Rolling Stone’s Readers’ Poll: The Best Madonna Songs of All Time
April 5, 2012 News

Rolling Stone’s Readers’ Poll: The Best Madonna Songs of All Time

Madonna’s 12th studio album, MDNA, hit stores last Tuesday. It’s the first step in a new phase of the singer’s career: she is now signed to an all-encompassing deal with concert promotion giant Live Nation, and it’s her first record release outside Warner Brothers Records.

While the singer’s future success is uncertain, there is no doubt that she has built up one of the most astonishing careers in the history of the music industry, with a deep catalog of hits that have changed the course of pop music. We asked you to name your favorite Madonna songs and we compiled the results as this Top 10 list.
Find out what Rolling Stone’s readers have picked…

1. ‘Like a Prayer’

Madonna has always looked to her Catholic upbringing for inspiration and as a target for rebellion, but “Like a Prayer” is the most overtly religious hit of her career, from the song to the imagery of its video. She tapped into something powerful here – to this day, it remains one of her most resonant and defining hits.

2. ‘Vogue’

Madonna looked to underground drag culture as inspiration for “Vogue,” one of her biggest and most iconic hits. As always, she was very far ahead of the curve; current shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race are bringing the drag subculture into the mainstream two decades after this hit.

3. ‘Ray of Light’

Before “Ray of Light” came along, it seemed as though Madonna was about to fade into a career of European dance hits and adult contemporary ballads. The song, written by the singer with producer William Orbit, revitalized her career and proved that she could still deliver a major dance hit with an emotional punch that was often missing from her earliest hits.

4. ‘Borderline’

“Borderline,” the fifth single from Madonna’s debut album, was her first Top 10 hit. The tune, one of her most harmonically complex hits, remains a radio staple. She has distanced herself from the song somewhat, though she did perform a punk version of it on her Sticky and Sweet tour in 2008.

5. ‘Live to Tell’

“Live to Tell,” written by Madonna and frequent collaborator Patrick Leonard, is arguably the singer’s finest and most distinctive ballad. The song, which deals with her complicated relationship with her parents and her struggle to trust others, is as cutting as it is melancholic.

6. ‘Frozen’

“Frozen,” the lead single from Madonna’s 1998 album Ray of Light, announced a new direction for the singer. Though she had dabbled in “mature” pop on Erotica and Bedtime Stories, “Frozen” finds her and producers William Orbit and Patrick Leonard striking the perfect balance of pop accessibility, sophisticated balladry and cutting-edge electronic textures.

7. ‘Express Yourself’

“Express Yourself” is one of Madonna’s most inspiring and tuneful anthems, so it makes a lot of sense that Lady Gaga would draw on it as the basis for her own hit “Born This Way.” Madonna clearly had no problem taking cues from the work of other artists in the music video, which was directed by David Fincher and based upon Fritz Lang’s classic film Metropolis.

8. ‘Like a Virgin’

“Like a Virgin” has been inspiring “Yeah, right!” snickers since it was released in 1984 but, despite the irony, there is a delightful sweetness to the song that sets it apart from the rest of her work. This performance, from the first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984, was a major star-making moment for the singer.

9. ‘Into the Groove’

Madonna has sung many tracks about dancing but few compare to “Into the Groove,” a 1985 smash that adds just a touch of urban grit to a bouncy, ecstatic beat.

10. ‘Holiday’

“Holiday” is one of Madonna’s most enduring singles. The singer herself has said that the song, her first Top 40 hit, is among her favorites. It has been a staple of her live performances since the beginning.

Read Rolling Stone’s Review for Madonna’s MDNA by Joe Levy who gave the album 3,5 stars on 5…

Early one morning the sun was shining and she was lying in bed, wondering why he had her cash and if her hair was still red. An idea for a song bubbled, and she wasn’t sure if this one should be about heartbreak, revenge or the old get-into-the-groove thing. And then – light bulb! – why not multitask it? That was her therapy, after all. Failure? Not an option. Resistance to her will? Futile. The husband who was no longer there? Well, it was nice sometimes to imagine his head popping like a melon. Till death and all that. Now – where did she put her phone?

Yup, MDNA is our lady’s divorce album. Seven out of 16 songs address her split directly, and that’s low-balling if you think the chick with “fake tits and a nasty mood” in “Some Girls” could be the lingerie model who became Guy Ritchie’s new baby mama. Revealing herself has always been part of her art, and this is hardly her first album that’s dark, messy and conflicted. But MDNA stands as Madonna’s most explicit work. Only who would have expected her to be this explicit with her… feelings?

How explicit? “Wake up, ex-wife/This is your life.” “I tried to be your wife/Diminished myself, I swallowed my light.” “Lawyers/Suck it up/Didn’t have a prenup.” “Every man that walks through that door will be compared to you for evermore.” She’s been personal, but never this detailed before. In part, it’s an old punk-rock impulse: Show the world no one can hurt you more than you hurt yourself. Except she has cross-wired exposure and pain, which gives this set of confessions their discomforting immediacy.

As the beats swirl, Madonna pursues release, vows to rise above and wishes things had turned out differently. She also sings about new love (fits like a glove), and asks for someone to lick the frosting off her cake on “B-Day Song.” The music chases the latest articulations of club-land ecstasy, but often returns to the blend of synth-driven electro and Sixties-pop classicism she’s staked out since Like a Prayer. Back after a 12-year layoff is William Orbit, who handles the most pained tracks (including “Gang Bang,” which bitch-slaps Ritchie’s shoot-’em-up aesthetic with a nod to Kill Bill). New in town is Martin Solveig, the French producer behind the cheerleader fantasy of “Give Me All Your Luvin'” who is forced to curb his love of Prince, in service of sounding like William Orbit. Handling the big dance-floor tracks are Italian duo Benny and Alle Benassi, who put the empty boom of the club into songs like “Girl Gone Wild.”

Hooks emerge quickly; there’s lots of naughtiness for the DJ to bring back, and the music has depth that rewards repeated listening. The first impression is a desperation most people will mistake for Madonna’s old impulse for commercial connection. That’s never far away, but this is something far more personal. There’s something remarkable about Madonna’s decision to share her suffering the way she once shared her pleasure. Her music has always been about liberation from oppression, but for the first time the oppression is internal: loss and sadness. Stars – they really are just like us.

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