The Rundown: Essential Madonna

Above (clockwise): Video screencaps from Madonna's Like A Prayer, Papa Don't Preach, Vogue and Don't Tell Me music videos
Above (clockwise): Video screencaps from Madonna's Like A Prayer, Papa Don't Preach, Vogue and Don't Tell Me music videos

When Billboard put together its list of the Top Artists of All-Time for its 50th Anniversary collection in July 2008, Madonna ranked second, behind The Beatles.

Love her, hate her or feel completely indifferent about her, there is no denying that Madonna Louise Ciccone has been making hits and kicking ass for quite some time, and the 56-year-old shows now real signs of stopping. “The Material Girl” released her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, earlier this week and though she’s not the same perennial chart-topper she was in her heyday, you’ve got to give Madonna props for the hustle she’s shown promoting the album and performing the lead single, “Living for Love,” in recent months.

As a tribute to “The Queen of Pop,” it’s only fitting that we hit you up with some essential selections for making your very own Madonna mixtape.

Note: when you’re dealing with an artist that has as extensive a catalogue as Madonna, picking just 10 songs is impossible without leaving really killer tracks off the list. Yes, this is a pre-emptive strike against the inevitable “But what about…” comments that will come. There are easily 10 more songs that could have made this list; we just couldn’t include them all.

Into the Groove

This is the quintessential Madonna club jam and a highpoint for ’80s synth pop. It’s pretty much perfect, even though it’s pretty light and fluffy compared to some of the lyrical content and subject matter Madonna covered later in her career. From the Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack and later the Like a Virgin re-issue, this is the kind of energetic classic that makes for a good first track on any mixtape.

Hung Up

“The key to a good mixtape…” As Nick Hornby’s lead character in High Fidelty taught up, the second song on your mixtape is crucial – it needs to be an elevation from the song that batted lead-off and as much as Madonna’s newer stuff doesn’t resonnate as much as her earlier works, “Hung Up” is too damn infectious to pass up. Sampling ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” which starts out sounding like it’s being played underwater before building to full force sucks you in and this throwback to her earlier dancefloor days is actually her most successful worldwide single.

Express Yourself

The mark of a great track is whether it can give you goosebumps every time you hear it and even though this song is 25 years old, hearing Madonna call out, “C’mon girls. Do you believe in love” still triggers that same reaction today. This was linergie-and-business suit, but still busting a move Madonna and it is still a phenomenal song, plus the live performance from the 1989 MTV Music Awards features some awesome late ’80s dance moves.

Like A Prayer

This is peak Madonna. It doesn’t get better that this. If you want one song that represents “The Queen of Pop,” this is the one. Controversial for its lyrics and video, “Like A Prayer” is a powerhouse record. You can’t not sing along to it when it comes on; the choir sucks you in. This was also the turning point from “Madonna, Pop Star” to “Madonna, Bad Ass Businesswomen Who Gives Zero (BLEEPS)!”

Vogue

You can’t do a Madonna mixtape and not include “Vogue.” There doesn’t need to be any more explanation beyond that. Fun fact: the hit video was directed by David Fincher. Yes, that David Fincher.

Don’t Tell Me

You know who can fuse country and dance and trip-hop into one and make it really, really good? Madonna, that’s who. The stutter-stop guitar riff that carries this song gets stuck in your head for days, and jeans-and-Cowboy couture Madonna writhing in the dirt and dust for the video was a reminder that Madonna was still one of the sexiest women on the planet.

Papa Don’t Preach

Back in the day, there just weren’t pop songs about unexpected pregnancy and fighting with your parents over whether or not to keep the unborn child. For all the grief Madonna has taken over the years for some of her lyric content and risque videos, she pushed the boundaries and talked about real issues while her male counterparts in pop music were mostly lamenting love lost or gushing about their girl.

Live To Tell

For all the fun, upbeat, dance tracks Madonna has put out over the years, some of her best efforts have been the stripped down, vulnerable ballads and this might be the best of the bunch. This is a raw, emotional track that deals with issues from her childhood, while the video featured the first of many “re-inventions” as the “Dance Pop Princess” look was replaced with a toned down, more conversative looking Madonna.

Crazy For You

It’s crazy to think that this classic was the lead single for the Vision Quest soundtrack, but that’s where it was first found. “Crazy for You” was really the first time Madonna showed she was capable of more than bouncy, dance pop and she proved it and then some with this one. If you’re of a certain age, you slow-danced to this song at some kind of chaperoned function.

Take A Bow

“The show is over, say goodbye.”

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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