That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
Madonna’s seventh album, Ray of Light, marked a turning point in her life and style of music. Ahead of writing this album, Madonna was preparing for her role in Evita, a film adaption of the musical about the life of first lady of Argentina, Eva Perón, and had her first child. She was learning about the Kabbalah school of thought and Hinduism as well as experimenting with different musical styles.
The Ray of Light album includes electronic and dance elements and shows off a wider vocal range (thanks in part to Madonna’s vocal training for Evita). Critics showed it love, calling it “adventurous,” “mature,” and crediting it with bringing electronica to the mainstream. The album cleaned up at the Grammy Awards winning Best Pop Album and Best Recording Package as a whole and Best Dance Recording and Best Short Form Music Video for the title track.
But let’s talk about that title track. It was the second single off of the album and brought Madonna her highest debuting single at that point in her career. But did you know it was a cover?
This song may not be the first one you think of when you think of Madonna (it only comes in at #33 of Madonna’s top 40 Billboard hits), but you can’t deny its energy. I consider this song a pump up jam, and it would be the perfect one to wake up to. The intro is light and hopeful; then the continual dance beat that follows amps you up and prepares you to face the day. You’ve got “a little piece of heaven” after all. Although there is a lot going on in the production (and the video), Madonna’s free-spirited vocals (and dance moves) don’t get buried.
P.S. This award winning video was directed by Jonas Åkerlund, known for his controversial video for a song by The Prodigy, and according to Madonna is supposed to represent “a day in the life of the earth to show that we are rushing forward to the end of the 20th century at full speed.”
But now listen to its inspiration. Without the lyrics you would never guess that these songs shared any kind of connection. The tone and style are much different. This original version is clearly more folksy and has a more dreary tone than Madonna’s dance-heavy version. Curtiss Maldoon lure you in with what sounds like a charming lute, but there is power in the piano and vocals that lead into the first chorus. Then intense acoustic guitar strumming joins in but backs off before the second chorus. This version swings through a variety of moods, coordinated by different instruments. Their “and I feel like I just got home” sounds tired and run down, more like they got home from a long day at work, rather than Madonna’s energized sucker punch of an “and I feel.”
How did Madonna learn about this song? Curtiss Maldoon was a folk duo from England. The niece of band member Clive Maldoon recorded a version of the band’s song “Sepheryn” while working with William Orbit. Orbit produced and helped write songs for Madonna’s Ray of Light album, so this demo eventually made its way to Madonna while she was working on the album. Madonna adjusted the lyrics and changed the style pretty drastically to create the song “Ray of Light.” However, she did give Curtiss Maldoon a songwriter credit and part of the royalties.