On March 28 1987, the final single from Madonna’s True Blue album, La Isla Bonita, was briefly reviewed in Billboard magazine.
The now-classic song was Madonna’s first sonic exploration into her love of Latin music and culture which would become a recurring inspiration in her body of work. Written by Madonna, Patrick Leonard, and frequent Leonard collaborator, guitarist Bruce Gaitsch, it has been reported that the instrumental demo of the song was initially offered to Michael Jackson, who passed on the track.
While Madonna has said that La Isla Bonita took inspiration from “the beauty and mystery of Latin American people,” she has remained more elusive about the song’s geographical references. Years later, she teasingly commented in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine:
“I don’t know where San Pedro is. At that point, I wasn’t a person who went on holidays to beautiful islands. I may have been on the way to the studio and seen an exit ramp for San Pedro.”
On February 13 1999, Madonna’s Nothing Really Matters single was reviewed by Billboard magazine.
The North American two-track single for Nothing Really Matters included the album version of To Have And Not To Hold as its b-side.
Prior to the release of the Ray Of Light album, it was reported that Madonna had fourteen tracks mastered but wanted to cut one, as she felt that thirteen was a lucky number. According to the article, Madonna’s final selection was between two songs: To Have And Not To Hold or Has To Be.
As we all know, Has To Be ended up being cut from the final track list (except in Japan, where it was included as a bonus track).
If you had to choose between including To Have And Not To Hold or Has To Be on Ray Of Light, which song would you include? Keep in mind, your selection should not simply be which individual track you prefer – Madonna would also have had to consider how her choice would affect the overall flow and emotional arc of the album, both musically and lyrically.
On January 29 2015, Rob Sheffield reviewed Madonna’s Unapologetic Bitch for Rolling Stone magazine’s singles review section (even though it was never released as a single):
Bitch, she’s Madonna. The queen of queens has given a taste of her upcoming album, Rebel Heart, with a few songs dropped in advance after an early leak of unfinished versions. And the girl’s in a feisty mood these days – Madonna writing herself a theme song called “Unapologetic Bitch” is like Springsteen doing one called “Jersey Guy Who Sweats a Lot.” These new songs range from the Nicki Minaj collabo “Bitch I’m Madonna” to the gospel-house pieties of “Living for Love” to the Yeezus-style industrial Kanye grind “Illuminati.” But “Unapologetic Bitch” is the standout: a breakup rant over a Diplo-produced dancehall groove, with Madonna shooting a few poison arrows into the heart of some dude who’s done her wrong.
On January 17 1985, Debbie Miller reviewed Madonna’s Like A Virgin album for Rolling Stone magazine. Here’s what she had to say (3 1/2 stars out of 5):
In the early Sixties, when girls were first carving their niche in rock & roll, the Crystals were singing about how it didn’t matter that the boy they loved didn’t drive a Cadillac car, wasn’t some big movie star: he wasn’t the boy they’d been dreaming of, but so what? Madonna is a more, well, practical girl. In her new song, Material Girl, she claims, “the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right/’Cause we’re living in a material world/And I am a material girl.” When she finds a boy she likes, it’s for his “satin sheets/And luxuries so fine” (Dress You Up). Despite her little-girl voice, there’s an undercurrent of ambition that makes her more than the latest Betty Boop. When she chirps, “You made me feel/Shiny and new/Like a virgin,” in her terrific new single, you know she’s after something. Nile Rodgers produced Like A Virgin, Madonna’s second LP; he also played guitar on much of it and brought in ex-Chic partners Bernard Edwards on bass and Tony Thompson on drums. Rodgers wisely supplies the kind of muscle Madonna’s sassy lyrics demand. Her light voice bobs over the heavy rhythm and synth tracks like a kid on a carnival ride. On the hit title song, Madonna is all squeals, bubbling over the bass line from the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself.” She doesn’t have the power or range of, say, Cyndi Lauper, but she knows what works on the dance floor. Still, some of the new tracks don’t add up. Her torchy ballad Love Don’t Live Here Anymore is awful. The role of the rejected lover just doesn’t suit her. Madonna’s a lot more interesting as a conniving cookie, flirting her way to the top, than as a bummed-out adult.
On August 20 2001, Sal Cinquemani published this review of Madonna’s Music album in Slant magazine:
After her hugely successful and critically-lauded Ray Of Light, Madonna could have gone in one of several possible directions: (1) a more hardcore trance route, enlisting a world-class DJ like Sasha (who remixed a few tracks from Ray Of Light and whom Madonna allegedly dismissed after collaborating on several tracks early in the recording process of this new album); (2) staying in safe territory by writing and recording once again with William Orbit, the mastermind behind Ray Of Light; or (3) a weird, more experimental direction, commissioning someone like French electronica guru Mirwais Ahmadzai. Madonna once told producer Shep Pettibone “You can never do the same thing twice…ever,” but two new collaborations with Orbit, “Runaway Lover” and “Amazing,” prove that when you do, it will probably be completely uninteresting. “Runaway Lover” sounds like a Ray Of Light outtake with uninspired couplets like “It doesn’t pay to give away what you lack/You’ll never get your money back.” But amid the clichés, Madonna throws in profound food for thought like “You get your education from your lovers.” “Amazing” is incredibly catchy and has a Supremes-like melody but that’s where it ends. The track borrows the drum loop Orbit used in “Beautiful Stranger” (which was originally the loop from his “Ray Of Light” remix), and proves that he may not have had enough tricks up his sleeve for an entire new album anyway (and perhaps Madonna knew that).
As such, Madonna enlisted Mirwais for most of the rest of the album in question, Music. The title track, a retro hands-in-the-air club song reminiscent of Debbie Deb’s “When I Hear Music” and Madonna’s own “Into The Groove,” is the singer’s best dance floor-beckoning track since “Vogue.” She sings “Music makes the people come together” like a track off of her debut album, and as an added bonus she uses words like “bourgeoisie” and “acid-rock” with equal abandon. If you can get past the initial horror of hearing Madonna’s voice get the Cher “Believe” treatment on “Nobody’s Perfect,” another Mirwais collaboration, you’ll find a brilliant song full of genuine sorrow. The track opens with an intentionally imperfect and somber “I feel so sad,” and it is indeed believable. Lyrics like “What did you expect? I’m doing my best” are sung with an intriguing juxtaposition of human emotion and mechanically detached vocalizations. Though hard to swallow at first (like most on the album), the track is one of the singer’s best creations. With its distorted vocals and grinding electronic burps, “Paradise (Not For Me)” is another distinctive Mirwais production. At a turning point in the song, Madonna awkwardly struggles to speak the words “There is a light above my head/Into your eyes my face remains” while strings swell and bring the song to a climax. It is at this point that “Paradise” resembles the cinematic grandeur of tracks like “Frozen,” and it is also one of the few moments throughout Music that recalls the spiritual introspection of Ray Of Light.
Two tracks take a striking folk direction. “I Deserve It” finds Madonna once again singing with a warm yet detached voice, but this time her vocals are completely untouched by effects. “Gone” ends the album and is possibly one of Madonna’s best performances. In the vein of “Live To Tell,” the song seems to sum up everything Madonna has tried to tell us about being the most famous woman in the world. Earlier attempts have seemed obvious and sometimes trite (“Goodbye To Innocence,” “Survival,” “Drowned World”), but this song seems to be particularly telling. It is also, perhaps, the most human she has ever been. Self-deprecation and vulnerability have never been Madonna’s strong-suits, but the way she sings “I won’t let it happen again/I’m not very smart” could make you wonder. Music seems more like a collection of songs than a cohesive album, and it is an unexpected answer to Ray Of Light. But strangely, in an attempt to make a “fun,” less-introspective album, Madonna has revealed more of herself than ever. No longer shrouded with pedantic spirituality, she has become even more human, exposing her fears on tracks like “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Paradise,” her soul on “Don’t Tell Me” and “What It Feels Like For A Girl,” and revealing her joys on “Impressive Instant” and “Music.”