Die Another Day


Die Another Day Soundtrack (2002)

It’s easy to forget this now that we are in Madonna’s post-”American Life” career, where in the last 7 years she has managed a whopping TWO top ten singles total, but before that 2003 commercial disaster, Madonna was still tearing up the charts. I am still astounded that “Die Another Day” was a smash hit. Listen to this song. Freaky auto-tuning. Barely a hint of a melody. Chopped-up dramatic orchestral strings. This is not the recipe for a hit. But she put the whole thing together (with the considerable talent of producer Mirwais), dumped the tired old Bond theme template, and dragged us all into the 21st century. This is also probably Madonna’s most bizarre set of lyrics: “I’m gonna wake up yes and no / I’m gonna kiss some part of / I’m gonna keep this secret / I’m gonna close my body now.” A good chunk of the song makes no sense, but the parts that do are all about defiance and self-control. If there is anyone who could actually force death away, it’s Madonna. And when I listen to this song, I kind of feel like I could too.

Also check out: “Easy Ride” from “American Life” — the logical extension of this song, featuring the line “I want to live forever”




Music (2000)

Okay, in case you couldn’t guess it already, this is list is gonna be Madonna-heavy. She had a good decade, okay? Anyway, while many regard her 1998 “Ray of Light” album as the highwater mark of the newly electronic-leaning incarnation of Madonna, my preference has always been for the 2000 follow-up. When I first heard the song “Music,” it was genuinely unlike anything I had heard on the radio. The closest point of reference seemed to be Daft Punk, while others noticed similarities to early ’80s underground electro pop. Madonna gets a lot of flak for supposedly “stealing” the work of her producers and riding their talent, but I think that completely disregards the pop sensibility and songwriting prowess that she possesses. Not to mention the fact that bringing those cutting edge sounds into the mainstream, even if that ”edge” gets dulled a bit in the process, still encourages innovation in pop across the board. And this song — that single-note bassline drone, wildly vocoded hooks, and lyrics that swing from “do you like to boogie-woogie” to referencing the “bourgeoisie” — it deserved to become the giant hit it was. “Music” became her first #1 single in 5 years (and likely the last of her career), proving it really did “make the people come together.”

Also check out: Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” – another Daft Punk inspired sing-along.


Nobody Knows Me


American Life (2003)

Back in the days when people actually bought CDs, I used to have a habit of making sure to give one full, uninterrupted listen to an anticipated album to get my first impression. When I did this for “American Life,” as soon as I heard “Nobody Knows Me,” all I wanted to do was go back and listen to it again. And again. Madonna’s most hit-or-miss album hit it out of the park on this track, which I remember one critic describing as sounding like “a synth keyboard falling down a stairwell.” (I think they meant it as an insult – to me, that’s high praise.) The production won my heart, with its unusual 4-on, 4-off beat pattern (I’m hard pressed to think of another song that employs that style), and the auto-tuned vocals actually are in service of the song’s lyrics, obscuring her true voice because, well, nobody knows her. And I particularly love the twist on the meaning of “social disease” — wanting to escape that desire to fit the mold that “infects” so many people. I don’t know that many other people would call this song a highlight of the decade, but in a way that makes me all the more appreciative — it becomes my little personal gem.

(note: this is a remix of the original – both are great)

Also check out: Goldfrapp’s “Koko” — I’m not typically one to say “make sure you listen to this loud,” but, you really should.


Get Together


Confessions on a Dancefloor (2005)

“Confessions on a Dancefloor” is the kind of album that seemed to be firmly in Madonna’s past — 12 straight songs of unapologetic dance pop, with barely a hint of the Kabbalah-tastic, yoga-centric self-exploration that characterized her past few efforts. But damn if this wasn’t a surprising return to form for the old broad, and “Get Together” epitomized the album’s success perfectly. It is borderline impossible not to love this tune, its dreamy synths propping up an easygoing and ultra-catchy vocal that drifts along effortlessly. The chorus charmingly boils down the basic premise of millions of pop songs: “Can we get together? I really wanna be with you.”

Also check out: Madonna completely re-worked “Erotica” for her Confessions Tour to the point where I now call it a separate song, “You Thrill Me,” a total favorite of mine — it would’ve made this list if it wasn’t technically still a song from the ’90s.


Don’t Tell Me


Music (2000)

Of the 5 songs Madonna has on this list (by far more than any other artist), “Don’t Tell Me” might not be the first one that would come to mind if you were asked to name her most most memorable single of the decade. But this is a not a song that tries to put on a big show, it’s one that slowly wins you over until you want to hear it over and over again. While the lead single to “Music” didn’t really connect to her West-Meets-Electro look, “Don’t Tell Me” fully evoked that spirit in both its sound and its video. (The video is also one of the best of her entire career.) This song attempts to merge country with hip-hop, and amazingly, it succeeds. Madonna took the lyrics written by brother-in-law and alt-country artist Joe Henry for his love song “Stop,” re-arranged them to focus less on love and more on her own unstoppable spirit, and brought in the impeccable production of collaborator Mirwais (in fact, if you count his production work, he also makes 5 appearances on this list). The song’s guitar hook is made out of a chopped-up and re-edited progression, while the rest of the track is composed of little more than some wistfully playful strings and a mid-tempo beat fit for a line-dance. It sounds simple, but it all comes together with such effortless skill. The final third of “Don’t Tell Me” is an almost entirely instrumental coda, which could easily get boring after awhile. But every time I hear the song, I never want that addictive beat to end. You can “take the black off a crow,” “tell the sun not to shine,” or “tell the wind not to blow,” but you can’t ever tell Madonna to stop.

Also check out: The closest I’ve ever heard another artist get to succeeding at this style of folk-pop is Nelly Furtado’s “One Trick Pony”