Nevertheless, here are Madonna's ten best soundtrack recordings. For whatever reasons, The Academy have routinely given Madge the snub when it comes to their Best Original Song category. The only original song listed below that wasn't written or co-written by Madonna is "Crazy For You", from the soundtrack to Vision Quest. It's hard to fathom how beautiful ballads like "This Used to Be My Playground" (from A League of Their own) or zesty, vibrant dance hits like "Beautiful Stranger" (from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) failed to nab Academy nominations, but that they didn't says more about their prejudices than Madonna's skills as a song-writer. It's not much of a stretch to imagine that if Madonna had collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on his Oscar winner from Dick Tracy, "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" which Madonna performed at the Oscars, that the song would have failed to have even been nominated.
"Masterpiece" won't be getting anywhere near the Oscar stage for multiple reasons (it's a credits only song for starters), but it's nice to have Madonna back. Next February is going to be all about her what with her new album being released, a likely tour announcement that will hopefully include Australia for the first time in decades (hey, we got Dolly Parton for the first time in 25 years just last month, why not Ms Ciccone?), and a live performance at the Superbowl that was just recently confirmed. I have not included "Masterpiece" on the list because I suspect it will be a grower, but I've also eliminated anything from Dick Tracy (preferences to "Vogue" and "More") and Evita (it's all about the Miami Mix of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina", isn't it?) because it's a little unfair.
It hurt to not put these two tracks from the 1987 Madonna vehicle Who's That Girl?, but on a top ten list concessions had to be made. Nevertheless, "Causing a Commotion" is one of my favourite under-valued Madonna tracks. It's so energetic and that lyric of "I've got the movies, baby / You've got the motion / If we got together / We'd be causing a commotion" is ace. I also included the much-maligned "American Pie" cover from The Next Best Thing, which I actually find rather lovely. Then, somewhat cheating, I have included the video of Madonna performing "Express Yourself" from the masterpiece documentary In Bed with Madonna. The video was never released, not even as a promo single, but since we're discussing Madonna, music and film, I wanted to include this incredible sequence. It features perhaps her best choreography of Madonna's career and the film really should have been nominated for all sorts of Oscars like Best Documentary, Best Editing and Best Cinematography.
1. "Live to Tell"
From At Close Range
The Year: 1986
The Song: My second favourite Madonna song of all time - the best is "Vogue" if you really must know - and a hit from the soundtrack to At Close Range, which stars her then husband, Sean Penn. The best, and most evocative ballad of her career, "Live to Tell" was actually originally written for another film entirely. When rejected by Paramount Studios for the soundtrack of Fire with Fire (Duncan Gibbins' romantic drama starring Craig Sheffer and Virginia Madsen), Madonna took the film over to At Close Range and ended up with a hit single far bigger, and better remembered, than the film it featured in. An incredible song.
The Film: I haven't seen At Close Range, which also stars Christopher Walken, but from what I can gather of it this blending of Madonna and Jan Hammer Miami Vice-style synths would be moody perfection.
The Video: The video clip features a gorgeous blonde Madonna bathed in shadows, her sexed up image blunting by a rather homely blouse. Much like every other soundtrack hit from the decade, the video is punctuated by scenes from the film that make little to no coherent sense to anybody who hasn't already seen the film.
The Awards: Two wins as "Most Performed Song from a Motion Picture" from the ASCAP Film & Television Music Awards and the BMI Film & TV Awards. "Live to Tell" probably would have been deemed ineligible for the Oscar, but nevertheless was beaten to a nomination by "Glory of Love" (The Karate Kid II), "Life in a Looking Glass" (That's Life), "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" (The Little Shop of Horrors), "Somewhere Out There" (An American Tale) and the equally synth-heavy pop ballad "Take My Breath Away" (Top Gun). The film itself was nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlinale, but I can't find any pictures of Penn and Madonna walking the red carpet. Do you think they did?
2. "Into the Groove"
From Desperately Seeking Susan
The Year: 1985
The Song: It's easy to describe Madonna dance songs as "infectious", but sometimes there is no other way to describe it. The moment that drum machine and synth bassline starts up, there's almost nothing anybody can do to not wanna get up and dance. The lyrics, simplistic as they may be, are essentially perfect; "we might be lovers if the rhythm's right" is such a wonderful summation of a night out at a club, and the pop music lover's bible lyric of "Only when I'm dancing can I feel this free / At home I lock the door where no one else can see" is the sort of line that takes my breath away. The amount of times I've put on Madonna and danced around as a means to cheering myself up is impossible to count and "Into the Groove" is always front and centre. As a matter of fact, I've been doing it today as I type this up!
The Film: By far one of the very best movies Madonna ever made, it succeeds at being a winning, almost screwball, comedy and a surprisingly rich mistaken and wannabe identity plot. There's little surprise in knowing that it's one of her most well-received performances, too, since she is essentially playing the same sort of hip New Yawker chic chick that she played for the early part of her musical career. Patricia Arquette surprisingly won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. Supporting who, exactly?
The Video: By far Madonna's laziest video, what with there being actually no newly filmed video footage all. The entire "Into the Groove" video is made up on clips from Desperately Seeking Susan, which is excessive even by 1980s standards.
The Awards: Curiously not even the Golden Globes (Madonna's biggest fans amongst awards bodies) had jumped on the Madonna bandwagon yet to nominate the song, instead singling out Rosanna Arquette's performance in the Best Supporting Actress category. The Academy Award nominations went to "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)" (The Color Purple), "The Power of Love" (Back to the Future), "Say You, Say Me" and "Seperate Lives (Love Theme from White Nights)" (White Nights), and "Surprise Surprise" (A Chorus Line).
3. "Crazy For You"
From Vision Quest
The Year: 1985
The Song: Clearly the mid-'80s was vintage for Madonna soundtrack cuts, with her second 1985 movie hit after "Into the Groove". In fact, it was "Crazy For You" that eventually dislodged "Into the Groove" off of the number one position on the Australian Kent Music charts, the first time an artist had ever replaced themselves as the number one artist. The song is so slinky and oozes the atmosphere of a little out of the way club that Madonna sings about. Like many songs from this period, the simple nature of the lyrics is actually perfect for her, at the time, rather simple vocals. Her voice is so young and fresh here, but when she sings a lyric like "Strangers making the most of the dark" (truly one of her greatest lyrics) there's a refreshing blend of maturity and naivete.
The Film: I've never seen Vision Quest, but the mere fact that it was retitled to Crazy For You upon its international release and later US home video release suggests it doesn't carry much status. The film is about an inter-generational relationship so Madonna certainly knows about that (if not necessarily in 1985), but the film is also about competitive wrestling, so... umm... yeah. Let's stick with the song, yeah?
The Video: I am aware that Madonna appears in Vision Quest (her first on screen film appearance) to perform "Crazy For You" and "Gambler" so the footage used of her in this video clip is, I assume, that very scene. Even if it is just lifted from the film, at least it's of Madonna actually performance, unlike "Into the Groove" from the same year. The club in which she performs is smokey, with pink neon and Madonna's big blonde mop pulled back with a marvellous '80s headband making for a striking piece of imagery. There are the ubiquitous movie clips spread throughout including one of star Matthew Modine sans shirt. Yes, that is acceptable.
The Awards: None for the song or the film, although it did receive a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance outside of the film categories.
4. "Beautiful Stranger"
From Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
The Year: 1999
The Song: Here's that word again... infectious! Such a collision of thrilling, exciting pop moments all in one big candy-coloured explosion. Obviously more in line with her upcoming 2000 release Music than her 1998 Ray of Light sound, this William Orbit collaboration is one of the golden secrets of Madonna's career. A lot of people seem to have forgotten it, but if they had to listen I am sure they'd remember it as the gleeful, up-tempo, brilliant slice of retro pop it most assuredly is. Those "da da"s are addictive!
The Film: Do we need to discuss the Austin Powers films? The first two are great, the third one is shite (and, hilariously, stars Beyonce Knowles who I suspect will become the Academy's next never-going-to-that-well performer) and we don't need a fourth.
The Video: A rare soundtrack video for Madonna where in she actually interacts with cast-members of the film she's singing about. In this great video Madonna is a "master of disguise" (hah dee hah hah) who is seducing top British agents (a sly wink to Madonna's emergence as a British woman no doubt) and Austin Powers must do his best to bring her down. Madonna having fun always means the audience will have fun and that's definitely the case here. The fun is... infectious.
The Awards: This should've been the song to finally do it. Surely the most egregious snub of Madonna's entire career. Not only did "Beautiful Stranger" win the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, but it did so by beating out two Oscar winners in the process! Not only was the song was a huge success, but it was released a time when Madonna was at the peak of her critical success, having just struck gold with her Ray of Light record and making waves with buzz for Music. She had been seen as having "paid her dues" by this stage and having matured greatly. Even in Academy circles this was surely hard to deny, and while she wasn't nominated for Evita, many noticed the effort she made in building her voice to take on the role and the lyrical maturity that she brought to her subsequent recordings. "Beautiful Stranger" was a winner at ASCAP, the Grammys and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society and was nominated by Golden Globes and the Brit Awards. The Academy Awards had a strong field that year including "Blame Canada" (South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut), "Save Me" (Magnolia) and "When She Loved Me" (Toy Story 2), but "You'll Be In My Heart" (Tarzan) and "Music of the Heart" (Music of the Heart) over "Beautiful Stranger"? Disgraceful. That ace video also won a Grammy for Best Video from a Film.
5. "I'll Remember (Theme from 'With Honors')"
From With Honors
The Year: 1994
The Song: This is the song on the list that actually most resembles the newbie, "Masterpiece", with their similar structure and musical sound. I've always had a deep fondness for "I'll Remember" ever since it first came out. It's really a lovely tune with that soothing humming laced over Madonna's flawless, gorgeous vocals as she sings about a great love. Coupled with "Rain" and that's the moment by childhood fondness and interest in Madonna became full-blown love. Not given its due amongst her back catalogue of envious music, this tender track is blissful.
The Film: Never seen it, but realising it was directed by Alek Keshishian and it's obvious why Madonna recorded a theme song for it, isn't it? I imagine With Honors would fit in quite comfortably alongside films like School Ties, Dead Poet's Society and other films of that collegiate ilk.
The Video: I've always linked "I'll Remember" and "Rain" together in my mind ("Rain" being a single released off of her 1993 album, "Erotica"). They share a similar aural aesthetic, Madonna hadn't yet retired the black wig look and the two videos both see Madonna on a stylised, sleek, manufactured set with people constructing a world around her as she simply stands/sits and sings the song. Perhaps a telling motif for her career, but they still make for lovely videos. At least with the "I'll Remember" video we get film clips in a more natural way, as Madonna performs the song in front of a screen as she's watched over by production staff of the film.
The Awards: With Honors received three award nominations and all of them were for Madonna's theme. "I'll Remember" was nominated in the original motion picture song category at the Golden Globe Awards, the Grammy Awards as well as the MTV Movie Awards. The Oscars, meanwhile, nominated "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", "Hakuna Matata" and "The Circle of Life" from The Lion King, "Look What Love Has Done" (Junior) and "Make Up Your Mind" (The Paper). I don't remember those last two ever existing just like I'm sure you don't either, but they were written by people like Randy Newman and Patty Smyth, so I guess they had to be nominated. This is by far one of the most ludicrous Oscar snubs for Madonna, surely.
6. "This Used to Be My Playground"
From A League of Their Own
The Year: 1992
The Song: Another childhood favourite of mine, "This Used to Be My Playground" belongs in the same wheelhouse as "Take a Bow" and the aforementioned "I'll Remember" and "Rain" as a particularly lovely period of music for Madonna. The entire song is a beautiful song about remembrance and memories, but it's those final chants towards the end that send it that little notch higher in my estimations. "wishing you were here with me", she coos as her vocals slowly sink away into the recesses of the mind. It's got an aching sadness behind it that I find absolutely haunting.
The Film: Does anyone not love - or at least somewhat enjoy - A League of Their Own? In all honesty, I think this is where my affection for the game of baseball began. And what better way to induct oneself into the sport than with Madonna, Geena Davis, Lori Petty and Rosie O'Donnell? Oh sure, Tom Hanks is there hamming it up, but even that's not so bad because the film is such a touching and sublime look at something that so rarely ever gets seen. Women's sports movies aren't exactly overflowing at the multiplex, but A League of Their Own remains a glowing high point. And for all the talk of movies like The Help, Bridesmaids and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn "proving" that women actually go to the movies, A League of Their Own proved it 19 years ago by grossing $132mil at the US box office on a $40mil budget. Madonna's performance is much like that of the one in Desperately Seeking Susan and a clear sign that she shouldn't have ventured too far from the Jersey Shore when prone to acting.
The Video: One of my favourites, this wonderfully executed video features an unseen person looking through a particularly Madonna heavy photo album. Subtle movements of the woman and her surroundings are nicely rendered (I love the sheer pages that, when pulled back, reveal the photo beneath) and there's a wonderful diversity amongst the imagery that allows Madonna to play around with the idea of image and looks. Occasional movie clips are featured, but not too frequently as to take away from the video's intimacy.
The Awards: I still can't quite fathom why "This Used to Be My Playground" wasn't nominated for the Academy Award. Was the Madonna backlash still going on? Even if it wasn't, it's not like the Academy had proven themselves to be a fan, but still... The song won the ASCAP Film & Television Music Awards prize for most performed song, and also received a Golden Globe nomination to go alongside Geena Davis' Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy nomination. The Academy decided to go with "Friend Like Me" and "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, "Run to You" and "I Have Nothing" from The Bodyguard, and "Beautiful Maria of My Soul" from The Mambo Kings. You'd think one of those Bodyguard songs could've gotten the boot, or that song from The Mambo Kings that I'm positive nobody could remember the tune of even if given hours or prep time.
7. "Who's That Girl"
From Who's That Girl
The Year: 1987
The Song: A Spanish flavoured treat that echoes "La Isla Bonita". If one was to listen to Madonna's biggest hits - of which "Who's That Girl" is one of - it would probably sound out of place as it hovers about in the territory between Madonna's balladeer mode ("Live to Tell") and her party mode ("Into the Groove"). It really is a charming song though and one of surprising variety with its Hispanic and Caribbean influences, Spanish lyrics and lush, soft vocals.
The Film: As much as I adore the song and I even have time for some of the songs on the "various artists" soundtrack that aren't Madge's, I think Who's That Girl is a woeful piece of filmmaking. Truly, it is. It's a riff on Bringing Up Baby and screwball in general, but it's all so completely off tone throughout. What makes Madonna's squeaky, high-pitched rattler voice even more intolerable is that whenever a "Who's That Girl" or a "Causing a Commotion" pops up on the soundtrack and we get to hear her actual voice and it's so nice. Sigh. What a train wreck of a film.
The Video: Seemingly dressed up like a man in an ill-fitting suit and a really ugly hat, Madonna walks around a glam rooftop as she looks into the reflections of a water feature only to be greeted by scenes from the film. Yes, it's another one of those videos, but I guess they worked at the time (especially since, you know, people watched music videos and weren't bombarded with internet marketing for films). I think it's a worrying sign when Madonna actually gives a better performance in the 90 minute movie than the 4 minute music video, but she does. Definitely one of my least favourite Madonna videos, it all amounts to not a lot. Disappointing given the bountiful opportunities presented to her by her own song.
The Awards: Madonna's first big awards play came for "Who's That Girl", which garnered both Golden Globe and Grammy nominations for original song in a motion picture as well as a win at ASCAP. It was her first of five Golden Globe nominations in the song category, although the has still yet to win one (she did, however, win a Globe for her performance in Evita). I don't really know why the Academy would find nominating "Who's That Girl" so beneath them and yet in the same year throw a nod to Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" from Mannequin, but there ya go. Oscar also went with "Cry Freedom" (Cry Freedom), "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" (Dirty Dancing), "Shakedown" (Beverley Hills Cop II) and "Storybook Love" (The Princess Bride).
8. "Die Another Day"
From Die Another Day
The Year: 2002
The Song: The Madonna/Mirwais period of Madonna's career is by far the most polarising. Some like the way his harsh, abrasive production melded with her edgier vocals throughout American Life (her best album to date) and the title track of the 20th entry of the James Bond franchise. Personally I love it, and it ranks as my favourite Bond theme outside of Shirley Bassey creations of the early entries (of course, if kd lang's "Surrender" had been officially made the theme of Tomorrow Never Dies we wouldn't even have to have this conversation). I think it works as a Bond theme because it is so radically eager to not sound like one, and reminds me an awful lot of Wings' "Live and Let Die" in the same regard. Perhaps the song would have been more fitting as a theme to Casino Royale, which had a dud theme despite its new beginnings mantra. Still, leaving out all the James Bond stuff and I still think the song is miraculous if for no other reason than the final 55 seconds, which are - to put it mildly - 55 of the most electric, gothically bonkers and implosive seconds of pop music from the entire decade. The production really is like some industrial DJ set. And, hey, "Sigmund Freud / Analyze this!" still makes me smile to this very day.
The Film: It perhaps fitting that for a franchise as all over the place as the Bond series that one of the strongest theme songs is attached to one of the weakest films. Die Another Day is a particularly silly film, but not a fun one. I know pure Bond fans aren't a fan of the campier incarnations, but surely they're a helluva lot better than this grey, sullen variety. Madonna's cameo notwithstanding, of course.
The Video: The one-two punch of videos for "Die Another Day" and "American Life" make up a magically angry time for Madonna in her videos career. Whereas "American Life" featured terrorism fashion shows, George W Bush, female armies and bloody warfare on the catwalk, the video for "Die Another Day" sees Madonna being interrogated and tortured by some nasty men (including one modelled after Jaws from Moonraker, just one of many references to prior Bond films), which is intercut between the mental battle of good vs evil inside her brain, which is taking place between two identical Madonna's. It's a thematically confounding video, but an audacious one. Visually, it moves between dingy torture chambers and extravagant, bright fencing palaces and all up cost $6,000,000, making it the second most expensive video of all time.
The Awards: Nominations from the Golden Globes, the Golden Satellites and the Phoenix Film Critics Society sit anxiously next to that nomination at the Razzie Awards. While the Razzies have always been keen to cite Madonna for her acting (and, one can only assume, for Worst Director for W.E. when the time comes), they have been refreshingly fine with her songs. They'll nominate her as Worst Actress for In Bed with Madonna (a documentary, although, admittedly, one in which she is portraying the idea of 'Madonna'), after all! They could have easily nominated anything she put out just to give her more gold-painted raspberry statues, but "Die Another Day" was the first and last time they've done so. Not even "American Pie" or anything from Evita tickled their fancy. Oscar, on the other hand, went with "Burn it Blue" (Frida), "Father and Daughter" (The Wild Thornberrys Movie), "The Hands That Built America" (Gangs of New York), "I Move On" (Chicago) and "Lose Yourself" (8 Mile).
From Vision Quest
The Year: 1985
The Song: As far as I am aware, "Gambler" is the last single that Madonna has a sole writing credit on. A shame then because the song is so very good! Although, if "Hey You" is any indication, maybe it's good that she stopped altogether. Nevertheless, I know this is one of noted Madonnaphile Adem with an E's two fave Madonna songs (alongside "Get Together") and while I don't like it that much, it is still a funky ditty that remains a rarity amongst her touring roster having only ever performed in on The Virgin Tour in 1985.
The Film: See #2. Although, I must say, I do actually kinda want to watch this movie now purely to see how these performances seen in the music videos are integrated into the actual film.
The Video: Much like the "Crazy For You" video, "Gambler" mixes footage from Vision Quest with that of Madonna performing the song in a smoky club, her hair frizzed out to the extreme. In a rare moment of allowing herself to be seen as letting her guard down, the video features some nice behind the scenes footage and blooper reel type of stuff. It's interesting, but only goes further to position the song as a secondary tune that is of lesser interest.
The Awards: If "Crazy For You" got none then you can be assured this got even less.
10. "Time Stood Still"
From The Next Best Thing
The Year: 2000
The Song: I find it interesting that two of Madonna's most maligned tracks begin with the word "American". Both "American Pie" and "American Life" are disliked by many Madonna fans, hated by seemingly everyone else, and yet I find her cover of Don McLean's track to be actually rather lovely. It completely axes the bloat of the original and the swirling synthesised goodness that Madonna and producer William Orbit swathe the song in is charming and even a little bit nostalgic. Now, "American Pie" was featured on the soundtrack to The Next Best Thing as a way of, I assume, showing that the idea of a straight woman and a gay man wanting to have a baby is just as American as, well... you know. Still, from that same soundtrack came the unreleased "Time Stood Still". It's an album track for sure, but a nice one and probably has more dramatic heft in its 3 minutes and 48 seconds than The Next Best Thing has in its 108.
The Film: Having said that, I haven't actually seen The Next Best Thing. Madonna acting is far from the most unappealing thing about it! How about Rupert Everett or Benjamin Bratt? Or the general ickiness of the entire story? Yuk. No thanks!
The Video: The film wasn't a hit - although the soundtrack did decently - so no second single was released after "American Pie", alas there is no video.
The Awards: None, not even a Golden Globe nomination, although it's hard to know whether it was even submitted. The Oscars, in 2000, went with "A Fool in Love" (Meet the Parents), "I've Seen it All" (Dancer in the Dark), "A Love Before Time" (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), "My Funny Friend and Me" (The Emperor's New Groove) and "Things Have Changed" (Wonder Boys).
So what can we learn from all of this? Basically, that Madonna needs to get her arse into the recording studio more often, whether she has an album coming out or not. Also: Ballads, Madge. Ballads.