Growing up a metalhead, I carried a secret shame: a love for Madonna. I was drawn to her button-pushing music videos, her boundary-pushing subject matters, and, of course, her catchy-as-hell dance-pop songs. I did not want any of my headbanger friends to know that I was jamming "Holiday" or "Like a Prayer" that I taped off of the radio (sorry, I’m old) on my Walkman (again, old) while mowing the lawn in my Sepultura t-shirt.
Now that I am a bit more comfortable in my own skin, I’d like to share five Madonna records that totally slay. And just in case you’re not ready to admit your unconditional love for the Queen of Pop to the masses, I’ve included "cool" talking points on each record to combat any naysayers you may encounter.
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"Holiday" is probably still my favorite Madonna song. This whole record is a super catchy blast of post-disco dance pop. Some of the current "credible" pop artists like Robyn and Carly Rae Jepsen owe a major debt to what Madonna laid down 30 years ago with this stunning debut album. If you want some cool points when talking about this one, reference how she and producers used some of the most sought-after synths and drum machines of the day like the Oberheim OBX, various Moog synths, and the LinnDrum.
If the debut was a hit, this followup was a smash that pretty much one-upped it in every way. The singles were even bolder and somehow even more impossible to get out of your head than "Holiday." It was really hard not to bust a move behind the lawn mower when bonus track, "Into the Groove", started blaring in my headphones.
To this day it is one of the best-selling albums of all time, with sales of over 20 million, and was the first album by a woman to sell over 5 million copies in the USA. Need a cool talking point? She fought the record label to produce it herself and only let the reins go when Warner Brothers let her work with Nile Rodgers, whom she idolized due to his work with David Bowie.
To me, this is the record that stands out as a real statement. The curtain was pulled back on this one, and Madonna revealed a lot more of her real self to her fans and critics. Coming from a non-religious background, and being so young, I had never heard anything like the gospel choir used on "Like a Prayer," and I would venture that between that and the Sly Stone–worshipping "Express Yourself" Madonna introduced some new sounds to a lot of the world with the singles on this one, especially since both tracks had very popular and very controversial music videos. This record's cool point is that Madonna co-wrote Like a Prayer's "Love Song" with Prince, who also ripped guitar on a few other album tracks.
As an adult, this 2xLP compilation is the Madonna record that ends up on my table most often. Rather than releasing a typical greatest hits album, Madonna provided two new tracks and 15 alternate versions of her biggest songs. The first single, and one of the new tracks, "Justify My Love," is worth the cost of admission alone.
This one has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling compilation album by any solo artist in history. I also love that the tracklist is chronological, so you are really able to hear her music change as you travel through the first decade of her output. This one unfortunately is plagued by an uncool talking point: Lenny Kravitz helped pen "Justify My Love."
Produced by British electronica superstar, William Orbit, this 1998 album was a major change to Madonna’s sound. The record is credited with bringing electronica to the global mainstream. The sound takes notes from techno, electronica, trip-hop, and Eastern music and blends it all into an adventurous new version of dance-pop, granting it nearly universal acclaim from some of the most-respected music journals in the world. Cool points: It landed on Rolling Stone's and NME’s lists for the best albums of all time.