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: June 4, 1983

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On June 4 1983, Burning Up/Physical Attraction spent its third and final week at its peak position of number-three on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in the U.S.

Available only on 12″ single in the U.S., the release charted as a double A-side single. Its run on the Dance/Club chart spanned a total of sixteen weeks, seven of which were spent in the top-five. In a rather strange marketing twist, a music video was produced for Burning Up while only Physical Attraction was promoted to radio – with a radio edit of the latter being featured on both sides of the rare 7″ promo.

To further confuse matters, the version of Burning Up that was featured on the 12″ was in actuality not a remix, but rather the original Reggie Lucas production of the song. Instead, the two distinct versions of the song that later turned up on different pressings of her debut album were in fact remixes by John “Jellybean” Benitez. Physical Attraction was also remixed by Benitez, with his mix appearing on both the 12″ single and the album. But in a further twist, the radio edit of Physical Attraction that appeared on the international & U.S. promo 7″, and later on the You Can Dance single edits promo-only release, is an edited version of the original Reggie Lucas productions rather than the Jellybean remix.

Today in Madonna History: May 31, 1986

On May 31 1986, Madonna’s Live To Tell hit #1 for 3 weeks on US Hot Adult Contemporary singles chart.

The haunting and dramatic ballad, written and produced by Madonna & Patrick Leonard, was the first commercially released collaboration between the pair – a songwriting partnership that is viewed by many fans as one of her most creatively successful.

Leonard had previously been involved with Madonna’s Virgin Tour as musical director, and when Madonna agreed to participate in Live Aid in the Summer of 1985, she asked him to collaborate on a new song for the performance, which evolved into Love Makes The World Go Round.

Although both songs would find their way on to Madonna’s next studio album, True Blue, at the time of Live To Tell’s release the album’s title had not yet been decided. Instead, the song was used to promote Sean Penn’s film At Close Range, in which it was featured alongside an original score composed by Leonard.

He had initially composed the music that evolved into Live To Tell for another film he had been invited to score for Paramount, titled Fire With Fire. The producers of the film passed on the theme. Leonard recalled the subsequent series of events that led to the song’s completion in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits by Random House:

“Madonna said ‘This song would be great for Sean’s new movie.’ She wrote the lyrics–she just wrote them on the spot, which is what we always do. I don’t think we’ve ever taken more than three hours to complete a song from start to finish. She sang it on the demo only once and left with the cassette. That day I went to work with Michael Jackson on some transcriptions for material he was writing for the Bad album. The phone rang at Michael’s and it was Sean. He said ‘I’m over at the director’s house and Madonna just brought the song over. We love it and we’d like to talk to you about it.’ … We re-cut the song, but we used the same vocal. She only sang it once for the demo and that was the vocal we used because it was so innocent and so shy. She had a legal pad in her hand and you can hear the paper. It’s as raw as raw can be and that’s part of what gave it all its charm.”

When the demo recording of Live To Tell eventually surfaced, it became evident that Madonna had in fact re-recorded the first verse, but all remaining vocals do indeed appear to have been carried over from the demo to the final mix (along with a generously added dose of reverb to smooth over the rough edges of the demo take).

Given the song’s dark undercurrents and unresolved narrative, it was a bold choice for a single release. It marked a dramatic shift from the yearning love song, Crazy For You – her only other ballad to have been issued as a single at the time. But any radio programmers who were hesitant to consider Madonna as a serious artist simply couldn’t deny the artistry of the song and nor could record buyers, with the combined support sending Live To Tell straight to the top of the pop charts.

Live To Tell was Madonna’s third #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, and her first #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it would reign for three weeks.

Today in Madonna History: May 24, 1998

On May 24 1998, the Ray of Light single made its debut on Australia’s ARIA Singles Chart at its peak position of #6. It was present for a total of seventeen weeks on the chart, and was certified Gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for shipment of 35,000 copies of the single.

In ARIA’s year-end singles chart, Ray of Light ranked 57th for best-selling Australian single of 1998.

Today in Madonna History: May 16, 1998

On May 16 1998, Larry Flick’s glowing review of Madonna’s Ray Of Light single was published in Billboard magazine.

The single would debut at its peak position of #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.

Today in Madonna History: May 2, 1987

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On May 2 1987, La Isla Bonita, the fifth and final single from Madonna’s True Blue album hit #4 in the USA.

An instrumental demo of the song was first offered to Michael Jackson by co-writer Patrick Leonard before Madonna both accepted it and wrote its lyrics and melody.

La Isla Bonita is noted for being the first Madonna song to have a Latino influence in it, with arrangements of Cuban drums and Spanish guitar, maracas, harmonicas and a mix of synthesized and real drumming.

Clearly a personal favorite of Madonna’s, it has been one of her most frequently performed 80’s hits, appearing in the standard set list of seven of her concert tours. Like A Virgin has also appeared as a set list regular in seven tours, while Holiday leads with regular appearances in eight. A case could perhaps be made, however, that Holiday and La Isla Bonita are tied, given that Holiday was only added as a set list regular for the shorter 2009 leg of the Sticky & Sweet Tour, while La Isla Bonita was featured in both the 2008 & 2009 incarnations of the show.

Today in Madonna History: April 24, 1993

On April 24 1993, Fever/Bad Girl hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart in America. It remained at #1 for two weeks.

Despite being marketed as Bad Girl, the release charted as Fever/Bad Girl on the Maxi-Singles Sales chart due to its b-side being the primary focus of the release in terms of content. Wisely, Bad Girl was left off of the accompanying promotional single that was serviced to clubs (on beautifully pressed transparent red vinyl), allowing it to top the Hot Dance/Club chart solely as Fever.

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