Happy 30th Anniversary to Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection, originally released November 9, 1990.
Like so many of my generation, I grew up on a staple diet of ‘80s mullets, sitcoms of every kind, Cabbage Patch Kids and, of course, Madonna. The girl from Michigan covered in lace, hairspray and crucifixes immediately took the world by storm by positioning herself front and center, while provoking a ridiculous amount of discomfort among many of her observers, mostly to do with perceptions of sexuality, both hers and ours.
Smashing down the door that had been cracked open for her by those that walked before her, Madonna’s shock value was so much more than a calculated act, it was shaking up the patriarchy and prompting conversations that had largely remained taboo up until that point. Whilst many of those taboo subjects have now lost their edge and become more accepted, Madonna still manages to spark conversation on a range of topics and for the most part, we still listen.
In late 1990, Madonna again stimulated dialogue with the release of her first greatest hits album, The Immaculate Collection. Given that the singer had only released her debut album Madonna seven years beforehand, it left many wondering “why so soon?” The curiosity paid off. It captivated listeners’ interest and Madonna delivered the goods with fifteen hits from her impressive ‘80s canon and two new tracks, “Justify My Love” and “Rescue Me.” The compilation has gone on to sell in excess of thirty-one million albums worldwide and it remains the best-selling compilation album by a solo artist and one of the most commercially successful albums of all time in its own right.
The first three tracks from the album—“Holiday,” “Lucky Star” and “Borderline” —cemented Madonna’s star power as she entered the world of pop. “Holiday” and its infectious upbeat “dance all night” vibe most definitely sets the tone for this album and without sounding facetious, shows just how far Madonna has come. “Lucky Star” continues the catchy, semi-vacuous lyrics, but it is with “Borderline” that we start to see the emergence of a woman who was beginning to master the art of the pop hook. Madonna’s awareness of her words and the art involved in being a true wordsmith was taking place.
By 1984, Madonna’s image was as much a topic of conversation as was her music. Like A Virgin, her second album, took on all the trimmings of the punk influence it aspired to be. Lace, fishnets and of course the crucifix were fast becoming every teen girl’s go-to accessories. A fashion moment was being born, and so was Madonna’s controversial fame.
Like A Virgin was Madonna’s first poke at sexual innuendo and with lines like “It feels so good inside” and “touched for the very first time,” this song not only became a smash for the star, but created a controversy that upset everyone from politicians to the Catholic Church. Madonna had people talking and she reveled in it. Taking a more feminine, female empowered turn with “Material Girl,” sass and dominating the male world were slowly being incorporated within her personal brand. Her feminine, sexual, but incredibly strong disposition coupled with her penchant for not suffering any fools was not only being channeled through her art, taking her to the top, but was also proving to be culturally iconic—something that many modern day singers still reference as a source of their inspiration.
Maturity in her lyrical game was becoming increasingly clear with the release of True Blue in 1986. “Live to Tell,” “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Open Your Heart” all highlight this beautifully. As Madonna sings about an unplanned pregnancy on “Papa Don’t Preach,” we are offered insight into not just a topical theme at the time, but also a view into Madonna’s own relationship with her father, her sole caretaker after her mother passed away when she was five years old. The raw emotion in the song isn’t just elicited through her words, it almost feels as if she is singing directly from experience. Either way, this was yet another cultural moment for Madonna.
As The Immaculate Collection draws to a close, the Like A Prayer album comes into full swing. By this stage, Madonna had already been crowned as the “Queen of Pop” and her stratosphere was further expanded by the album’s lead sing and title track. With its topical fusion of racism, social injustice, religion and authority, needless to say that Madonna and her black Jesus were again in controversial territory.
With conservatives and the church now firmly up in arms against the Queen of Pop, Madonna continued with the anthemic “Express Yourself,” calling on her listeners to not “go for second best baby, put your love to the test,” again reasserting herself as a kind of newfound feminist guru unafraid of her femininity and sexuality, and she wanted all who listened to follow suit. “Vogue,” Justify My Love” and the video-less “Rescue Me” continued this theme providing banned videos, denounced lyrics and a courage and fearlessness not seen in any female performer up to this point. She wasn’t just knocking at the patriarchy’s door—she was kicking it down.
It’s incredible to think that The Immaculate Collection covers just seven years of the singer’s career, but those seven early years are also a major part of a decade that saw so much change and was determined to welcome in even more. This album represents so much more than a narcissistic collection of hits—it is a musical diary that highlights the cultural moment that Madonna initiated, developed and conquered. This is the moment when female empowered lyrics took control wholeheartedly and its facilitator, Madonna, proved time and time again why she deserved the title of “Queen of Pop.”
A collection of immaculate songs it is, The Immaculate Collection it will always be.