the top 10 most underrated madonna tracks
Ahead of her BRITs performance tonight, we delve deep into the Madonna back catalogue for the best bits beneath the surface.
Madonna is back - and this time, it's not just on Instagram. On Wednesday night the Queen of Pop will perform at the BRIT Awards for the first time in 20 years as she prepares to release 13th album Rebel Heart on March 6. To celebrate the return of the self-styled "unapologetic bitch", i-D has assembled a playlist containing hidden gems from her 30-year recording career. We all know Like a Prayer, Ray of Light and Hung Up already - so let's look back at some of her coolest, catchiest and most interesting deep cuts.
Over and Over
Overshadowed by the iconic singles on 1985's Like a Virgin album, this is the super-catchy early Madonna song you don't know. Compared to what came later, the Nile Rodgers-produced Over and Over is a pretty straightforward 80s dance-pop track, but it's lifted by a joyous chorus and resilient lyrics that play out like the young Madonna's manifesto. When she sings, "I'm never gonna stop 'till I get my fill," she clearly meant it.
Till Death Us Do Part
At the top of her game in 89, Madonna didn't need to write a catchy pop song about the painful and violent breakdown of her marriage to Sean Penn. But with typical fearlessness, she did. This Like a Prayer album track almost sounds upbeat until you notice the jittery synths and Madonna's sad, anguished lyrics. "I think I interrupt your life," she sings on the first verse. "I'm not your friend, I'm just your little wife." Till Death Us Do Part would be a brave song from anyone; but from a superstar, it's remarkable.
Bye Bye Baby
With its hip hop beats and LL Cool J sample, this forgotten single from 92's Erotica is a cool, brutal break-up song. Madonna and co-producer Shep Pettibone apply a filter to her vocals which make it sound as though she's recorded the song on an answering machine; there's even an end of message bleep on the swear word in her terse final line: "You fucked it up."
Inside of Me
Madonna embraced contemporary R&B on her underrated 94 album Bedtime Stories, teaming up with Babyface and TLC's producer Dallas Austin. This sublime, Aaliyah-sampling ballad is a definite highlight. Inside of Me may seem like a post-break-up lament when Madonna sings on the chorus, "Even though you're gone, love still carries on", but the wistful lyrics are actually about the singer's mother, who died of breast cancer when she was a teenager.
I Want You
Madonna teamed up with Massive Attack to cover Marvin Gaye's disco hit I Want You for a 95 tribute album. She was so pleased with the result - a gorgeously haunting trip-hop ballad with a film noir feel - that she wanted to release it as a single and even shot a video, but record label politics got in the way. Still, I Want You appears as the opening track on Madonna's ballads compilation Something to Remember and remains a fan favourite. It shows a more subtle, subdued side to the often provocative performer.
Madonna gets sensual on the dance floor with this techno-pop epic from Ray of Light. As she serenades the object of her desire over William Orbit's pulsating beats and swirling synths, she alternates between lusty ("Kiss me, I'm dying / Put your hand on my skin") and slightly self-conscious ("Why do all the things I say sound like the stupid things I've said before?"). It's reassuring to know even the Queen of Pop has trouble with her chat-up lines.
Ray of Light's final track could be most startling thing Madonna has ever recorded. As ominous electronica whirs and murmurs around her, the singer delivers lyrics that sound like a terrifying nightmare. Madonna runs away from her house and "daughter that never sleeps" and ends up in a cemetery smelling her mother's "burning flesh, her rotting bones, her decay". It's a bit of a way from "you could be my lucky star".
This throbbing disco stomper from 2000's Music is one of Madonna's most gleefully carefree moments. French house producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï piles on the trippy sound effects while a heavily vocodered Madonna sings: "I like to singy singy singy / Like a bird on a wingy wingy wingy." Impressive Instant is deliberately silly, but it also captures the giddy thrill of being drunk in a club and clocking your next one night stand. "You're the one that I've been waiting for," Madonna sings at the end. "I don't even know your name."
She's Not Me
Madonna worked with Timbaland and Pharrell Williams on her 2008 album Hard Candy, but it felt as though she was playing catch-up - by this point, even Ashlee Simpson had released a Timbo-produced single. She's Not Me is the record's hidden gem because it's the kind of brazenly ambitious track only Madonna could pull off. Six minutes long, it begins as a Chic-style disco strut before tumbling into a funky breakdown featuring Prince collaborator Wendy Melvoin on guitar, and then morphs into a filter house banger. In the middle, Madonna delivers one of her best spoken word lines: "I know I can do it better."
Madonna's mid-00s collaborator Stuart Price recently said she has an "understanding of what it takes to make people move". This keeper from 2012's scrappy MDNA album proves his point. I'm Addicted is a huge stadium dance tune which exercises precisely the right amount of restraint before becoming a proper arms-in-the-air anthem. Comparing love to drug addiction is a pop cliché, but Madonna finds a nifty twist with a climactic chant of "M-D-N-A, M-D-N-A" that sounds suspiciously like "M-D-M-A, M-D-M-A."
Text Nick Levine