Three decades ago Madonna was ruffling feathers by talking about sex

Madonna’s Justify My Love is celebrating it’s 30th birthday, the spoken word song kicked off a new phase of the iconic singers career. As we headed into the 1990’s Madonna released her Sex book, the controversial Erotica album and took on a role in the steamy thriller Body of Evidence. 

At the end of 1990 Madonna encapsulated her first two decades in the music industry by releasing her first greatest hits compilation The Immaculate Collection. As is common with hits compilations a few new songs were needed for the record so uber-fans would have a reason to buy the new record.

Justify My Love which was a collaboration with Lenny Kravitz was the new single, while Shep Pettibone who Madonna had recently worked with to create her massive hit Vogue delivered the track Rescue Me. 

The video for the largely spoken word was incredibly controversial at the time and was banned by MTV. One of the issues people had with the video was it’s prominent display of bisexuality. Warner Brothers put the clip out on video tape, making it the first video single. It immediately sold half a million copies.

The track was written in collaboration with Kravitz who was a new artist at the time, only having put out his first album in 1989. His backing vocals can clearly be heard on the track. A few months after this song came out Kravitz put out his second album Mama Said which scored him a series of hit songs.

The initial lyrics were written by singer Ingrid Chavez who had previously worked with Prince. When she didn’t get a songwriting credit she sued Kravitz and later releases of the track include her name, and she got her share of the royalties. The song is based around a drum beat from James Brown’s tune Funky Drummer, in 1990 many tunes utilised this beat.

The video features model and actor Tony Ward who was Madonna’s boyfriend at the time. One of the top male models of the 1980’s he later became an actor appearing in movies by queer director Bruce La Bruce. Some of the dancer’s from Madonna’s 1990 tour are also featured in the clip they would later gain more prominence when the documentary film Truth or Dare: In Bed With Madonna was released.

One of the remixes of the tune, The Beast Within Mix dumped most of the lyrics and instead quoted sections of the Book of Revelations. Madonna has often included this version in live shows and it’s now generally treated as being a completely separate tune. The single would also be the first time Madonna worked with producer William Orbit, he remixed the track for dancefloors. They would later team up to create her Ray of Light album.

Revisit Justify My Love.

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