Every one of Madonna's 78 singles – ranked!

To honour the best-selling female artist of all time on her 60th birthday, we’ve rated all her full single releases

78. Hanky Panky (1990)

Even creators of brilliant pop can go wrong. Telling us there’s “nothing like a good spanky” over farty, end-of-the-pier synthesisers? Madonna’s nadir.

77. Hey You (2007)

A corny charity co-write with Pharrell Williams for Live Earth. “Save yourself/Don’t rely on anyone else” goes the planet-rescuing advice. Cheers!

76. American Pie (2000)

Madonna inhabiting a white male American classic was a great idea on paper. Unendurable tweeness resulted.

75. Die Another Day (2003)

This 2003 Bond theme aimed for a sound of icy, imperial tyranny. Instead, its cut-up electronics sounded half-dead.

74. Revolver feat. Lil’ Wayne (2009)

Madonna loves metaphors. Over an oddly laboured beat, we’re told her body’s “fully loaded”. “Bring ya knife into a gunfight,” she adds. There have been better ideas.

73. Girl Gone Wild (2012)

A Benny Benassi-assisted club banger, with a terrible title. The filter sweeps used brilliantly throughout Confessions on a Dancefloor don’t sparkle here.

72. Fever (1993)

Unnecessary trance-era update of pop’s most achingly simple song about sex, with electronics that diffuse any thrill. Bring back Peggy Lee’s double bass.

71. Me Against the Music (2003)

Madonna is usually better when she’s striding alone. This duet with Britney Spears is all obvious raunch, without solid roots.

Madonna in the video for Like a Prayer, 1989.
Madonna in the video for Like a Prayer, 1989. Photograph: A Unimedia International/REX/Shutterstock

70. Celebration (2009)

A Paul Oakenfold EDM co-write for her second Best Of with shadows of her old selves, but more light is required.

69. Another Suitcase in Another Hall (1996)

Eva Perón throws her husband’s mistress out on the streets, and Madonna’s wavering vocal goes full collywobbles.

68. Erotica (1992)

Oddly sexless Sex-era single, not helped by awkward synthesised sighs, and a slapdash direction to “put your hands all over my body”.

67. Bitch I’m Madonna (2015)

An understandable if curt greeting. Still going “hard or we go home” after 33 years, Madonna employs perky youthful melodies here. Energetic, but exhausting.

66. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (2012)

This 2012 candy-pop chorus really fizzes, but Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.’s cheerleading whoops, and their raps, quickly dissolve. Unforgivable spelling too.

65. Causing a Commotion (1990)

A slighter facsimile of the imperial Into the Groove, protesting too much about its abilities to coax out the noise police.

64. Angel (1984)

Originally the first single for Madonna’s second album, before Like a Virgin slinked along. An early pass at religious-ecstasy pop, but needing bigger wings.

63. The Look of Love (1987)

Inspired by James Stewart’s glances at Grace Kelly in Rear Window, this Who’s That Girl? track sits on an occasionally interesting tide of tropical sounds.

62. One More Chance (1996)

Madonna aiming to reclaim the MOR market after years squirming around in sex. There’s better ballads on her Something to Remember anthology.

61. Miles Away (2008)

Madonna’s intermittently affecting song for Guy Ritchie, about the hardships of love. Released the same month she filed for divorce.

Madonna on the set of her Ray of Light video.
Madonna on the set of her Ray of Light video. Photograph: Frank Micelotta Archive/Getty Images

60. American Life (2003)

A genuinely interesting concept-pop comeback, undermined by rhyming “Mini Cooper” with “super-duper”. And “Pilates” with “hotties”. While rapping.

59. Give It 2 Me (2008)

A half-annoying, half-brilliant EDM career manifesto, positing Madonna as Duracell bunny: “When the lights go down and there’s no one left/I can go on and on and on”.

58. Love Profusion (2003)

In a world of “too many questions”, “distractions” and “options”, love was Madonna’s saving grace in 2003. The tune begins labouredly, but digs in.

57. Don’t Cry for Me Argentina (1996)

Madonna’s six months of vocal training before Evita reveal new capacities for feeling here. But sorry, Lloyd Webber – it’s no Live To Tell.

56. Who’s That Girl? (1987)

1987 soundtrack signature song, lifted by a curious, featherlight chorus line. As Balearic moments go, La Isla Bonita was better.

55. Bye Bye Baby (1992)

Madonna’s babyish 1940s-style vocals, filtered to sound like they’re wavering through a wireless, still crackle with charm.

54. Dear Jessie (1989)

Written by Madonna for her co-writer Patrick Leonard’s nine-year-old daughter, this song’s moments of twisted childhood psychedelia lessen the schmaltz.

53. Bedtime Story (1994)

Madonna usually makes others’ styles sound like her own. This Björk co-write, gorgeously hypnotic as it is, sounds too much like Björk.

52. You’ll See (1995)

Co-written with 80s fist-pumping emotional supremo David Foster (Peter Cetera’s Glory of Love, the St Elmo’s Fire soundtrack). It tries hard, and snags.

51. Dress You Up (1984)

One of the US Parental Advisory Committee’s original “Filthy 15” banned songs. Today, its mentions of velvet kisses over a body are gently diverting.

Madonna at Koko, Camden, London, 2005.
Madonna at Koko, Camden, London, 2005. Photograph: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock

50. You Must Love Me (1996)

Madonna’s best performance in Evita, in the 1996 film’s brand new Webber-and-Rice composition. The quaking desperation in her vocal stays the right side of emotional.

49. Gambler (1985)

An awkward, pleasingly punky track for the Matthew Modine wrestling film Vision Quest. Reached No 4 in Madonna’s chart-gobbling summer of 1985.

48. Nothing Fails (2003)

A quiet, gospel-dazzled jewel from American Life, written by Guy Sigsworth (Seal, Björk, Goldie) and Welsh singer-songwriter Jem.

47. Hollywood (2003)

A simple meditation on LA’s golden district, anchored on a fantastic Roland bassline and a reflective sun-dappled guitar.

46. This Used to Be My Playground (1992)

Widescreen, affecting nostalgia from the soundtrack to the underrated women’s baseball film, A League of Their Own. Madonna played the wise-cracking Mae.

45. Bad Girl (1992)

“Drunk by six” and smoked too many cigarettes? Madonna’s singing your song, a well-honed, slow piece of pop theatre.

44. Rescue Me (1990)

Over propulsive early-90s electronica, Madonna tells us she’s “drowning/Baby, throw out your rope”. Her delivery suggests she’ll save herself.

43. Burning Up (1983)

Before being signed, Madonna was a New York no-waver (and Thurston Moore’s neighbour). You hear delicious hints of that here.

42. I’ll Remember (1994)

The atmospheric verses to this mid-90s ballad look towards Madonna’s Ray of Light masterpieces. Cigarette lighters in the air are optional.

41. Turn Up the Radio (2012)

Proof that Madonna can still do classically simple pop singles nearly four decades into her career. This is bright, glossy and fun.

Madonna in 1987.
Madonna in 1987. Photograph: David McGough/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images

40. True Blue (1986)

Well-tailored, retro-positioned pop that’s aged remarkably well. Written as a wide-eyed Valentine for Madonna’s then-husband, Sean Penn.

39. Nothing Really Matters (1998)

Heavenly ode to early motherhood, released when Madonna’s daughter Lourdes was two. Occasionally, honesty cuts through: “Nothing takes the past away/Like the future”.

38. Take a Bow (1994)

A failed relationship turned into compellingly cinematic orchestral drama, co-written with R&B producer Babyface.

37. What It Feels Like for a Girl (2000)

From its effortlessly English sample of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s voice in the 1993 film The Cement Garden, this sounds like a Saint Etienne song accidentally covered by a superstar.

36. Crazy for You (1985)

Madonna’s first big pop ballad, showing the world she could do more than provocative pop. Slightly soupy, but still sweet.

35. 4 Minutes (2008))

Timbaland’s synth-brass intro here is fantastic, and the song’s end-of-the-world grandeur still sounds razor-sharp. Would be better without Justin Timberlake, though.

34. Beautiful Stranger (1999)

A gorgeously slinky, impish love song to Madonna’s then-boyfriend, film runner Andy Bird. The affair ended quickly, but the song endures.

33. Secret (1994)

Sultry, persuasive R&B with a Spanish guitar undertow. Madonna’s deep vocals cleverly never disclose what her baby’s secret actually is.

32. Don’t Tell Me (2000)

Adapted by Madonna from a country song written by her brother-in-law, Joe Henry, its catchiness pivoting off that brilliantly strange, fractured guitar figure.

31. Everybody (1982)

Stuttering into life like a long-lost Tom Tom Club single, before introducing us to a new brand of pop attitude. Everybody demanded we dance.

Madonna, Evita, 1996.
Madonna, Evita, 1996. Photograph: Bill Kaye/Cinergi/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

30. La Isla Bonita (1986)

A hit glowing with summer, throwing in early Balearic-era guitars, and some delicious winks and nods to the Latin pop market.

29. The Power of Good-Bye (1989)

One of Ray of Light’s many powerful sub-aquatic electronic ballads. Co-written with Rick Nowels, later a Lana Del Rey and Lykke Li collaborator.

28. Oh Father (1989)

Lush strings and bassy pianos on this classy 1989 primal scream. Hugely emo, parent-baiting lyrics, but gorgeous in its execution.

27. Deeper and Deeper (1992)

A classy post-Vogue excursion into 90s R&B. Stabs of house piano and synthesised strings propel us brilliantly into Madonna’s cavern of love.

26. Lucky Star (1983)

A starlit, star-brightened nursery rhyme that flutters gently into life, before becoming the first properly polished, distinctively Madonna-sounding pop song.

25. Material Girl (1984)

Credit and interest are reappropriated playfully as metaphors in Madonna’s career-changing hit. Till-ringing pop hooks were never so much fun to play with again.

24. Jump (2005)

Launching off from a West End Girls synthesiser sound (Madonna told Stuart Price “I fucking love the Pet Shop Boys” when she recognised the nod), this is a slice of Confessions pop perfection.

23. Living for Love (2015)

Twisting the agonies of heartbreak into a song about hope for the future, this track’s pulsing house piano, gospel vocals and boxfresh Diplo production sound fantastic.

22. Get Together (2005)

More filter-sweeping gorgeousness from the mid-2000s. “Do you believe in love at first sight? / It’s an illusion, I don’t care,” she sings, thrillingly.

21. Like a Virgin (1984)

Male-run record labels appropriated the V-word, but female pop stars didn’t, before Madonna, unless they were singing Christmas carols. Madonna reclaimed it, and then some.

Madonna on the set of the film Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985.
Madonna on the set of the film Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985. Photograph: Mondadori via Getty Images

20. Cherish (1989)

Childlike innocence rushes through the Like a Prayer album, but while Dear Jessie smothered itself in schmaltz, Cherish was all impish, forthright joy.

19. Justify My Love (2006)

Best-of extra tracks are rarely as dreamily sexy as this, adapted from a love letter sung to Lenny Kravitz by Prince collaborator Ingrid Chavez.

18. Rain (1992)

In the midst of its parent album’s panting obviousness, Rain was Erotica’s most properly erogenous moment. The rain builds slowly, then pours, its “dark clouds bursting in a perfect sky”. Madonna’s vocals teem with longing too, first sounding full of hope, then full of welcome, moving to release.

17. Into the Groove (1984)

A song either about the power of dancing, or about a girl begging her boy to get into her groove sexually, as it were, to cement their relationship (“touch my body / move in time / now I know you’re mine”). Or both. It doesn’t matter. The whole confection’s irresistible.

16. Ghosttown (2015)

A rousing Rebel Heart single set after the apocalypse about the power of love. In it, a woman gives a man the fire, cover and light that he needs – a nice twist in a world turned to dust. Inspired by growing religious and political intolerance, Madonna’s lyrics and a skyscraping melody pack punches.

15. Human Nature (1994)

Madonna’s best excursion into the sounds of hip-hop and R&B, sampling the bassline from What You Need by US/Canadian trio Main Source, with Dave Hall (Mary J Blige, Mariah Carey) as her co-writer. Contains some killer lines, both sneered or whispered: “I’m not your bitch / Don’t hang your shit on me”.

14. Express Yourself (1989)

Madonna’s a good agony aunt when it comes to men. “Put your love to the test”, she advises, not that she means trying out his satin sheets (“what happens when you’re not in bed?”, she adds sensibly). Get someone emotionally available, who can “lift you to your higher ground”. Horns and synths joyously fanfare this advice.

13. Sorry (2005)

A fabulous ascending-then-descending bassline bolsters one of Madonna’s most club-ready songs. Its lyric is also one of her most unforgiving, reprimanding a serial apologist. “You’re not half the man you think you are,” she sings, before her knockout blow arrives a verse later. “There’s more important things than hearing you speak.”

12. Drowned World/Substitute For Love (1998)

Majestic, reflective and sung in a subdued style for Madonna, this meditation on fame with a Ballardian reference in its title soars quietly and gorgeously.“I had so many lovers/Who settled for the thrill/Of basking in my spotlight,” float her words, without emotion. Then the most desperate lie arrives, sadder than anything: “I never felt so happy.”

11. Open Your Heart (1986)

One of Madonna’s sparkliest imperial-period pop singles. It plays today like a pitch to those still not then believing in her: “I’ve had to work much harder than this/For something I want, don’t try to resist me.” Escape was impossible anyway, we discover. “Don’t try to run/I can keep up with you.”

Madonna in 2001.
Madonna in 2001. Photograph: Reuters

10. Music (2000)

A glorious update of the blissfully simple sentiments of Holiday and Everybody, infused with a Daft Punk-like robotic swagger, courtesy of Mirwais’ production. Its unlikely inspiration was Madonna’s attendance at a Sting gig: she was moved at how physically his songs connected his fans. Bonus points for the way she sings “bourgeoisie”.

9. Live to Tell (1986)

Probably the best thing Madonna’s done in cinema, despite the mediocrity of the film that it’s from (At Close Range, directed by James Foley, who would later shoot Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed). Madonna’s lyrics for the bridge were written on the spot, giving the song’s incredible, stark atmosphere even more stunning, bruised drama.

8. Holiday (1983)

Written by the disco group Pure Energy and turned down by Phyllis Hyman and the Supremes’ Mary Wilson, Madonna and Jellybean Benitez’s take on this blissfully simple four minutes of summer has never lost its freshness or warmth. That stuttering bassline and those Latin drums help. Madonna played cowbell.

7. Frozen (1998)

Madonna In New York, 1984.
Madonna In New York, 1984. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Dark, orchestral ambient is a mood at which Madonna excels. Frozen marries the different temperatures of 90s pop stunningly: the faltering chill of William Orbit’s electronica with the dusty, cinematic heat of North African melodies and strings. The extremes are fair enough. Madonna’s character’s attempting the melting of a heart, after all.

6. Vogue (1990)

Made quickly as a B-side for Dick Tracy single Keep It Together, Vogue updated Salsoul disco brilliantly for the end of the century. It also made gay culture celebratory again after the crushing Aids decade (“everywhere you turn is heartache/it’s everywhere that you go”). It became the A-side soon enough.

5. Papa Don’t Preach (1986)

That title, and this whole glorious song, teem with imperative instructions to the older generation; by the mid-80s Madonna’s time had truly come. Determination pulses in her no-nonsense vocals – her character’s going to keep her baby, she’s made up her mind – while that glorious string arrangement adds cinematic authority to an all-too-relatable, everyday drama.

4. Ray of Light (1998)

Curtis Muldoon’s 1972 album track Sepheryn sounds like a track destined for a Nuggets-style noughties’ psych-folk anthology. But after Madonna heard William Orbit’s demo of the track with singer Christine Leach, she adapted the melody, added a verse, and invoked absolute magic. One of her most joyous electronic pop singles.

3. Hung Up (2005)

Madonna’s entire career in glitterball-brightened time travel. We filter-sweep from the disco sounds of late 70s clubs to the mashup phenomenon of the early 2000s, before ascending to another level entirely. An Abba sample could have been a death-knell. It was a career rejuvenator.

2. Borderline (1983)

Touchingly, this was Madonna’s first US top 10 hit. The young, untutored star is at her most gentle and beseeching here: “Just try to understand/I’ve given all I can.” The song’s pure melody underlines how much she had already, and how much she would thereafter. Madonna still performs it regularly, and with reason.

1. Like a Prayer (1989)

Madonna’s greatest single was written with Patrick Leonard in a day, just like a dream. Its lyrics play famously, with the euphoric possibilities within religion and sex, but they also explore ideas of vulnerability and power within its layers of sumptuous, immediate sound. Madonna’s character has “no choice” when she hears “your voice”, her vocals conveying wilful submissiveness with absolute tenderness. But she also has faith in herself: “you know I’ll take you there” is repeated like the Staple Singers’ early 70s mantra. Here, however, it transforms into a celebration of emotional, personal conviction. She is Madonna, after all.


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• This article was amended on 21 August 2018 because an earlier version quoted lyrics from Nothing Really Matters by Mr Probz, rather than Madonna’s song with the same name.


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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