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Celebrating Madonna at 60: Underrated Songs from the Queen of Pop

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Madonna is the embodiment of the 80s; proclaimed worldwide as the Queen of Pop. Not only is she recognised as the best-selling female artist of all time by Guinness Records (selling over 64.5 million albums over the span of her career) Madonna is also renown for unapologetically pushing the boundaries.

Madonna’s is revered by many as a feminist icon (just look at the Hard Candy album cover!) ‘Like A Prayer’, one of her best hits, has explicit sexual connotations both lyrically in its discussion of ‘redemption’, and comes to light in its provocative music video. Madonna’s music career also led her down the path of acting; she received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Evita. To this day, she continues to shock and thrill; many of us still struggle to remove the mental image of her kissing Drake in 2015 from our minds...

However, not all of Madonna’s songs received the recognition they deserved; overshadowed by some of her inescapably huge chart hits. We look at how Madonna is more than a one trick pony, both lyrically and musically.

1. ‘Oh Father’, Like a Prayer (1989)

One of Madonna’s most personal and vulnerable songs was interpreted by many to be written about her abusive relationship with her father after she struggled to come to terms with her mother’s death. The chorus is particularly suggestive of this, “You can’t hurt me now / I got away from you, I never thought I would / You can’t make me cry / You once had the power / I never felt so good about myself.” The track is an out-and-out pop ballad, showing Madonna’s versatility through a sincerely emotional tone, which was often overlooked.

2. ‘Secret’, Bedtime Stories (1994)

‘Secret’, is contrastingly slower than some of Madonna's other hits and gives a space for her raunchiness to come into being. The song is abundant with synth-strings and driven by a classic R&B beat, which heightens the sensuality of the song’s chorus, “Mmm mmm / something’s coming over / My baby’s got a secret”.

3. ‘Burning Up’, Madonna (1983)

‘Burning Up’ is an irresistibly catchy, quintessentially 80s track. The bass guitar riffs, provided by John Benitez, lend the song its funkiness which is fortified by syncopated synths and drums. The influence of Prince is largely evident in electric guitar solos, intensifying the lyrics about shameless desire, “Don't put me off 'cause I'm on fire / And I can't quench my desire / Don't you know that I'm burning up for your love / I’m burning up for your love”.

4. ‘Keeping It Together’, Like a Prayer (1989)

The track from Madonna’s sixth album combines a Michael Jackson-esque beat with a wavy, groovy bassline. Written as a tribute to Sly and the Family Stone, it is no surprise that the song is so innately funky; it also features percussion and a conga. The song immediately establishes itself as a funk masterpiece as the guitar riff is the main focus of the song's opening. Like ‘Burning Up’, we see a different side to Madonna musically, and once again see her adaptability between both funk and more pop-based tunes.

5. ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’, Music (2000)

Led predominantly by synth-soaked bass hooks and background electronic production, the main attribute of this song is its lyrics. They delve into female identity and inferiority, invoking empathy, shown in the song’s title itself. The track begins with spoken lyrics that show Madonna’s feminist advocation come into its own, “Girls can wear jeans / And cut their hair short /Wear shirts and boots /'Cause it's OK to be a boy / But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading / 'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading.”

6. ‘More’, I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy (1990)

I’m Breathless produced one of Madonna’s most iconic songs, 'Vogue', and sees a calibre of different styles come together. ‘More’ showcases Madonna’s vocal agility and range in a cabaret swing-jazz style framework, featuring a drumkit, staccato piano chords and brass. It shows a completely different side to what we know of Madonna’s typical style.

7. ‘Over And Over’, Like a Virgin (1984)

Coming from one of Madonna’s most famous albums, produced by the musical mastermind Nile Rogers, ‘Over And Over’ is an upbeat, synth-based pop track with a catchy chorus and a clever implement of vocal overlays, adding depth to the song’s 80s pop casing.

8. ‘Love Song’, Like a Prayer (1989)

A duet co-written by Prince, this track features more minimal backing with a hitting beat and subtle guitar licks. The lyrics are centred around frustration of a lack of reciprocation –Are you wasting my time / Are you just being kind / Don't go givin' me one of your lines / Say what you mean / Mean what you say / Don't go and throw our love away”.

9. ‘Nothing Really Matters’, Ray Of Light (1998)

Ray Of Light, is, in general, an underrated album, due to its spiritually infused lyrical value. The synth-based dance track, stemming from the realisation that she must move past her previous mistakes, is exemplified by its lyricism: Now that I am grown / Everything's changed / I'll never be the same / Because of you / Nothing really matters / Love is all we need / Everything I give you / All comes back to me”. Madonna forces us to realise that you can’t receive love unless you truly give it. 

10. ‘Holiday’, Madonna (1983)

You may be surprised to see such a popular song on an underrated song list, yet, ‘Holiday’ is still overshadowed by its arguably overrated counterpart ‘Like a Virgin’. ‘Holiday’ should exceed the pop-prestige it has received. The track is one the funkiest, yet equally pop-based tunes around, with infectious synth-soaked guitar riffs and hooks. The moment the beat fuses with the synths at the beginning of the song is truly electric. The song suits Madonna’s voice, tone and range perfectly, and with its relatable lyrics, it is truly one of her best. 

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