On February 22nd, 1998, Madonna released her seventh studio album: Ray Of Light. I got it as a present for my 32nd birthday on March 14th, 1998, and loved the album. Madonna sang (!) and had recorded a couple of beautiful songs, like the addictive title song.
Time for a look back at the album that enabled Madonna to be taken seriously as an artist.
I clearly remember seeing Holiday for the first time. A very nice song. A very young Madonna play-backed the song and was surrounded by two (male) dancers. She performed with a lot of style and self assurance.
The next Madonna moment I remember vividly was her performance at the MTV Music Awards. It was September 14th, 1984. Stepping out of a wedding cake, Madonna appeared, dressed in a white wedding dress, bustier and her infamous BOY TOY belt. She rolled around on the stage. She performed the song Like A Virgin, which was to be released as a single a month later. Despite the conviction of several arrived stars that this performance was the end of a promising career, it catapulted Madonna to super stardom. For a long time Madonna was able to feel the ‘zeitgeist’ and was two steps ahead of everyone, in terms of trends. She built an impressive and very successful career.
My third recollection is the broadcast of a Madonna live show. On September 4th, 1987, she performed in Turin, Italy. The recordings were shown later that month in The Netherlands, under the moniker Madonna in Concerto. A nice show, but she sang awfully, off-key even…
And then there was Like A Prayer, the song, the video and the album. I thought the album was great (maybe partly because of the Prince duet Love Song) and the following Blond Ambition world tour was awesome. I have a bootleg recording of a show she did in Madrid 1990 (titled All Access). Everything that was wrong about Madonna in Concerto, was corrected now. A highly capable band, Madonna’s voice held up beautifully and the childish scenery had vanished completely. The subsequent movie In Bed With Madonna was a report on her tour. A unique insight into her world.
From then on it all became less interesting or fun, in my view anyway. Albums like Erotica and Bedtime Stories didn’t captivate me. It seemed as if the connection to ‘today’ had disappeared.
But, let’s not forget the impressive, almost endless, stream of hits:
Holiday, Like A Virgin, Material Girl, Crazy For You, Into the Groove, Dress You Up, Gambler, Borderline, Live To Tell, Papa Don’t Preach, True Blue, Open Your Heart, La Isla Bonita, Who’s That Girl, Causing A Commotion, The Look Of Love, Like A Prayer, Express Yourself, Cherish, Oh Father, Dear Jessie, Vogue, Hanky Panky, Justify My Love, Rescue Me, This Used To Be My Playground, Erotica, Deeper And Deeper, Rain, I’ll Remember, Secret, Take A Bow, You’ll See and Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
N.B.: Above titles refer to the singles released in The Netherlands, in chronological order, up to 1998.
Leading up to Ray Of Light
In 1996 Madonna’s dream came true. She was selected to play the part of Eva Perón in the musical/movie Evita. Until then, her movie career wasn’t particularly successful (even though her role in Desperately Seeking Susan was very nice). She took her new part extremely serious, followed singing lessons and immersed herself in the history of Argentina and the Perón family. Her performance was highly rated. She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her role in the movie.
That same year she gave birth to her first child: daughter Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon.
Madonna went ‘in search for herself’. She studied Kabbalah, Hinduism and yoga. In her own words, it provided her with new insights and a different view on the world. At the same time, she got convinced that a large part of her voice hadn’t been fully put to use, and she was about to do just that on her next album.
Ray Of Light
In May of 1997, Madonna started work on her new album. She commenced working with producer Babyface, but the first results weren’t to her satisfaction and didn’t point in the direction she wanted to go.
She next worked with musician Rick Nowels. They produced seven songs in nine days, but, again, not the direction she was looking for. Next up was Patrick Leonard. Once again, no luck. Finally, British electronic musician William Orbit was contacted. It clicked.
They presented their musical ideas to each other and that inspired (the both of them to write) a large number of songs that were good enough to be on the album. Over a period of 4½ months the album was recorded at the Larrabee North Studio in North Hollywood, California.
The end result is great. Ray Of Light was completely different from anything else Madonna had ever released before. It is her most diverse and intimate album yet. Dance oriented electronic music, containing elements of house, ambient, trip hop, drum and bass, rock and new-wave. The singing lessons for Evita paid off. Madonna’s voice is spot-on, sounding warm and natural.
Lyrically it’s her best yet, also. The album immediately start off with a top song: Drowned World/Substitute For Love is based on J.G. Ballard’s post-apocalyptic novel The Drowned World. Beautiful reflective lyrics:
I traded fame for love
Without a second thought
It all became a silly a game
Some things cannot be bought
I got exactly what I asked for
Wanted it so badly
Running, rushing back for more
I suffered fools so gladly
And now I find
I’ve changed my mind
© Madonna, 1998
It’s followed by top song number 2. In Swim, Madonna sings about her new outlook on the world: Swim to the ocean floor / So that we can begin again / Wash away all our sins / Crash to the other shore. Rumor has it that Madonna recorded her vocals on the same day her friend and fashion-icon Gianni Versace was murdered. Perhaps that’s the reason this song resonates rather convincingly.
And then it’s time for top song number 3: Ray Of Light. An extremely good song, released as the second single and exemplary for the entire album. Great song, great clip. Top!
Top song number 4: Frozen. The album’s leading single and the introduction to the new Madonna look. A stunning video and a great song.
You only see what your eyes want to see
How can life be what you want it to be
When your heart’s not open
You’re so consumed with how much you get
You waste your time with hate and regret
When your heart’s not open
© Madonna, 1998
During the song Madonna repeatedly sighs If I could melt your heart.
Top song number 5: The Power Of Good-Bye is a ballad, on which Madonna truly sings.
Five top songs on a Madonna album. I had never imagined that would happen. I thought (and still think) Madonna’s 1980’s output is highly enjoyable, but this album, next to Like A Prayer, is the second album I truly like. Madonna reinvented herself and some of the results are magnificent.
The album was released on February 22nd, 1998, in Japan only, with an extra song: Has To Be. The USA and Europe followed later. It has become the best selling Madonna album and is regularly named in all sorts of best albums of all time lists.
Lyrics written by Madonna. Music: see table beneath the list of songs.
- Drowned World/Substitute For Love *
- Swim **
- Ray Of Light ***
- Candy Perfume Girl ****
- Skin *****
- Nothing Really Matters *****
- Sky Fits Heaven *****
- Shanti/Ashtangi **
- Frozen *****
- The Power Of Good-Bye ******
- To Have And Not To Hold ******
- Little Star ******
- Mer Girl **
|*||Written by Madonna, William Orbit, Rod McKuen, Anita Kerr and David Collins|
|**||Written by Madonna and William Orbit|
|***||Written by Madonna, William Orbit, Clive Muldoon, Dave Curtiss and Christine Leach|
|****||Written by Madonna, William Orbit and Susannah Melvoin|
|*****||Written by Madonna and Patrick Leonard|
|******||Written by Madonna and Rick Nowels|
After Ray Of Light
After Ray Of Light Madonna released the album Music in 2000. Although it’s a good album, it is considerably less than its predecessor. The tour that followed the album (the Drowned World Tour) was the first tour to contain material from the Ray Of Light album. On May 31st, 2005, she gave a spectacular performance during the benefit show Live 8.
Madonna continues to release albums and she still tours, but her heyday is a long time ago.
What do you think of Madonna’s Ray Of Light? Let me know!
Madonna 1998 image: madonnachartdiary.wordpress.com
Madonna – MTV VMA 1984 image: skipandjans.com
Madonna – Vogue image: discogs.com
Madonna – Ray Of Light image: iheart.com
Madonna – Ray Of Light – videostills image: todayinmadonnahistory.com
Madonna – Frozen – video image: horrornews.net
Madonna – Ray Of Light – promo image: vinylfrontier.com