Madonna’s often overlooked album Bedtime Stories, which was initially released in October of 1994, is being reissued on vinyl. Troy L. Smith of Cleveland.com believes the album has been forgotten because its release was sandwiched between her most controversial, Erotica, and her most critically acclaimed, Ray of Light, records. However, the real reason Bedtime Stories is not the classic it should have been was because of poor management, especially with singles that shouldn’t have been singles.
Although sales for Bedtime Stories were soft at the beginning, the album’s first single, “Secret,” was a hit. It peaked at No. 3 in November of 1994.
However, after the Bedtime Stories album debuted at No. 3, it sharply dropped, and once again, the press declared that Madonna was a has-been. As usual, Madonna proved them wrong. At the end of November, she released her longest-running No. 1 single to date (seven weeks), “Take a Bow.” The song not only proved Madonna could still make hits in the 1990s, but the video also helped Madonna get the starring role in the film Evita, for which she won a Golden Globe.
Then, without much promotion besides the “Take a Bow” single and video, Bedtime Stories climbed back up the charts in early 1995. Madonna was back on top of the radio world, and she was also back on top on MTV. The momentum was back, but then Madonna did what has usually been part of her brand — she didn’t play it safe. Releasing a radio-friendly song such as “Inside of Me” or “Don’t Stop” would have been the way to go for most artists, but Madonna chose the futuristic Bjork-penned “Bedtime Story” as her next single. The electronic beats foreshadowed what would be Madonna’s true comeback in 1998 (Ray of Light). However, in 1994, it alienated a lot of listeners as “Bedtime Story” became the first Madonna single ever to miss the top 40.
However, even though “Bedtime Story” flopped, many said it was because the single was just ahead of its time (which ended up being true), and that Madonna’s next single would be a hit. It was thought that “Don’t Stop” would be the next single, and radio stations, including a major one in St. Louis, began spinning the song. However, Madonna did a “Madonna” again by releasing what is, perhaps, the least commercial-friendly song on the album, “Human Nature.”
The song, which only hardcore Madonna fans could understand, was Madonna’s response to all the morality critics, including many liberal ones, who said Madonna had gone too far with her over-the-top sexuality and that her career would completely end. “Express yourself, don’t repress yourself,” Madonna repeatedly whispers in the song. The lyrics were brave and important at a time when sexually confident women were still condemned in our society. As an album cut, “Human Nature” was okay, but it was an awful choice for a single. The fact that it became Madonna’s second single in a row to miss the top 40 confirms this. It also gave even more juice to the “Madonna is Over” movement of the early and mid-1990s.
With its heavy R&B influence, Bedtime Stories was the first time Madonna was seen as joining a trend rather than creating one. However, Madonna was able to take something popular and put her own spin on it. It’s the same thing she tried (but failed) to do in 2008 with the release of Hard Candy. Bedtime Stories could have been one of the biggest albums of the 1990s. Because of the poor management and wrong choice of singles, it remains just a footnote in Madonna’s long career.
[Photo by Lionel Cironneau/AP Images]