Madonna’s albums have been reviewed thousands of times. Nothing new there. And you will be wondering why I’m writing a post about the same again or what’s the point of reading yet another review about Madonna’s albums.
Madonna Albums Ranked
Which are Madonna’s best albums? We´re gonna have Madonna Albums Ranked in a different light, shall we? Plus, if I’m going to be talking about each of Madonna’s albums in the future, I think the best thing to do before that is to give you a list of all her studio albums and rate them.
Why yet another Madonna Albums Ranking post
You’re right to think that there are too many reviews of Madonna albums. But I need to write my own here because:
- It could be a good starting point for someone who wants to get to know Madonna’s albums.
- I want to share my point of view. After all, what’s a blog for?
Please bear this in mind
In fact, I’m going back to basics. I’m gonna rank Madonna’s albums based on how much they make me dance and sing and be happy, not based on their musical quality, how cutting edge, elaborate, or iconic they are.
I know I’m going to encounter opposition but this is my opinion TODAY. Mañana will be another day and might change all the rankings around.
Basically, all of Madonna’s discography can be divided in four:
Madonna studio albums
The most known, such as Like a Virgin, Ray of Light or Confessions on a Dance Floor.
Madonna live albums
These are releases of some of her live concerts.
Madonna Soundtrack albums
I must point out here a common mistake. The album I’m Breathless is often regarded as a soundtrack of the movie Dick Tracy, however it is not. I’m Breathless is a Madonna album which contains, quote, music from and inspired by the film.
Madonna compilation albums
The name says it all. Let me mention that The Immaculate Collection by Madonna is the bestselling compilation album of all time.
Visit the following link if you’d like to know all the albums contained in Madonna’s discography.
Madonna Studio Albums List
Madonna – 1983
Like a Virgin – 1984
True Blue – 1986
Like a Prayer – 1989
(I’m Breathless – 1990 Even Madonna doesn’t count it as a studio album and I guess she knows a little about it)
Erotica – 1992
Bedtime Stories – 1994
Ray of Light – 1998
Music – 2000
American Life – 2003
Confessions on a Dance Floor – 2005
Hard Candy – 2008
MDNA – 2012
Rebel Heart – 2015
Madonna Albums Ranking
As I said before, this is a basic ranking constructed purely around how they make me feel. Today. The reasons I love them are not particularly important at this stage. It could be just the music, or just the lyrics; it could be that it makes me dance and sing, get up and do my thing, or that it reminds me of something; sometimes it’s just that certain tracks make me feel happy or challenged or lifted or peaceful or…
Let’s begin already.
#14. Hard Candy
For me, Hard Candy is Madonna’s weakest album of all. Even though this album is catchy and has some good dancing tunes, I’m under the impression that Madonna’s influence in it is too modest. It almost feels as if it was someone else’s album featuring Madonna rather than the other way around.
Madonna is known for impregnating her work with new and experimental drifting, which this album lacks.
Favourite tracks: Give It 2 Me, Voices, Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You. I very much dig the lyrics of the last two.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: Spanish Lesson (just can’t bear it. In fact, I think it’s the only Madonna song that I’m on the verge of loathing).
More on Hard Candy when I review the full album.
Oof. I know I’m gonna get told off by many for putting Madonna’s first album in this position, but I deserve the imposition.
As much as I like Holiday, Borderline and Burning up, (and Madonna’s version of Everybody in the Girlie Show) I must say that this is one of my least favourite Madonna albums, NOW.
I suppose one of the reasons being that I have listened to it so much 35 years that it’s become something embedded in me, like my blood. There’s nothing to like or not like about blood running through your veins, it’s just a necessity.
This album is iconic and its legacy is tremendous. I do recognise that the musical panorama wouldn’t have developed as it did from the 80s onwards without this gem. I do admit that perhaps even Madonna wouldn’t exist as we know her today. I know that this album is the foundation of all her career, but I’m sorry, one of her albums had to fall on this position. It was my favourite for many years and now it has to give way to others.
Favourite tracks: Burning Up, Borderline. Think of Me, Holiday as it was recorded originally was of course one of my favourites 3 decades ago. Now I’m more sophisticated (hahaha). I would say that Holiday is my favourite if it’s the live version in the Who’s That Girl, Blond Ambition, Drowned World, Girlie Show or Rebel Heart Tours. See Madonna’s Best Tour Performances.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: N/A.
More on Madonna when I review the full album.
#12. I’m Breathless
Here’s another one that falls in a low position just because a number needs to be filled in.
I don’t think AT ALL that this is a mediocre album. In fact, I’m Breathless is much more than one would have expected, knowing it is “Music from and inspired by the movie Dick Tracy”. Still, there aren’t a lot of tracks I couldn’t live without.
Favourite tracks: Vogue, More, Hanky Panky, Sooner or Later.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: Now I’m Following You (parts I and II).
#11. True Blue
Ayayay. I’m gonna get in trouble. An iconic album, undoubtedly the one who made Madonna known far beyond the boundaries of the American continent. Used to love it, naturally. But aside from a few tracks, I must admit I don’t play it often anymore. I can’t remember the last time I listened to Love Makes the World Go Round or Jimmy Jimmy.
It’s kind of what happened with the first album. I used to drive my mom crazy because I would put on my headphones while doing the dishes and sing along, rather loudly. She even got to learn some of the words, in English of course!. Bless her (in case you don’t know, I’m Spanish born and bred, and so was my mom).
Favourite tracks: Open Your Heart, Papa Don´t Preach, Live to Tell (masterpiece).
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: N/A.
#10. Like a Virgin
Please don’t try to kill me. I somehow agree with Q magazine when they say that Like a Virgin was the album that propelled Madonna “into the stratosphere – and rightly so. The songs are smart, funny, sexy and irresistible”. I said “somehow” because I think the album that propelled Madonna into the stratosphere was True Blue, really.
Who and where would Madonna be today without Like a Virgin and Material Girl, I don’t know. The album Like a Virgin: Iconic, yes. Fundamental in Madonna’s career, absolutely. Fresh and catchy, of course. Influential, you bet. Amongst my super favourites today: No. I have listened to it far too much. It’s the same than with the first album and True Blue.
Favourite tracks: Like a Virgin, Material Girl, Dress You Up, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: Pretender. Does nothing for me to be honest.
I hate the fact that MDNA has received far too much criticism in my opinion. “MDNA fails to connect with her audience” and similar things, I’ve read so many times. Ok, if you say so, perhaps you critics are the connoisseurs but what do you want me to say! I like it! And one of its track’s got a Golden Globe Award. And it makes me dance and get in a good mood.
But, as much as I like many tracks from MDNA, it needs to be placed here at number 9. Particularly I love the beat on Girl Gone Wild and Turn Up the Radio, while I love the tunes and lyrics of Gang Bang, I Don’t Give A and Love Spent. MDNA simply encourages me to dance and sing along. What else can you ask from an album? OK. DON’T ANSWER THAT. It’s a rethorical question.
And let’s not forget the already iconic sentence:
There’s only one Queen, and that’s Madonna.
Favourite tracks: Girl Gone Wild, Gang Bang, Turn Up the Radio, I Don’t Give A, Love Spent.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: Beautiful Killer. Nothing against it. Just doesn’t convince me. It must be that “it fails to connect with me as audience”. 😉
Don’t take me wrong. I adore this album (“Music saved my life” – Veni Vidi Vinci, Rebel Heart).
I appreciate Madonna’s drive to go in search of a distinctive sound at the time of release, 2000. The market was oversaturated with pop in the late 90s and she did what she had to do. I like the sound of the record all throughout where you can feel Mirwais’ signature. This is an album that I can listen to without skipping any of the tracks, which is a good sign. However, I could live without many of them. I very much like Don’t Tell Me or What It Feels Like for a Girl, for example. But they’re not in my “indispensable tracks list”. Those that make it in that list, though, are absolute pieces of art for me. The 4 below.
Favourite tracks: Music, Impressive Instant, Paradise (not for me), Gone.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: N/A.
#7. Rebel Heart
Here’s another too criticised Madonna album although I start to see slightly better reviews lately. We need to bear in mind that a whole bunch of tracks were hacked before release and this is not a good thing for the sales of any album. Madonna called this “artistic rape”.
Anyway, I find that Rebel Heart is, (thank you M!), a return to the real pure Madonna, even when the album is full of collaborations and different producers. (The recently deceased Avicii was among the producers of some of the songs in Rebel Heart). And this is why I am placing it in this position. You can really feel Madonna’s signature for the first time since Confessions on a Dance Floor, if you take Rebel Heart globally… or if you disregard some of the tracks.
You see, when you really listen, you’ll find sort of a mix. There are, for me, two albums in Rebel Heart and I suppose that’s why I have placed it in the 7th position, as much as I like one of its halfs.
One album wants to attract the attention of a younger audience. This is the Rebel part of the album, my least favourite (though I like themes like Bitch I’m Madonna, Unapologetic Bitch, …).
The “other album” is Madonna full on. These tracks reveal a more vulnerable side of her, the Introspective. And it does it in a big way, real honesty… I think.
For example, in Wash All Over Me, Madonna reflects upon the present and the future, what is going on right now with her and the world around her, changing rapidly. She has contradictory feelings and she reveals (and then conceals again) some sort of insecurity, which is so much appreciated (by me at least). It’s almost a letter of resignation, whatever happens or whatever she decides. Not resignation as in surrender but as in acceptance. The song is full of signals that depict that insecurity, reflection and acceptance:
Torn between the impulse to stay or running away…
If this is the end, then let it come…
I walk this razor’s edge; will I stand or will I fall?
Gonna watch the sun going down…
Sorry about the long review, guys. I got carried away. Should have done that in the proper review of the album. So I’ll just shut TF up. (See Madonna’s Best Songs – Part 1 for a deeper insight into Wash All Over Me and many other tracks).
Favourite tracks: Rebel Heart, Wash All Over Me, Joan of Arc, Devil Pray, Ghosttown, Living for Love.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: Illuminati, or even Iconic, as much as I agree with the lyrics.
#6. Bedtime Stories
Was this really an attempt to “return to innocence” or an apology of some sort after the backlash of Erotica? I don’t think so and I don’t care. I love this album. And I don’t see it as “innocent” as some say, much less an apology. Those statements only prove they have not really listened to the record. Apology? Listen to Human Nature.
Did Erotica and the SEX book threaten Madonna’s career? Perhaps. But she resolved it, so no real harm done (and I don’t think she purposely made this album with that intention as it has been said. I just don’t see the connection). I really love this album, I wish there was a parallel universe where I could give it a better position.
Favourite tracks: Human Nature, Survival, Secret, Inside of Me, Love Tried to Welcome Me.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: I’d Rather Be Your Lover. Not that I dislike it but doesn’t do anything for me.
What has not been said about Madonna’s album Erotica? Madonna’s most controversial album did not leave anyone indifferent. But did you know that it has been recently named one of the most influential albums in the music world by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
Surrounded by lots of polemic and controversy at the time of release, Erotica was not very well received overall. Perhaps this poor reception had something to do with Madonna’s simultaneous release of the SEX book (the bestselling coffee-table book of all time).
I’m not going to discuss here about how underrated Erotica has been for the past 25 years.
Erotica is an experimental album that talks freely about sex, romance and death, and it does it frankly. No taboos, no flowery decorations. Same happened with the book. The combination could have cost her a very well-constructed career up to that point. But Madonna is a survivor and a fighter and wasn’t gonna let this hiccup stop her. And I just love this album for that. And for its content of course.
Favourite tracks: Why’s it so Hard, Deeper and Deeper, Erotica, Rain, Words, Bye Bye Baby.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: Did you do it.
#4. Like a Prayer
Her most personal up to the date of release, Like a Prayer is one of the most representative and iconic works of Madonna. In fact, I find that the anthemic Express Yourself simply defines her and her whole career. Madonna has done many things during these 34 years, and they all involve what she does best: Express herself and ensuring she’s heard.
The album as a whole is a move towards spirituality and reflection upon more personal themes than the previous ones (Madonna, Like a Virgin, andTrue Blue). Never before had Madonna expressed personal stuff as she does in Promise to Try, Till Death Do Us Part, Keep it Together and Oh Father. She also confronts other issues that posed major crossroads in her life, such as growing up, death, religion and AIDS.
Summarising, Like a Prayer is a demonstration of how magnificent, creative and intimate Madonna could be at the peak of her career.
To top it all off, the album was promoted during the iconic Blond Ambition Tour and the also iconic film Truth or Dare (In Bed with Madonna outside the USA). Like a Prayer is one of the most important records ever made. In fact, the Huffington Post states that it is THE most important record ever made by a female artist, whereas J.D. Considine reviews the album for Rolling Stone saying that Like a Prayer is “as close to art as pop music gets”. There.
Favourite tracks: Like a Prayer, Express Yourself, Keep it Together, Oh Father, Promise to Try.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: N/A.
#3. Confessions on a Dance Floor
I have placed Confessions on a Dance Floor here mainly because of the lyrics. It would seem that this is a light, dance, disco music album (In fact it is, what the hell, but let me explain). It samples (or has reminiscences of) ABBA, the Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Donna Summer…
Being a 70s disco style album that seems all about dancing and being frivolous, superficial and silly, COADF manages to result in an outstanding record not exempt from more personal and profound messages than it would appear at first sight. If it wasn’t for I Love New York, whose lyrics are less than satisfactory, it would come close to being a masterpiece.
Isn’t Confessions some kind of genius mix between pop light-hearted frivolity and seriously profound philosophical stuff? That’s why I love it so much. I mean, the personal baggage Madonna loads off in almost each song is amazing, more or less in crescendo from track 1 to 12, and leaving out the said I Love New York.
I just love Isaac, Sorry, or How High where she admits that, in spite of everything, she has been absorbed, like everyone else, into the establishment (the system or whatever each of us want to call it).
For me, Confessions on a Dance Floor is also in many aspects a reflection of how Madonna sees life in general.
Enough said. For now.
Favourite tracks: How High, Sorry, Isaac, Hung Up, Like It or Not, Get Together, Jump, Forbidden Love, Let It Will Be, Future Lovers. I’d have been better off saying the ones that are not particularly favourite.
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: I Love New York.
#2. Ray of Light
“Ray of Light is like, when you turn a light on, suddenly everything is revealed. It’s the idea of enlightenment; to all of a sudden see the world in a different way, in a better way. So, Ray of Light is symbolic. It’s like in the last couple of years a ray of light has just shot through my life and suddenly I see the whole world in a new way” (Madonna after being asked about the title of the album during an interview in 1998 for a Spanish TV channel).
Ray of Light is known for taking electronica music into mainstream pop culture. How many artists can brag about such an achievement? (Avicii, no doubt. But that was, what, 15 years after Ray of Light?).
Preparing for and performing Evita and having Lola must have been such a transforming period in Madonna’s life. This transformation shows in Ray of Light and the album restored her as a ground-breaking artist, not only thanks to Ray of Light’s cutting-edge, innovative sound born out of her collaboration with William Orbit, but also thanks to the lyrical maturity it was impregnated with.
Ray of Light, together with Like a Prayer, are, for many, Madonna’s best albums (I KNOOOOOOW) if we look at them from the perspective of quality and what they represent. But we agreed that this list is not about that, right?
Favourite tracks: Ray of Light, Swim, Sky Fits Heaven, Frozen, The Power of Goodbye, Drowned World/Substitute for Love, To Have and Not to Hold, Shanti/Astangi
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: N/A.
#1. American Life
Whoops! Here it is, my number one, this day and age. Now, don’t pile up all together against me yet, please. Let me explain. You still have the comments box to try and lecture me all you like (only if you do it in an orderly, respectful manner).
I am a political and social enthusiast. I don’t mean by this that I’d like to be in politics (not in a million years). I like talking, debating, discussing, politics. By politics I’m not only referring to left and right, socialism, communism, conservative or democrat. Politics is involved in everything, isn’t it.
Economy, society, education, immigration, law, banking, lobbying, farmaceutics, insurance companies,… I mean, in Spain, even the blooming catholic church is involved in politics, more and more. Stick to your thing and leave politics to the people who make politics. The religious establishment’s intervention in states’ affairs is unacceptable. See? I’m already all steamed up.
So, all this, I call politics, and I enjoy discussing them as soon as I get a chance.
I guess this is why I like the lyrics in American Life so much.
Also, with this honest, direct and at some point controversial album, my gut feeling is that Madonna would have liked to do just a guitar and voice record where she could openly pour her thoughts out. I really think there is so much of Madonna’s mind here. And making Music is about that too, right??
Some people, including me, may think, after listening to it superficially: “Aw, so being rich doesn’t give you happiness, really? I’d like to be in a position where I was able to judge for myself. It’s easy to say when you have tons in the bank”.
But don’t be fooled by those first listens. There’s much more to American Life than the hackneyed cliché of “money doesn’t make you happy”, and you will discover a goddam good album.
It seems as if, having gone through enlightenment, kabala and all that, she is now telling us whatever she has learned from it. And I’m not surprised that the Americans took it so badly. Madonna’s message is hard to swallow for a population that I consider optimistic and positive, in contraposition to the people of Europe, whose culture and breeding feed from a much more pessimistic and existential outlook on life.
So, on the surface Madonna is saying the American way of life isn’t going to bring you happiness. But if you analyse a bit deeper into American Life’s content, you can easily conclude that what Madonna is saying is that she has turned her back on the American values. Values that were, once, her own. I think this is why American Life did so badly. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, we say in Spanish.
And of course, that which doesn’t do too good in America, doesn’t do too good around the world. The whole thing is a paradox.
I just hope that we don’t have to wait 25 years to hear from “the experts” that this album is much better than initially thought, as it has happened with Erotica.
But enough of that. We’ll catch up on American Life later.
Favourite tracks: Nothing Fails, Nobody Knows Me, I’m so Stupid, American Life, Intervention, X-Static Process, Love Profusion, Hollywood, Mother and Father, Easy Ride
In this Madonna album, I could have done without: Die Another Day. As much as I like this track I don’t think it belongs on Madonna’s American Life.
One last word about ANY Madonna Albums Rankings
While it might serve as an orientation for those who start being interested in Madonna’s work in music, I don’t think that any of the Madonna albums rakings you may find around is THE most accurate. Not even this one.
Music is art. And as such, it cannot be qualified or ranked.
It’s a matter of what speaks to you and when. Of course, there are experts and critics who base their analyses on their broad knowledge of music and beyond. But that doesn’t give them the right to say what is right and what is wrong for you.
You may follow a recommendation from someone who knows best, but then you must feel a connection at some level, whether it is a connection with the lyrics or with the tune itself. Music, being a form of art, is something that makes you feel. That’s the beauty of it.
Now read about Madonna’s Best Songs (outside of the hits)
The beauty of a song is that someone else, someone you haven’t even met, is saying exactly what you think, what you feel. It’s as if they were leaving the CD to be with you. As if they were putting their hand on your shoulder or reaching and touching your soul. No critic can compete against that.
Don’t forget to leave your comments! I would love to hear from you.