Madonna

 Madonna

 Madonna – circa 1984

 “Life is a mystery / Everyone must stand alone” – ‘Like A Prayer’ (Madonna, Patrick Leonard)

Crosses, lit up by flames, burn in the night.  A female singer in a lacy dress (or is it a negligee?) gyrates in front of the symbols of Christianity.  This is Mary Lambert’s video for ‘Like A Prayer’ by Madonna.  It is 1989 and the U.S. singer’s latest effort is not just publicising her music, it is part of ‘a one-year, five-million dollar’ sponsorship deal with soda-pop manufacturer Pepsi-Cola.  Those corporate executives feel distinctly flat when this song / video, ‘with its links between religion and eroticism, is condemned by the Vatican.’  The earthly powers at Pepsi cancel their deal with Madonna in the face of controversy.  The singer is unperturbed.  ‘Madonna keeps the money.’  Controversy is just part of the scenery in Madonna’s career.

The recording artist who will become known under the one word name ‘Madonna’ is born Madonna Louise Ciccone on 16 August 1958 in Bay City, Michigan, U.S.A.  “Sometimes I think I was born to live up to my name,” she later comments.  “How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna?  I could either have ended up a nun or this.”  Madonna is the daughter of Silvio Ciccone, an engineer at the automobile manufacturer Chrysler, and his wife, Madonna Louise Fortin, an x-ray technician and former dancer.  Silvio is a first generation Italian-American while his wife comes from a French-Canadian background.

Madonna Ciccone is raised as a Catholic.  She later observes, “Catholicism is not a soothing religion.  It’s a painful religion.  We’re all gluttons for punishment.”

Madonna is one of six children.  Her siblings are: Anthony (born 1956), Martin (born 1957), Paula (born 1959), Christopher (born 1960) and Melanie (born 1962).

Madonna’s mother dies from cancer when the child is 6.  Before she dies, Madonna’s mother expresses a wish to visit the town of Lourdes in France, a place where miracle cures are sometimes granted, particularly to the Christian faithful.  She never makes the journey…Madonna reflects years later that, “I think the biggest reason I was able to express myself and not be intimidated was by not having a mother.  For example, mothers teach you manners.  And I absolutely did not learn any of those rules and regulations.”

“One of the hardest things I’ve faced in my life was the death of my mother,” Madonna will later admit.  “My father was very strong,” she adds.  The Ciccone family copes with the loss partly through music.  “Everybody in my family studied a musical instrument,” Madonna says. “My father was big on that.  Somehow I only took a year or two of piano lessons and I convinced my father to let me take dance lessons.”  She also professes, “I was more of a dancing kid than a singing kid” and “I always thought I would be treated like a star.”

Things become more complicated when Silvio Ciccone remarries.  Madonna’s stepmother, Joan Gustafson, had been working for the family as their housekeeper.  She and Silvio add two more children to the family: Jennifer (born 1968) and Mario (born 1969).  Madonna’s relationship with her stepmother is not very good as she faces disapproval for her increasingly exhibitionist tendencies.

Madonna Ciccone attends Adams High School in Rochester, Michigan.  There, she studies dance and drama.  She is a cheerleader.  Although this implies popularity, Madonna recalls those days differently.  “I grew up in a high school where it was very conservative, and I felt like people disapproved of me, and I felt like an outsider.”  She graduates from high school in 1976.

Her dancing skills earn Madonna a scholarship at the University of Michigan.  After three semesters she drops out.

In 1977 Madonna moves to New York City.  “Part of the reason…[I] left home at such an early age [she was 19] is because I had to feel independent.”  With thirty-five dollars to her name, it isn’t easy.  Madonna finds a dance studio where she studies choreography.  She pays the rent by doing odd jobs like working behind the counter selling donuts in Times Square.  In the late 1970s she also does some modelling.  This includes appearing is some decidedly sexy photographs and a nude role in a motion picture.

In 1978 Madonna begins working with famed choreographer Alvin Ailey.  In 1979 she auditions to become a backing dancer for Patrick Hernandez.  ‘Born To Be Alive’ has been a big disco hit for Hernandez and he is touring the world in support of this song.  Madonna gets the job, but Hernandez’s managers think she has the potential for something more.  They send her to Paris.  “A French record label offered me a recording contract and I had to go to Paris to do it,” Madonna explains.  “So I went there and that’s really how I got into the music business.”  The song she is asked to record is ‘She’s A Real Disco Queen’.  “I didn’t like what I was doing when I got there,” Madonna continues, “so I left and I never did a record there.”

With some prescience, Madonna realises that disco music has about run its course.  She figures she will instead do some punk / new wave music.  Perhaps something like the group Blondie?  Something that has some attitude.

In Paris, Madonna meets Dan Gilroy.  Returning to New York, the two are romantically linked from 1979 to 1981.  She joins Gilroy’s ‘pop / dance group’ Breakfast Club, singing and also playing drums in the band.  Madonna leaves that combo in 1980 to work with Stephen Bray, who is described as ‘a former boyfriend.’  Madonna and Bray record some demos as an act called Emmy.  Always a dancer, Madonna takes time out to frequent various New York nightspots.  In one such place in 1982 she is spotted on the dance floor by DJ (disc jockey) Mark Kamins.  She gives Kamins a copy of the demo tape of four songs she wrote with Stephen Bray.  Kamins has a deal with Sire Records and, on his recommendation, Sire signs Madonna.

The music Madonna makes is frequently described simply as ‘dance’.  It’s a genre she practically creates for herself.  Disco is the closest ancestor of this form.  In its heyday, roughly 1974 to 1979, disco (short for ‘discotheque’) was all about providing a soundtrack to which people could dance.  Disco falls out of favour because rock fans (mostly white boys who don’t dance) resist it, and the lyrical content, often consisting of little more than exhortations to “dance, dance, dance”, is too vacuous.  In dance music, the beat is still all-important, but there are two crucial amendments.  Dance music has attitude.  Disco was comparatively polite and unassuming.  Dance is more aggressively about making a statement through physical movement.  Secondly, and in association, dance borrows from art and experimental avant-garde music.  Disco really just pumped up the steady pulse of rhythm and blues.  Dance fuses more radical elements such as synthesisers and electric keyboards (though disco certainly used such instrumentation too) with dramatic editing and mixing of the sound.  It is more like a New York aesthetic married to a groove.  “I know I’m not the greatest singer or dancer,” admits Madonna, “but that doesn’t interest me.  I’m interested in being provocative and pushing people’s buttons.”  In other words, it is an experimental spirit, a willingness to take risks, an edginess that energises dance into something more.  Not all Madonna’s music can be labelled ‘dance’, but it is the style to which she routinely returns.

Madonna’s image mongering extends to her apparel.  She loves to play dress up.  There is a bewildering array of looks and styles, ,many of which are imitated by her fans: distressed lace, bare mid-riffs, crucifixes, wedding gowns, ‘boy toy’ badges, conical bras and imitations of movie stars like Marilyn Munroe at her most glamorous or Marlene Dietrich decked out in menswear.  This is helped by the growing popularity of music videos coinciding with Madonna’s own cult of personality. Yet unlike some rock chameleons, these different images do not come with new invented personas; ‘the more Madonna changes her looks and sound, the easier it is to maintain a sense of who that girl is.’  Madonna also uses the costume changes to emphasise her sexuality.  Yet she is no some ingénue forced into revealing outfits by an overbearing impresario.  Madonna wields her sexuality as another weapon in her arsenal.  She is unashamed and forthright about it.  Advertising mavens have known for years that sex sells.  “I have a sexy image,” she acknowledges, “and people with sexy images aren’t supposed to have integrity or intelligence”- which Madonna does.  She also possesses a steely determination.

Madonna has a hand in both songwriting and production.  Tellingly, there is almost always a co-songwriter or co-producer.  It’s tempting to view Madonna as some sort of vampiric parasite, using up her collaborators and discarding the husks, but this does her a disservice.  As in dancing, it’s simply more fun to have a partner.  Her main leading men in the recording studio are Mark Kamins (1983), Stephen Bray (1984-1989), Patrick Leonard (1986-1990, 1998), Shep Pettibone (1990-1992), William Orbit (1998), Mirwais Ahmadzi (2000-2005) and Mark ‘Spike’ Stent (2000-2003).  Since so much of her sound is created in the studio, there are no regular musicians easily identified as Madonna’s ‘band’.  They come and they go.  She seems just as interested in cultivating her stable of backup dancers who are equally subject to fluctuation.

With Freddie DeMann as her manager, Madonna cuts her first single for Sire Records.  ‘Everybody’ (US no. 107) is produced by Mark Kamins and is ‘a club hit’ in 1982, its success largely confined to dance venues.  In 1982 Madonna is romantically involved with artist Jean Michel Basquiat.  Sire introduces Madonna to another DJ, John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez.  Jellybean becomes her lover from 1982 to 1985.  He produces ‘Holiday’ (US no. 16, UK no. 2, AUS no. 4), a song written by Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stevens.  This compulsive, bouncy, dance floor anthem is Madonna’s ‘breakthrough pop hit.’

‘Holiday’ is included on the debut album, ‘Madonna’ (1983) (US no. 8, UK no. 6, AUS no. 10).  She co-writes five of the eight songs on the album.  ‘Lucky Star’ (US no. 4, UK no. 14, AUS no. 36) is a rare solo composition by Madonna.  On this funky, bass-heavy number, Madonna sings, “You must be my lucky star / ‘Cos you shine on me wherever you are.”  ‘Luck Star’ is overseen by the disc’s third producer (in addition to Mark Kamins and John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez), Reggie Lucas.  He both writes and produces the single ‘Borderline’ (US no. 10, UK no. 2, AUS no. 12), a smooth, electric keyboard piece.  Rumour has it that Madonna’s vocals on this track are mechanically altered ‘to make her sound more girlie.’  ‘Burning Up’ (AUS no. 13) is a steamy addition to ‘Madonna’, an album that presages a wave of female vocalists who will adopt one word nom de guerres for their recordings.

“I have the same goal I’ve had ever since I was a girl,” Madonna announces.  “I want to rule the world.”

Step two in world domination is ‘Like A Virgin’ (1984) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 2).  This disc reunites Madonna with Stephen Bray who shares production duties with Madonna and Nile Rodgers of late 1970s disco sensations, Chic.  Rodgers produces the title track, ‘Like A Virgin’ (US no. 1, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1), a song written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly.  Madonna’s character in this song feels rejuvenated by love, ‘like a virgin.’  Her helium-high vocals are smeared across a pulsing, rhythmic bed of sound.  Rodgers also produces ‘Material Girl’ (US no. 2, UK no. 3, AUS no. 4), a Peter Brown and Robert Rans composition.  Here, Madonna is a saucy gold-digger, strutting aggressively through the scenario with tiny bells as grace notes.  In the video for this song, Madonna imitates Marilyn Munroe.  Watching the filming is Hollywood actor Sean Penn, who becomes the new man in Madonna’s life.

In 1985, ‘Crazy For You’ (US no. 1, UK no. 2, AUS no. 1) opens new doors.  A ballad written by John Bettis and Jon Lind for the movie ‘Vision Quest’ (1985), this demonstrates that Madonna can do more than squeak along to dance beats (though she does that very well, thanks all the same).  Her voice is much deeper on this sinewy track.

Another 1985 single, ‘Into The Groove’ (UK no. 1, AUS no. 1), is Madonna’s finest moment.  The singer co-writes this with Stephen Bray.  “When you can dance / For inspiration,” she declares in the introduction before coquettishly adding, “C’mon / I’m waiting.”  The song then breaks into an irresistible momentum based on keyboards that perform like computer programs.  “Live out your fantasy here with me / Just let the music set you free,” Madonna sings in a neat summary of her sexed-up, dance-oriented mission statement.  This is quintessential Madonna.

The other side of ‘Into The Groove’ is another Madonna-Stephen Bray co-composition.  However, ‘Angel’ (US no. 5, UK no. 5) comes from ‘Like A Virgin’.  Two more tracks from that album draw some attention, ‘Pretender’ (by Madonna & Bray) and ‘Dress You Up’ (US no. 5, UK no. 5, AUS no. 5) (penned by Andrea La Russo & Peggy Stanziale).

Around this time, the sexy photographs taken in the late 1970s when Madonna was new to the big city resurface in the pages of ‘Penthouse’ magazine.  Additionally, ‘A Certain Sacrifice’ (1985), the movie in which a young Madonna Ciccone appeared nude, finally gets an official release.  For many other artists such things would be a scandal with career-wrecking consequences.  Madonna is made of sterner stuff.  Though probably not pleased at her past being dredged up, she has been so blatantly upfront about her sexuality that nudity really has very little impact on her image.  She is Madonna and sex is part of the equation.

On 16 August 1985, her 27th birthday, Madonna marries Sean Penn.  The ceremony is something of a circus.  Helicopters hover overhead as photographers struggle to obtain newsworthy pictures.  Below, two hundred and twenty friends, relatives and famous folks attend the marriage.

It may be a little surprising but, in 1985, the same year in which she marries Sean Penn, Madonna begins a sexual relationship with comedienne Sandra Bernhard.  This affair continues to 1988.  Although mainly heterosexual, Madonna’s experimental inclinations allow her to maintain this parallel relationship.

Madonna’s best album, ‘True Blue’ (1986) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) is co-produced by Madonna, Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard.  ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) is written by Brian Elliot with ‘additional lyrics by Madonna.’  This story of a pregnant teenage girl deciding to keep her baby raises some eyebrows for the morality of the message it sends to Madonna’s young fans.  With a new close-cropped elfin hairdo, Madonna’s rich voice warns, “Papa, I know you’re going to be upset / ‘Cos I was always your little girl / But you should know by now / I’m not a baby.”  A dramatic string section lends gravity to the track’s dance beats.  ‘Open Your Heart’ (US no. 1, UK no. 4, AUS no. 16) is a percolating force of nature in which Madonna advises, “I’ve had to work much harder than this / For something I want / Don’t try to resist me.”  She co-writes the song with Gardner Cole and Peter Rafelson who intended the song for chirpy Eighties songstress Cyndi Lauper…but she never had the opportunity to hear it.  Similarly, ‘Las Isla Bonita’ (US no. 4, UK no. 1, AUS no. 6), co-written by Madonna, Patrick Leonard and Bruce Gaitsch, was begun as a song for the self-proclaimed King of Pop, Michael Jackson, before Madonna got hold of it.  This is an unusual number for Madonna, an expertly absorbed wedge of Hispanic tropicalia with acoustic flamenco guitar.  “Last night I dreamt of San Pedro,” she sings, because the song is inspired by a trip she and her husband Sean make to San Pedro, Ambergris Cay and Belize in the Caribbean.  ‘Live To Tell’ (US no. 1, UK no. 2, AUS no. 7) is another slow ballad in the style of ‘Crazy For You’, but this one is an original that Madonna herself co-writes with Patrick Leonard rather than an outside composition.  Stephen Bray shares the credit with the singer for the title track, ‘True Blue’ (US no. 3, UK no. 1, AUS no. 5), a venture into 1950s girl group harmonies.  Madonna also shows she has retained ‘her club consciousness’ with ‘Where’s The Party’.  The sheer volume of quality material makes ‘True Blue’ ‘one of the great dance-pop albums.’

Madonna’s next outing is ‘Who’s That Girl’ (1987) (US no. 7, UK no. 4, AUS no. 24), the soundtrack to a movie in which she appears.  This disc contains four songs from Madonna.  Two of them are co-written with Patrick Leonard: ‘Who’s That Girl’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 7) and ‘The Look Of Love’ (UK no. 9); while the other two she co-writes with Stephen Bray: ‘Causing A Commotion’ (US no. 2, UK no. 4, AUS no. 7) and ‘Can’t Stop’.

Also in 1987 Madonna is said to have slept with political scion John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Madonna’s next album is her most personal, ‘a “serious” album – an explicit attempt at a major artistic statement.’  ‘Like A Prayer’ (1989) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 4) in March, continues under the supervision of the ‘True Blue’ trio of Madonna, Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray.  Additionally, fellow titan of 1980s pop, Prince, produces ‘Love Song’, a duet between himself and Madonna.  The song, ‘Like A Prayer’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1), is the one that cause Pepsi-Cola heartburn with its blend of religious and sexual symbols.  “When you call my name / It’s like a little prayer / I’m down on my knees / I want to take you there,” sings Madonna in this collaboration with Patrick Leonard.  The song grafts gospel to disco, a church choir with a breakdance beat.  (Note: Shep Pettibone’s lighter, more mobile remix on ‘The Immaculate Collection’ is superior to the original.)  The video for ‘Like A Prayer’ shows Madonna with dark hair rather than the (clearly artificial) blonde locks she has maintained up to this point.  “I feel more Italian when my hair is dark,” observes Madonna.  It doesn’t last.  By the time of her next single, she is blonde again.  Stephen Bray’s squelchy dance beats accompany Madonna in her demanding man-eater mode on ‘Express Yourself’ (US no. 2, UK no. 5, AUS no. 2): “Don’t go for second best, baby / Put your love to the test.”  The rest of the album’s highlights are shared with Patrick Leonard.  ‘Cherish’ (US no. 2, UK no. 3, AUS no. 4) is a charming girl group update on ‘True Blue’: “Romeo and Juliet / They never felt this way I bet.”  ‘Oh Father’ (US no. 20, UK no. 16, AUS no. 59) and ‘Dear Jessie’ (UK no. 5, AUS no. 51) seem more autobiographical than has usually been Madonna’s habit.  It’s a gambit that wins over some critics who had previously remained sceptical.

Madonna’s marriage to Sean Penn ends in divorce on 14 September 1989.

The 1990 single ‘Vogue’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) is Madonna’s first work with co-writer and co-producer Shep Pettibone.  A coolly sophisticated tribute to those who “strike a pose”, it tips its hat to old Hollywood royalty like Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.  In Madonna’s formulation, “It makes no difference if you’re black or white / If you’re a boy or a girl.”

Madonna moves on to another movie star, Warren Beatty.  Madonna co-stars in his movie, ‘Dick Tracy’ (1990), playing the part of Breathless Mahoney.  This explains the title of her May album, ‘I’m Breathless’ (1990) (US no. 2, UK no. 2, AUS no. 1).  The album incorporates the previous single, ‘Vogue’, and the funny / sexy new effort ‘Hanky Panky’ (US no. 10, UK no. 2, AUS no. 6) crafted by Madonna and Patrick Leonard.  By August 1990, Madonna’s romance with Beatty is over.  After an attempt at seducing Michael Jackson in 1990, Madonna’s next boyfriend is Tony Ward with whom she is linked in 1990-1991.

The greatest hits set, ‘The Immaculate Collection’ (1990) (US no. 2, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1), adds two new songs to the contents.  Shep Pettibone co-writes ‘Rescue Me’ (US no. 9, UK no. 3, AUS no. 15) with Madonna, but this is outclassed by ‘Justify My Love’ (US no. 1, UK no. 2, AUS no. 4).  Written by African-American retro-rocker Lenny Kravitz ‘with additional lyrics by Madonna’, this is steamy and erotic stuff.  “Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another,” Madonna pronounces in a husky whisper.  The matching video shows Madonna and ‘Tony Ward acting out a variety of sexual fantasies, including bondage, bisexuality and voyeurism.’

‘Justify My Love’ earns Madonna an invitation to write erotic fiction.  This dovetails with another project: a book of photographs she has been encouraging snapper Steven Meisel to put together.  ‘Sex’, published in 1992, is ‘a book of erotic fantasies.’  Alongside some prose are photographs described as ‘soft porn’ featuring Madonna, various models and celebrities like rapper Big Daddy Kane, actress Isabella Rossellini, supermodel Naomi Campbell, and white rap star Vanilla Ice, who was Madonna’s latest male accessory in February 1992.  Madonna maintains an icy distance from the sexual hijinks of the book insisting, “It’s theatrical to me.”  The book links to Madonna’s next album, ‘Erotica’ (1992) (US no. 2, UK no. 2, AUS no. 1) in October.  The production duties are shared by Madonna, Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts.  In the song, ‘Erotica’ (US no. 3, UK no. 3, AUS no. 4), Madonna repeats in a high, robotic voice “Erotic, erotic / Put your hands all over my body.”  She co-writes with Shep Pettibone this number which is heavy on bass and percussion like a racing pulse beat.  ‘Erotica’ also includes a sample from ‘Jungle Boogie’ by disco outfit Kool And The Gang.  Anthony Shimkin joins the duo of Pettibone and Madonna to compose ‘Deeper And Deeper’ (US no. 7, UK no. 6, AUS no. 11), which is oriented more towards keyboards and synthesisers.  ‘Erotica’ is the first Madonna album released on the Maverick label through Warner Brothers.  Madonna is part owner of Maverick which was created in a sixty million dollar (U.S. currency) deal with the Time-Warner conglomerate.  Madonna-The-Businesswoman is never far removed from Madonna-The-Recording-Artist.  “I like the challenge of merging art and commerce,” she insists.

Coinciding with the release of ‘Erotica’ in October 1992, Madonna has a brief relationship with the actor John Enos III.  In 1994 Madonna has short-lived liaisons with both basketball player Dennis Rodman and another girlfriend, Jenny Shimizu.  More significantly, in September 1994 she hooks up with her personal fitness trainer, Carlos Leon.

‘Bedtime Stories’ (1994) (US no. 3, UK no. 2, AUS no. 1) is a more diverse project.  The album has a spread of five producers: Madonna, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Dave ‘Jam’ Hall and Babyface.  The (sort of) title track, ‘Bedtime Story’ (US no. 42, UK no. 4, AUS no. 5), is co-written by Hooper, Marius Devries and eccentric Icelandic singer Bjork.  The woozy dreamscape of the song bears Bjork’s imprint.  ‘Human Nature’ (US no. 46, UK no. 5, AUS no. 17) boasts a five person writing team: Madonna, Dave Hall, Shawn McKenzie, Kevin McKenzie and Milo Deering.  The song has an oddly disorienting arrangement, almost as though it’s being played backwards.  Madonna sings most of it in a childish voice but turns more assertive and unrepentant when she utters, “Did I say something wrong? / Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t speak about sex.”  ‘Secret’ (US no. 3, UK no. 5, AUS no. 5), a Madonna / Dallas Austin composition, is a thoughtful piece featuring acoustic guitar.  ‘Take A Bow’ (US no. 1, UK no. 16, AUS no. 15), a collaboration with Babyface, is an almost operatic slow-motion dance.  With its unusual textures, this is perhaps Madonna’s least dance-oriented disc to date.

On 14 October 1996 Madonna gives birth to her first child.  Carlos Leon is the father.  Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon is the babe’s name.  Her first name is a tribute to Madonna’s mother and her dying wish to see the town of Lourdes in France.  The little girl also becomes known as Lola.

‘Evita’ (1996) (US no. 2, UK no. 1, AUS no. 5) in November is the soundtrack to Alan Parker’s movie of the same name.  It is based on the musical ‘Evita’, created by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Madonna stars in the motion picture (filmed before her pregnancy showed) and sings the most famous tune from the show, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ (US no. 8, UK no. 3, AUS no. 9), which was previously a hit for Julie Covington in 1979.

Madonna’s relationship with Carlos Leon ends in November 1997.

‘Ray Of Light’ (1998) (US no. 2, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) in February is Madonna’s first album since becoming a mother.  Madonna shares production responsibilities with old buddy Patrick Leonard, Marius Devries, and William Orbit; it is Orbit who may wield the most influence over the sound of the completed product.  The giddy title track, ‘Ray Of Light’ (US no. 5, UK no. 2, AUS no. 6) is composed by the team of Madonna, William Orbit, Clive Muldoon, Dave Curtiss and Christine Leach.  Although it may be Lourdes who is newborn, it is her mother who sings, “And I feel like I just got born.”  Although featuring more guitar than has been common on Madonna’s recordings, ‘Ray Of Light’ sounds like the sonic equivalent of an ecstasy tablet, an aural party drug edited into a spinning, psychedelic rave.  David Collins joins Madonna and Orbit in composing ‘Drowned World / Substitute For Love’ (UK no. 10, AUS no. 16).  This contains a sample from ‘Why I Follow The Tigers’ by Rod McKuen & Anita Kerr so they too share the song-writing credit.  This is an eerie, experimental song for Madonna built around cavernous synthesiser tones.  ‘Frozen’ (US no. 2, UK no. 1, AUS no. 5) has a similarly chilly premise.  Here, Madonna’s voice is like a tiny, flickering light inside a glacier.  Then, with a crash of drums, the chorus opens out into a creamy mix like the soundtrack to an Indian Bollywood film.  Patrick Leonard co-writes ‘Frozen’ with Madonna. Rick Nowles shares credit with the singer for ‘The Power Of Goodbye’ (US no. 11, UK no. 6, AUS no. 33) in which waves of synthesiser wash over a robotic beat.  This album, ‘filled with warmth and wonder’, also ‘features her best singing ever.’

Madonna has a short romance with Chris Paciello in 1998.

In the 1990s, Madonna – though raised a Catholic – turns to the Kabbala, a mystical offshoot of Judaism.  She is turned on to this religion by her old flame, Sandra Bernhard.

The 1999 single, ‘Beautiful Stranger’ (US no. 19, UK no. 2, AUS no. 5), is co-written by Madonna and William Orbit and produced by the same duo.  It’s another strange mix from Orbit as it goes crashing and spinning about.  Included on the soundtrack to the film ‘Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me’ (1999), in which Madonna does not appear, this song is described as ‘perhaps the most delicious single of her career.’

In August 1999 Madonna becomes involved with British movie director Guy Ritchie.  Consequently, Madonna bases herself in the United Kingdom.  Madonna and Guy have a son, Rocco (born 11 August 2000) and the couple marry on 22 December 2000.

In 2000 Madonna releases the single ‘American Pie’ (US no. 29, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1).  A cover version of acoustic singer-songwriter Don McLean’s 1972 hit story-song, this is an odd choice for Madonna.

‘Music’ (2000) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 2) is released in September, a month after Rocco’s birth and three months before Madonna’s second marriage.  Producers employed on this set are Madonna, Frenchman Mirwais Ahmadzi, William Orbit, Guy Sigsworth, Mark ‘Spike’ Stent and Talvin Singh.  The addictive title track, ‘Music’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1), is written by Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzi.  In the video and album cover, the singer wears a cowboy hat but this is not a country and western song.  It’s full of panning and processed vocals mixed with cut-up keyboards and all manner of studio trickery.  Madonna sings, “Music / Makes the people come together / Music / Mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel.”  Bourgeoisie (pronounced BOORSH-wah-zee) is a French word for the middle class, the common folks.  With the addition of Joe Henry (who is married to Madonna’s sister, Melanie Ciccone), the same team provides ‘Don’t Tell Me’ (US no.4, UK no. 4, AUS no. 7).  This has acoustic guitar, but its organic feel collides with an edit that turns it into collage fragments.  Guy Sigworth co-writes ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’ (US no. 23, UK no. 7, AUS no. 6) with Madonna, a track that casts an eye over gender stereotyping.  “This time, I’ve removed all the layers,” Madonna says of this album and its quest for “naked emotion.”

‘American Life’ (2003) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 3) reduces the number of producers to three: Madonna, Mirwais Ahmadzi and Mark ‘Spike’ Stent.  ‘Die Another Day’ (US no. 8, UK no. 3, AUS no. 11) is the theme song from the latest James Bond super-spy film.  Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzi pen that number and nearly all of this album’s singles: ‘American Life’ (US no. 37, UK no. 2, AUS no. 7), ‘Hollywood’ (UK no. 2, AUS no. 16) and ‘Love Profusion’ (UK no. 11, AUS no. 25).  This is Madonna’s last album for Maverick as the label goes into hibernation after this.

Madonna retreats to more familiar ground for ‘Confessions On A Dance Floor’ (2005) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1).  This is released on Warner Brothers records, the parent company of Maverick and Sire.  Madonna, Stuart Price, Mirwais Ahmadzi and Bloodshy & Avant share the production duties here.  ‘Hung Up’ (US no. 7, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) samples Abba’s ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ so Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of the Swedish supergroup of the Seventies are credited alongside Madonna and Stuart Price as songwriters.  Stuart Price plays a dominant role on this album co-writing ‘Sorry’ (US no. 58, UK no. 1, AUS no. 4) with Madonna and that duo works with Joe Henry for ‘Jump’ (UK no. 9, AUS no. 29) and Anders Bagge and Peer Astrom for ‘Get Together’ (UK no. 7, AUS no. 8).

Guy Ritchie and Madonna are the interim adoptive parents of David Banda, a child born in the African nation of Malawi on 12 October 2006.

‘Hard Candy’ (2008) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) in April boasts a lengthy list of producers: Madonna, Danja, Demo Castellon, Hannon Lane, The Neptunes, Timbaland, and Justin Timberlake.  The last two named make vocal guest appearances on ‘4 Minutes’ (US no. 3, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1), lending some of their own dance music reputations to Madonna.  Tim Mosley and Nate Hills also contribute to the songwriting on this track in addition to the three vocalists.  The same crew (minus Timbaland) are responsible for ‘Miles Away’ (UK no. 39).  Pharrell Williams of dance music act The Neptunes co-writes ‘Give It To Me’ (US no. 57, UK no. 7, AUS no. 23) with Madonna.

In October 2008 Madonna and Guy Ritchie divorce.  Madonna is then associated with baseball player Alex Rodriguez (in 2008), model Jesus Luz (December 2008-2010) and choreographer Brahim Rachiki (September 2010-December 2013).

‘MDNA’ (2012) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) is released on the Interscope label.  A large cast are involved in the patchwork of writing and production.  ‘Girl Gone Wild’ (UK no. 73) is composed by Madonna, Jenson Vaughan, Alessandro ‘Alle’ Benassi and Marco ‘Denny’ Benassi.  ‘Turn Up Your Radio’ (UK no. 175) pairs Madonna’s talents with Martin Solveig, Michael Tordjman and Jade Williams.  Solveig and Tordjman are also involved in ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’’ (US no. 10, UK no. 37, AUS no. 23), a track on which Madonna collaborates with young female rappers Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. (alias Maya Arulpragasm).  The girls also get a songwriting credit here.

Madonna takes up with Timor Steffens (January 2014), who is twenty-nine years younger than she.

‘Rebel Heart’ (2015) (US no. 2, UK no. 2, AUS no. 1) is described as ‘Madonna’s best album in a decade.’  ‘Living For Love’ (UK no. 26) has a theme of persistence and resilience matching the relentless progression of its beats.  The song is co-written by Madonna, Thomas Wesley Pentz, Maureen McDonald, Toby Gad and Ariel Rechtshaid.  ‘Ghosttown’ (UK no. 117) is a supple ballad on which Madonna collaborates with songwriters Jason Evigan, Sean Douglas and Evan Bogart.  ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna’ (US no. 84) features rapper Nicki Minaj and is an electronic party anthem that squeaks like rubber.  It is penned by the same crew as ‘Living For Love’ minus Ariel Rechtshaid, but with Samuel Long and Onika Tanya Maraj (that’s Nicki Minaj).

Madonna’s career was a lengthy one.  “I am my own experiment.  I am my own work of art,” she once said.  If that’s so, it was a very successful experiment and, often, quite artistic.  It’s hard to resist the sheer exuberance of Madonna’s 1980s catalogue.  In the 1990s her work became more experimental, allowing her to not only remain relevant, but expand her sonic palette.  The twenty-first century was more testing.  Sometimes it seemed she struggled.  Madonna went her own way, heedless of controversy or convention.  ‘Madonna changed the rules on almost every level…’  She was ‘the world’s top selling female recording artist of all time.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Disco’ by Tom Smucker, ‘Madonna’ by J.D. Considine (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 572, 660, 662
  2. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 60, 66, 72
  3. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 142, 149, 162, 178
  4. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 305, 306
  5. wikipedia.org as at 8 July 2013, 1 January 2016
  6. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 227
  7. brainyquote.com as at 14 August 2013
  8. biography.com as at 16 August 2013
  9. Internet movie database – imdb.com – as at 8 July 2013
  10. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 8 July 2013
  11. whosdatedwhocom as at 12 August 2013
  12. ‘The Immaculate Collection’ – Sleeve notes by Gene Sculatti (Sire Records, 1990) p. 4, 11
  13. ‘American Bandstand’ (U.S. television program) – Madonna interview conducted by Dick Clark (1984)
  14. ‘The Jonathan Ross Show’ (U.K. television program) – Madonna interview conducted by Jonathan Ross (1992)
  15. ‘GHV2’ – Sleeve notes (Warner Bros. Records Inc., 2001) p. 12
  16. lyricsfreak.com as at 14 August 2013
  17. ‘20/20’ (U.S. television program) – Madonna interview conducted by Cynthia McFadden (2012)
  18. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘Madonna’s New Boy’ – Anonymous (9 January 2014) p. 8
  19. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia newspaper) – ‘Madonna Gets Emotional’ – review of ‘Rebel Heart’ by Cameron Adams (2 March 2015) p. 38

Song lyrics copyright: (i) ‘Lucky Star’ (Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc / Webo Girl ASCAP.  Adm. by WB Music Corp.); (ii) ‘Into The Groove’ and ‘Express Yourself’ (both Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc / Webo Girl ASCAP. Adm. by WB Music Corp. / Black Lion Music Inc. ASCAP); (iii) ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ (Elliot / Jacobsen Music Pub. Co.); (iv) ‘Open Your Heart’ (WB Music Corp. / Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc / Webo Girl Publishing Inc. Adm. by WB Music Corp. ASCAP. / Warner-Tamerlane Pub. Corp. BMI / Doraflo Music Inc. / Bertus Pub. Adm. By Warner-Tamerlane Pub. Corp. BMI / Rafelson Music ASCAP). (v) ‘La Isla Bonita’ (WB Music Corp. / Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc / Webo Girl Publishing Inc. Adm. by WB Music Corp. ASCAP / Johnny Yuma Music BMI / Edge of Fluke Music ASCAP); (vi) ‘Like A Prayer’ and ‘Cherish’ (both WB Music Corp. / Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc / Webo Girl Publishing Inc. Adm. by WB Music Corp. ASCAP / Johnny Yuma Music BMI); (vii)’Justify My Love’ (Miss Bessie Music ASCAP); (viii) ‘Vogue’ (WB Music Corp. / Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc / Webo Girl Publishing Adm. by WB Music Corp. / Lexor Music ASCAP); (ix) ‘Erotica’ (WB Music Corp. / Webo Girl Publishing Adm. by WB Music Corp. / Shepsongs Adm. by MCA Music Publishing Inc. ASCAP – ‘Jungle Boogie’ [Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. / Second Decade Music Co. BMI]); (x) ‘Human Nature’ (WB Music Corp. / Webo Girl Publishing Adm. by WB Music Corp. / WB Music Corp. / Stone Jam Publishing Admin. by WB Music Corp. / Frozen Soap Songs / Wizeman Music Admin. by EMI-April Music Inc. ASCAP); (xi) ‘Ray Of Light’ (WB Music Corp. / Webo Girl Publishing Adm. by WB Music Corp., ASCAP / Rondor Music (London) Ltd. PRS all rights admin. by Almo Music Corp. in the U.S./Canada / Purple Music Ltd. Admin. in the United States by Mauve Music, Inc. ASCAP); (xii) ‘Music’ (WB Music Corp. / Webo Girl Publishing Adm. by WB Music Corp. ASCAP / 1000 Lights Music Limited / Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. BMI)

Last revised 3 January 2016

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