Madonna is celebrating her 59th birthday today. While W Magazine celebrated her red carpet looks and Pitchfork celebrated her genius (in general terms), barely anybody has celebrated what made the singer a star in the first place — her songs.
Madonna, who is the fourth biggest-selling artist in music history, is more than just a dance diva. Ballads such as “Crazy for You” and “I’ll Remember” have become the soundtracks to many lives during the 1980s and 1990s. Madonna also had a very successful 1940s jazz-infused music album called I’m Breathless in 1990. And she’s successfully incorporated rock into some of her biggest songs as well.
However, as much of a “marketing genius” as some claim the Queen of Pop to be, some of her very best and most artistic songs have never seen the light of day as singles. Of course, some of this could be blamed on record company politics, but for someone who is supposed to be totally in control of her career, Madonna should have made sure these songs were singles. Let’s take a look.
5. “Time Stood Still” (2000)
This song, which appeared on the soundtrack of the film The Next Best Thing, was supposed to be the lead single. Unfortunately, the mediocre remake of “American Pie” was chosen instead. It’s unfortunate that most people have never heard of “Time Stood Still,” a song in which Madonna gives one of her most heartwarming vocal performances to date.
That said, perhaps Madonna needed to freshen up on her grammar skills.
“Despair, regret, and loneliness is what I feel for you,” Madonna emotionally sings at the beginning of the song.
How ’bout “Despair regret and loneliness are what I feel for you”?
4. “Don’t Stop” (1994)
This song, taken from the album Bedtime Stories, received some heavy airplay on radio stations in the spring of 1995 after Madonna failed to hit the top 40 for the first time since 1983 with “Bedtime Story,” a song that was way ahead of its time. Since Madonna had also just scored the longest-running No. 1 song of her career, “Take a Bow,” the damage wasn’t too bad.
However, Madonna needed to make chart amends right away, and instead of releasing this perfectly cheesy and bouncy song that would have been a surefire top 5 hit, she chose the self-aggrandizing “Human Nature” instead, but at least that produced one of her best videos.
3. “Into the Groove” (1985)
You may be thinking that this is inaccurate, especially since “Into the Groove” is one of Madonna’s most loved songs. But the fact remains that it was not given a single release in the United States during the height of its popularity in 1985. The song, taken from her hit movie Desperately Seeking Susan, oozes with sexiness and invites you on the dance floor, even if you are a couch potato.
One can’t really blame Madonna or her record company for this oversight; they were trying to avoid a Madonna overload, which happened anyway. At the time radio started to play this song, Madonna had two other songs, “Material Girl” and “Crazy for You,” that were still getting heavy airplay. And to promote the Like a Virgin album, Warner Brothers had just released “Angel.”
2. “The Beat Goes On (2008)
Madonna scored a hit with Justin Timberlake for her first Hard Candy single “Four Minutes.” But the album jumped the shark without any follow-up hit singles, although “Give it 2 Me” was a minor international hit song.
“The Beat Goes On,” which featured Kanye West, was Madonna at her best — lush, sexy, aggressive, and encompassing. The song is very reminiscent of the early lush R&B sound from the late 1970s and early 1980s and features one of Pharrell Williams’ best productions to date.
1. “Mer Girl” (1998)
The final cut from Madge’s mega-hit Ray of Light album is all one needs when it comes to proof that Madonna, who co-wrote and co-produced the song, is a real artist. It is spooky, sad, creative, angry, wistful, and musically brilliant all in the same breath.
Perhaps more than any other Madonna song, “Mer Girl” puts the listener in a visual dreamscape they can’t escape, and they won’t want to until Madonna declares “And I smelled her burning flesh, her rotting bones, her decay” at the very end of the song.
Perhaps “Mer Girl” was a little “out-there” to be considered a single at the time. Then again, Madonna’s choices have always been “out-there,” so releasing this as a single would have been perfect for enhancing Madonna’s brand.
What are some of your favorite Madonna non-singles? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
[Featured Image by KGC-195/STAR MAX/IPx/AP Images]