Monday, February 15, 2010

Should have been singles

My friend P. Viktor and I hatched the idea for this post a few weeks ago while discussing songs that Madonna has released that should have been singles but, for whatever reason were not. We each picked five songs from Madonna's back catalog (we compared notes early on so to make sure there was no overlap) and, after much deliberation, I've finally settled on mine. His five choices can be found on his blog. He is also hosting on his site a limited-time-only download of the non-singles that we chose plus 4 more so that all of her studio albums are represented. And Jeff, I regret to inform you that "Spanish Eyes" and "Mer Girl" are not among my five choices.

Dan's Top 5 Madonna Songs That Should Have Been Singles

1) Over & Over
(from Like A Virgin)
Of all the Madonna songs that should have been singles, this one is the one that I think deserves that honor the most. Madonna was doing everything right at this point in her career, riding high with the Like A Virgin album and spinning off career-defining singles like "Material Girl," "Dress You Up" and of course, the title track. "Over & Over" feels like it's cut from a slightly different cloth than the rest of the album - it's still 80s pop, but the guitar lick in the chorus is what sets it apart. Guitars, despite their relative frequency in Madonna's live shows, are pretty scarce on her studio albums. As I've blogged before, the lyrics are very personally inspiring to me, a line from the bridge is currently the tag line for this blog. I'm not afraid to say I hear a different beat/Oh, and I'll go out in the street/And I will shout it again from the highest mountain. It's Madonna as she's just starting to climb the mountain of fame and fortune and it's simply fantastic. Definitely should be brought out for the next tour.

2) Something To Remember (from I'm Breathless)
I have always felt like I'm Breathless is Madonna's forgotten album, its lifespan cut short by the release of The Immaculate Collection. Containing music "from and inspired by the film Dick Tracy" I'm Breathless is very showtuney and non-Madonna and it is one of her lowest selling albums from that time period. "Something To Remember" is, however, a hidden jewel on that album. Madonna liked it so much that she plucked it out of relative obscurity and not only put it on her 1995 ballads collection but also named the damn thing after it. I've always been of the opinion that if WB was so insistent on releasing an old song from that project as a single, they should have gone with "Something To Remember" rather than insisting on releasing "Love Don't Live Here Anymore."

Her vocals are strong, in a pre-Evita way and the production is solid. While many of the songs on I'm Breathless play like novelty songs - even top 10 hit "Hanky Panky" - this is one that I could imagine hearing on pop radio. It is, however, marred by Madonna's infamous "chewing" of her you - I was not your woman/I was not your friend/But chew gave me/Something to remember. My sister and I would always change it to "chew gave me/oropharyngeal cancer." Chewing of yous really is unforgivable, but we give it a pass because the song is just so damn good.

3) Spotlight (from You Can Dance)
I nearly disqualified this song as technically, it was a single - in Japan. I remember it getting some minor radio airplay in late 1987, but there was no official single release in the US, no video, and subsequently, it did not chart on the Hot 100. If it had been released, it would have been another Top 10 for Madonna without question. It feels every little bit like the True Blue cast off that it is and it would have been very much at home on that album. Instead, it was the lone new song on Madonna's first compilation, You Can Dance. It's funny, because the song is very strong in that the combination of vocals and production is again superb, but it's also as light as a feather. Had it been recorded by a lesser artist, it would have been a completely forgettable bit of 80s fluff. It's still fluff, even in Madonna's capable hands, but as I always say about "Who's That Girl" - for fluff, it's quite brilliant.

4) Sky Fits Heaven (from Ray of Light)
Even though the lyrics came partially from a Gap ad, "Sky Fits Heaven" is the strongest non-single on Ray of Light. Like most of of the rest of the album, it is full of blips and bleeps courtesy of William Orbit. "Sky Fits Heaven" is a "driving fast at night with the windows down" song, especially during the "traveling down my own road/watching the signs as I go" section. I love how she hearkens back to "Bedtime Story" with the "Traveling, traveling..." part. Its inclusion in the Drowned World Tour was a huge surprise (mostly because I had not spoiled the set list like I have on every other tour since.) I always admire how Madonna makes such bold choices of obscure album tracks for her live shows, even though the Drowned World Tour certainly had more than its fair share of obscure album tracks.

5) Devil Wouldn't Recognize You
(from Hard Candy)
This blog is littered with criticism of Hard Candy and its songs. Thanks to the distance granted by the nearly 2 years since its release, my opinion on Hard Candy is that it is somehow less than the sum of its parts. I like quite a few of the individual songs, but don't really care for the album much. "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" is easily my favorite of all the songs on Hard Candy. Truth be told, it had been a really long time since we had a true Madonna ballad, and "Devil" fits the bill nicely. Its minor key, interesting rhyming scheme and a much more organic pairing of Madonna and Justin Timberlake than the herky-jerky "4 Minutes" are all points in its favor.

I wonder though, if this song isn't best left as an album track. XO, in his review of Hard Candy, compared "Devil" to Bedtime Stories' "Love Tried To Welcome Me" saying "it's the kind of album track that sticks with you for years because it's never overplayed." It would have probably not charted and considering her track record with videos these days, we couldn't even count on something amazing there, although I can think of no track more deserving of a brilliant video. But we do have the performance of the song from the Sticky & Sweet Tour, which was stunning.

Now get on over to P. Viktor's blog and read about his choices.


P.Viktor said...

Great blog Dan - I love how we have approached this in slightly different ways. It makes it more interesting. You know I was going to select Love Tried to Welcome Me but something stopped me - perhaps the exact reason you stated her. Great selection - we have to do this again!

Dan said...

That is the beauty of it - we have the common theme but then we each put our own personal stamp on it.

"Love Tried To Welcome Me" nearly made my list as well, but I also avoided it, probably subconsciously thinking of that quote which bubbled to the surface of my brain while writing this post.

Yuяi said...

Great list, Dan. Totally agree with Over and Over. What a great track! I'd add Gambler to my list, as we never got it in the States (except the Virgin Tour video of it). I would probably put Into the Groove on there too, as it was never "officially" a release here either. Love Makes The World Go Round is also one that I still jam to today, so I'd probably add that as well.

Paul said...

I love posts like this. I absolutely agree with Devil Wouldn't Recognise you and Something To Remember - both great tracks. Was Mother & Father ever a single from american life? I thought that was a great track too :)

Dan said...

I thought about "Into The Groove" rather briefly, but dismissed it because for all intents and purposes, it was a single - it just never got an official release.

"Mother & Father" was a promo single from American Life which actually charted on the Billboard dance charts. I gave that one to P as it was one of our overlaps (he let me have "Devil" in return. I think that's a fair trade!)

xolondon said...

Into The Groove was a 12" single right? Anyway, Over And Over is my fave of the bunch here and I love the live version. Esp the video where she puts the peace symbol necklaces on the dancers. ;)

Sky Fits Heaven is quite smart and modern isn't it. Something To Remember is the one where I deviate- to me that one might be better with another arrangement. It just felt a bit leaden. She clearly liked it!