Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Madonna was back in the news recently, as her latest release Madame X got the music press dishing out the full “return to form” treatment. No surprise, really – that’s the de rigueur clarion call to anyone of her vintage releasing, well, almost anything. To be fair, it has its moments, but nothing can beat The Immaculate Collection, the collection of Madge’s early singles that charts her journey from odd-voiced popstrel to soft-porn audio-provocateur.
It is hard to remember quite how swiftly Madonna morphed from charity shop chic, on the fringe of recognition, to being equivalently famous and infamous worldwide, adding and subtracting images and styles apace. Given the songs on this essential record stem only between 1983 and 1990, few artists can claim such a concentrated burst of success and inspiration, and to this day it remains the highest-selling compilation album by any solo artist.
Hell, I didn’t think I even liked Madonna – until, without thought or question, I bought this on release, certainly not remembering just how many songs, one after another, she had hurled towards the higher end of the charts. Whilst the singles were and are a roll-call of the hot producers of the day, little is it appreciated that the whole record, bar the two new tracks, are all remixes of the originals, sometimes with different backing tracks, only the vocals untouched. Plus Madonna’s name appears (OK, jointly) on the writing credits for most of them. And don’t forget the added bonus of unreleased material, thought the jury is still out as to whether that represents a generous gift for the fans or a massive bonus for her accountant.
Heaven 17 – Holiday (Madonna cover)
The fact that the once-mighty Heaven 17 covered “Holiday” makes a better piece of information than a musical experience. Still, once you forget it’s them, and cease thinking about how they really could have done it justice, it isn’t that bad. Given the original “Holiday” was derided at the time as throwaway pop (if infectious as the plague), this connect-the-dots Eurodance pap is just as convincingly and appropriately throwaway. Maybe it was a subtle observation on the nature of pop. Mind you, it is a lot better than some of the other stuff on the album Virgin Voices, Volume One, built entirely of, by and large, unwise electronica covers of Ms. Ciccone. (And, to the question already forming, there was indeed a second volume…..)
Jessie Frye – Lucky Star (Madonna cover)
There’s always one track on a classic album that mysteriously gets fewer covers than the rest. “Lucky Star” seems to take the prize here, with little to choose between godawful death metal and anodyne “fauxlk,” of which there are many. So I was pleased to find this version in… what would you call it… lounge-core? jazz-lite? Be that as it may, I find it charming, even if it is the arrangement that draws me more than the vocal. And what of the vocalist, Jessie Frye? The pride of Denton, TX is a mover and shaker on the Dallas music scene; she has a couple of awards from the local paper and had a beer, Boss Bitch, named after her.
The Chapin Sisters – Borderline (Madonna cover)
Banjo is an instrument rarely deemed missing from the Madonna canon. Here, proving this to be some major oversight, the Chapin Sisters give “Borderline” a gorgeous back-porch arrangement. The sisters have a track record in this format; their tribute to the Everly Brothers, A Date With the Everly Brothers, stands out in a crowded field of similar. This track comes from 2007’s Through the Wilderness, yet another Madonna tribute album (at time of counting there are over 50!). It’s one of the better ones, an easier feat than it sounds.
Mötley Crüe – Like a Virgin (Madonna cover)
That’s right, and please, no sniggering in the back. I confess to knowing little about this more-lampoon-than-band, and certainly less of their output. But this I like. It has a certain purity of metal, all clean-cut guitar chords overlaying a root note plodding bass, as admirable, in its way, as the signature Nile Rodgers production of the original. The vocals are competent, and I can imagine the solos more in my eyes than my ears, all shredding fingers and taps. Made for a film, I gather, released barely 6 months ago. (How did we miss it earlier?) It is, apparently, the band’s swan song. Probably file under “if you listen to one track by.”
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox feat. Gunhild Carling – Material Girl (Madonna cover)
I think I may have said somewhere that I can’t be doing with all that retro PMJ nonsense. I take it all back. This “Material Girl” is an astonishing barnstorm of a performance, with breathy Holidayesque vocals, all the while dancing, two sorts, taking time also to fill in some wondrous ‘bone solos. (Is that how Lady Day caught that tone, by dancing herself ragged at the mike?) This looks live over mimed, and I have watched it three times in a row. Of course it is nonsense, but astonishingly good nonsense.
Me First & the Gimme Gimmes – Crazy for You (Madonna cover)
Received wisdom suggests that Me First etc. are a punk rock supergroup, but this version of “Crazy for You” is as far away from the rightly maligned school of punk covers as can be. It’s got tasteful ukulele (no oxymoron, that) and a gentle croon of the lyrics that shows off quite how good a song this is, despite being oft overlooked as melasmic X Factor fodder. It’s from a 2014 album, Are We Not Men? We Are Diva, whose MO was to cover songs by divas. So, alongside this salute to Ms. M, there are songs originally by Cher, Lady Gaga, Christine Aguilera, and more. And, you know, having heard this, I want it. (Bonus: the uke intro covers the intro to Blondie’s “The Tide is High,” apparently. Yeah, I missed that too.)
Ciccone Youth – Into the Groove(y) (Madonna cover)
Ciccone Youth, aka Sonic Youth, always get a shoo-in to any Madonna post, being the sort of insufferably hip choice always promoted but that no one ever really listens to. But do. There is love there. Sure, a lot of white noise also, and an instrumental palette more reminiscent, through use of drum machines, of New Order, but “Into the Groove” is just about recognizably both the song and the signature of Sonic Youth. Overall, the parent album, The Whitey Album, is a somewhat slapdash and pseudonymous “tribute” to Madonna that actually only contains two Madonna songs, the rest being originals and, bizarrely, Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.”
Bill Frisell – Live to Tell (Madonna cover)
If you don’t find this cover of “Live to Tell” simply glorious, well, you are reading the wrong piece. My favorite version of my favorite Madonna song. Frisell has an unfair reputation for being difficult to listen to, yet nothing could be easier than this, stripping down all the melody, painting a collage of nostalgic whimsy about the original. Well, nothing easier than actually playing it, I guess. If a dream state can be characterized purely by sounds, this is it. One of the few songs where the lyrics are integral, this manages to dispense with them entirely, losing nothing. They are all in your head, anyway. Frisell is clearly a huge lover of pop music and has covered frequently, ranging from the Beach Boys to Hank Williams.
Kelly Osbourne – Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna cover)
If this wasn’t any good, it would be altogether too arch and too knowing, Kelly’s dad, Ozzy, perhaps not being the obvious strict parent the lyrics are addressing. Hewn in a hard-rock style, it strays little from the structure of the original, if the opening drum pattern lays the hint of a reggae take I really would like to hear. Abetted by members of Incubus, it was produced by Kelly’s brother Jack, becoming a minor hit on the back of its use in the credits of the reality TV show based on her family.
Young Galaxy – Open Your Heart (Madonna cover)
The Canadians are so good at this lark, tributes by exclusively Canadian artists to any number of performers, helping heavy the shelves of covers lovers. This one, True Blue, is one of the best, and has the roster of Paper Bag Records as the cast. Young Galaxy take away the memory of the slightly starchy original, refreshing the palate with this delightful sparkle of a song. Deceptively simple, simplistic almost, never has less been more. The band, a husband and wife duo, have been releasing music since 2007 and still do.
Motor Industries – La Isla Bonita (Madonna tribute)
Even if I liked dance music (and I do), a record entitled The Dance floor Tribute to Madonna would surely have me running to the hills. But I listened. And I like. The mere snippets of “La Isla Bonita” that remain engage entirely; the discombobulated Spanish guitar and the soft sequencer stabs airbrushing the main theme, just wide of it, satisfy as the main hooks. The wonder as to when the vocals (give or take the odd breathy woo) might kick in lasts to the end of the track, and it got me playing it on repeat for a while. Motor Industries do this sort of thing often; as well as the entirety of this disc, they also crop up on such staples as The Electronic Tribute to Abba and, bizarrely, Dead Bodies Everywhere: The Electro-Industrial Tribute to Korn.
Marc Almond – Like a Prayer (Madonna cover)
Quite WTF was going on when this arrangement was mooted is anyone’s guess, it sounding as if competing versions were playing concurrently, if not (quite) in sync. Erstwhile Soft Cell singer Almond nails the notes in his endearingly idiosyncratic way (i.e. hardly at all), whilst a crazy orchestra – think Eno’s Portsmouth Sinfonia – trill and saw away frenetically alongside. A melancholy drum machine is pasted in at the base, the backing massed girly chorus bleeding in from a Glee outtake. All almost worth it for the final sustained note. Ruby Trax, from where it comes, is a stupendously hit-and-miss triple album wherein the cream of ’90s UK indie play pop to celebrate 40 years of the New Musical Express, aka NME.
Amazonics – Express Yourself (Madonna cover)
Uncertain if this “Express Yourself” cover strictly hits any of the same Latin bossa tropes so evident on the same production team’s works on the Rolling Stones and Ramones catalogs, or as well, but it is a pleasant croon that tries to engineer a tune in this more of an anthemic chant than a song. If it shows off the detail missing in the original, it fails also to find it, but, as I said, pleasant.
Renato Russo – Cherish (Madonna tribute)
Renato Russo was a celebrated Brazilian singer, a member of indie rock band Legião Urbana, selling as many as 25 million records in his lifetime, albeit largely in Brazil. He died of AIDS in 1996. Given the band’s oeuvre was in the post-punk styles of the Cure, it seems strangely disappointing that this cover of “Cherish,” itself inoffensive, should come from a solo concert, a benefit for Stonewall, crammed full of schlocky old standards, even if performed and sung competently.
Waltari – Vogue (Madonna cover)
It is a fact that most covers of “Vogue” are by similarly seen divas of the same ilk, often similarly known by a single name: Kylie, Rihanna, and (how long will she retain the Grande) Arianna. None of those add anything, falling and failing by comparison. So it is back to to metal we go, this time of the Scandi variety, touching on but stepping back from the full Tuvan of death-metal. It comes from Waltari’s presciently titled 1992 album Torcha!, Waltari being stalwarts of the Finnish metal scene since the mid-80s. An all-covers record to celebrate their 25 years of existence, Covers All, came out in 2011, and featured a second Madonna song, “Give it to Me,” offering contrast with the other songs, by Anthrax and Iron Maiden amongst others.
Satan on Fire – Justify My Love (Madonna cover)
You could be forgiven for beginning to feel this post is sponsored by fellow bloggers Opium Hum, such is the preponderance of this genre, but, if I totally get the LGBT affection for Madge, how so the bearded hairies of doomcore? What’s the connection? I think I’ll just hold that thought there. Aficionados of Mr. Manson will wade in here to recite the argument as to whether this dirge is from MM side project Satan on Fire, or earlier-era Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids. The rest of us probably won’t make it through a first listen.
The Sunset Lounge Orchestra – Rescue Me (Madonna cover)
Like me, you probably need a lie down after wading through this gargantuan post. Luckily, I have just the cheesy chill-out joint required, courtesy these dudes, who have a ton of albums addressing the works of Pink Floyd, U2, Santana and lord knows what else. About them I can find nothing, but this I will say: this style of music, when done well, thinking (some of) Buddha Bar or Cafe del Mar, can be superlative. Then there is this.
So there you have it. An enjoyable journey, I thought, as much a reminder of the originals as of assessing the worth of a veritable shedload of available material. I didn’t touch on all that many of the available tribute albums out there, based on name alone, it’s true: was anyone really up for Rockabye: the Music of Madonna or Material Girl: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays Music of Madonna? But it was disappointing to find so little reggae, zydeco or bluegrass, I though compulsory for any self-respecting record label seeking to milk an artist for all their possible worth. If this post can act as a catalyst, then my work here is done.
Want more Madonna covers? Check out our recent countdown of the 25 best Madonna covers ever.