Listen to Lana Del Rey’s “You Must Love Me” cover

“Andrew Lloyd Webber has been one of my primary inspirations in music,” Lana Del Rey.


Lana Del Rey has covered “you Must Love Me,” a song originally written for the musical Evita and recorded in the ’90s by Madonna. The song will feature on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Unmasked: The Platinum Collection and can be heard above.


Evita, based on the life of Argentinian leader Eva Perón, first emerged on London’s West End in the 1970s. A movie version, starring Madonna in the lead role, followed in 1996.

Unmasked is being released to coincide with musical impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 70th birthday and includes his greatest musical hits alongside newly released tracks.

In a statement to press, Lana Del Rey said: “Andrew Lloyd Webber has been one of my primary inspirations in music, so to do a cover of one of his songs is a dream. I especially love this particular song, “You Must Love Me,” because of how unique the melody is. I’ve been incredibly inspired by all of Andrew’s work from Phantom of the Opera to Evita.”

Earlier this year Lana Del Rey was the subject of a kidnapping plot. One man was arrested in close proximity to one of her concerts.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Ethan Miller/Getty.

More at The Fader

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Madonna Record Store Day 2018 exclusives? Read on….

Through the Steve Hoffman forums, a big list of possible Record Store Day 2018 releases has been leaked. Once again, with these leaks, we can’t confirm them, unless they’ve been reported previously on this site and announced officially.

The official list is coming on March 6.

— Madonna You Can Dance (Mix 2)(Vinyl)(RSD 2018 Exclusive)
— Madonna Madonna (Picture Disc Vinyl)(RSD 2018 Exclusive)

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Body of Evidence blu-ray release June 12, 2018

Pop superstar Madonna stars with Willem Dafoe, Anne Archer, and Julianne Moore in the bold and titillating erotic thriller, Body Of Evidence.

Rebecca Carlson (Madonna) is a powerful woman. Intelligent, successful, and breathtakingly beautiful, she can bring almost any man to his knees … and that’s exactly where she wants them. But when a night of unbridled sexual abandon results in the death of a prominent businessman, Rebecca finds herself on trial for murder. Now it’s up to her attorney (Dafoe) to prove her innocence … but when he becomes entangled in her web of erotic games, his road to the truth proves to have as many curves as his enigmatic and seductive client!


Product Information

Released: June 12, 2018 • Available in US & Canada

RUN-TIME 101 min
RATING Unrated


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Brugotta Tribute Madonna op 14 april – Madonna tribute in Belgium (not translated)

27 feb 2018

In 2017 vond de allereerste en nu al memorabele editie plaats van de driejaarlijkse Brugotta Awards. Driejaarlijks, maar dat  wil niet zeggen dat  we onze Stadsschouwburg in de tussenliggende jaren links laten liggen voor het vele talent in onze stad. Wel integendeel!

Dit seizoen palmen verschillende generaties Brugse muzikanten de Stadsschouwburg in om hulde te brengen aan niemand minder dan de onbetwiste koningin van de popmuziek: Madonna. 2018 is het jaar waarin de controversiële popdiva met oneindig veel wereldhits op haar palmares, de kaap van de zestig rondt.  

11 geselecteerde Brugse bands

27 Brugse bands stuurden Cultuurcentrum Brugge een originele ode aan The Queen of Pop. Uit die inzendingen selecteerde Cultuurcentrum Brugge, samen met Metronoom, 11 Brugse bands die het Tribute-podium mogen betreden: A New Difference, Bouvier, Tim De Roo, Eszra, Look o Kool, Seven Oaks, Shuriken II, Steel Orchid, Charlie Swyngedouw, Steffie Van Volsem en We are ooh people.  

Ook dit keer kunnen we rekenen op de muzikale ondersteuning en voorbereiding van Steven van Havere en MetronoomChris Dusauchoit, treedt net als bij de Brugotta Awards, opnieuw op als presentator.

Verwacht je aan een avond vol van eigenzinnige interpretaties van het tijdloze oeuvre van Madonna. We sluiten de avond, net als de Brugotta Awards, af met een afterparty in de foyer van de Stadsschouwburg.


Zaterdag 14 april 2018, 20.00u
Stadsschouwburg, Vlamingstraat 29, 8000 Brugge

050 44 30 60

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Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’ at 20: Celebrating Her Psychedelic Masterwork

Happy birthday to Ray of Light, the masterwork that introduced the world to Cosmic Psychedelic Madonna, 20 years ago this week. Ray of Light was the queen’s first proper album in four years, dropping on March 3rd, 1998, a week after she unveiled her new sound with the single “Frozen.” It was Madonna’s motherhood album, after giving birth to daughter Lourdes. It was her avant-techno move, with U.K. producer William Orbit. It was her spiritual-awakening statement. But Ray of Light holds up as her most soulful and passionate music ever – a libido-crazed disco-hippie mom pushing 40 and proud of it, flaunting her artiest emotional extremes. As “Ray of Light” boomed out of radios all year, with Madonna chanting her mantra – “And I feeeel! And I feeeel!” – she seemed to be feeling twice as hard as everyone else.

By all rights, Ray of Light should have been a pretentious disaster. Yet it turned out to be a new peak, setting Ms. Ciccone off on a glorious four-year run: the 1999 single “Beautiful Stranger,” the 2000 album Music, the 2001 Drowned World Tour. If you’re the kind of fan who reveres her as a musician first, not a celebrity, this was the hot streak of her life. You could compare it to Elvis Presley’s mature phase with the ’68 Comeback Special and From Elvis in Memphis. Except at 42, Elvis was dead, while Madonna was just gearing up for her next phase, where she discovered Kabbalah, converted to Judaism and started asking people to call her “Esther.” Never say she isn’t ecumenical.

Ray of Light is easily the most intense pop album ever made by a 39-year-old – Madonna spends these songs celebrating her newborn daughter, mourning her long-lost mother and reckoning with her messed-up adult self. She also contemplates her newfound Lilith Fair–era consciousness, going off about karma and yoga. As she explained in Billboard, “I feel like I’ve been enlightened, and that it’s my responsibility to share what I’ve learned so far with the world.” Ominous words from any pop star, let alone this one. But she made it feel mighty real. (Like another album we all loved in 1998: Hello Nasty, a spiritual manifesto from the opening act on her first tour, the Beastie Boys.) Even those of us who’d devoted our lives to worshipping Madonna weren’t prepared for an album this great.

Strange as it seems now, people back then were mildly obsessive about the idea of Madonna being “over.” Predicting the end of her career was a weirdly popular Nineties fad, like swing dancing or psychic hotlines. The semi-monthly “is she finally done?” debate kicked up every time she did something ridiculous, which she did all the damn time, from her poetic musings in the Sex book (“My pussy is the temple of learning”) to her erotic thriller Body of Evidence, where she played a serial killer who specialized in humping men to death. The U.K. music mag Melody Maker, for its 1992 year-in-review issue, polled experts on the year’s big question: Has Madonna turned into a pathetic exhibitionist? The wisest answer came from (of all people) Right Said Fred’s lead singer: “Being an exhibitionist is only pathetic when nobody’s watching you.”


The queen kept expanding her sound – the Babyface collabo “Take a Bow” spent seven weeks at Number One in 1995. She also did vocal training for the Evitasoundtrack. (Count me among the fans who thinks Babyface taught her a hell of a lot more about singing than Andrew Lloyd Webber did.) But it was still considered exotic to take Madonna seriously for her music, rather than her image. It took Ray of Light to change that.

Her producer William Orbit had just worked wonders with U.K. ingenue Beth Orton, on her classic folkie-techno debut Trailer Park. Madonna playfully renamed herself “Veronica Electronica,” throwing in lots of what she and Orbit called “teenage-angst guitars.” They set the tone in the opening ballad, an emotional powerhouse called “Drowned World/Substitute for Love.” There’s too many gimmicks in the mix: moody electro bleeps, wind chimes, sitar, drum ‘n’ bass snare rattles, Sixties string samples, a very 1998-sounding vibraphone. Yet it never feels crowded or contrived – Madonna gives herself room to breathe deep, as she sings about letting go of the past and moving on. She keeps looping back to a mantra from John Lennon: “Now I find I’ve changed my mind.” (The Beatles’ “Help,” where John confessed his adult despair, was the perfect song to echo here.) When the rock guitar kicks in, at the three-minute point, it hits like a moment of pure serenity.

The goth power ballad “Frozen” was the first hit, but “Ray of Light” was the one that really summed up the new Madonna in one big kundalini disco rush. It came from the same place as the Talking Heads’ similarly titled Remain in Light, about how the world moves on a woman’s hips. The album’s premise was trip-hop, as we called it then – the moody electro-funk sound perfected by Massive Attack, whose mind-freak opus Mezzanine dropped around the same time. (She’d worked with them in 1995 – a bluer-than-blue cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.”) I interviewed Massive Attack in March 1998, right after Ray came out, and naively asked if they’d noticed how much it sounded like them. Yes, in fact, they noticed. As Daddy G cheerfully told me, “I put on that first track and said, ‘Here we go again.'”

The music is full of odd hooks – the Moroccan ghaita of “Swim,” the bossa nova of “To Have and Not to Hold,” the Britpop guitar in “Ray of Light.” She makes the Sanskrit chant “Shanti/Ashtangi” sound like Devo’s version of “Working in a Coal Mine.” In “Sky Fits Heaven,” she takes her sacred text from a Gap ad – the iconic TV spot starring bartender/poet Max Blagg and Twin Peaks siren Madchen Amick: “The sky fits heaven, so ride it!” (She even cut Blagg in on the credits.) And her spiritual pretensions were ripe for mockery – hence the brilliant parody in the Drew Barrymore flick Music and Lyrics, where the pop star shares her “Buddhism-in-a-thong philosophy.” 

Ray of Light sounds like an anthology of “only in the Nineties” ideas, from its coffeehouse-techno vibe to the whole notion of seeking mystic wisdom from a Gap ad. Yet the most Nineties thing about it is the way Madonna assumes you’ll put in the time the music demands. It’s pop designed to unfold over time, from an artist serenely confident her listeners will pay attention. If Ray of Light came out now, it would get dismissive Friday-morning quickie reviews listing the flaws of her latest rollout strategy. But because people still paid for their music in 1998, people really did put in the time to absorb it. Buying an album was an emotional commitment – walking into the store, plucking the CD off the rack, taking it into your home. You gave it a few chances before you gave up. So people stuck with Ray of Light, even if they initially laughed at it.

She picked the right moment to swerve hard into adulthood, just as a new crop of teen stars was rising. By the end of 1998, MTV’s newest star was a young Madonna fan named Britney Spears. Madonna kept tarting up the psychedelia with her bizarre 1999 paisley-disco hit “Beautiful Stranger,” from the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It’s Madonna at her most breezily seductive, not to mention her funniest. (It’s also a righteous salute to then-incarcerated black hippie pioneer Arthur Lee and his band Love, goosing their 1966 flower-child classic “She Comes in Colors.”) Music was equally masterful, except now she was into line-dancing and cowgirl hats. Yet Ray of Light still stands apart in Madonna’s career. After 20 years of heavy listening, it remains the album of a lifetime.

Madonna’s collaborators on ‘Ray of Light’ delve into the making of the star’s pivotal 1998 LP. Watch below. 

More at RollingStone

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MADONNA DANCES AND SINGS To Her Own Song (to ‘Everybody’)

Madonna let the music take control and found herself in a dance-off … but she had the upper hand because she was grooving to her own hit track.

Madge hit the dance floor at Catch NYC late Thursday night while celebrating the birthday of her lead dancer, Loic Mabanza. She showed up after midnight with a large Gucci gift bag for Loic, and partied with the crew on the rooftop … even when the DJ got personal by playing “Everybody.”

That’s usually a party faux pas, but Madonna and Loic were into it.

We’re told Madonna stayed on the floor for a while — dancing, not only to her classics, but also current hip-hop. She showed people pics of her daughter, Mercy James, too.

Jeezy was also in attendance, and snapped a pic with his fellow ‘born legend.’

More at TMZ

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Official Charts Flashback 1998: Madonna – Frozen

With many of us experiencing a cold snap this week, it’s seems fitting that this week’s Flashback looks back at Madonna’s Frozen, which was Number 1 on the Official UK Singles Chart 20 years ago this week. 

The pop comeback that all other pop comebacks are measured against, Frozen was the beginning of a bold new direction for Madonna. She’d previously dabbled in maturer-sounding pop on albums Bedtime Stories and Erotica, but together with producer William Orbit and songwriter Patrick Leonard, Frozen and its parent album Ray Of Light saw her take things a step further, delving into dance music of the deeply spiritual kind.

Orbit’s signature ambient electronica sound proved the perfect match for Madge, who in the years previous had given birth to her daughter Lourdes, gained an interest in Kabbalah and Eastern mysticism and had taken on the title role on the film adaptation of the musical Evita. The resulting Frozen was a grand yet uncomplicated statement about her new perspective on life.

The song’s icy, gothic music video was shot by British artist Chris Cunningham and sees Madonna shape shifting into a flock of crows and a black dog in the middle of the desert. The symbolism of it all! Praise from the critics was unanimous and the visual was even awarded an MTV Music Video Award in 1998. 

Frozen was Madonna’s first single to debut at Number 1 in the UK, shifting 196,604 copies in its opening week. It’s total combined sales to date stand at 582,353, split between 560,000 physical sales/downloads and 2.2 million streams. It’s her ninth bestseller in the UK – check out the full Top 40 here.

Read back our interview with William Orbit about working on Madonna’s Ray Of Light and Frozen from 2015 here

Elsewhere in the Official Singles Chart Top 40 this week in 1998, Madonna had knocked Cornershop’s Brimful Of Asha down to 3 after one week at the top, and British band Space scored their biggest chart hit with The Ballad Of Tom Jones ft. Cerys Matthews (of Cataonia fame) at Number 4. 

The Top 10 also featured two songs that would go on to be huge hits; Leanne Rimes’ How Do I Live at 7 and Robyn’s Show Me Love at 8.

View the full Top 100 Official Singles Chart from this week in 1998 

Listen to the UK Top 40 from this week in 1998 on our streaming channels! Subscribe to our weekly Flashback playlist on SpotifyDeezerApple Music:

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Madonna’s Ray of Light 20 years on: still the peak of empowered pop

The year is young, but Grammy chieftain Neil Portnow’s suggestion that female artists need to “step up” will take some beating for tone-deafness. To help today’s heroines unseat the likes of Bruno Mars, he might look to the 1999 ceremony

The 41st edition of the awards properly reflected the female energy coursing through late 90s mainstream music. Only one out of 10 nominees for the record and album of the year categories was male-fronted, while Shania TwainSheryl Crow and Garbage’s Shirley Manson were all in their mid-30s; The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill ran out eventual winner in the album bracket. Madonna, snubbed in any meaningful category for so long, also finally got her dues. She took home three for Ray of Light and its title track. But, if anything, the album’s stock was modest then compared to now.

Ray of Light is probably Madonna’s most widely acknowledged classic. It is held as a high-water mark of pop-as-art, a work that still rings out as believable and true from a star who adopts and discards phases, passions and philosophies at pace. That era of Madge inspired half a catwalk’s worth of memorable looks (she was variously a geisha, a gothic witch, a gap-year student and a raven-haired mother reborn over rushing skylines), with such a superabundance of hits that Sky Fits Heaven was withheld as a single so as not to cannibalise the title track’s success.

Last week saw an outpouring of celebratory 20th-anniversary articles; later this week, London gay club the Glory is throwing a two-stage celebration of everything Ray of Light. Even for a cabaret haunt, the amount of effort being poured into one-time-only tribute costumes speaks to the devotion of this period.

Madonna’s look for Frozen, recreated by Margo Marshall, who will appear at the Glory’s Ray of Light cabaret event.
 Madonna’s look for Frozen, recreated by Margo Marshall, who will appear at the Glory’s Ray of Light cabaret event. Photograph: Alexander Nunney

The album sold well in the US but didn’t exactly shatter the charts. By the end of 1998, it had sold just shy of 2.7m copies, ranking 18th in the Billboard end-of-year rundown. (Which illustrates how charged the market was then; last year’s bestselling physical release, Ed Sheeran’s ÷, managed sales of only 1.1m.) It’s consistently strong front-to-back, but only Frozen could reasonably be regarded as a contender for her greatest-ever song. William Orbit’s aquatic sound palette was a fine match, but so too was Mirwais Ahmadzaï’s mechanised funk on 2000 follow-up LP Music, yet Mirwais doesn’t field interviews about his impact to this day. So why does Ray of Light merit the obsession?

For one, the themes tackled are more complex than your usual dance-pop smash. She reconciles her complicit role as a bratty star in a male-controlled industry (Nothing Really Matters), the breakdown of love with Lourdes’ father, Carlos Leon (Frozen), and, purportedly, her stormy marriage to Sean Penn (The Power of Good-Bye). For Anna Cafolla, the Quietus pop critic who had an Irish-Catholic upbringing, the stark closer Mer Girl, wherein Madonna lets loose the weight of witnessing her mother’s overgrown grave, hit home hardest: “Lush, haunting, one I still feel particularly close to as a woman now … It also makes me want to give my own mum a really big hug.”


It’s easy to poke fun at Madonna extolling the virtues of Kabbalah and her subsequent legacy of faux depth, but this sells her short. “We didn’t have Instagram grids to analyse an artist’s psyche,” says Cafolla, “[so] you took the intimacy you got.” As a more open-hearted reinvention, Ray of Light also flipped the narrative that Madonna’s moment in the sun was over. A lengthy losing streak of public evisceration in the mid-90s through her cycle of Erotica, Sex and generally standoffish behaviour led her to pull back and exhumed some ghosts of old. As a moment of reflection and acknowledgment of her position in the pop landscape, Nothing Really Matters just about shades Bitch I’m Madonna.

Timing played a major part. “We all thought Y2K was plunging us into darkness and leprosy,” recalls John Sizzle, of the Glory’s queen bees and a Madonna diehard who claims to have attended every global tour but one. There’s no small irony in the fact that an album by arch-exhibitionist Madonna provided a soothing balm for frazzled pre-millennium nerves and a path back to “the basics of nature, love and spirituality”, according to Sizzle. There’s another irony, too, that by adopting a more passive mode she placed a renewed spotlight on her sharp talent and capacity for impact, and in doing so restored her seat at the high table of pop.

Read full article at TheGuardian

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So what is Madonna working on?

So Madonna is working on something new involving a photoshoot, Steven Klein, The Fat Jewish and her usual stylists. She tagged MDNA Skin and since she’s worked with The Fat Jewish on an MDNA Skin commercial before, you might think they’re working on a new campaign. Or is she starring in a new Moschino campaign? Nicki Richards is in Lisbon too…..who knows! Time will tell. The only fact we know right now, is that she looks absolutely stunning.

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What Gianni Versace’s Death Tells Us About Madonna’s ‘Ray Of Light’ Renaissance

“Traveling, traveling / In the arms of unconsciousness,” Madonna cooed on the Björk-assisted single “Bedtime Story,” released in 1995. Overexposed and castigated after the ruckus surrounding “Erotica” and the carnal coffee-table book Sex, she’d forged a reverie about disconnecting from reality. “Today is the last day that I’m using words / They’ve gone out, lost their meaning.”

But by 1998, Madonna had awoken again. On “Sky Fits Heaven,” the seventh track from the enlightened electro-rock masterpiece “Ray of Light,” she repeated a familiar phrase ― except here it ended on an upbeat: “Traveling, traveling / Watching the signs as I go.” This time, pop music’s doyenne of reinvention was anything but unconscious. 

Her footpath from the “Bedtime Story” era to “Ray of Light,” which turns 20 on Feb. 22, places Madonna at the nexus of celebrity culture circa 1997 (when she spent five months writing and recording the album) and early 1998 (when she released and promoted the album, which went on to win three Grammys and six MTV Video Music Awards). Nearing 40 and competing with a fresh generation of A&R-packaged teenyboppers, Madonna had risked aging out of mainstream stardom, one of the many sectors of society that isn’t kind to mature women. Instead, the ambient fizzes and mystical flurries on “Ray of Light” formed a cutting-edge benediction that rehabilitated Madonna’s image ― a coup few legacy acts could hope for today. She was a new mother, animated by Kabbalah and Ashtanga yoga, but uninterested in maternity leave.

Madonna’s late ’90s eminence can be further distilled through one morsel about the creation of “Ray of Light,” her seventh studio disc: On July 15, 1997, the day she recorded the gritty meditation “Swim,” Donatella Versace called Madonna to report that her brother Gianni had been shot outside his Miami mansion. 

William Orbit, the English producer who helped shape “Ray of Light,” has related this anecdote at least twice. The first time was in 1998, during an interview with Music Week.

“The day she [recorded ‘Swim’] she got a call on the way to the studio that her next-door neighbor Versace had been murdered,” he said. “Lyrically it was written before that, but it is topical.”

And again in 2002.

“We were recording ‘Swim’ on the day Versace was murdered,” Orbit told Q magazine. “Madonna was very friendly with him and his sister, Donatella, who was in the street, distraught, on her cellphone to Madonna. But she did the vocal, which is probably why it has such an emotional impact.”

Earlier this month, I emailed Orbit to ask for more details. “There’s quite a story around that,” he confirmed, declining an interview in the same breath. Representatives for Madonna and Donatella Versace did not respond to my inquiries.

Madonna was famously chummy with the Calabria-born Versaces, first posing for their fashion line’s ad campaign in 1995 when, as Orbit indicates, she and Gianni both owned townhouses on 64th Street in Manhattan (though they weren’t next door to each other). A month and a half after recording “Swim,” she penned the couturier’s eulogy for Time magazine, recalling, among other lavish details, the days she borrowed his well-staffed Italian villa. “I’ve got a pocketful of memories in my Versace jeans, and they’re not going anywhere,” she wrote.

Read full article at HuffingtonPost

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‘Ray Of Light’ At 20: Madonna’s Experimental Grammy Winning Album

“And I feel like I just got home.”

So goes the lyric in the title track from “Ray of Light”, Madonna’s seventh studio album released on Feb. 22, 1998. The album remains one of Madge’s most successful and critically-acclaimed: a celebration of spirituality, self-reflection infused with electronica and the dance floor beats. So, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release, let’s take a look back at the album Rolling Stone placed number 28 on its list of the 100 Best Albums of The ’90s.

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Oh Shanti! Gay Fans Get Misty as Madonna’s Ray of Light Turns 20

Twenty years ago, Madonna released her seventh studio album, Ray of Light. The album would win three Grammys, sell 16 million copies, expose a growing spiritual side to the pop queen, and endear her even more to her legion of gay fans.

Produced by British musician William Orbit, Ray of Light contained songs more opaque and electronica-infused than previous Madonna releases. The first album released after the icon gave birth to her first child — Lourdes Leon — and after she won a Golden Globe for playing Eva Peron, Ray of Light seemed to usher in a new, more profound Madonna. At the time, Madonna was influenced by her yoga practice and her study of Kabbalah, an ancient Jewish spiritual practice.

After 2000’s Music and 2003’s American Life, Madonna retreated a bit from ambitious, heady albums like Ray of Light, which featured a mix of pop bangers and ballads (the title track, “The Power of Goodbye”) with darker, less Top 40-friendly tunes (“Candy Perfume Girl,” “Skin”). There was even a Hindu Sanskrit prayer that listeners could dance to (“Shanti/Ashtangi”).

The album remains a high mark in Madonna’s career and fans, especially gay fans, celebrated its release on social media (the only person who didn’t seem to reference RoL‘s birthday on Twitter was Madonna herself).

Read full article at

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Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’: 6 Things You Didn’t Know

Twenty years ago, Madonna was at a crossroads. After launching her Maverick entertainment company in 1992 with her widely but not wisely panned Eroticaalbum and Sex book, the star entered a period of relative caution. The exuberant queerness of those works gave way to muted ballads, followed by Evita, which made her feminism palatable to Middle America. After the birth of her daughter Lourdes in 1996, she sought spiritual enlightenment in Kabbalah and Ashtanga yoga, and immersed herself in the work of songwriters who shared their secrets via meditative electronic textures – particularly Björk, Everything But the Girl and Tricky.

All these factors shaped Ray of Light, an album akin to those artists’ work, but also uniquely Madonna-esque. Rooted in the underground yet heard and loved by millions, it’s the multi-platinum antecedent to today’s popular EDM, but considerably more personal. Twenty years later, singers and producers alike are still chasing its finely finessed fusion of anguished rumination and beat-driven bliss. Rolling Stone spoke with key collaborators on this watershed LP. Here are six things we learned.

1. Although the project’s synth-centric final results earned her the passing nickname Veronica Electronica, Madonna didn’t initially plan to work with songwriter Rick Nowels or producer William Orbit.
After Evita, Madonna reunited with Babyface, co-producer and co-writer of Bedtime Stories‘ “Take a Bow,” which had topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks in 1995. But according to the smooth-soul magnate, “Madonna didn’t want or need to repeat herself.” Spotting her at Barney’s department store when he’d come to Manhattan for the Grammys, producer and songwriter Rick Nowels – now Lana Del Rey’s primary collaborator – impulsively introduced himself. “I told her I was nominated for a Grammy for Celine Dion’s ‘Falling Into You,'” he recalls. Much to his surprise, she replied, “Oh, I love that song.” This led to a meeting at her home, where, according to Nowels, “She said she had no idea what the new album was going to be.” At Nowels’ Mulholland Drive home studio, the pair wrote nine songs in 10 days.

“Until then, I had only written with friends – Ellen Shipley, Billy Steinberg, and Stevie Nicks,” Nowels remembers. “It was quite unnerving to write one-on-one with the biggest star on the planet. But I loved her songs and felt an emotional kinship with her music. I got a lot of DJ records and old film score records and prepared loops to write to. Once the song was written, we’d drop the loop and program our own beat. ‘Little Star’ and ‘The Power of Good-Bye’ were written over a drum ‘n’ bass rhythm, which was happening at the time. ‘To Have and Not to Hold’ was written to a bossa nova beat.”

Guy Oseary – chairman of Maverick Records – phoned synth-pop veteran William Orbit, who’d previously remixed Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and “Erotica.” Orbit’s involvement expanded as the project evolved, although core Madonna associate Patrick Leonard and British producer Marius De Vries were both called in to assist as the album’s creation stretched out over four-and-a-half months – an eternity for the fast-working Madonna.

2. Ray of Light is largely about spiritual transformation, but one song deals with the perils of hard drugs.
“Candy Perfume Girl” came out of a two-week writing and recording stint between Orbit and Susannah Melvoin, daughter of top L.A. session musician Mike Melvoin, brother to late Smashing Pumpkins touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, twin sister to Prince and the Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin, and former fiancée to Prince. She’s no slouch herself: As member of the Family, a splinter group of the Time, she co-sang the original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and co-wrote one of Prince’s sweetest songs, Sign o’ the Times’ “Starfish and Coffee.” According to Melvoin, William Orbit offered her some tracks to write melodies and lyrics to and sing over for what she thought would either become her solo debut or an album by Orbit’s Strange Cargo project, which she – and, it turns out, Madonna – both loved.

“I was on the floor [of Orbit’s studio], just putting words together, and came up with ‘Candy Perfume Girl,'” she recalls. “It was a personal track for me. At the time, I was mourning my brother [Jonathan died of a heroin overdose in 1996], and it was the allure of drug addiction. I was pretty jacked up about that record happening, and there were a couple of other songs that I had done with him there.”

But Melvoin’s publisher got a call notifying her that Orbit had offered Madonna the tracks they’d worked on: “Candy Perfume Girl” was going on the record, and Madonna wanted a third of the publishing. Melvoin maintains she also wrote the original lyrics to Ray of Light‘s “Swim,” which, she says were “changed, but not significantly,” as well as the original melodies, which she concedes were “manipulated.” Yet in this case Melvoin didn’t get credit or compensation. The songwriter emphasizes she has no beef with Madonna; she feels the superstar understood exactly what “Candy Perfume Girl” was about, and that she made a brilliant record. “But had I gotten proper publishing on Ray of Light,” Melvoin asserts, “I wouldn’t be worried about my financial life.”

3. The album’s defining techno-rock title track was based on an obscure folk oldie.
Just as Orbit offered Madonna his Melvoin material, he similarly sent her a tape featuring unreleased work with Christine Leach, an English singer who’d co-written and sang with Strange Cargo. Leach’s uncle is David Atkins, who, as Dave Curtiss, had been half of Curtiss Maldoon, an overlooked folk duo that released a pair of unsuccessful albums on Deep Purple’s label in the early Seventies. The first one yielded “Sepheryn,” which Leach altered and sang parts of over the instrumental track given to her by Orbit, who had assumed Leach solely wrote what she sang. Madonna made additional changes, and the track became what we know as “Ray of Light,” which is credited to Madonna, William Orbit, Clive Maldoon, Dave Curtis [sic] and Christine Leach.

Some elements “Ray of Light” are strikingly similar to parts of “Sepheryn”: The opening vocal melody remains basically the same while the lyrics deviate only slightly. But “Ray of Light” omits the multiple tempo changes of “Sepheryn” while maintaining a steady rhythm. These changes appear in the Leach rendition leaked online. Madonna’s interpretation – which adds a crucial second, goddess-centric verse – is certainly closer to it than to the Curtis Maldoon original, but Madge’s way with the melody commands and sustains attention in ways that Leach’s does not. Madonna and Orbit managed to turn a compelling experiment in transformation into the cornerstone of a whole album about radical personal and spiritual growth.

4. Despite the borrowing, Madonna’s Ray of Light collaborators consider the icon to be a top-level musical mind.

Having co-written and co-produced significant chunks of many Madonna albums, including Ray of Light, as well as serving as her keyboardist and musical director on two major tours, Patrick Leonard has worked with Madonna longer and more extensively than any other musician. He also co-wrote and produced Leonard Cohen’s final three studio albums, so when he calls her “a helluva songwriter,” it means something.

“Her sensibility about melodic line – from the beginning of the verse to the end of the verse and how the verse and the chorus influence each other – is very deep,” he contends. “That’s not common. Say ‘Live to Tell,’ for example, our first big single. The melodies I wrote are still there and she sings them for the most part, but it’s where she departs from them that turned it into a song. Many times she’s singing notes that no one would’ve thought of but her. Some of it can be perceived as naiveté because she’s picking a note you wouldn’t choose. But who needs the ‘correct’ note? You need the right note that tells the story, and she’s great at that. She certainly made me look better. All I have to do is look at all the other people I wrote with over the years and how that went.”

Los Angeles-based cellist Suzie Katayama has worked with many big names in rock and pop including Roy Orbison, Neil Young, Prince, Eric Clapton, Björk and Beck. Her association with Madonna goes way back to 1986, and for Ray of Light, she conducted its strings and woodwinds – 20 violins, six violas, six cellos, four basses, two flutes and an oboe.

“It was a long day,” she recalls. “For that album, we did the orchestra in one day, both ‘Frozen’ and ‘The Power of Good-bye.’ That’s why I don’t remember much except for working really hard and fast. Everything that Madonna does, she is there. I have never been to anything that’s hers that she didn’t have the final say on it. She’s hands-on. People can say whatever they want, but I remember when she did Dick Tracy, I had never seen anyone work so hard. I was impressed, and I think everyone was because she had to hold her own with a lot of people in that movie.

“This was the record where I had more people calling me, saying, ‘Whoa, this is a great record,'” she continues. “It was real musical. Ray of Light showed a side of her that I don’t think most people saw.”

5. One of the songs written but not recorded for Ray of Light was released years later by an Italian superstar.
If you’re not European or don’t listen to Spanish-language radio, you probably don’t recognize the name Laura Pausini. But the Faenza-born singer is pretty much a household name overseas, having sold more than 70 million records internationally. Her attempt to crack the U.S. market, 2002’s From the Inside, flopped spectacularly. So for 2004’s Resta in Ascolto and its European equivalent Escucha, Pausini returned to Italian and Spanish respectively, and together those albums sold more than 5 million copies, while the latter snagged both Grammy and Latin Grammy trophies. According to Nowels, their closing song, “Mi Abbandono a Te” (“Me Abandono a Ti” on Escucha) was originally titled “Like a Flower,” and was composed by both him and Madonna during their Ray of Light songwriting sessions. Having re-written most of the Nowels-produced ballad’s lyrics in Italian and Spanish, Pausini makes it her own. Nevertheless, the melody’s melancholy Ray of Light–ness remains: The bilingual chorus couldn’t be more Madonna if it poked you in the eye with a pointy bustier.


6. None of Madonna’s records won a Grammy until 
Ray of Light.
The Recording Academy often rewards entertainers who release hit after hit, but this hasn’t been the case with Madonna for much of her long career. In her first 15 years of releasing albums, she got a few scattered Grammy nominations – including nods for “Crazy for You,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” and “Who’s That Girl” – but her only win was for Blond Ambition World Tour Live, a long-out-of-print 1990 laser disc that’s never been officially reissued on DVD or any other format.

But Ray of Light significantly interrupted her losing streak: It won for Best Dance Recording and Best Pop Album, and the title track’s promo clip won Best Short Form Music Video. Since then, she’s won three more times out of 15 subsequent nominations – including Best Electronic/Dance Album for her 2005 LP Confessions on a Dance Floor, which features a kindred mix of rhythmic extroversion and poetic reflection.

Rather than throwing the Academy some deserved shade, Madonna, taking the stage in a flaming red Jean-Paul Gaultier kimono, merely thanked her collaborators before she yanked William Orbit – who towered shyly above her – down and toward the mic, chiding him for mumbling his gratitude: “He does speak English; you’d never know it.”

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To The Heart Of The Nightmare – Madonna’s Ray Of Light 20 Years On

Lucy O’Brien posits that, in the tradition of the 1970s-style concept album, Ray Of Light is Madonna’s Dark Side Of The Moon

In February 1998 Madonna’s new album was literally a ray of light in stodgy UK charts made moribund by the Britpop comedown (Oasis’ Be Here Now, Stereophonics et al), and industry hits like the Titanic soundtrack. In the US it wasn’t much better, with Celine Dion and Garth Brooks at the top. The only other women on the album chart were Spice Girls, All Saints and Aqua, so unsurprisingly Madonna saw off the competition with aplomb. With its icy electronica and pulsing beats, Ray Of Light appeared as the pick-me-up for rave generation. It marked Madonna’s maturity as an artist, brought the MOJO demographic on board, and signalled to the world that a so-called pop bimbo can break down the barriers of that pop/rock divide.

However, it hadn’t been an easy journey, and despite its sunny title the album is a voyage into the darkness and terror of grief. Like Dark Side Of The Moon, it is an elegiac study of ego, mental disintegration and the fear of death. Pink Floyd’s epic drew on ‘70s psychoanalysis, R D Laing and the divided self, while Ray Of Light captures the 90s zeitgeist with its references to Kabbalah and the subconscious. Dark Side uses the sun and moon as symbols of life and death, while Ray Of Light revolves around the duality of sea and sky. Both albums require the listener to go the whole journey to get the full effect.

The album came at a crucial time for Madonna. After the high octane success of the 1980s, her 1990s were testing and difficult. Slut-shamed over her Sex book and the Erotica album, Madonna engaged in angry attention-seeking exercises like saying “fuck” 13 times on Late Show with David Letterman. She had lost confidence, and the tentative R&B of 1994’s Bedtime Stories felt like marking time. Veering off into musical theatre with the Evita project took her into safe MOR territory, but, ironically, rather than turning her into a 1980s pop has-been, those strenuous theatrical songs sung with a full orchestra gave her voice depth and tone. By then Madonna was in her late 30s and re-evaluating life, casting around for answers in study of Yogic philosophy. The birth of her daughter Lourdes in 1996 knocked out some of that infamous ego, so that when she returned to the studio in 1997 for the Ray Of Light sessions she had discovered a more intense, personal voice than the so-called “Minnie Mouse on helium” of earlier years. 


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