Monday, February 20, 2012

Madonna's Coverage

It's a bizarre time for Madonna fans. Depending on the perspective one possesses, Madonna is either in the midst of a creative drought or cleverly navigating the post-millennium pop wasteland. The reality is that Madonna's music has changed since 2008 and hasn't been the same. With MDNA, her newest offering, just several weeks away everyone is flooding the print and cyber mediums with their opinions on it and past releases. As an eternal enthusiast of Madonna (the artist), I found myself listening to her backlog.

Five songs in her discography caught my attention. Epitomizing the (once) constant presence of (marketable) quality, Madonna's covers sang out beautifully to my ears.  All of the songs were, at various points, singles for Madonna throughout her decades long career. And what covers. Rose Royce. Marvin Gaye. Peggy Lee (via Little Willie John). Andrew Lloyd Webber. Don McLean. Songbooks that sparkle in the eyes and ears of their fans, the songs prove Madonna's love of music as not only a singer, but a listener too. Covers are dangerous. They can showcase the interpretive side of the singer or ring out as a death knell to creativity. Since everyone else is stumbling over themselves to critique what Madonna has done since her return earlier this year, I decided to take a different road.

Love Don't Live Here Anymore
Featured On: Like a Virgin (1984), Something to Remember (1995)
Release Date: March 19, 1996
Chart Positions: U.S. Billboard Hot 100: #78, U.S. Hot Adult Contemporary Charts: #29
Original Performing Artist: Rose Royce in 1978
Synopsis: '70's R&B outfit Rose Royce made their version a hit a decade prior to Madonna's. Appearing on her second album Like a Virgin, it was a lofty step to broadening her sound outside of just "dance-pop." Much like "Borderline" before it and "Crazy for You" afterwards, it showed Madonna's penchant for slower fare that gifted gravitas to an otherwise cutesy set of tempo elevated pop on Like a Virgin. Madonna gave a loving return to the song on her ballads summation Something to Remember in 1995 and even released it as a single, its R&B flavor heightened. It showed that the musical thread of R&B was one she had, and would continue to, touch on at different intervals in her musical spans.

"Love Don't Live Here Anymore (Something to Remember Version)"
Directed By: Jean-Baptise Mondino

Featured On: Erotica (1992)
Release Date: March 22, 1993
Chart Positions: U.K. Singles Chart: #6
Original Performing Artist: Little Willie John in 1956 (See notes below for information on the popular Peggy Lee version and how it relates to Madonna.)
Synopsis: The first version of "Fever," recorded by R&B singer Little Willie John, is revered as a great song of its era. However, it was pop singer Peggy Lee's rendition in 1958 that became the emblematic statement for repressed sensuality coming to term. While many have gone on to do the song, Lee's remains the definitive version. Madonna's cover of it appeared on her sixth album Erotica. An album and single edit bore a polished house presence, but it was Madonna's dry ice vocal that gave it a shade of palpable desire. "Fever" is a song that one could envision Madonna covering. She handled it with restraint and an evocative pull that made it one of truly "sexy" tracks on the over-ambitious Erotica.

"Fever" (Single Edit)
Directed By: Stéphane Sednaoui

I Want You
Featured On: Something to Remember (1995)
Release Date: Withdrawn as a single
Chart Positions: Withdrawn as a single
Original Performing Artist: Marvin Gaye in 1976
Synopsis: Another magnificent cut from Madonna's artistic renaissance, this Marvin Gaye standard was no easy feat. Many have tried their best to recast Gaye's songs, but to no avail. Madonna paired with Massive Attack, who'd just come off their album Protection the year prior to her LP Something to Remember being released. Together, they produced a cover of Gaye's "I Want You" featured as a new recording on Something to Remember. Madonna turned the sensual jam into an urban, symphonic tapestry. Opening on a pounding riff, Madonna strummed the beat with a steady "I, yi, yi, yi..." in her cobalt tinted lower tones. Throughout, Madonna's voice strolled through the maze-like construct with respect, but ease befitting a singer of her stature. Madonna achieved the goods of covering a Gaye classic and paying homage, but making it wholly hers. Her cover was also included on the covers tribute to Marvin Gaye, Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye (1995).

"I Want You"
Directed By: Earl Sebastian

Don't Cry For Me Argentina
Featured On: Evita Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1996)
Release Date: February 11, 1997
Chart Positions: U.S. Billboard Hot 100: #7, U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary: #21, U.S. Billboard Adult Top 40: #14, U.K. Singles Chart: #3
Original Performing Artist (s): Too many to list.
Synopsis: The impeccable "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, came from the 1978 play Evita. The play was based upon the life of the Argentinian figure Eva Perón. When the film adaption was made, later gaining Madonna a Golden Globe Award, many wondered if she could pull off the singing. Couple that with enduring entries by Karen Carpenter and Donna Summer, Madonna had much to live up to. Not only did she live up to the expectations, she shattered them completely. The song ended up becoming especially autobiographical and continued her maturation started with Bedtime Stories (1994). Robust and rousing, Madonna had never sounded so confident or powerful. Madonna's singing tactics parlayed here echoed through her next few albums, notably Ray of Light (1998).

"Don't Cry For Me Argentina"
Directed By: Alan Parker

American Pie
Featured On: The Next Best Thing Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2000), Music (2000) (International Pressings Only)
Release Date: March 3, 2000
Chart Positions: U.K. Singles Chart: #1
Original Performing Artist: Don McLean in 1971
Synopsis: "And I knew that if I had my chance, I could make those people dance. And maybe they'd be happy, for awhile." With one line Madonna took Don McLean's "American Pie," a song about the loss of youth and turned it into a reflective tale of musical escape. She also summarized her artistic ethos in the process. Considering by this time Madonna's bounty as a singer in her own respect had increased, that line was even more prophetic. Tacked onto the international pressings of the cold cool of Music (2000), Madonna brought back in Ray of Light player William Orbit to capture the warmth of Music's predecessor. Madonna's voice was seasoned with not only her life experiences, but that technical skill many detractors stated she initially lacked upon her inception in 1983. Sailing through her edited rendition, a few verses are omitted, the song wasn't released as a single in the American market, but abroad. Available on The Next Best Thing film soundtrack (in which she starred) for her U.S. fans, the song topped the British chart giving Madonna her ninth number one single there.

"American Pie"
Directed By: Philipp Stölzl

Madonna - American Pie

[Editor's Note: All of Madonna's mentioned albums and soundtrack are in print. For current information on Madonna visit]

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Great look at Madonna's covers :) Personally, I favor her reading of Rose Royce's "Love Don't Live Here Anymore", something about it--it's not the best singing but she really pulled it off and actually I favor it to the original (the original has some terrible synth work that kills the gorgeous mood the song has for me).

It's interesting that most of her covers have been ballads or slower tempo material---if you're talking about "American Pie" and "Fever" to some extent.

Like you, I want Madonna to go back to this...this attention to details. I'm tired of her regressing to appease to what is hot right now on the airwaves.