci-Fi film, even though it never was. It makes me think of Madonna as some kind of ice powered super villain, and to be honest I think she’d nail that role! It’s haunting and creepy and the closest thing I can think to compare it to would be ‘Stay’ by Shakespeare’s Sister. It’s peak Madonna giving us a different, spooky, reinvention of herself. The ballad was her first single to debut at number 1 in the UK charts and it’s video features a gothic style Madonna using a black veil to mimic contortionism and shape shifting into a flock of crows. Whew.
4. Miles Away – Hard Candy
Though Miles Away is possibly one of Madonna’s lesser known single releases, at least outside of her dedicated fandom, it’s one of my favourites. It comes from her Hard Candy album and was possibly a bit overshadowed by the highly successful collaboration with Justin Timberlake on their single 4 Minutes, which also features on the same album. Miles Away is much softer and easy to listen to. It’s catchy chorus gives a dreamy vibe and it’s acoustic/electro backing lets it linger gorgeously in my mind for the rest of the day after listening to it. The song is apparently autobiographical and talks about long distance relationships.
3. Secret – Bedtime Stories
Secret is Madonna’s lead 1994 single from her Bedtime Stories album. It was a step away from her more dance influenced early pop tracks and combined sultry melodic vocals with mid tempo accents. It had more of an R&B persuasion then her previous work and gave yet another side to Madonna’s ongoing discography. The chilled out, yet melancholic, song offers a gentler and slightly more vulnerable side to the queen of pop.
2. Papa Don’t Preach – True Blue
The strong opening chords of Papa Don’t Preach and the eclectic mix of acoustic, string and electric instrumentals throughout, have given this moderate tempo single a fresh and original sound since it’s release in 1986. The track and it’s innovative lyrics offer something that I’ve certainly never heard in another pop song. It focusses on a father daughter relationship and tells the story of the daughter finding out that she has become pregnant at a young age, asking her Papa for love and support. “Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep. Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep”. Madonna also famously dedicated this song to Pope John Paul II, after he urged Italian fans to boycott her concerts.
1. Vogue – I’m Breathless
I’ve chosen Vogue as my number one Madonna song because, quite simply, it’s iconic. When you think of Madonna you think of the Vogue dance moves that still storm dance floors and influence modern dance today, as well as the unmistakable “Come on, vogue!” chorus line. Both the choreography and the song were influenced by the Harlem ballroom scene, and it’s said that Madonna wanted to highlight and celebrate this phenomenon, born from the African American and Latino LGBTQ drag community. It was the best selling single of 1990 and has proved timeless in the realm of pop music. The stylish black and music video is one of the most recognisable music videos since MTV launched in the 80s and continues to provide a source of power and inspiration for many within the LGBTQ community today.
*Madonna’s studio albums are available across streaming services now. Please note that I do not own the images used in this article.