May 06, 2008

Ranking Madonna's Albums

In a previous post, I had been asked how I would rate one of Madonna's albums versus another. This gave me the thought that perhaps it was time for a...list. Yes, I know. Lists have become so common on the internet, you'd think they were the start of Wikipedia. But for you, my dear readers, I feel it is my duty.

Thus I present to you my list of all of Madonna's 13 major albums in order. I have decided for the purpose of this list to exclude any greatest hits collections, as it's just patently unfair. Let's be honest - no album would stand a chance against The Immaculate Collection. Granted those collection albums usually had a little new material. Maybe some other day I'll rank all the top 10 hits. Also I'm excluding albums of remixes, and any album so obscure that you won't recognize it when I mention it. (Yes, there are a few - check out this discography.) And while I'm throwing out caveats, I'll mention that although it's awesome, I have to leave out Evita, as that wasn't exactly new material.

So here they are, folks! Release the hounds, and begin the debate.

1. Ray of Light

For me, this is it - the pinnacle of a career. Madonna blew the music industry out of the water with something very fresh, new and innovative. I defy you to listen to the title track in your car without accelerating. Frozen gives me chills, Shanti/Ashtangi centers me, and Nothing Really Matters is so very danceable! I came close to demoting this to the #2 spot because of the hopelessly annoying Little Star, but I'm sure even the Mona Lisa has a smudge in there somewhere.

2. True Blue

If I was stranded on a desert island and could only have 1 album on this list on my cleverly hidden iPod, I'd go with this one. I think Ray of Light is great as an overall album, but it's True Blue that has the songs I can't live without. A lot of people probably wouldn't be able to name this album off the tops of their heads, but there's no way they wouldn't know the songs on it. The title track is fun, and four of the greatest Madonna songs of all time are here - Papa Don't Preach, Live To Tell, La Isla Bonita, and my all-time favorite - Open Your Heart!!! LOVE!

3. Madonna

A long time ago in a galaxy very nearby, Madonna launched a career with bubblegum pop that you could really dance to. Although this album is 25 years old, it still is the source of some of her most hummable tunes - Lucky Star, Borderline, Burning Up, and one of the best party songs of all time - Holiday!

4. Confessions On A Dance Floor

After a few missteps, Madonna came screaming back onto the scene with a very, very good album. Hung Up is a dance anthem wrapped in a pink leotard. And there are a lot of other great offerings - Sorry, Let It Will Be, How High. Personally I can't get enough of Jump and Like It Or Not.

5. Bedtime Stories

Go ahead and argue with me, but I think this is the most underappreciated Madonna album of all time. It was laying the groundwork for the electronica dance style she would pioneer in the coming years. Bedtime Story is an amazing song and a delightfully trippy video (love those whirling dervishes!). And what's more, it features some of Madonna's strongest ballads - Secret and Take A Bow. In other news, Human Nature is way sexy, baby!

6. Erotica

Not every song on this album is amazing, but it marks a huge change for Madonna. This is when she became very, very grown up (read: overtly sexual) and at times very serious. There are some good songs here, but it's really all about Rain!

7. Like A Prayer

This is an odd album - it features a couple of the greatest Madonna songs ever (the title track and Express Yourself) and a couple solid hits (Cherish and Oh Father) mixed in with a lot of forgettable work (Dear Jessie, anyone?). I think this is the main reason we needed The Immaculate Collection.

8. I'm Breathless

What I like about this album is that it's got a great theme going. As the companion soundtrack to the movie Dick Tracy, Madonna presented a collection of songs in a swinging 40s style. Even if every track isn't successful, it's still a pleasure to listen to, in my opinion. And considering it's topped off with Vogue (a signature gay dance anthem), how can you go wrong?

9. Like A Virgin

Madonna was really hitting the big-time with this album (i.e. she ruled MTV), but when you look at the album itself, it doesn't have that much to offer. Sure, there are a few vital hits - Material Girl, the title track, and Dress You Up. But I think overall it's not very strong.

10. Hard Candy

As you may have read by now, I like parts of this album - the beginning (Candy Shop, 4 Minutes) and the end (Devil Wouldn't Recognize You and Voices) with one good song in the middle (Miles Away). Just stay away from some of that annoying pop with trite lyrics in the middle (I'm taking Incredible off my iPod)!

11. Music

Maybe someone can argue in favor of this album, but I found it to be very disappointing. The title track and Don't Tell Me are definitely keepers, but can you name another song off the top of your head?

12. American Life

Yeah, yeah, I know it's pretty bad. I still own it. I kind of like the title track, and even the James Bond theme, Die Another Day. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

13. Who's That Girl

Putting this album on the list is debatable, as only half the songs are even from Madonna. Sadly, even those few aren't very good. The title track is about all that's worth listening to.

That's it - what do you think? I'm dying to hear some opinions from you other folks that remember when Madonna writhing around in a wedding dress was a real scandal!


ScottE. said...

Nice list.

For me Ray of Light and Confessions are tied for first...and that's about as far as my ranking goes, because I then get into albums where I like less than half the songs.

Bedtime Stories was the first Madonna album I ever purchased.

Best song: Holiday! Seriously, when that song drops into a playlist I'm happy.

Stef said...

Interesting, and a good subject for debate. I would actually have my top 3 be - in some order - Ray of Light, Like a Prayer, and Music. On the last album, I really love "It's Amazing" and "What it Feels like for a Girl."

Like a Virgin would probably come in at #4, cuz I still really like "Angel" and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore," plus all the usual hits she had.

"True Blue" and "Erotica" are probably somewhere in the middle for me - cuz like Scotte says - I really like some songs on there but really don't like others. I did love her look and style on "Erotica," coinciding with my freshman year in college as I started to feel more grown up and risque.

I thought "Bedtime Stories" was a huge disappointment, and was almost ready to give up on her then, if she hadn't come out with the brilliant "Ray of Light" next.

I have "Confessions" but really haven't gotten into it - guess I'm not in as much of a dance mood - and I'm sure i will buy "Hard Candy" just to have the set. I do really like that "4 Minutes" song, but I've heard the video is terrible.

And, yeah, I do really enjoy the Dick Tracy album! Come on, "Hanky Panky" is great and she nails it live!

Overall, love the Madge. Always will.

Stef said...

Oh, and I totally vote for you doing a future blog post about her best singles. Can you narrow it down to a top 10? I was thinking about it all day, since you inspired me and I reloaded a bunch of her stuff onto my Nano.

F-MC said...

I think Ray of Light is definitely #1. I was thinking about this the other day. If all the Grammy voters who selected Lauryn Hill over Madonna for Album of the Year went back and listened to both now I have NO DOUBT Ray of Light would have won in a landslide.

I hated American Life. I also thought Bedtime Stories was under appreciated. I think I just respected Music more than you did. Amazing is a great song.

I have grown to like Hard Candy more than I thought. I actually Miles Away is now my favoritie Madonna sone.