The Immaculate Collection — Afterbirth! : Madonna’s Lost Early Singles
Ok, gross title. Allow.
Madonna has a whopping 83 singles to her name. In some shape or form, at least 83 songs with her name attached have impacted radios, televisions, and modern-day streaming services across the globe without the listeners having to go out and buy an album of hers. Her singles are staples of culture, foundations of pop music discourse — burst into “Life is a misssteeereeee” or “I made it through the wilderness” and whoever you’re with will pick up the next line. The word iconic is not an overstatement when it comes to Like A Prayer, Material Girl, Papa Don’t Preach, Hung Up, Like A Virgin, Lucky Star…I could go on. But a sizeable amount of Madonna singles didn’t have the same impact. What of the “lost” Madonna singles? The ones that aren’t remembered by the general public? The ones that aren’t, and likely never will be immortalised in Greatest Hits collections? These are the songs she generally pays dust, but are worth another listen.
Angel (from Like A Virgin), 1985
Oh Angel. A song that reached the top 10 in the UK, the US and number 1 in Australia. Why is it listed here? Well…some have attributed the success of the song at the time with the fact that the B-Side of the 12" single was a little song called Into The Groove. Yes, that Into The Groove, possibly one of M’s defining songs and certainly most well-known. In the years since Angel’s release, it has been largely forgotten, never performed by Madonna since, never given a video and not included on any compilations, despite it’s technical success. Overshadowed by Into The Groove it may have been, it’s a gorgeous, glistening song in its own right, chock-full of propulsive energy from that attention-commanding opening and was actually intended to be the lead single, instead of Like A Virgin. It was best received down under, reaching no.1 in Australia and no.2 in New Zealand, but did pretty well the world over, due to it’s more popular “sister”! 9/10
Gambler (From The Vision Quest Soundtrack), 1985
One that even diehards might not know about, this is virtually nonexistent, completely unable to be purchased on any digital platform, only available on an out-of-print CD version of the soundtrack for this similarly forgotten film. It’s kinda cool, it has attitude, but even as what pop fans would dub a “Stan” (think Eminem, if that phrase confuses you…) of Madonna, I haven’t bothered to obtain a copy. Decent curio, but worse than any album cuts from the era, so I can see how it ended up lost in time. Again, did weirdly well across Europe, reaching no.4 in my native UK. Keep it. 4/10
The Look Of Love (From The Who’s That Girl? Soundtrack), 1987
(God, I will never be on-board with 1987donna. It went full-tilt Golden Girls.)
A third single from a soundtrack album was never destined to fare well, though it charted decently around Europe, despite having no true video. A severely underrated, haunting track, written alongside the legendary Patrick Leonard and inspired, in Madonna’s words, by a look James Stewart gives Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (So…pervy). This is just one of dozens of inspiration Madonna would take from classic film. I once heard this (and saw some ropey fanmade video on the monitor) played in a Wetherspoons in Kingston-Upon-Thames. Maybe it’s fondly remembered there? 9/10
Spotlight (From You Can Dance), 1988
The only new track to be found on the (excellent, by the way) dance mix compilation, You Can Dance, Spotlight was also the only song Madonna released during the “dark time to be a fan” (aka 1988). Known amongst the fandom for being the first year she didn’t have a major single/album release, no one really knew what she was cooking up (it would be the career-catapulting, defining, culture-changing Like A Prayer the next year). The industry and its stars weren’t like those of today. Constant “promo” via Instagram videos of stars walking their dogs to remind flakey fans they still existed weren’t a “thing”. Oh. The song. It’s a bop, inspired by Sly & The Family Stone’s Everybody Is A Star (which she would cover in 1993 for her Girlie Show tour). Not one you’ll remember much about, but those opening synths get me grooving. Come through, getting to no.3 on the Japanese International Singles chart! The sorely overlooked B-side, Where’s The Party (Extended Mix) remains the best thing this “hold-over” era, however. 7/10
Dear Jessie (From Like A Prayer, 1989)
The first video on the list to receive a proper video! Ok, she’s still not in it, and it’s animated. But still. Madonna’s last single of the 80’s (released December 1989, and the single is suitably christmassy I suppose) is a strange anomaly, but not exactly bad. It’s probably her NICEST single (as it’s aimed at kids? I think). It suffers for being part of such an important and radical pop album, and seeming so lightweight. In the context of the parent record, it segues into one of her greatest and most raw ballads, Oh Father, lending Dear Jessie some more thematic weight. Childhood dreams etc. Its pretty. But to me, it’s just the necessary intro to Oh Father. Henry Life Fact: My ex told me he once planned a Madonna musical entitled Dear Jessie. A cute idea. I just don’t go to Madge for…cute. I don’t do cute, I do drop dead gorgeous. Something something Alyssa Edwards. Once again, the UK and Ireland were loving these odd singles, peaking at 5 and 3 in each region respectively. 5/10
Keep It Together (From Like A Prayer), 1990
From last 80’s single to first 90’s single! Not posting the single mix as, despite being a song I never loved, the performance on the Blond Ambition tour (y’know, the tour that spawned a record-breaking film and the show that would be the foundation for pop music theatricality from thereon out?) is incredible and totally sells me on the song in that context. It is a funky song and the mixes found on the 12" single were much punchier than the one found within the album, to give credit where it’s due. The late, great Prince (❤) played uncredited guitar on this track, much like the rest of the album. But just watch the slightly surreal Bob Fosse-inspired performance above. Take it in. No one had done anything like this at the time. The interpolation of Family Affair, the chanting of the hook endlessly at the end…awesome stuff from a star at her first of many peaks. Chart-wise, the song was a decent hit in the US and Australia, where it went to no.1. Us in the UK never got the single, instead stuck with bloody Dear Jessie. 8.5/10
Hanky Panky (From I’m Breathless), 1990
Oh. My. Glob. I forgot how incredible this is. I’m Breathless was the soundtrack album to the flop film Dick Tracy, but is essentially a Madonna concept album. Concept? 1940’s-show-tune-femme-fatale (+ Vogue. For the $ale$). This was her first truly racy single, but really so tongue-in-cheek she got away with it. Imagine it with a sultry beat and sung in a more serious manner you have the genesis of Erotica/SEX book era Madonna right here, people. This ditty about loving a spanking was actually a pretty sizeable hit around the world compared to other tracks mentioned, but it had the benefit (and misfortune, in the “fondly remembered” stakes) of being sandwiched between Vogue and Justify My Love, two of her biggest ever hits. The countries that wanted to let everyone know they liked a bit of a light beating of the buttocks? Ireland (No.3), UK (No.2) and…Finland, where this song reached No.1! Did you know (!) that Finland also sent Madonna to no.1 for 8 weeks (!!) with her hit 4 Minutes in 2008? Surely a record for a then-50 year-old woman? Though it’s such a straight-person favourite in her repertoire and honestly if I never heard it again I wouldn’t care. Justin Timberlake is a right knob.
Anyway. Despite sounding a bit like a novelty single, she’s actually performed it across three world tours in some shape or form, as recently as this year, so she clearly quite likes it. Maybe when she curates her final Greatest Hits on her deathbed in 2099, she’ll include it. Queen of spanking through the centuries. It’s undeniably catchy, particularly the Bare Bottom 12" mix.
“Bare Bottom 12 inch”.
Think I’ve seen him on Grindr.