On October 17 1995, the Marvin Gaye tribute album Inner City Blues: The Music Of Marvin Gaye was released. Compiled and released on Motown Records, the album featured a beautifully poignant remake of the 1976 classic I Want You by Madonna with Massive Attack.
Motown Records had initially brought Massive Attack on board to produce the track before a lead singer had been confirmed. Early plans sought to have Chaka Khan perform vocal duties, but after failing to turn up for the recording session she was swiftly nixed from the project. Aaron Neville was then lined up as a replacement but plans again fell through when contract issues prevented his participation. Producer Nellee Hooper, who had recently produced cuts for Madonna’s Bedtime Stories album, suggested her as a potential choice. Surprisingly, getting Madonna’s vocal contribution involved less red tape and less prima donna behaviour than either previous option.
Massive Attack’s 3D and Hooper flew to New York and spent two days in the studio with Madonna. 3D commented on the recording session in interviews with The Face (Nov/95) and ChannelV TV (Jun/98) respectively:
“She sang it really well, she had it sorted out, you could tell she knew the song, she’d really worked fucking hard on it. Fucking good.”
“It was quite freaky for me because I’m just a Bristol boy. She was singing in my ear as we were playing the music down, giving me her version of it. I wasn’t taking any notice at all really. I was just thinking about how mad it is. She is such an icon it takes you a while to adjust. When she was in the vocal room, it was amazing. We did a few takes just to cover it, but she sang it so well we could have done it in one take. It was that beautiful.”
Madonna was equally impressed with the results of the session, opting to include the song as the opening track on her forthcoming ballads compilation, Something To Remember – and book-ending the set with an orchestral version. Initially planned as a jointly-promoted lead single for both albums, a video was filmed for the song by director Earle Sebastien. While the video was put into rotation on music video channels in early October, plans to release the track as a single were scrapped due to label disagreements between Motown – who insisted on releasing the tribute album several weeks ahead of Something To Remember – and Warner. Perhaps fearing that Warner would withdraw their permission to include Madonna’s vocals on the tribute, Motown wisely ceded to its inclusion on Madonna’s own retrospective. The song was later featured on Massive Attack’s 2006 best-of, Collected.