Today in Madonna History: November 7, 1998

On November 7 1998, The Power of Good-Bye advanced one position to #13 in what would be its final bulleted week on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. The single would nonetheless manage to sneak its way up to #11 on November 28th, sans bullet. It is worth noting that one of the most significant changes to eligibility rules in the Hot 100’s history at the time took effect during the single’s initially rapid ascent, causing an immediate rush of non-commercially released radio hits to storm the chart and seemingly disrupt the ballad’s momentum.

A decision by Warner Bros. to withhold a maxi-single release for The Power Of Good-Bye in the U.S., compounded by the lack of any non-album content on the standard single despite earlier reports, suggests that the changes to the Hot 100 may have created a larger ripple than Warner had anticipated. Including the Oprah performance of Little Star, as previously reported in Billboard, or even the Dallas Austin remix of The Power Of Good-Bye on the b-side certainly would have given fans more incentive to pick up the 2-track single in the U.S.

It’s difficult to fully frown on Warner’s seemingly uncontainable enthusiasm for the brilliant remixes of Ray Of Light‘s fourth single, Nothing Really Matters, however, despite its unconventional timing.

Today in Madonna History: October 7, 2000

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On October 7 2000, Madonna’s MUSIC album debuted at #1 in the USA with sales of 420,000 copies.

Dimitri Ehrlich from Vibe described the album as “a masterpiece of brilliantly arranged keyboards, futuristic drums, and electronica dressings. With folky acoustic guitars and a vaguely spiritual bend to her lyrics (like those on Ray of Light), it’s a weird and fresh-sounding album.”

Today in Madonna History: June 23, 1998

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On June 23 1998, the music video for Ray of Light was released by Warner Reprise Video as a limited edition video single of 40,000 VHS copies. It sold 7,381 copies within its first month of release, becoming one of the best-selling video singles of the Nielsen SoundScan era. Madonna’s previous video single release, Justify My Love, which predated SoundScan, was certified quadruple-Platinum by the RIAA (for shipment of over 200,000 copies).

The reason behind Ray of Light being issued as a video single were twofold. Madonna was very pleased with the outcome of her first collaboration with director Jonas Åkerlund and her record company felt that there would be enough interest to warrant its commercial release. Secondly, Warner’s marketing team correctly sensed that the song’s then-experimental sound would be a tough sell at radio, so the decision was made to pull out all the stops to ensure the release outperformed on the sales chart. Another prong in this strategy was the inclusion of album outtake Has To Be as the b-side to the two-track single, while excluding it from the maxi-single in an attempt to persuade fans to purchase the single in multiple formats. The strategy proved successful, with the song’s number-five debut and peak on the Billboard Hot 100 mainly due to its sales strength. According to Billboard, the music video single boosted its first-week sales by roughly 7%, helping it to secure its place in the top-five.

Shortly after Ray of Light‘s release as a video single, Billboard magazine published an article musing on whether renewed interest in the relatively obscure format could ever prove lucrative for the music industry. A video buyer for a major retail chained remarked:

“Madonna’s Ray of Light video single is a success because she has a fervent fan base. There are very few artists with videos that consistently get people’s attention, but Madonna is one of those artists. It’s too early to tell if there’s a true market for video singles. Right now, it seems like record companies are trying video singles to see what happens. I think we’re going to see the lines becoming more blurred in how audio and video singles are marketed.”

Indeed. Within the next five years (and two Madonna video singles later), the emergence of online file sharing would obliterate the physical singles market in North America, and video streaming sites would soon spell an end to the prospect of marketing music video singles as a physical format. In digital form, however, music video singles may be selling in larger numbers than ever due to increased availability through iTunes. Strangely, however, sales of music videos through iTunes are not reported to Billboard and no longer count towards a single’s chart position (reportedly due to iTunes’ monopoly on digital sales of the format), while streams of music videos through sites like YouTube and Vevo are used in Billboard’s chart methodology.

Today in Madonna History: May 27, 2017

On May 27 2017, the long-running and highly respected authority on record collecting, Goldmine Magazine, inducted Patrick Leonard into the Goldmine Hall Of Fame for his contributions to the music industry as a songwriter, producer and musician. His work with Madonna in particular was highlighted in his induction bio.

Madonna was one of the earliest inductees into the Goldmine Hall Of Fame, having secured her place in the second round of inductions. Leonard was inducted in the 95th round, which is impressive nonetheless for an artist who has always kept a relatively low profile despite working with some of the biggest names in the music business, including Michael Jackson and Leonard Cohen, and is certainly well-deserved.

As Madonna fans, we respect that she is a forward-thinking artist and our hope is that she will always continue to follow any creative path that inspires her. While we do not discount the many other brilliant songwriters Madonna has collaborated with, nor do we deny Madonna’s own gifts of writing brilliant melodic hooks and conveying universal truths through her words, the proof that Madonna and Leonard bring out the very best in each other’s craft is right there in their songs. Whether destiny holds future collaborations between Madonna & Leonard is entirely their decision to make, but should the pair find themselves inspired to work together again, it would certainly be to the delight of most Madonna fans, and potentially to fans of great music in general.

Our view is that when strong chemistry exists in a songwriting partnership, especially one that has produced such varied output as Madonna & Leonard’s, there is always an opportunity to reconnect and create something fresh and relevant. This was proven when the pair reunited for 1998’s Ray of Light, an album which, promotional tactics aside, owes as much in substance to Madonna/Leonard as it does in style to Madonna/Orbit.

The bottom line is – great songs are great songs. You can restyle a great song to make it fit with the production trends of the day, but if a song is all style with little substance it won’t stay fresh for long. The songwriting partnership of Madonna & Leonard has yielded a body of work that has consistently proven itself to be timeless. And is this not the ultimate goal of any forward-thinking artist – to produce work that is substantial and transcendent enough to remain relevant well into the future?

Today in Madonna History: April 4, 1998

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On April 4 1998, Madonna’s Frozen hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA.

Frozen was the first single released from Ray of Light.

Today in Madonna History: March 13, 1999

On March 13 1999, Nothing Really Matters spent the first of two weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Club Play chart in the U.S.

Despite being a successful club hit, many have cited Warner’s unusual marketing choices for the single as the primary reason for its poor placement on the Hot 100, where its peak of #93 remains the lowest of her charting singles.

The delayed release of the commercial single – which came long after the song had peaked at radio – was clearly a blunder, while other aspects of the song’s promotion seemingly started too early. After declining to release the experimental remixes for The Power Of Good-Bye in the U.S. (the remixes were issued commercially in Canada & abroad), Warner jumped the gun by beginning to service remixes of Nothing Really Matters promotionally to clubs as early as September of 1998 – over six months ahead of the maxi-single release.

An alternative might have been to service the Sky Fits Heaven remixes promotionally in the U.S. during the interim, considering that it managed to enter the Dance/Club Play chart based solely on spins from the imported Drowned World/Substitute For Love single, with no push from the label domestically.

Chart positions and marketing decisions aside, the maxi-single for Nothing Really Matters, with its wonderfully varied set of remixes by Peter Rauhofer, Kruder & Dorfmeister and Talvin Singh, remains one of Madonna’s best, in our opinion. Together with its visually stunning music video, the single marked an artistically pleasing closing chapter to the epic Ray Of Light era.

Today in Madonna History: February 21, 1998

On February 21 1998, an article by Larry Flick focusing on the anticipation building around the release of Madonna’s album, Ray Of Light, was published in Billboard magazine. The feature included interviews with Madonna and William Orbit along with a teaser of the album cover.

NEW YORK – Is the world ready for a spiritually enlightened Madonna? The numerous pre-release radio and Internet leaks of “Frozen,” the lead single from the pop chameleon’s new Maverick/Warner Bros. album, “Ray Of Light,” certainly hint that she may be embarking on her most successful musical voyage to date.

With its worldwide release slated for March 3, the album is unarguably her most adventurous. She has teamed with techno pioneer William Orbit for a collection that sews intense, soul-searching words into edgy electronic/dance instrumentals. The result is a gave, visionary effort with the commercial potency needed to finally elevate electronica beyond its current status as a limited hipster movement into a true mass-appeal attraction.

“My intention was to make a record that I’d enjoy listening to,” Madonna says of her first studio set since 1994’s “Bedtime Stories,” which has sold 2 million units in the U.S., according to SoundScan. “This album is reflective of where I am in my life right now – in terms of my musical interests and in terms of my personal beliefs. I feel like I’ve been enlightened, and that it’s my responsibility to share what I’ve learned so far with the world.”

It appears much of the world is clamoring to hear the results. The Singapore Madonna Link, an unofficial, fan-operated World Wide Web site, began offering an unauthorized snippet of “Frozen” Jan. 23. The site has received more than 140,000 hits.

There have also been approximately a dozen leaks of “Frozen” on top 40 radio around the U.S. since Jan. 26. WKTU New York is among those stations that played “Frozen” to rabid listener response.

“The phones blew up,” says assistant PD/GM Andy Shane, adding that the station has continued sneaking the single on the air in advance of its official airplay date of Thursday (19). “For the days we haven’t had it on, people have been calling nonstop begging to hear it.”

Erik Bradley, music director at WBBM (B-96) Chicago, witnessed similar listener response when his station leaked “Frozen” Feb. 7. “People are going crazy for it,” he says. “It’s a compelling record that you can’t shake from your mind after you hear it. That’s the mark of a smash. Clearly, American pop radio needs Madonna.”

So does the rest of the world, apparently. “Frozen” has had “fantastic” early support across Europe, according to Jon Uren, marketing director, U.S. labels, for Warner Music Europe. The single has been A-listed at BBC Radio 1 in the U.K. and hit the airplay charts in France, the Netherlands, and Germany in its first week after a Jan. 23 release.

The project’s retail forecast is equally bright, with Jonathan Rees, head of rock and pop for the HMV chain in the U.K., describing its prospects as `very positive.”

Tim Devin, GM of Tower Records in New York, wholeheartedly agrees. “Quite frankly, I can’t wait for it. The anticipation surrounding this album is amazing. The industry needs an exciting, mega-star release, and this will fill that important void.”

That’s precisely how Phil Quartararo, president of Warner Bros. (U.S.), views “Ray Of Light.” “What Madonna does that’s so admirable is that she always manages to land on the cusp of what we call contemporary music,” he says. “In 1998, every established artist faces the dilemma of maintaining their importance and relevance. Madonna never fails to be relevant.”

The creative seeds for “Ray Of Light” were planted last year, when Madonna phoned Orbit and asked if he was interested in co- writing a few songs. “I’ve been a fan of all kinds of electronic music for many years, and I wanted to incorporate that sound into my music,” she says, adding that her admiration for Orbit’s catalog of recordings put him at the top of her wish list of collaborators. “I love the haunting, trance-like quality of his records. I’ve also always found something melancholy about his music. Since I’m attracted to that sound, and since I tend to write a lot of sad songs, we seemed like a good match.”

Upon introduction, Orbit handed Madonna a tape of five instrumental tracks. “It basically was a sketchbook of fantastic ideas,” she says. “Every track was so inspiring. I took them and gave them structure.”

Among the first songs to evolve from that tape was “Swim,” a guitar-driven electro-funk odyssey on which Madonna meditates on the perils of bad karma and its ongoing effect on the world at large. “It gave me shivers the first time I heard it,” Orbit says. “We both knew we were onto something special.”

From there, the two decided to guide the overall production of “Ray Of Light” together. In addition to the five songs she wrote with Orbit, Madonna collaborated with veteran pop tunesmith Rick Nowels, Nellee Hooper protégé Marius De Vries, and Patrick Leonard, with whom she created such early hits as “Live To Tell” and “Open Your Heart.” Leonard co-wrote “Frozen.”

After locking themselves away in the studio for six months “like a pair of mad scientists,” as Orbit puts it, they emerged with a high- concept collection that combines cutting-edge underground club elements with pure pop melodies and a generous slathering of what they call “teenage-angst guitars.”

Fresh from the rigors of 1996’s “Evita” film and soundtrack, Madonna has also found comfortable new vocal ground between the theatrical demands of that project and the more casual vibe of her early recordings, showcasing a fluid, flexible range that’s executed to haunting effect. “Training my voice has opened me up immeasurably, and it’s allowed me to do things with my voice that I never thought were possible,” she says.

“I’m so proud of the way the album came out,” Madonna adds. “But for a moment after I first finished it, I cringed. I thought, `What have I done ?’ Emotionally and sonically, it went in such a different territory for me.”

Orbit is equally pleased with the set’s results, primarily because Madonna “wasn’t at all interested in compromising or watering down” the electronic textures of his productions. If anything, he says, she `insisted upon purity in the arrangements, which worked astonishingly well with her pop songs at the core.”

Of those songs, both are irreversibly stuck on the title cut – the likely single follow-up to “Frozen” – which is a euphoric, deliciously over-the-top anthem that builds from a percolating trance-disco groove into a collision course of futuristic keyboards and assaulting metal riffs. “It’s totally out of control,” she says, laughing. “The original version is well over 10 minutes long. It was completely indulgent, but I loved it. It was heartbreaking to cut it down to a manageable length.”

The sprawling, unedited version of “Ray Of Light” is already earmarked for inclusion on “Veronica Electronica,” a compilation of single remixes and album outtakes, due in the fall.

“Veronica Electronica” is also a potential stage persona that Madonna is toying with as she ponders hitting the road for her first concert trek since 1993’s Girlie tour. Unlike that eye-popping spectacle, she says she’d like to do something “totally scaled down” this time, with a set list culled exclusively from “Ray Of Light,” “Bedtime Stories,” and 1992’s “Erotica.” If she decides to tour, it won’t happen until late summer/early fall.

Until then, she’ll test live waters with several European TV performances, including a gig on the U.K.’s “National Lottery Live” show Saturday (21), as well as her first U.S. club date in more than 10 years. On Saturday (14), she’ll take the stage of New York’s Roxy nightclub for a performance of three tunes from the album.

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