MADONNA WEEK: Her #1 Songs, Ranked
From 1984 to 2000 Madonna racked up 12 #1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. That puts her below Mariah Carey (18) and Rihanna (13, and just passed her this year) but one thing you can always say about Madonna’s #1’s is that they’re all her. No featured artists, duets or being a featured artist on someone else’s song to reach the pole position. Her #1’s are a wide range of styles; ballads, hits from movies and high energy dance numbers that all typify her career breadth.
Something of note in Madonna’s Billboard charting is that she holds the record for most #2 singles of all time, male or female, with 6. Some of her biggest songs ever were stopped just short of that prime spot; ‘Express Yourself,’ ‘Frozen,’ ‘Material Girl.’
Although she hasn’t scored another #1 song in 14 years and it seems that radio has turned its back on her, there is still a chance she’ll find that glory again. Not that its necessary but being able to nab hits in the 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s would be quite an unparalleled feat.
So here we have her 12 #1 songs, ranked. Feast, debate, bitch, cry, enjoy.
12. This Used to Be My Playground
This low wattage dirge from the film A League of Their Own is one of four of Madonna’s #1 ballads (as well as one of three from a film) and it’s a sleepy, nostalgic blob.
11. Like a Virgin
Although it’s her first #1 and really blew the doors open for Madonna, I’ve never been a huge fan. Mid-tempo hits were successful for her in this period and although the lyrics are fun and even a bit coy, considering the title, it’s just merely ok for me.
10. Crazy for You
Another movie track (this time from from Vision Quest) that broadened her reach but, for me, still a sleepy, generic ballad. Ba-ba-baaa-boring.
9. Who’s That Girl
Say what you will about the film (I love, I don’t care) this is a great, upbeat, fun song. Heavy on Spanish influences both in chorus (“Quién es esa niña”) and the guitar work. Generally I’m not that into her Spanish period but this is a mid-tempo number you can move to. ‘Causing a Commotion’ was a better dance number but that only went to #2. Sigh.
8. Take a Bow
When I think of this song the first thing that comes to mind is that it was the song my local bar played at last call. Every night. I know this because I was there. Every night. Her longest reigning #1 (seven weeks), ‘Take a Bow’ was essentially an open audition for Evita, showcasing her expanded vocal range and a video chock full of period extravaganza.
To date, Madonna’s last #1 song (2000) and the last single to garner any topline Grammy nominations (Record of the Year and Female Pop Vocal). The heavily synthed arrangement and tuned vocals with its bass-heavy beat are a pretty fun ride and an early look at her future endeavors of techno and disco-based dance music.
6. Open Your Heart
An eminently danceable hit from her massive True Blue period. I think this song makes everyone want to unleash their inner stripper a bit.
5. Justify My Love
Entering a deeply sexual period in her career, this steamy number of sensual desire and forbidden pleasures sparked tremendous controversy (to Madge’s advantage, of course) and made for one of her most seductive songs ever.
4. Papa Don’t Preach
She just wants to keep her baby, dammit. I never understood the controversy from the religious right on this. Like, she’s KEEPING the baby. Anyway, very different subject matter here for Madonna and anything on the radio at the time. Taking a break from love songs and dance numbers did well for her and this is one of her best. Those violins!
3. Live to Tell
Now this is how you do a ballad. Emotionally grounded and gorgeously produced, this breakthrough vocal was a turning point in Madonna’s many reinventions and script-flipped all expectations of her at the time. It’s beautiful. Another from her True Blue period and was also featured in the film At Close Range, starring her former husband Sean Penn.
An icon name-dropping icons, that’s how you do it. Sadly, as of today all mentions in ‘Vogue’ have passed but their legends live on. The song, attached to the unofficial Dick Tracy soundtrack I’m Breathless,” remains one of Madonna’s most exciting, visceral dance songs.
1. Like a Prayer
Church choir. Danceable. Religious controversy. Everything one needs in a perfect Madonna song and ‘Like a Prayer’ has them all. From the slam of that door at the beginning we’re on a journey of discovery, spiritual and religious, a theme that has run through Madonna’s work for her entire career and this is the seminal piece.