Today in Madonna History: November 7, 1995

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On November 7 1995, Madonna’s Something To Remember greatest ballad hits collection was released.  The collection was released on different dates in different markets.

Described as a “love letter from Madonna to her fans and music lovers alike” in the album’s liner note, Madonna further explained:

So much controversy has swirled around my career this past decade that very little attention ever gets paid to my music. The songs are all but forgotten. While I have no regrets regarding the choices I’ve made artistically, I’ve learned to appreciate the idea of doing things in a simpler way. So without a lot of fanfare, without any distractions, I present to you this collection of ballads. Some are old, some are new. All of them are from my heart.

Something To Remember included the following songs:

I Want You
I’ll Remember
Take A Bow
You’ll See
Crazy for You
This Used to Be My Playground
Live to Tell
Love Don’t Live Here Anymore (Remix)
Something to Remember
Forbidden Love
One More Chance
Rain
Oh Father
I Want You (Orchestral)

The Japanese release included La Isla Bonita.

The Latin release included Verás the Spanish version of You’ll See.  

Today in Madonna History: October 14, 1993

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On October 14 1993, Rolling Stone magazine featured Madonna (several times) in an article featuring The 100 Top Music Videos.

Rolling Stone included the following Madonna music videos: Express Yourself at #10, Like A Prayer at #20, Borderline at #24, Vogue at #28, Justify My Love at #43 and Oh Father at #66 – Madonna had more videos on the list than any other artist or group.

Today in Madonna History: September 29, 2009

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On September 29 2009, Madonna and Warner Bros. released Celebration: The Video Collection.  The greatest videos DVD collection accompanied the Celebration greatest hits collection.

Celebration: The Video Collection continued on from Madonna’s other video compilations The Immaculate Collection and The Video Collection 93:99.

Celebration: The Video Collection debuted at the top of the Billboard Top Music Videos chart.  It was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipment of 100,000 copies across United States.

The cover for Celebration: The Video Collection was created by street pop artist Mr. Brainwash who is best known for “throwing modern cultural icons into a blender and turning it up to eleven”.

The DVD collection was released in two different versions, both are double disc releases:

  • Keep case — DVD size packaging
  • DVD Digipak — CD size packaging

This video collection received mixed reviews from critics and fans when it was released.  While the inclusion of videos that were left off her previous retrospectives were certainly appreciated, many felt that the set’s exclusion of several notable clips (with Oh Father, Bad Girl, Drowned World/Substitute For Love & Nothing Really Matters among its most glaring omissions) kept it from being the definitive overview it was touted to be.

Another point of contention was the use of cheaper single-layer versus double-layer DVD’s, the latter of which would have allowed for the inclusion of the three additional clips noted above (which would have rounded out the total number of clips to a nice even fifty) and corrected the compression issues that marred the image quality of many videos. Indeed, the varying picture quality from clip to clip and minimal effort given to ensuring overall quality control left the product with a distinctly “budget” feel that had some fans wondering whether the grainy, test-pattern-infused artwork for the set was perhaps a bit too fitting.

Surely, Madonna’s pioneering work in the medium and the perfectionist spirit that helped make these works so compelling deserve a comprehensive retrospective of the highest quality.

Did you feel this release was worthy of celebration or would you have made changes to it? With recent innovations in digital distribution, would you appreciate an official reissue of Madonna’s entire music video catalogue – from her first clip, Everybody, through to her latest, Batuka – as high quality digital downloads? Clips could be sold individually for a few dollars each or bundled into era sets that could be downloaded through Madonna’s official website, with proceeds benefiting one of her charities. Would you support such an initiative if the highest quality control standards were met and no corners were cut? Perhaps this would prove to be an ideal avenue for her to finally market long-requested, definitive versions of her previously unavailable or out-of-print live concert films as well.

 

Today in Madonna History: March 21, 1989

On March 21 1989, Madonna’s Like A Prayer album was released.

Written and produced by Madonna with Patrick Leonard, Stephen Bray and Prince, the Like A Prayer album was considered to be a major artistic leap forward for Madonna, and was certainly her most personal offering to date at the time of its release.

Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine offered this 5-star (out of 5) review of the album:

Out of all of Madonna’s albums, Like a Prayer is her most explicit attempt at a major artistic statement. Even though it is apparent that she is trying to make a “serious” album, the kaleidoscopic variety of pop styles on Like a Prayer is quite dazzling. Ranging from the deep funk of Express Yourself and Keep It Together to the haunting Oh Father and Like a Prayer, Madonna displays a commanding sense of songcraft, making this her best and most consistent album.

Happy 30th anniversary to one of our favorites – the phenomenal Like A Prayer!

Today in Madonna History: November 11, 1989

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On November 11 1989, the music video for Oh Father premiered on MTV in the US. Filmed at Culver Studios, California in late October, 1989 by director David Fincher, the black & white clip drew cinematic influence from the 1941 Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane. Its narrative expanded on darker elements from Madonna’s life – focusing on the death of her mother, her relationship with her father and the recurring effects of childhood trauma in her adult life. The clip’s icily detached symbolism and heavy subject matter are counter-balanced by overarching themes of forgiveness and inner-strength.

In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, Fincher recalled:

“I had kinda talked Madonna into releasing Oh Father as a single and we did this video and were very happy with the video – but nobody ever saw it because the song wasn’t a hit.”

Although the video was put into rotation on MTV, the channel had requested that Madonna remove a scene that displayed a close-up of the deceased mother’s lips sewn shut – a request that she refused to consider. Compounded by a tepid response to the song from radio, where its bleak overtones clashed with playlists of the day, the single stalled at number twenty in the US – her lowest peak on the Hot 100 at the time (excluding her first two singles, neither of which broke into the Hot 100). In Canada the video was put into heavy rotation and the release fared slightly better on the charts, peaking at number fourteen.

Despite its relative lack of commercial appeal, the song and video are frequently cited as a creative triumph for Madonna by fans and critics alike.

Today in Madonna History: October 24, 1989

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On October 24 1989, Oh Father was released in North America as the fourth single from the Like A Prayer album. France, Japan, the Philippines and Australia also opted to issue the single in 1989, while other European markets waited for Madonna’s 1995 ballads compilation, Something To Remember, to promote the song. Oh Father was written and produced by Madonna & Patrick Leonard.

According to the song’s string arranger, Bill Meyers, Oh Father was recorded in a “dingy studio” in New York City’s Garment District while Madonna was appearing in the play, Speed-The-Plow. Since the bulk of the album would be completed in California after the completion of her Broadway run, this would suggest that Oh Father was likely the first song recorded for the project. Leonard recently provided further evidence of this when he shared an image of a demo tape sleeve containing working titles of songs from the latter sessions on his Instagram, noting that Oh Father was not among the tracks listed because it had been completed earlier.

Leonard recalled the recording of the track in a 2014 interview with Billboard Magazine:

My favorite thing that we ever recorded, ever – or wrote – is Oh Father. That to me is the best thing we ever did. So, it didn’t surprise me because we knew when we did it, that there was something about this that was in a way kind of the most real thing.

For that song, the ‘record’ button was only pressed three times. It was pressed to do the track, live, with her singing live. Then we did the orchestra. And then we did a double of her vocal when we were mixing. That’s it. So it’s real. It’s something that I really wanted to do and she was kind enough to say “let’s try this,” and it was not easy.

There’s two or three guitar players playing. I’m playing keyboards. Jai Winding was playing keyboards. There was a percussionist and a drummer – and she’s singing – all at the same time.

These days, people go “wow, that seems crazy.” Those days it wasn’t uncommon for everybody to be playing together even though you’re not a band. But it was one of those things where the arrangement was tricky enough, that it really took some working out to get it all right.

Even all those weird synth overdubs and things – all those things were being done live. We worked out all the parts, had all the sounds. I remember that we cut it live, and then put the orchestra on. You’re not doubling the orchestra, so it’s one pass for the orchestra.

When I say [the ‘record’ button was] pressed three times, it might have gotten pressed 10 times that day, but it was ultimately one that stayed there. If you see what I’m saying. When we were mixing it, [mixer] Bill Bottrell suggested that we double the choruses. I remember even being a little upset about it (laughs). Like, look, “we’ve got an amazing record that we only pressed the record button twice – can’t we leave it?” He said, “three isn’t exactly shameful.” We doubled the lead vocal on the choruses, and that was it.

Today in Madonna History: December 30, 1989

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On December 30 1989, Dear Jessie peaked at number-five on the UK singles chart. The track was released as the fourth single from Like A Prayer in Europe (with the exception of France which instead opted to service the North American/Japanese fourth single, Oh Father) and as the fifth single in Australia.

Dear Jessie was written and produced by Madonna and Patrick Leonard and was inspired by Leonard’s young daughter, Jessie, with whom Madonna had developed a special connection.

The psychedelia-infused reflection on childhood fantasy and innocence was particularly poignant within the context of the Like A Prayer album’s sequencing, with its segue into Oh Father offering a stark musical and emotional contrast that is perhaps one of the most effective in Madonna’s body of work.

 

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