#278 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums Of All Time.
Madonna, in case you hadn't realised, is undoubtedly one of the most important artists in modern music. Responsible for pushing women into musical and cultural territories they hadn't been before (she was the first female star to make real use of the music video, for instance), she was also an immense success (she's got more Top 10 hits in the UK than the Rolling Stones and Beatles combined). She can be considered a female David Bowie, a chameleon ready to change image and tact as often as the tide. And though it can be hard to remember these days, she was also a VERY controversial figure in her heyday.
The Immaculate Collection is an early Greatest Hits album, tracking Madonna from her self-titled debut (sometimes referred to The First Album), to Like A Prayer, and tacking on two singles from just after that period in Justify My Love and Rescue Me.
Propelled by very simple, vaguely-exotic percussion and a ska-lite rhythm guitar, this song is the aural equivalent of a cocktail mixed up in a dodgy Mediterranean-themed bar in the West End of London. It's summery, and fairly pleasant, but it's also immensely mediocre. Madonna is undoubtedly at her best when she's at her edgiest, and this is far too plain.
Lucky Star (2/5)
Precisely more of the same. Really, nothing more can be said. It's a companion to Holiday, and nothing more. You couldn't have picked two worse tracks to kick the compilation off with - except maybe an acappela version of the rap from American Life, I guess.
The third and final offering from 'The First Album'. It's a little better, introducing more advanced music, bolstered backing vocals, and a stronger melody. Still horribly average though.
Like A Virgin (3/5)
That's more like it. Much catchier than the first three tracks, and features a much more confident and sexual vocal performance from Madonna. The feeling you get from this start to the album is of an artist struggling to find a sound and claim it as her own, very early in her career. Which makes sense - the album is ordered chronologically. Has a diluted, vague ska sound.
Material Girl (3/5)
The intro to this always reminds me of Beat It by Michael Jackson. Check it out, you'll understand why. Much like Like A Virgin, it won't change anyone's life nowadays, but it's a solid pop song. One thing that should be noted here is that the sound has changed for lite-ska, to lite-industrial. Seriously.
Crazy For You (3.5/5)
It sounds incredibly 80s, it's a cover version (the original was by Vision Quest)and you're not going to have to serach far for a better ballad from that decade, but never mind that. The melody is the best yet, as is the arrangement. It's something of a departure from the rest of the album so far, and it's a welcome one.
Into The Groove (3.5/5)
The intro is horrid, but the melody is great. The melody's everything in pop, I guess. It's more eminently dancable and more feel-good than anything before. The lyrics are inane, but they're not invasive enough to ruin the song. Not a bad piano solo either. This is Madonna finally finding her sound and making it hers. Or so we thought....
Live To Tell (3/5)
Slower than anything so far, and lent a lethargic, loping feel by the synthesizers. She's clearly experimenting with her sound, bringing in different moods, themes, and deeper lyrics. She adapts to this much quicker than to what came before, that's for sure. Not a Madonna classic, but a solid song.
Papa Don't Preach (4/5)
Begins like an advert for a newspaper, with a string section. This song forms something of a middle ground between Live To Tell and Into The Groove. It's one of Madonna's most famous songs, and rightfully so. The best lyrics of the album so far.
Open Your Heart (3.5/5)
You'll notice that the ratings for every song on this album have been getting progressively higher and higher on a steady curve. The effect Papa Don't Preach has on this album is that the listener expects it to soar into a steady stream of classics. Inevitably, Open Your Heart seems like a disappointment. It's harsh on this song, which isn't bad at all. It's a little too close to Madonna's early style, but it's not as bad as Holiday or its ilk by any means.
La Isla Bonita (4/5)
Much, MUCH better than Holiday. You get the feeling Madonna wasn't happy with that song, and decided to revisit the theme with her new-found musical maturity. She succeeds. It's more convincing, sung with more passion, and to top it off it's got some seriously cool acoustic lead guitar playing. Melody to spare, too.
Like A Prayer (4.5/5)
Best song yet, easily. It feels, in a odd way, a lot less time-locked than everything else on offer here. Musically, it's a thrilling synthesis of the bubblegum pop presented on The First Album and Like A Virgin, and the musical unfurling of Madonna's wings found on True Blue. It's also the first real hint of Madonna's real strength as an artist - the ability to shock and stand out from the crowd. On a side note, the video is hella cool too, and enhances the effect.
Express Yourself (4/5)
So 80s it hurts. The intro really needs to be cut from the song too. But despite that, it's a classic pop song. Energetic, glossy, and blissful. You'll have heard this, trust me, although the title makes it a little difficult to remember the song (I get NWA in my head instead :) ) Interesting fact #1 - Madonna once called this her 'Tribute To Sly & The Family Stone'.
I'll admit, I have something of a personal affinity to this song. Childhood memories, and such things. Anyway, it's a great example of just how pop should be - it's easy to listen to, uplifting, and it gets you moving. Take your 10-minute bass solos and shove em, they're bad for you. I really like the arrangement here too - there are elements of it in my own compositions, even though this is the first time I've really listened to this song in about 6 or 7 years.
So, we've got the album figured out by this point. No, actaully, we haven't. Hearing Vogue is like stepping into a different world. Icy and sexy (though not on the level of the awesome Frozen) with a high-pitched synth drone low in the mix throughout that subtely suggests something is very wrong.
Justify My Love (5/5)
Saving the best for (almost) last here. After the steady upward curve of the album up till this point, this is the climax, as it were. Built over yearning strings and that ever-present Funky Drummer sample, Madonna produces one of the most deeply sexual vocal performances of all time. "Talk to me. Tell me your dreams. Am I in them"" Stunning. Interesting fact #2 - this was produced by Lenny Kravitz.
Rescue Me (4/5)
More of the same as Justify My Love, just not as good. It's a shame that this ends the album rather than Justify My Love, but that's the way it goes, I suppose.
Madonna has gone on from this album to make greater records (Ray Of Light especially), but this remains the best compendium you'll find of her early career. Still, it feels a little more educational than enjoyable, especially for the first half of the album. And though the programming is chronological, it sucks.
If you're a pop fan, you'll want this, but don't make it a priority. Fans of other genres who are looking to expand their horizons are directed to Ray Of Light, and advised to download the song I have rated 4 or over.
Within The Genre - 4/5
Outside The Genre - 2/5