It’s been a lot of fun talking with my good friend Abdi Nazemian about our deep love for and connection to Madonna and her music for these last 14 episodes of Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi that covered her studio albums song by song. We got personal, we got real. We looked her albums and songs through the lenses of nostalgia, who we were at that time and who we are now in 2020.
Every time a new Madonna album comes out and all throughout our conversations here, I kept coming back to one thing; what if you made a ‘greatest hits’ album choosing only one song from each record? So that’s what we did. With the only parameter being you had to pick one song per studio album (plus three ‘bonus tracks’ from any album or soundtrack), which allowed us to curate a record that wasn’t just the big hits but also the deeper cuts, the songs that we personally connected to and more. For me, I found myself on the other end of the spectrum of what I usually like from Madonna, surprising myself and Abdi as I revealed my song choices. For Abdi, it was a personal concert narrative with an order very different than mine. But in the process we revealed that we were more alike than not, aligning in places that in many ways strengthened our bond.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this series and hope you like this one as well. It’s by far the longest we’ve done and the only one we recorded via audio. All previous conversations were done over text and this version allowed a free flow of ideas in the moment plus our ability to react immediately to each other. So included in this special episode is the written and audio versions for you partake as you choose.
Thank you for joining us on this journey and we hope you love this one. See the full tracklists plus our own created album covers and titles after the conversation.
EA: It was really difficult to figure out how to arrange this greatest hits package, what it meant, and what made it different than previous ones. I started making just a list of all dance tracks, so the whole album was only dance tracks.
AN: Oh wow. Well, if that’s your album, we’re going to have very different albums.
EA: But it’s not. It’s completely not that now. That’s just kind of what I was going to do when we decided to do this concept of a bonus episode of Talking Madonna. I was like, “How do I want to do this? Do I want to make this? She already has like ballad greatest hits. How do I feel about most of her ballads, which isn’t as great as a lot of other people?” Then, I really started putting it together, and it became a combination of some classic hits, some deeper cuts, some ballads, as well as some of the songs in her cannon that speak to a very specific moment in her life and history. That became how it started taking shape.
AN: It’s interesting. Yeah. For me, one thing I struggled with, and I think as we discussed the albums, album-by-album chronologically, we would zero in sometimes on what our favorite songs were. In some cases, my favorite songs didn’t make the cut, which was very painful as I was constructing and selecting one from each album, because I feel like it’s so much about the balance. In a way, I thought of it less as a greatest hits, and almost more like a window into how I might put together a tour if I were putting together a Madonna tour, selecting one song from each album.
I feel like what she does so well on tour is really create a sense of a journey through the set lists or the visuals. Often times, it’s like from darkness to light, or it’s those kinds of concepts that I think work so well. I was kind of going more off of that idea versus like, “Okay …” I mean, of course I love all the songs I chose, and they include most of my favorites, but in some cases I was like, “Well, I can’t choose that one, because it’s just not fitting into this narrative that I’m building”, so it was really fun. It was really challenging.
EA: I did the same thing, which is why I was changing it up to the last moment. A lot of my favorite songs are missing, and I know we did a different concept here. My order is chronological.
AN: And mine is not.
EA: And yours is not. Then, we can kind of talk a little bit about why we decided that. I think I’ve trapped myself into picking songs that fit the chronology maybe even more than picking the songs that I really wanted. It was an interesting idea, because I ended up having, in like the 2000s, a surprising stack of the slower tempo, more ballad-y types of songs. If you have been reading, Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi, you know how I feel about lower tempo from Madonna, so it’s shocking.
AN: And everyone would know how I feel, which is that they’re my favorite. I mean, most of my favorite Madonna songs are ballads. I long for more ballads from her. It’s all I want is slower tempo, not that I don’t love the up-tempo. As we get into it, you’ll see I have quite a few, but the songs that I feel like mean the most to me through the years are often the ballads.
EA: That’s what’s been so really cool about this is, like I said, I started out with an album entirely of dance songs, and I have completely reversed it into songs that I feel like track her life for the last 30 years through song, through marriages, children, divorces, critics, and all of the things. I was just like, “Oh my God.” Obviously, I like what I created, but she has 150 songs and we could just do whatever we wanted.
AN: We could. In a way, the hardest for me was the bonus. For everybody who’s listening, our rules were that we get to do the standard album, which is one song from each studio album we discussed, and then three bonus tracks where we can call from anything. One challenge that I really had was realizing that so many of her best songs are not even on the albums. She has incredible songs that were on soundtracks or greatest hits compilations. That was really, really hard.
AN: For me, it’s picking those three bonus songs. That was, in a way, the most heartbreaking, because there are so many kind of lesser known songs that are close to my heart. I ended up on that one, I think, going for the bigger hits, because they felt so integral to the story.
EA: I did too. Two of my three bonus tracks are really obvious.
AN: Me too. Me too. Wait, wait. Before we share our track list with each other, since we haven’t done that, should we guess how many songs we will overlap on?
EA: Oh my God. Okay, so we have 17 songs. Oh my goodness.
AN: Okay. I’m going to guess that we will have six.
EA: I was going to say five.
AN: Okay. Okay. Five and six.
EA: Because one of mine is a bit of a cheat. When I get to it, I’ll say why obviously, but it’s a tiny bit of a cheat. I’m a bad girl, drunk by six.
AN: I was going to do a cheat too. I was going to have a song from one of the studio albums in remix form as a bonus. I didn’t do it, because I felt like that was a cheat.
EA: I did that.
AN: You did that?
AN: Okay. I didn’t, and I would have. I probably would have, but you know what? I’m sticking with my track list. I worked hard on it, and unfortunately I didn’t do it, although I think that’s fair. I think it’s fair.
EA: I think when we get to that song, I don’t feel like it is a cheat. We’ll get to it. We’ll get to it. All right. I think we should just kind of like start right off, and we’ll just kind of go a little bit of back and forth and maybe why?
EA: Why we did it and, like we said, mine is chronological, and yours is curated song-to-song.
EA: I started with “Everybody” from 1982. The reason I started with this is because, even though I like “Holiday” and “Burning Up” as like all-timers, I wanted to start from the literal beginning for her, and that actually did not change from the whole dance album concept that I had. I went with “Everybody” to begin because it’s the beginning.
AN: Okay, so I started with “Like A Prayer.” This was very, very hard, because I think in an emotional way, “Keep it Together” is probably my favorite Madonna song of all time. It just means a lot to me, but I think “Like A Prayer” is, first of all, the greatest opening song maybe on any album of all time. I mean, the guitar, Prince, the choir … I mean, everything about it just feels like the opening of a journey.
I also felt like, for me at least, “Like A Prayer,” and I guess I won’t talk about the other songs we have. … It hasn’t come up yet, but “Like A Prayer” is one of the two songs that I feel like really deserves to be Madonna’s signature song. I feel like a lot of artists have that one song that you associate with them. Madonna really doesn’t. She has like a smattering of them, and I think “Like A Prayer” is one of the most deserving. Then, also obviously I wrote a novel, which is the thing I’m proudest of in the whole world that I’ve ever worked on, and it’s called Like A Love Story. The whole narrative takes place in 1989, and the Like A Prayer album is incredibly crucial to the storytelling. It felt like I had to start with “Like A Prayer.”
EA: I love that.
AN: Yeah, so I feel very good about this choice. It just feels, to me, very much like the beginning of a journey that then I’ll take the listener on.
EA: See, that’s really great, because that’s a totally personal journey for you through Madonna, which a lot of this has been in certainly your book. I love that.
AN: Yeah. It really is. I think what’s so great about her discography is that we can each bring so much of ourselves to it. It really has different access points.
EA: It does. All right. What is your second track?
AN: My second track, and I think this may be a surprise, is “Rebel Heart.”
EA: Did you?
AN: Yeah. I think the way that I started is I wanted to, right up front, like after “Like A Prayer” opens you up and says, “Okay, we’re in a world of choirs, religion, sex, questioning, and massive pop production”, I wanted to just have a song that lays out who she is. I feel like, although there are songs I love on the Rebel Heart album, like “Ghosttown” that I really struggled with not including, I just feel like “Rebel Heart” just lays out who she is. Obviously the rebel and the heart, but also her journey of going from somebody who sought attention to somebody who moved the message to a different place. It felt like a really great song to have as a second track to just let the audience and the listeners know who this woman is.
EA: I love that you picked that, knowing how much “Ghosttown” is such a favorite for you. That’s so cool.
AN: Yeah. What did you pick?
EA: Going chronologically, next is going to the Like A Virgin album, and just obviously a lot of amazing tracks. I opted for “Dress You Up.”
AN: Whoa! Literally not a song I was expecting to hear. I mean, I love it, but tell me.
EA: This was the first Madonna tour I saw obviously, because it was her first. Even though not a lot of the songs that I have picked … Their impression is not because of the tour. This is kind of one of them. Even though I had been listening to her, this was such an introductory moment for me. I loved what she was wearing so much. I loved the vocals. I loved the dance. It’s a really, really fun song too.
AN: It is.
EA: And even though I think “Angel” and “Material Girl” are probably better songs, Angel might’ve been like where I would have gone instead, but I didn’t want to do something obvious like “Material Girl.” As much as I wanted to highlight a song that in 1985 … so I would have been 14 at the time. I would say that a song titled “Dress You Up” spoke to me quite a bit, because I was deeply, deeply experimenting with clothes, gender, and androgyny in a way that really was who I was during my early high school years. It was like Madonna and Boy George.
AN: Yeah. Of course.
EA: That was everything I did for those first two years. It spoke to me.
AN: Yeah. I get it, and “Dress You Up” as a song that I remember more than almost any other Madonna’s song. Me and my cousins would sit in front of the radio, waiting for them to play it. It really did speak to me when I was young. It’s interesting that you say that, and I think that idea of dressing yourself up has become so important to her through the years. I mean, the idea of reinvention and of being able to invent yourself, like you’re saying. I was the same when I was young. Fashion was really a way for me to play with my own identity and figure out who I was.
EA: Absolutely. Absolutely.
AN: Now I like that. Okay, so what did you pick as your third?
EA: My third is my first bonus track, and it’s right off of the heels of this actually. It’s “Into The Groove.”
EA: There is no playlist or anything in my existence that does not include Into The Groove. It should have been like a number one hit for 10 weeks.
AN: 100%. In the U.K. it was.
EA: Yes. Coming from Desperately Seeking Susan, which is a fantastic performance from her and just an amazingly fun film. There is, I don’t think, any dance track that she has that will get me there faster than “Into The Groove.” I think it is perfect. When she does dance songs that are pure dance, about dancing and pretty much nothing else, that’s it. My eyes are closed, and that’s it. I am in it.
AN: Yeah. I’m not arguing with it as you will discover soon enough.
EA: Good. I like that.
AN: On my third song … The way that I structured it is I started with obviously “Like A Prayer” and “Rebel Heart.” Now, I think we’re going to go into it a slightly experimental section for me, as I think we’ve discussed. Maybe my favorite of all her collaborators is Mirwais, who she worked on Music, American life, and Madame X with. My third song is “Paradise (Not For Me),” which is really a top five Madonna song for me. I think it is maybe the apex of her, like leaning into her merging of pop and art. It’s very Kate Bush-y, and it’s very experimental. It just like takes me to lots of places.
There actually aren’t that many lyrics, even though it’s a very long song, but I feel like they deal in a very personal way with identity and aging. I think it’s just a song that goes to places that she often doesn’t go. I felt like it would be a really interesting song to put early in the album to signal that this is not just like … I think one thing about Madonna, for me, is oftentimes I feel like people peg her into a single’s artist or a pop star like, “She just does this. She’s the queen of dance music.”
I’m like, “Of course she’s all those things, but she also makes really experimental wonderful turns in her albums”, and that’s why I wanted to have this early on.
EA: I love that song. That era, for her, is probably my most difficult in making like the choice of songs to pick.
AN: Yes, yes. Those 90s and early 2000s albums are just perfect.
EA: Yeah. No, they really are. There are so many obvious choices, but none of them are what I picked pretty much when we did the conversations.
AN: Yeah. I’m excited.
EA: My next is from the True Blue era. I mean, this is packed with number one songs, top three songs, and dance songs. I went for “Live To Tell.” That was, for me, a great beginning turning point, as we’ve discussed when we discussed the album, that she was always ahead of everybody trying to peg who she was, like you just said. This makeup-free farm girl look and feel was such an epic moment, because this was when we really knew that she was always going to be ahead of us. It’s just something that I have endless respect and admiration for, but just the song itself was beautiful. It’s a full decade ahead of her taking singing lessons for Evita and changing her whole way of singing. This was such a great precursor to that, that she was going to be able to do that.
AN: I know. I know. It’s brilliant. I love that song. My fourth song … I’m continuing with the Mirwais. You know what’s interesting about their work together? As I was picking the songs that they worked on, it felt very weird to sequence them apart, because they’re almost such outliers when you look at them next to the other songs, like the sounds feel like they would be very jarring coming after some of the other works. After “Paradise (Not for Me),” I have “God Control,” which for me was a no brainer choice. I definitely love “Come Alive” a lot, and that probably would have been the runner up for Madame X, but “God Control” as we’ve discussed is just an absolute masterpiece.
It’s a political song disguised as a disco song. She experiments with her voice. I just felt like, again, putting it early on the album felt just like it comes early on Madame X. It just signals whoever is listening to this imaginary album that I’m creating … It just signals that this is a woman with a lot on her mind who has things to say. Yes, she’s going to take you to the dance floor and help you forget administration bills and loans, but she’s also going to make you look at society and what’s crazy about it. Sometimes she’s going to make you do that while you’re dancing, which is what she does on “God Control.” Yeah. I’m very happy to have this song on my track list.
EA: Oh. I’m very happy too. As you’ll hear later.
AN: Oh. Maybe we’re going to have more than five or six as we go through our choices. It’s very interesting.
EA: Maybe, maybe. All right. My next. Okay, so post True Blue studio album had Who’s That Girl and the You Can Dance remixed album. I was kind of struggling with, “Am I going to pick a bonus track? Am I going to pick “Who’s That Girl” or “Causing Commotion?”
AN: “Causing a Commotion.” Yeah.
EA: Yes. “Causing a Commotion,” which also should have been a number one song.
EA: And I opted for the “Over and Over” remix from You Can Dance as a bonus track.
EA: See, this is where I don’t think it’s too much of a cheat, even though it’s a little bit of a cheat. It also allowed me to not pick it from Like A Virgin and have it here instead. I mean, again, this is also a song that’s on like virtually every playlist that I have. If I am working out or cleaning the house, this is on all the time. Then, I’m looking at how I have things ordered, and I’ve got the great dance of “Into The Groove,” and then bringing the mood to “Live To Tell,” and then back again to “Over and Over.” I tried not to be too jarring with it. Yeah. Picking the bonus tracks was the hardest part of this.
AN: For sure.
EA: Like you said, we’ve got soundtracks Evita, I’m Breathless …
AN: There was so much, and the two songs from Immaculate Collection.
EA: Yeah. She has so many damn soundtrack songs.
AN: She does, and I wish she’d do more of them because she pretty much always nails it.
EA: I do too, because I would really like her to get an Oscar. That’s that on that!
AN: I think she’s sadly … I mean …
EA: I know. (laughs)
AN: The Academy has really screwed her over and over and over again, as we talk about “Over and Over.” (laughs)
EA: Yeah. Yeah. All right, where are you now?
AN: Next, I finished my Mirwais trilogy. Now we had “Paradise (Not for Me),” “God Control,” and I take us into “Nobody Knows Me,” which … American Life is my favorite Madonna album. I think if anyone were to ask me why that album is my favorite, I would probably point to the slower songs which, I think, on the whole create an intimacy in that album that I don’t think has ever been surpassed. Songs like “Intervention,” “Nothing Fails,” “X-Static Process,” and “Easy Ride.” I could go on, but for whatever reason, “Nobody Knows Me” is just one of my favorites. I feel like it really stands out as a song that just has a lot … It has anger in it, but it also at the heart of it … It’s “Nobody knows me like you know me,” and I think, again, it’s that combination of rebel and heart. It’s in that song, and it feels quintessentially her. There’s no one else on earth I could think of who would release that song, so it just felt like it needed to be included.
EA: I love it. I love it. Again, like I said, when I get to that section it was so incredibly difficult. So hard.
AN: So hard, and I guess one thing to say also about making these selections, and maybe people will play along with us and do their own versions, but the thing that struck me about Nobody Knows Me, and why I chose it, is there were no songs necessarily like that on other albums to choose, whereas looking at a song like “Intervention,” which I’m obsessed with, there are versions of “Intervention”-type songs on other albums. It felt like “Nobody Knows Me” … You know, some of the songs I chose because they felt completely unique. It was because they felt completely unique and I’m like, “Okay, well, I can’t find this mood on any other albums, so it’s going on.
EA: There you go. It’s perfect.” So, my next is, I guess, would be the first where we have aligned and that is “Like a Prayer” from Like a Prayer.
EA: I mean, again, another almost flawless album with just hits and hits and hits and great fun non-hits that are really cool. I mean, come on, “Act of Contrition.” That’s a crazy fucking cool song.
AN: “Till Death Do Us Part.” I mean, that one…
EA: Exactly, but it was impossible for me to not go with this for all the reasons that you said. It’s a career marking point for her and there was no way that I couldn’t pick it. I barely know what else to say than that because I would have felt just like, “How could you skip this?” Yes, there are great deep cuts, but come on.
AN: It’s funny when you’re a fan of an artist, it’s very easy to align yourself with the deep cuts because you inevitably get annoyed by the way certain songs become overplayed on tours or the way certain members of the public only seem to know those songs and don’t even understand the breadth of the work. But yeah, I agree with you, “Like a Prayer” is one of those songs that you cannot argue. It’s perfectly written, perfectly executed, meaningful, changed society. I don’t know what else you can ask for.
EA: Yeah. I also really love too that it marks a jumping off point where we saw in the rest of her career, her drawing back on this song on themes, on choruses, and sometimes using actually like a prayer in a lyric. So, what it means to her is a lot. So. That inevitably means a lot to me too.
AN: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So, now I have finished my Mirwais trilogy, and I enter, I guess, what I would call the fun section or the dance section of my album. And we’re going to have some overlap. I’m going to start with one of my bonus tracks “Into The Groove,” which, I mean, again, like you said, I think when Madonna does pure dance, it’s magical. And I think she understands that the dance floor is a place where people escape what’s difficult about their lives, whatever that means. And her dance music was being created at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in this country. And she was intimately affected by it.
And even in a song like “Into The Groove,” which I think just creates such pure joy. Like there’s a sense there’s still a melancholy underneath it. I mean, when she says only when I’m dancing, can I feel this free, it implies that when she’s not dancing, she doesn’t feel that free, that there are forces outside the dance floor taking people’s freedoms away. And I feel like there’s something about her dance music, because there’s a lot of dance music to be quite honest that I don’t love. And I feel like there’s something about her dance music that always feels like it has weight and meaning and “Into The Groove” is perfect. It’s like it acknowledges emotion and yet it just frees you to be happy and joyful. I love it.
EA: I think what was fascinating about this song and what you just said about the freedom of the dance floor is obviously what it meant in 1985 in that moment. And then when you juxtapose it with “God Control” and what happened on a dance floor that inspired that song really kind of just, I don’t know. It speaks to a loss of innocence of time. And I think that makes something like “Into The Groove” so important and integral to her history.
AN: It really is. And the other thing I love about it, and I really do think it’s one of her kind of perfect songs. Like one of those inarguable pop songs that you can’t even, nobody can say, that’s not a perfectly written and executed song. But the other thing I love about it is the way it starts with the invitation, “And you can dance for inspiration, come on.” She’s inviting you to the dance floor. I think it’s hard for people who live in a post-Madonna world where so many pop stars have kind of imitated her and her style to understand that when she came out and we were kids, there was nobody like her. And she was inviting us into this world for people who weren’t hanging out in underground, New York clubs, she was inviting you into this world that was so different and dynamic and queer, you could feel that energy. And so, I really loved the way that song starts. It’s so powerful.
EA: It is quintessential.
AN: Yeah. Okay. I’ll stop there.
EA: I know we could do a whole episode just on “Into the Groove.”
AN: I know, and go on and on. I honestly think they should release it as a single now. I think they should stick it on a soundtrack and release a vinyl with some new mixes like put Dua Lipa on it and just get it to number one. It deserves it. It still sounds like a number one hit.
EA: Well, she’s a free agent now.
AN: Oh thank God.
EA: My goodness. What a great idea. I love that. My next is my last bonus track and this is interesting because all of my bonus tracks are in the very early part of her career. Not intentional, but-
EA: I, again-
AN: I’m so curious. I’m so curious.
EA: I know! Because, so this period was the, I’m Breathless soundtrack and the Immaculate Collection Greatest Hits album. And this was tougher than I would have expected. And I almost don’t know how I feel about picking the song that I picked because it’s an obvious song, but at the same time, sort of like “Like A Prayer,” I couldn’t figure out how to curate this without this song.
AN: I assume it’s “Vogue.”
AN: Let’s just have an organic discussion because my next song is “Vogue!” (laughs)
EA: Oh my God, that’s perfect. And we’re aligning in the same space in the same- (laughs)
AN: We’re aligning. Isn’t that interesting in the same exact place on the album, even though you went chronological and I went…
EA: I love it.
This is a song again, sort of like lots of points in her career that really, really speak to a generation, a time, a group of people. It is inviting her fans at large, into a world in a culture that they probably were not familiar with. And it’s something that she’s done quite a bit and which I always love. And it’s really funny because this is on the, I’m Breathless soundtrack essentially. And it’s nothing like anything on there. It’s kind of just popped in there.
AN: Yeah. Because it was for those who don’t know, it was written as a B side to “Keep It Together.” Right?
EA: It’s crazy.
AN: Which is crazy. I mean, it’s absolutely crazy. I think the “Vogue” was going to be B side to an album track.
EA: Yeah. I can’t… (laughs)
AN: Although, the funny thing is in that alternative world, “Keep It Together” would probably be a number one hit. Because I think a lot of the reasons “Angel” went so high in the US is because “Into The Groove” was it’s B side. Right?
EA: That’s exactly what… Right. And I think that’s why people, even fans are surprised to remember or see that that “Angel” was a top five song.
AN: Right. And it’s a great deserved song, but “Into The Groove,” certainly propelled it by being on the record.
EA: I’m just getting so nostalgic thinking about the whole concept of a B side track right now.
AN: Oh God. I know.
EA: Do the kids even know what that means? I don’t think so.
AN: Yeah. Well I think they do. I mean, you think about somebody like Taylor Swift who included one I mean, I guess it’s not a B side… I guess it is a B side. She included a song called “The Lakes” on all the vinyl and, I think, CD copies of her new album and that’s the way you get it. So, I think the concept is out there. But certainly, I mean, I think what’s amazing about the fact that “Vogue” was going to be a B side though, is that it speaks to the fact that nobody thought a song like that would sweep the nation the way it did. I mean, and again, I think this is where I think because of my book, I’ve ended up having a lot of conversations with people about Madonna, many of whom, I don’t know. And I’ve discovered a lot about people’s perceptions of her.
And I think that one of the reasons “Vogue” is, to me, I began this by saying there are two songs that I think truly deserve to be her signature songs. And I think they’re “Like A Prayer” and “Vogue.” If I had to pick two, I’d probably put “Into The Groove” right after that. But I think the reason that “Vogue” means so much to me is because of the context in which it came out. And I think the reason it means so much to me now, even more than it did when I was a kid, is because it’s the song and the video and the moment that people use most often to criticize her. And I think the criticism is absolutely free of any context of where the song was born from and what it meant to the society it came out in.
And I don’t think you can apply the world we live in, in 2020 to how Madonna created that song in ’89 and ’90. And I think it was just a watershed moment for queer people. I mean, it really, that video and the Blonde Ambition Tour and everything that came from “Vogue” was my exposure to queer life, to queer men of color, people who look like me. It was major. I mean, when the only representations you saw were people dying of AIDS and all the horrible jokes you heard in school and the bullying, I mean, it was an awful world and ends up the number one song in America for, I think, multiple weeks basically be a celebration of queer culture.
I mean, it was so powerful and she was so outspoken and anytime people took her to task on it in the media, I mean, people can go Google it, but the interviews she gave, how eloquent and warrior like she was in her defense of the queer community was really, it was incredible and brave. And it’s just a kick ass song. (laughs)
EA: I love that because in preparation for this, I did exactly that. And I went back and watched a whole bunch of interviews from this period. And just how the questions were trying to sort of trap her and shame her. And she would turn it around so easily. I mean, she was just vivisecting the interviewers with, ‘why would you ask that? Why, of course I would be pro gay rights, why would you not be?’
I mean, she’s just every everything about her push for equality and visibility was so matter of fact, that it made the questioning of it seem like the foolish part and it was a masterstroke. This song, it’s a cornerstone of the tour. It had an amazing revitalization from Pose‘s season two, which featured over multiple episodes…
AN: And I think they did a very good job of, I think, looking at the impact of the song and what it meant from different angles without being snarky and without losing the sense of context. I thought it was really very powerful what they did.
EA: I’m applaud how they used it in everything that they did, as you said.
AN: Yeah, yeah. “Vogue,” there are some obvious ones that we couldn’t leave off.
EA: Yes. All right. So, okay. God we both picked it. So whose turn is it? Is my turn or is it your turn? I think it’s my turn.
AN: Sure. Go, go.
EA: I started with this [“Vogue”] and then, and then it was also yours-
AN: That’s right.
EA: Alright. Cool. All right. We are into the Erotica era and, I’m going to feel like such a basic bitch, but I went with “Bad Girl” and I don’t know how much of this is influenced by how much I loved the video and hurt in it. But it might be a little bit. I do like her toying with perceptions again and the look actually calls back so much to “Live To Tell” that it’s like if the girl from “Live To Tell,” left the farm and went to the city, but sort of she kept the façade, but inside, she had really kind of become someone that she didn’t want to become.
AN: I love that.
EA: And so, I liked the juxtaposition of the two together, but it’s just also, it’s a gorgeous song. And this is an album full of like deep house disco and “Where Life Begins” and so many great tracks. It’s just an all timer album.
AN: It is.
EA: The second half of my picks really go into how she feels about herself. How she feels that other people see her. And that became the narrative of kind of the rest of, and you’ll see that as I reveal my picks, of where she felt she was in her career, but this is just also a gorgeous, gorgeous ballad.
AN: It’s beautiful. Yeah. It’s yes. We’ll be talking more about it soon.
EA: Oh my God. Yes.
AN: So, off of “Into The Groove” and “Vogue,” for me, one thing that we discussed a lot in our album discussions is that Madonna has a whole string of songs that are really about her survival, her ambition about getting up again. And I love those songs. I think what Madonna meant for so many of us is that inspiration. I think a lot of the people who were her fans, especially obviously the queer fans, she really inspired us to get back up when the world was telling us, you’re trying to kick us down and telling us that we were worthless. So, I have a string of those songs coming up in my dance section. And the first of them is “Give It 2 Me,” which it’s interesting. I mean, of all the albums, I feel like Hard Candy is probably the one that was… It was in a way the hardest to pick a song from, because it felt like, I still maintain this. I think Hard Candy is the least Madonna album of all her out. It doesn’t sound to me like a Madonna album.
And so, as I was looking at it, I was like, huh, in a way, everything flows. But I do feel like “Give It 2 Me,” it’s exactly like so many of her previous songs that are about her drive and how you’ll never turn the lights out on her. And I just love that about her. I love that she’s still going, I love that it doesn’t matter how many people criticize her, but she still speaks her mind and takes risks. And yeah. So, that’s my pick.
EA: I love it. I love that song. And you’re right. Hard Candy is just such a… It’s such an outlier feeling.
AN: It’s an outlier. And I think it’s aged, I like it better now. I think it’s aged pretty well. But it’s not… to me it’s not that Hard Candy is not a great album, which I actually think it is. It’s just that it doesn’t sound like a pure Madonna album, which is what most of us want from her.
EA: Yeah, definitely. All right. My next choice comes from Bedtime Stories, ’94 and again, another completely brilliant, gorgeous album with very diverse songs because you have the R&B like Janet Jackson-y stuff like “Secret” and “Survival,” the crazy Björk song.
And so, this was tough. And actually it gets really tough for me after this. And this is where, like I mentioned a bit ago, where I kind of go into my narrative of this chronology and that is the songs that are a response to other things, to outliers. Not necessarily about love and dancing and those kinds of things, but pretty specific to her and about her. And so I chose “Human Nature” and this was very clearly the response to the Sex book and to just the sexuality that she presents. And again, that it is talked about in a way that kind of just removes her agency from it. And she is constantly having to battle to regain that and respond to it. And I love that she does. I love that she does not take shit and she will come correct. And she will demand the proper respect.
I love this song. It’s a great video, obviously. It is one of the most quotable. It is an empowering song too, because even though it’s very specifically about her experience, you know, I can say, “I’m not your bitch” to anybody that gives me any shit.
AN: Yeah and she clearly loves the song. She keeps playing it on tours, even though it wasn’t a giant hit for her, which is yeah. Says so much.
EA: Yeah. I love that. She does that a lot. She does have those songs that you know are her favorites and-
AN: “Human Nature,” “Candy Shop…” (laughs)
EA: Even if they’re not a fan favorite. Like I mentioned before, if it’s something that means a lot to her, then it means a lot to me.
AN: Yes. I’m with you on that. And I absolutely love “Human Nature” too, yeah.
AN: Okay. So, next after “Give It 2 Me,” I have “Burning Up.”
EA: Oh my God.
AN: Which I mean, look, the first album is just full of fantastic songs. But again, to me “Burning Up,” it feels like it as an introduction to her, it’s so quintessentially her. It’s just all about how she’s different than other people, she has no shame. She is going to go after what she wants in a way that is both true to herself, and brazen, and I don’t know, it just, to me, it stood out on that album as a track that really spoke to the core of who she was. And I felt it fit really nicely with some of these other songs or talked about like “Give It 2 Me,” which have this sense of drive to them that I find just really, really powerful.
EA: And for “Burning Up” quite literally that. (laughs)
AN: Quite literally. Yeah. It’s great. It’s great. And I think it’s also a song that like… it’s interesting. I… obviously they did it on RuPaul’s Drag Race recently, I think, as a lip sync song and it worked really well. And it’s a song that when I go there’s an amazing party here called the Madonna Summer where they play nothing but Madonna and Donna Summer. It’s my dream come true basically. And but “Burning Up” is one of those songs that, when it comes on, it sounds like it could have been made now. There’s something so just current still about it. I think it’s just a song that really stands the test of time.
EA: I’m obsessed with “Burning Up,” obsessed, obsessed, obsessed. So, it is an all timer for me.
EA: And yeah, I love it.
Oh my God, this gets so difficult. All right. So, post Bedtime Stories, we had the, Something To Remember album that had “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” We had the Evita soundtrack, which is chock full of perfection and the Ray of Light album, which is, as we’ve mentioned, I believe is the actual, real turning point in her life and her career.
AN: Mmm hmm…
EA: And also a no skip album.
EA: It is flawless and going with the narrative that I had created for myself I’m picking “Drowned World/Substitute For Love.”
AN: (deep sigh) Oh God. Yeah, it’s a great song.
EA: This is a song about Lourdes. This is about her first child and this is post Evita. This is post-birth. This is post those singing lessons, which are really on display here. And again, this is a little influenced by the video too. This is right after Princess Diana’s death and that is a response to that as well. And this is a song and she tackles this subject a lot from kind of this point on, and that’s about the nature of fame. And a lot of artists do that. She is an artist who absolutely is under microscopes all the time.
And she chose to talk about that entirely in the context of, of her child and motherhood. And I got it. I can listen to this song every day. I can… It’s just so emotional. It’s so, when she ends it with, “this is my religion…”
AN: Oh God. I know.
EA: After a career that has toyed with the concept of religion and pushing back against it for so, so long. And she discovers that her child is, it’s just like, Oh my God, how, how do you not embrace that?
AN: Well, and as anyone who really loves Madonna knows the role of her own mother’s death in her life, her work, her psyche, it’s so major. And so there’s something I agree about that moment of becoming a mother and feeling like she’s found her center and her meaning. I mean, it makes so much sense. And I think it’s just very beautiful, and I think for many of us who are parents, we understand exactly what that is. There’s a healing of the past, that can happen. It’s yeah.
EA: Yeah. And I don’t think there is a more underlying moment of your mortality than your own child. And then, like you said, with her mother who died when she was so young, she had to be facing a mortality struggle herself.
EA: And wanting to be there for her daughter for the long term.
AN: Yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s interesting. Ray of Light is probably not in my, I mean, it’s perfect, but she has so many perfect albums that I wouldn’t put it in my, top three, maybe not even in my top five Madonna albums, but it is hands down the one I’ve listened to most in quarantine. I listened to it all the time and I think there is something very, there’s a warmth to it that is really, I don’t know. It’s really speaking to me these days.
EA: Yeah. It’s a transitional album and moment. And certainly right now is a transitional period in time.
AN: It is. It is, yes. So, okay. So next after “Give It 2 Me” and “Burning Up,” I continue my run of songs about Madonna getting up over and over… (laughing) …so I have “Over and Over.” (laughing) I’m not sure if this counts as an overlap because you picked the remix. I picked the album, but maybe we should count it.
EA: I think we’re going to count it.
AN: I think we’re going to count it too. I mean, look, I think this is my hands down favorite from Like a Virgin. I think it’s the song on Like a Virgin that feels most her, to be honest. I think we discussed this in our album discussion, but I feel like, “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl,” despite being these massive, wonderful pop songs that created everything that allowed her to then take the risks she took after, to me, at least, they don’t feel as much her and she didn’t have as much of a hand in writing them. I feel like there’s something about “Over and Over” that just feels like this is who she is.
This is one of her kind of manifestos in song, and she’s proven it. She sang it on the Like a Virgin album in the mid eighties and she’s proven it through time. Like this nobody has been knocked down as many times, and she gets up again and she keeps doing it. And it’s an incredibly inspiring thing to watch. I mean, for me as I’m aging and you go through your own struggles, it’s just to see somebody like her, keep fighting it out. You’re like, “Okay, well I can do it too.” And so yeah, “Over and Over,” I think it’s just like a signature Madonna song that we both put on for good reason.
EA: Exactly. Yeah. I love that song. It’s amazing. Okay. My next comes from Music and it’s funny, so what I did was I took each album and I would put my top three or top five, if it was really difficult. And then I would just start looking at them, listening to them again, and figuring out what I wanted to pick and how I wanted to do it. And so this album comes when she was pregnant with Rocco and she’s pregnant in the video for music, which is really cute, but I followed up “Drowned World” with, “I Deserve It.”
AN: Such a good one.
EA: And one of the things I really like about this album was her guitar playing and kind of just wanting to stretch yourself a little bit and the guitar work, and this is really wonderful. And hey, it’s a ballad again, because what in the world am I doing? I am not the person that I used to be. I love that she allows herself self appreciation in this song. And it’s not something that she always does. And any time she gives herself that, or she gives herself some real vulnerability in her songs and her lyrics, and allows us in just a little bit more, it just feels more complete. And even as a fan, I don’t deserve to know everything about her. She is an individual. I am an individual. I don’t need to know every single thing. It’s not my right. But what she gives us is beautiful. I really love the song.
AN: I love it too. I love it too. And it speaks to how good that album is that neither of us even picked the hits, “Music” or “Don’t Tell Me,” I mean, it’s a fantastic album.
EA: I was really close to picking “What it Feels like For a Girl.”
AN: Oh yeah. And what it feels, oh my God, I mean, that album as so many great songs.
EA: Yeah. But I would have had to cheat on that and pick the video version.
AN: Oh, interesting. God, I prefer the album version a lot. (laughing)
EA: No, I do too. Like I said, when I was putting this together and going, “Oh, my God, I have like five songs in a row that are personal songs and kind of ballads, so I need to figure out…
AN: You’re finally seeing the light…
EA: I know!
AN: …discovering how perfect they are.
EA: Isn’t that crazy?
AN: No, it’s not. They deserve it. The ballads deserve it.
EA: They do. (laughing)
AN: So, my next one, so after my string of kind of motivational songs, “Give It 2 Me,” “Burning Up” and “Over and Over,” I have, I guess what I would call two transition songs before, what will be my late album ballad section. And the first is my third bonus track, which was by far the hardest, for me “Vogue” and “Into the Groove” were once I started looking at all the tracks, I was like, “I can’t”, like we discussed, you can’t not put those songs, they’re just too important. They’re too perfect. The third was brutal, because there were so many to choose from. And I ultimately went with “Rescue Me,” which really, really hard. But I just feel like “Rescue Me” is very special. It’s like, I think there are things going on in that song that I love, obviously we’ve talked about how much we love her kind of speak singing things she does sometimes. And I mean, I don’t know if there’s a better example of that than “Rescue Me.”
I also think when she goes for the notes in that song, there’s a rawness to her vocals that she almost never does. It’s really powerful. And I also think the lyrics, they speak to sides of her that I think we all know, I mean, we’ve watched Truth or Dare, we know what a perfectionist she is, but to hear her singing like with you I’m not a fascist and just sing about her angry, demanding heart. I mean, it’s kind of Madonna acknowledging that side of her, that ego side of her that we all have seen in action, but not necessarily acknowledged in that many songs in such a precise way. So, yeah, that was my choice.
EA: I love it. That’s really, I think more outside the box than I even was willing to go, and I love it.
AN: Well, I was, I mean, honestly, I had a list because I love, I mean, my God, I loved “Gambler” so much, it’s one of my favorites. I was going to pick the “Keep it Together” remix, but then I thought it was cheating. I played with “This Used to be My Playground.” I played with “Causing a…” I mean, this was my hardest, I really just, I wrote songs and I crossed them out. Yeah. It was hard.
EA: Okay. This was the most difficult decision of any of the albums that I picked. And this is American Life.
AN: American Life.
EA: First, before I reveal it, I love so much that this album has garnered such a revisit. And I don’t know, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s getting the credit that it deserves that it did not get when it came out. And I love seeing it. I love seeing people appreciate it now in the way that it deserves to be.
AN: We’ll do the same with Madame X someday, I think.
EA: I think so. Absolutely. I think absolutely that, yeah, like I said, I wrote down like four songs that I was trying to decide from and she gets extremely personal on this album, and it’s really, once you get into the middle and second half that that happens. And I chose “X-Static Process”…
EA: …because like I said, in our conversation about the album, I can’t listen to it and not cry. It is absolutely the most raw and vulnerable, I think that she had been to that point and a lot of this album really is…
AN: Yeah, it is.
EA: …and it doesn’t get the credit that it deserves for that.
AN: No, no. Everyone was too focused on her rapping to…
EA: Yeah, it really…
AN: …to pay attention.
EA:…it really became that. I like that this is coming right after “I Deserve It” because it is also a little bit about trying to figure out how to validate yourself, and trying to figure out who you are. “Don’t know who I’m supposed to be” is a lyric that will live with me forever, absolutely forever. I know in our conversation, I recalled the story about like changing what I looked like all the time. And as I mentioned before, it’s why I chose “Dress You Up” so early, because it was, in retrospect, there just has never been a musical artist that I have connected with on that level like her, ever. And it’s extremely rare to do that. It’s when you cannot find validation within yourself and you can find it outside through somebody else’s as inspiration..there are just fewer things, more powerful than that to me. And I just, I loved revisiting this when we did and the conversation, and I still think that it is just a landmark song for her.
AN: Yeah. That’s beautiful. Yeah. I love it. And I love how much it means to you.
EA: It’s yeah.
AN: Yeah. It’s very emotional and I’m glad so many emotional ballads made your list. I think it’s very exciting to see that.
EA: I think part of it is weirdly because of the time period that we’re in right now, I think there is so much introspection that we are doing because we’re kind of forced to do it now.
AN: Yeah, I agree. I agree. And that’s why I think I’m listening to Ray of Light more than any of her albums. So, okay, so next after “Rescue Me,” I went with “Let It Will Be,” which is that a surprising choice? Confessions is so hard to choose from because it’s fantastic and there’s so many possibilities, but there’s something about this song that I just really love. I think the production, the strings, I love the lyrics. I love, when you talked about how she often sings about fame and it’s something that very few people can sing about in the way that she can. And I think this idea of like her telling us about the experience of her success and her fame, in very emotional dance music is incredible.
And because the way that I designed my album is to end with a very long string of ballads. I felt like, “Let It Will Be,” was the perfect transition to that because it’s really like saying, “Okay, I’ve taken you to the dance floor. I’ve done my Art Pop. I sung about motivation. And now I’m going to tell you about success and about fame and about the vulnerability of that experience.” And so, for me, it’s really a transition into that.
EA: Oh, I love that. I love it. It is a surprising pick, I guess, because when I went to Confessions, I was trying to I’m like, “Am I going to go obvious? Am I going to pick “Isaac?” Which I feel like is a song that, and that we had that conversation, I feel like nobody likes this song. I love the song.
AN: I love the song. I love the song. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t like that amazing song.
EA: It’s a great song. It has that, just that whirling dervish element of it like “Bedtime Story,” and I’m just like, “Oh my God, I love this damn song.”
AN: So, wait, what did you pick because you’re on Confessions now.
EA: I’m on Confessions, buuut I went obvious and I went with “Hung Up” because, again, this is actually the song that breaks up this little period right here of introspection songs that she’s got and songs that are about what’s going on for her. But hung up kind of is a little bit too, because she was really licking her wounds from American Life, and it was such a sales failure for her. And then she comes back with Confessions, which just sold millions and millions of copies, but it was also looking at it from the outside people, her fans, were just not ready for something like American Life.
And they were like, “That’s great, Madonna. What we really want is dance songs from you.” And this is, and I like both, but my love of this song is relentless. I think I also partially picked it because I think it deserved better than it got in the United States. It’s still the world record holder for being number one in the most countries in world, still.
AN: Wow, I did not know that!
AN: That is incredible, but not the United States.
EA: No it only hit number seven.
AN: I know.
EA: It doesn’t make any sense. I think the use of ABBA was great because she didn’t do a whole lot of sampling. So this was a really unique thing. I detailed just sort of a little bit of my personal memory of ABBA in our conversation because my mom would play ABBA all the time when I was really young, so it was really my first memory of music. And so to introduce this song with it and this album with it just was like, it was nostalgia for me, as well as just being just a goddamn, incredible disco song.
AN: It’s amazing. And, for me, the ABBA of it all also it’s like a passing of the torch because ABBA, especially at that point, they weren’t letting a lot of people sample or cover their music. And so it really did feel like the natural kind of heiress to their perfect pop dance, music throne. I mean, I love that, that’s so much, but it’s really Madonna. I mean, she’s just the queen when it comes to that kind of music and continuing that tradition. So it was wonderful.
Okay. So now after “Let it Will Be,” I begin my ballad section and we have some overlap, so I have “Bad Girl” and yeah, I mean, look, I think “Bad Girl,” it’s funny because I didn’t know how much people like the song, I guess, until recently where I feel like everyone seems to just talk about the song a lot more than I remember, because it wasn’t… I mean, I was always obsessed with this song. I loved the music videos so much. I loved, I think like many young people of my generation I went through my phase of like partying a little too much and flirting with self-destruction. I think the song really kind of captures that feeling of going out, and maybe not treating yourself as well as you should be treating yourself and then kicking yourself a little bit, but then doing it again.
And the song really, really captures that. And she performed it on SNL, which I actually got to go to as a young kid, which was wild to see her in that tiny little room playing a song I think she has never played live elsewhere. So it’s just a song that means a lot to me. And I wasn’t aware that it had the following it did because it didn’t do very well at the time it was for her. I can’t remember where it charted, but I remember it being very low and being very angry at that time. Like when you’re young and you actually care deeply. I guess I still care, but not the way I used to, but “Bad Girl” to me was like, “Well this has to be a massive hit, right? It’s like so good.” And then like, nobody gives a shit about it and you’re like, “Wait, what?”
So, yeah. So to me it just felt like it had to be there. And I think again, it’s a song that like really very few people at that time would have sung or could have convincingly sung, but you really believed that Madonna was experiencing what she was singing about in Erotica, that she was going to like deeper places in terms of exploring herself, and singing about them. And I loved that.
EA: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And she really deserves all the credit for making David Fincher a name. I’m just saying.
AN: No, she doesn’t and Fincher, I don’t know if it was recently or if it was a long time ago, but I felt like there were a lot of people sharing, like things he said recently about her about how she was his muse in many ways. And there was an amazing clip of her going around where somebody asks her, if she’s looking for her Von Sternberg,,,
AN: …if she’s like, in terms of Dietrich Von Sternberg. And she says, “Well, I kind of have that with David Fincher.” And I want someone to like write a whole book about their relationship because I mean, he is a just notorious perfectionist.
Everyone I know who has either worked with him or knows someone who worked with him. I mean, he is like just supposed to be like the most hardworking perfectionist out there as a filmmaker. And obviously we all know that Madonna as a pop star is a perfectionist. I mean, maybe Beyonce matches her, I think in terms of going for that level. But I mean, imagine Madonna and Fincher, like what conversations were had, what battles were had, the creative vision being laid out. I mean, I would love to know more.
EA: I kept imagining what they could do together on a feature film if they didn’t kill each other because it would be incredible.
AN: I dream about that. Well, it’s not too late.
EA: I know.
AN: It’s not too late. And it’s certainly not too late for him to do another video with her at the very least. I mean, that would be an incredible reunion.
EA: I would love that collaboration to come back.
AN: Yes. Okay. So, what do you have next? More Hard Candy.
EA: Next up is Hard Candy and I chose “Miles Away.”
AN: Oh, that’s a great song.
EA: Because this is I’m going back into the introspective and the vulnerable personal life type of songs for her. This is post Rocco’s birth and the disillusion of her marriage to Guy Ritchie, which happened like just after this song was released. Ouch. And again, this is, I know a lot of the songs that you have picked are coming from a personal place too. And I almost don’t know how we can do this without that, and this song absolutely was that. I talked about the whole, “you always have the biggest heart when we’re 6,000 miles apart” moment, because in the very early stages of my relationship to the man I’m married to now, it was a very long distance cross country relationship.
And the concept of absence makes the heart grow fonder is a very nice way to say it, but it doesn’t really encapsulate the sadness of it as well. And that I would find myself not being extra nice, but being nicer because I felt like something was missing. And for this, that’s obviously my interpretation and my feelings, but it’s not really, I mean, the song is more about that, that separation is what really caused a rift. And I was trying to come at this from is this separation of rift or is this separation a test of where we are in our relationship.
AN: Right, but the song captures that. And I think that’s, yeah, I agree. It’s a great, great song. It captures that feeling. And so many of us understand that feeling, and it’s beautiful, the melody is beautiful. She sings it so well.
EA: Yeah. And another guitar song, it’s a little bit of Spanish and just kind of getting, it’s hitting all the little things that she likes to do, and did in this era. So yeah. I love it.
AN: Okay. So next after “Bad Girl, I have Love Tried to Welcome Me and I definitely felt like Bedtime Stories was one of the hardest albums for me to choose from. It’s definitely one of my favorites. It’s one of the ones that I feel like I listened to the most, that I go back to the most. And it’s also, I think to me, one of her most consistent. It’s really just, every single song is amazing. And like you said, there’s a variety of moods. There’s “Human Nature” is amazing. It’s like there’s … “Secret” to me just undeniable. It also for me, had the best remixes she’s ever released. So, I was tempted to go and pick one of the remixes from the era. But ultimately, I think for me, what makes that particular album so special is that, there are these ballads on it that just break my heart and feel so low and vulnerable and I can still just … I don’t know, I can just feel that feeling I felt when I first heard them.
That she was exposing a new side of herself to us and “Love Tried To Welcome Me” is the quintessential one of those. It’s just so moody and it speaks I think to a loneliness at her core, which I think a lot of us can identify with and that she would explore a lot more in future albums. But at that point to me, it felt very revealing and it still stands out to me among her ballads as one of the most moving.
EA: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I love it. This is a very emotional part of this for both of us.
AN: Yeah, and it’s funny-
EA: Revisiting ballads and I’m in an introspective section of her career as well.
AN: Yeah. So what do you have? You’re on MDMA.
EA: I’m on MDNA, which is an album that I really love. And I toyed around with what I was going to pick because I love “Girl Gone Wild.” I am forever apologist for “Turn Up the Radio.” Always, always, always, always.
AN: Yes, I’m well aware. (laughs)
But I went for “Falling Free” because I think it might be her best vocals ever. She sings to a point where you can almost feel like her voice is going to crack or she’s going to break at any moment. It’s so right on the edge. And this is coming after at least on my list and timewise a little bit after “Miles Away.” So she’s looking at this relationship with … “we’re both free, free to go.” Oh my God, there isn’t, I don’t think a more mature moment in a relationship when you can acknowledge that it’s done and in a way that is not a blame game anymore, and that it is just a resolution. And that’s what this is. The song is that. And then of course that whole last minute and a half, it’s like…
AN: Yeah, it just like soars.
EA: It’s unmatched and I love it so much.
AN: Well, you know that I love that song so much. So that is a beautiful choice. So for mine after “Love Tried To Welcome Me.” I go “To Have And Not To Hold” and this is just a very aching part of my album. It’s very painful. And there’s something about the Ray Of Light also, just so hard to choose from. My God, it’s an embarrassment of riches, but again this song for me personally, just, it moves me. I don’t know what else to say. It just feels very, very intimate and vulnerable. And I think it’s a lyric that I can really identify with. It’s very deeply and the song means a lot to me. And I love the meaning of it has changed for me as I’ve become a parent myself. When it came out, I was very young. I was just finishing up college. And I think I read the song more as a song about maybe a year before romantic love.
But then as you become a parent and you really start to understand that dynamic of both loving a child, but also meeting to let them be free and build their own identity. And it’s like, I don’t know. There’s something about that song in particular that feels like it’s coming from just this very complex, emotional place that you can bring different things to it. So I love it.
EA: That’s a really good deep cut.
AN: It’s a great deep cut. And at that era, that’s what I was saying. The ’90s and the early 2000s, it’s like every deep cut is perfect. (laughing) It’s not a bad song you could pick. Not many and the other ones, but those are just some masterpieces in a row.
EA: Yeah. Okay. We’re entering Rebel Heart. And this is where I cheated and you’re going to hate me.
AN: (gasps) Oh, what did you do?
EA: I cheated big time with this.
AN: Did you choose something from the Super Deluxe?
EA: Oh, worse. I chose a demo.
AN: Okay. Interesting. Which one? [the shaaaade here, valid]
EA: I chose the demo version of “Wash All Over Me.”
AN: Interesting, okay.
EA: As we end this with the last two, I wanted to pull out of the ballad introspection and move into where this curated album began. And that is with dance and with movement and the demo version of “Wash All Over Me” is such an incredible, insane early ’90s inspired just New York dance masterpiece. It’s amazing. I think it is such a fun, fantastic song. And it’s so strangely diametrically opposed to the one that ended up on the album. But I know it’s a cheat. I know that it is.
AN: Well, I accept it.
AN: I actually and I think we discussed I prefer album version, but I do like the demo too. And I just love the song. I think lyrically it’s gorgeous and personal and sweeping. And I think there are … what I really don’t understand about Rebel Heart is why some of those demos weren’t cleaned up and released as remixes. Release a vinyl for one of the singles and put “Wash All Over Me” and “Rebel Heart” demo on it.
AN: Because remixes, and then everyone’s happy.
EA: I would never stop playing it.
AN: Yeah, absolutely.
Okay. So two songs to go for me, my second to last song is a song you know, I’m obsessed with, and I know you don’t like that much it’s “Masterpiece.” Obviously, I love “Falling Free” too. So it was between those two songs on MDNA for me. But “Masterpiece” to me is, maybe this is a controversial statement. I think it’s the best song of her last four albums. I think it is just, I love it so much. I think it’s emotional and specific. And I think it’s melodically just like enchanting and I have yet to see the movie that it’s associated with. And I think the reason that I will not watch it … it’s funny, because there were a bunch of Madonna movies I hadn’t seen.
I’m much more invested in her music and I’ve watched a few of them in quarantine. I finally watched Swept Away and I finally watched Shanghai Surprise, which I had never seen.
EA: Oh yeah, it’s on HBO Max.
AN: It’s on HBO Max. But I don’t think I want to watch W.E. even though I’ve heard it’s good. And I think one of the reasons I don’t want to watch it is I just want “Masterpiece” to be mine. I don’t want to associate “Masterpiece” with the story that it’s associated with in the film, because I bring a lot of my own story to it. And when I listen to those lyrics and to me, it very much falls in line with “To Have And Not To Hold.” It’s something that I think she speaks about so well, that idea of loving someone and yet them sometimes feeling a little far from you at the same time and that push and pull that I think is just very human. And yeah, I just think it’s a really beautiful song.
EA: It is. I love that. I love it. And you don’t need to see the movie to enjoy the song.
AN: No. And sometimes when you do see a song or especially if you hear a song for the first time and with the movie it’s associated with, it’s hard to get that out of your head. You just think of the song, you think of the characters in the movie when you hear the song and I don’t necessarily want that to happen here.
EA: That is absolutely fair. Okay. Well, this closes my album and it’s from Madame X, obviously, which came out a year ago. And this is our freshest conversation that we had and it was an incredibly difficult choice, because I think there are just so many amazing songs on this, but I wanted to keep in line, like I said, by using dance and keeping that tempo up, but doing it also with a sense of responsibility in the era that Madonna is now, which is extremely politically active, even if it’s not always with the best results, but I have chosen “God Control” to close my album.
AN: I mean, yes.
EA: I mean. Come on.
AN: That is quite a closing song. Wow. What a way to go. What a way to close an album.
EA: It is, even though it’s 2019, it is disco era amazingness and goes right to her pre-New York days. And it is also, as we talked about with “Into the Groove,” it represents the idea of a dance floor being the safe haven, but it no longer is. And I don’t think that she is in a place now where she will ever ignore what is happening politically, because she never really has been. She’s always been an artist that addresses social issues very upfront, but this era is a much more politically driven era too. And I could have chosen, “I Don’t Search I Find,” or “I Rise,” which are both just also wonderful songs. “I Don’t Search I Find,” I think is one of her best dance tracks in years.
AN: Yeah. It’s great. But there is something that feels right in your track listing about “God Control.” You’ve taken the listener on this journey, you’re going back to dance, but it’s a different form of dance. It’s now a dance record that is really overtly looking at the politics. So it is, there is a real evolution there.
EA: It is. It’s a dance song of political action and that’s a very new world for her and it is also the best song on the album.
AN: I think so too. Well, I chose to … I will reveal with my final choice that we were both wrong in terms of how many we share. We have to share more than either of us thought. (laughing) My album closes with “Live To Tell.”
EA: Ahhhh yessss.
AN: Which was, I will say for me, it was in some ways an obvious choice because I just love it so much that I think it’s just … I can’t even talk about how much I like. I went very in depth on this one in our album conversation, but it was painful not to choose “Open Your Heart.” I will say, which I also think is a landmark Madonna track that just has so much energy and meaning.
But ultimately I chose “Live To Tell,” I think it is possibly her best ballad. I felt like I wanted it in at the end of the string of ballads. I also wanted it at the end of the album, because, well, again, by the way, I haven’t seen the movie it’s associated with, which I’m very happy about because as you know, from our previous discussion on True Blue, I really bring my own experience of the song. And the song always felt to me like it was speaking directly to me in terms of what so many people feel in terms of their own mortality. But certainly what many of us felt growing up when AIDS was at its worst and feeling very vulnerable and feeling like we not live to tell our stories, especially at a time when I didn’t know if I would ever even be out of the closet.
And so that whole concept of living to tell it’s to me, it touches on two things that I think are so important to her and to me and the reason that I care so much about her, which are one just the idea of survive or the idea of rising up, no matter what kicks you down, which is in that word live.
But then in the word, tell it’s the idea of not just surviving, but actually telling your story of the power of giving voice to people who were not being given a platform at that time. And we see that happening again now. And I think Madonna has always done that. She’s been that, she’s done that, she’s shined a light on different people. And so I think the reason I wanted it to close the album is because I think as an ending song, the message it’s sending is we need to keep living to tell, we need to keep surviving, telling our stories. And I can’t think of other message that encapsulates to me what Madonna represents more than that.
EA: That’s beautiful. I think it’s a wonderful interpretation of that song, of that moment too. If you were a queer person in the ’80s, you did not know if you were going to live long enough to have a life to even maybe come out to anybody other than yourself.
AN: Yeah, no, absolutely. And you didn’t think … even as far as when I started my career as a writer, which was really the early 2000s, I didn’t think I would ever get to tell my own stories. For the first 10 years of my career, as a screenwriter, people were just saying, cut all the gay characters. And if I wrote a script about Iranian people, it would be like, make them white. And even much deeper into my life the idea of getting to … the first step is really just making it through.
We didn’t think we would survive, but then the second step is, who’s going to let us actually tell our stories and speak and share things. And I think it’s just … I don’t know, it’s just a song that … again, I know it was written for a movie. I don’t even know what the movie is about. I’ve never seen it, but it’s just a song that creates a whole narrative for me. And I know it’s a beloved song. I think a lot of people love and respect it and I don’t understand how in fuck that song, didn’t win an Academy Award if it was in a movie, because it’s just … could you imagine if that song was in a movie now? I feel like now people would take it a lot more seriously, but then again, the reason people would take it more seriously is because of Madonna. Because she opened doors for women making pop music to be taken more seriously.
It’s hard to imagine to me that it’s songs like “Live To Tell” and they’re Like a Prayer album, really won no, prestigious awards from the music industry.
EA: Yeah. It took her a long time to get there in that regard which has always been pretty unfair.
AN: It has, but then she opened doors and I think the world is better for that.
EA: Yeah. We’re doing this as a special episode bonus element, it’s going to be right on the cusp of her birthday coming on 16th. And then of course of the remix with Dua Lipa on the 14th.
AN: The “Levitating” remix!
EA: I cannot wait for that.
AN: I can’t wait for that. It will be very interesting to me. Obviously I hope that it’s fantastic because I think these collaborations that have become all the rage in the music industry, sometimes work really well and sometimes they just really don’t.
AN: And I think that they’ve become these plays, I think for chart dominance where you just get all the fans to … number one, I hope it’s really good, but I’m also really interested in a world where Madonna has largely stepped away from care. Not, I think she cares about charts and success, but she clearly doesn’t chase it. I think she would like people to like her work, but I don’t think she made Madame X with any illusion. That she was making music that was designed for the billboard hot 100. But this I think is a real test of whether the world of charts really is a world that she will exist in because it’s major. It’s her endure and missy and it’s a major moment.
AN: So I’m just excited to see what the response to it is.
EA: Yeah, I am too. And it doesn’t feel like chart chasing because Dua lipa has already been vocal about Madonna being such an inspiration for this element for her career. So it seems like more of a natural collaboration than an orchestrated one.
AN: Yeah, it does. And honestly, I think I like a lot of collaborations that Madonna has done unlike some people I know don’t, but I think she has actually made some really interesting choices and songs with her collaborators. And I think there are a lot of people that I would love her to collaborate with that I’m surprised she hasn’t. I think looking forward there are so many people who cite her as one of their major influences that she hasn’t worked with yet.
And I think it would be really exciting. I want to see her work with Ariana Grande. I think that would be fantastic. I know a lot of people will disagree, but I would love to see your work with Lady Gaga. I think that when two artists are so clearly aligned in so many ways. Let’s see what happens. I wouldn’t think of that as chart chasing either. I would just think of it as like, Madonna is imperial at this point, she opened the doors that all of these other musicians step through. The one I dream about is a Beyonce collaboration. Because I really do think in many ways, Beyonce is the person who has most perfected making, political pop art, the way Madonna did. But these are all dreams.
EA: They are. You mentioned that we aligned more than either of us thought in the chronological version.
EA: So we had seven that we agreed on.
EA: Six of them are in a row.
AN: Oh, that’s so interesting.
EA: “Into Groove,” “Live to Tell,” “Over and Over,” “Like a Prayer” and “Bad Girl.”
EA: Isn’t that wild? So if we had done both chronological, it would have looked a little funny.
AN: Well, I think that, that means we would have gotten along even better than we already do in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
EA: Oh my God. We would have been-
AN: Why didn’t we meet then?
EA: I know. We would have been at the hip, my goodness.
AN: This was so fun.
EA: I feel like I’m so glad we did an audio version this time.
AN: Yeah, me too.
Here are the complete track lists for our curated albums with covers and titles!
LIKE A LOVE STORY tracklist
- Like a Prayer
- Rebel Heart
- Paradise (Not For Me)
- God Control
- Nobody Knows Me
- Into The Groove (Bonus track)
- Vogue (Bonus track)
- Give it 2 Me
- Burning Up
- Over and Over
- Rescue Me (Bonus track)
- Let It Will Be
- Bad Girl
- Love Tried To Welcome Me
- To Have and Not To Hold
- Live to Tell
- Dress You Up
- Into the Groove (Bonus track)
- Live to Tell
- Over and Over (Bonus track – You Can Dance version)
- Like a Prayer
- Vogue (Bonus track)
- Bad Girl
- Human Nature
- Drowned World/Substitute for Love
- I Deserve It
- X-Static Process
- Hung Up
- Miles Away
- Falling Free
- Wash All Over Me (demo version)
- God Control
Don’t forget to revisit the studio album conversations from ‘Madonna’ to ‘Madame X.’