Today in Madonna History: November 20, 1998

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On November 20 1998, the U.K.’s Channel 4 aired a Madonna interview conducted by Johnny Vaughan. The special was titled Johnny Meets Madonna and was part of Madonna’s European promotional campaign for The Power Of Good-Bye and the Ray Of Light album.

Today In Madonna History: November 15, 1998

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On November 15 1998, Madonna performed The Power Of Good-Bye and was interviewed by Luuk TV in Stockholm, Sweden.

Though the song was mimed, Madonna gave viewers an eye-full in a transparent top.  a see-through in a performance that was both distinctly European – and distinctly Madonna!    

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 Bros.’s seemingly uncontainable enthusiasm for the brilliant remixes of Ray Of Light‘s fourth single, Nothing Really Matters, despite the highly unconventional timing of servicing them to clubs six months ahead of their commercial release.

Today in Madonna History: June 30, 1997

On June 30 1997, Madonna began recording sessions for what would become her Ray Of Light album at Larrabee North Recording Studios, Universal City, Los Angeles.

Madonna had already spent several months writing songs and producing demos with Patrick Leonard, Rick Nowels and Babyface (although none of the Babyface material would make the final cut) by the time she entered the studio with co-producers William Orbit and Marius De Vries. Leonard would return to the project to assist with arrangements, earning him a co-producer’s credit on four of the album’s tracks. Madonna would add lyrics and melody to at least a half-dozen previously composed Orbit demos during these sessions as well, with six of their songs making the final cut.

One song that came very close to being included on the album, Has To Be, was dropped due to Madonna’s desire to limit the number of songs on the album to lucky number thirteen. In a final toss-up between Has To Be and To Have And Not To Hold, the former was nixed in favor of the latter. Has To Be would fortunately make it to the ears of fans, however, due to its inclusion as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the Ray Of Light album, and as the international b-side to the Ray Of Light single.

Has To Be was born as a collaboration between Madonna and Patrick Leonard. Recently surfaced demos from their writing session include two early versions of the song – the first is a piano-based arrangement in a similar style to the previous Madonna/Leonard collaboration, Something To Remember, while the second demo is an experimental synth-based reworking.

After entering the studio with William Orbit, Madonna adapted Has To Be to one of Orbit’s previously composed electronic soundscapes. Although the original Orbit instrumental piece with celestial voices has never been commercially released, it had previously aired on Orbit’s weekly radio series, Stereo Odyssey, on California’s KCRW prior to his involvement with Madonna. A sound file of the original instrumental that has circulated among fans is a recording from one of these broadcasts.

Although the released version of Has To Be is substantially different from the early Leonard demos, enough elements from its original melody lines (which were based on Leonard’s piano phrases) were carried over to warrant a three-way publishing split between Madonna/Orbit/Leonard for its official release.

Despite its relative obscurity, in fan circles Has To Be often ranks among her most beloved ballads.

Today in Madonna History: June 29, 1998

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On June 29 1998, Madonna’s Ray of Light single peaked at #3 on RPM’s Top 100 Canadian Singles chart.

As with all the Canadian singles from the Ray of Light album, the title track was issued by Warner Music Canada as a 2-track CD single and as a CD maxi-single. In the U.S., the album’s CD singles were issued in cardboard sleeves with “draw pack” trays and the CD maxi-singles in “FLP digipak” cases, while in Canada the two configurations for each of the album’s four domestic singles were packaged in standard CD jewel cases with printed inserts.

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 18, 2005

On May 18 2005, Madonna issued a statement in support of fellow pop singer Kylie Minogue, wishing her a quick recovery from her battle with breast cancer:

“I was saddened to learn about Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer diagnosis. I’m so grateful that they found it early. (Yet another reminder for all women to have annual mammograms.) Aside from being tremendously talented, Kylie’s a fighter and I know this is a battle she will win. Let’s all pray for her speedy recovery and send all of our best wishes her way. With love and light to you Kylie…Madonna.”

Following her surgery and recovery, Kylie’s 2006 return to the stage was captured in the behind-the-scenes documentary, White Diamond. The film included Kylie’s version of an unreleased Madonna/Rick Nowels collaboration from the Ray Of Light sessions, titled Alone Again. Kylie had recorded the track as a potential b-side to her 2002 single, Come Into My World, but for unknown reasons it remained shelved until its use in the documentary several years later. Madonna received special thanks from Kylie in the film’s closing credits.

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