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Ten essential Madonna tracks

Wening Gitomartoyo
Wening Gitomartoyo

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sat, August 18, 2018  /  09:15 pm
Ten essential Madonna tracks

Madonna performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sept. 16, 2015. (AFP/Shaun Tandon)

As one of the biggest names in pop music since the 1980s, Madonna continues to defy norms and reinvent herself. For more than 30 years, Madonna has paved her own way and in doing so has shown the way for younger female pop stars to take control. Assertive, brilliant, generous, unapologetic, defiant and always with a bit of mischief, she is and always will be an icon.

Madonna turning 60 on Thursday is a moment to remember her most notable songs with which she bent the rules and presented new, exciting identities. As co-writer of most of her songs, Madonna is slick with her pop sensibility and earnest lyrics. Her body of work, with album number 14 reportedly out later this year, presents interesting and powerful things to take note of.

1. “Borderline”

Seemingly sweet and bubbly, the song’s lyrics tell the story of a girl unwilling to bow down. “Something in the way you love me won’t let me be/I don’t want to be your prisoner, so baby, won’t you set me free”. It is poppy, with just enough hooks to make listeners keep coming back, and with the grit Madonna later perfected.

2. “Like a Prayer”

Catholicism has always been a source of inspiration for Madonna, and here she joined gospel and pop as well as sexual and religious confessions. It is the personification and celebration of Madonna.

3. “Express Yourself”

A feminist from the start, Madonna wrote this anthem for the sake of speaking up and claiming one’s worth. From “Don’t go for second best” to “Respect yourself”, the song has never sounded more relevant than today.

4. “This Used to be My Playground”

A poignant theme song for A League of Their Own ( 1992 ), in which the singer also starred. The beautiful string arrangement perfectly lifts Madonna’s subdued vocals and lyrics of remembrance.  

5. “Secret”

Considered to be a departure from Madonna’s musical style up to that moment (upbeat, dancy tracks), “Secret” is more on the R&B side with a touch of strings. Opened with just Madonna’s vocals and an acoustic guitar, the song plunges into a bliss when the seductive, sparse rhythm and strings take over.

Read also: Madonna celebrates turning 60 in Marrakech

6. “Human Nature”

With an unmistakably hip-hop rhythm, Madonna calmly responds to those who criticized her Sex book. “You punished me for telling you my fantasies/I’m breaking all the rules I didn’t make” is followed by the continuous chorus of “And I’m not sorry, it’s human nature”.

7. “Frozen”

Haunting, dark and spare, nobody expected this from Madonna when she dropped the single in 1998. Marrying William Orbit’s cool electronica and Craig Armstrong’s string and synthesizers, the song was a commercial success as well as critically acclaimed.   

8. “Beautiful Stranger”

A soundtrack for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me ( 1999 ), the song is a brilliant and intoxicating mix of psychedelic melodies with hard-thumping electronic beats. An earworm from start to finish, “Beautiful Stranger” received a Grammy Award in 2000 as Best Song Written for Visual Media.

9. “Hung Up”

With a sample from ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme”, “Hung Up” is Madonna’s middle finger at those who say older women are supposed to stay away from leotards and dancing their hearts out. It is infectious and delicious, a reminder that she is here to stay.

10. “Rebel Heart”

In between strums of guitars, light orchestration and a swift beat, Madonna sings a commanding melody and narrates the story of her life. “So I took the road less traveled by/Through the darkness somehow I survived”.