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Quicker Than A Ray Of Light
February 17, 2014 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Sixteen years ago, on February 22, 1998, Madonna released her seventh studio album, Ray Of Light, followed the next day by lead-off single Frozen. Popular music and culture would never be the same.

Ray Of Light marked a departure for Madonna. It was the first time she used an electronica/dance producer for the main producer for an album, in this case William Orbit, who had already made a name for himself in the underground scene and was known for creating popular remixes for Madonna and many other artists. She wrote many of the songs with Patrick Leonard, a long-time songwriting partner, but did not have him produce the tracks like she had in the past. Also, this album took over four months to complete, much longer than any album she had worked on before.

The Album
Drowned World/Substitute For Love
Swim
Ray Of Light [video mix, album mix not available]
Candy Perfume Girl
Skin
Nothing Really Matters
Sky Fits Heaven
Shanti/Ashtangi
Frozen
The Power Of Goodbye [video mix, album mix not available]
To Have And Not To Hold
Little Star
Mer Girl
Has To Be (Bonus Track)
Madonna's hard work with vocal lessons for her role in the Evita film plus the birth of her daughter Lourdes had given her reason to stretch herself vocally and spiritually. Her period of introspection led her to begin examining Eastern philosophies such as Kabbalah and yoga. These explorations were heavy influences during the creation of Ray Of Light, both sonically and lyrically.

First Single: Frozen February 23, 1998
Frozen: Album Version, Stereo MC's Mix [slight edit], Meltdown Mix, Extended Mix, Widescreen Mix

Frozen "making of" video
Madonna's work with William Orbit brought electronica and dance music out of the background and underground and pushed it directly into the face of pop music. This one album is widely credited with popularizing what we now refer to as EDM (Electronic Dance Music). It would begin a string of albums by Madonna produced with electronica artists which would only be broken by 2008's Hard Candy, after which she would return to EDM producers for MDNA.

Second Single: Ray Of Light May 6, 1998
Ray Of Light: Album Version [video mix, album mix unavailable online], Sasha Ultra Violet Mix, William Orbit Liquid Mix, Victor Calderone Club Mix, Sasha's Twilo Mix, Sasha's Strip Down Mix, Victor Calderone Drum Mix, Orbit's Ultra Violet Mix

Ray Of Light "making of" video
Madonna's outspoken advocacy of Kabbalah and yoga created a popular culture surge in interest of both practices. Yoga sessions became mainstream, and Kabbalah bracelets became common accessories. How many new practitioners were taking the philosophies seriously remains in question, but the impact of having the Queen Of Pop as informal spokesperson for these practices has left a mark on popular culture that is still seen today.

Third Single: Drowned World/Substitute For Love August 24, 1998
Drowned World/Subtitute For Love: Album Version [video mix featured here, album version linked above], BT & Sasha's Bucklodge Ashram Remix, Sky Fits Heaven (Sasha The Drug Fits Face Mix), Sky Fits Heaven (Victor Calderone Future Anthem Mix)
The reflective nature of the lyrics of Ray Of Light showed a new, mature side of Madonna which many critics praised highly. The album was nominated for 6 Grammy Awards, and won four, including the first-ever award for Madonna in a music category (she'd only ever won for videos before). She also gathered trophies from several other organizations, including many international awards. Ray Of Light was a giant smash with both the public and the music industry.

Fourth Single: The Power Of Goodbye September 22, 1998
The Power Of Goodbye: The Power Of Goodbye, Dallas' Low End Mix, Luke Slater's Super Luper, Luke Slater's Filtered Mix, Fabien's Good God Mix [unavailable]

The Power Of Goodbye "making of" video
Madonna did not tour for this album. The Drowned World Tour took place after the release of the follow-up album Music. It featured, for the first time, Madonna playing guitar on stage. It was her first tour in eight years.

Fifth Single: Nothing Really Matters March 2, 1999
Nothing Really Matters: Album Version [video mix, album version linked above], Club 69 Radio Mix, Club 69 Vocal Club Mix, Club 69 Future Mix, Kruder & Dorfmeister Remix, Club 69 Funk Mix, Vikram Remix, Club 69 Show Mix [not available], Club 69 Speed Mix

Nothing Really Matters "making of" video
Ray Of Light pushed EDM and eastern styles and interested into the spotlight. Dance music would soon take over the popular music charts, Asian culture would rise in popularity. Kabbalah and yoga would begin to move into the mainstream. Perhaps the album and its influences were perfectly timed for a cultural takeover, or perhaps they were the impetus for shifting popular consciousness. Either way, Ray Of Light is considered one of the most influential pop albums released in the 1990s, and its mark remains felt to this day.

Bonus Material
Madonna Rising (terrible quality, interesting content) in conversation with Rupert Everett [38m]

Unreleased tracks:
Revenge
Gone Gone Gone (This Love Affair Is Over)

Ultra Sound - Making Of Ray Of Light [highly recommended] Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Instrumental:
Drowned World/Substitute For Love
Skin
Ray Of Light
Candy Perfume Girl
Skin
Nothing Really Matters
Sky Fits Heaven
Shanti/Ashtangi
Frozen
The Power Of Goodbye
To Have And Not To Hold
Little Star
Mer Girl
So many additional remixes for tracks from this album exist, it would require too much effort to try to catalogue them here.
posted by hippybear (91 comments total) 93 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy crap, Hippybear, thanks for the amazing post! Ray of Light is one of my favorite albums ever... and I can't believe it's 16 years old, because the music still sounds fresh to me today as it did back then. I loved the videos that were done for both Frozen and Ray of Light... and the remixes that BT and Sasha did for Drowned World are something that I listen to frequently (usually while driving too fast down the 101).
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:40 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


That was 16 years ago?!?! I was so excited when Christmas 1998 I got my first CD player and this CD. My mind is blown.
posted by deezil at 3:40 PM on February 17


It was in High School when this came out and there was this odd comforting feeling knowing someone I loved when I was six was still putting out fun albums both me and my brother and mother could listen to.

Granted, everything after is.... Well you know.
posted by The Whelk at 3:41 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Whoa. Must give a listen tonight.

(I'll just leave one of my favourite mashups here.)
posted by maudlin at 3:47 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Song should have been titled William Orbit - Ray of light (featuring Madonna). Probably his best work.
posted by MillMan at 3:48 PM on February 17 [16 favorites]


Mad'Donna: "The Wheels On The Bus"
posted by iviken at 3:49 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I must have run 3,000 miles listening to this album.
Candy Perfume Girl deserves more attention.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:50 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Granted, everything after is.... Well you know.

You shut your mouth. Confessions on a Dance Floor is a killer.
posted by mykescipark at 3:54 PM on February 17 [11 favorites]


(Also, no mention of "Sepheryn" by Curtiss Maldoon, upon which "Ray of Light" was substantially based?)
posted by mykescipark at 3:57 PM on February 17 [7 favorites]


Confessions on a Dance Floor is amazing, and the same producer revived Pet Shop Boys for their latest album.

I think sometimes we pay attention to the wrong things when it comes to music. Producers can make or break albums and it's obvious that Stuart Price is worth his weight in gold.
posted by hippybear at 3:58 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Madonna is ten years almost to the day older than I am. So long as she's been out and about and doing her generally awesome thing (whatever you may think of it, she's generally being awesome at it), she has been an inspiration to me to pull my head out of my ass and stop thinking of myself as old or irrelevant or whatever, because if she can keep reinventing herself then I have no excuse.

also what mykescipark said. I love you dearly Whelkie but them's fightin' words.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:00 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


This post is as brilliant as the album was.

OK, maybe not quite THAT brilliant. But still. Thanks for the memory trip -- 16 years!
posted by andreaazure at 4:01 PM on February 17


Whenever I listened to the cassette of this in my car, when Madonna sang, "Never forget who you are, little star..." my girlfriend at the time would invariably shout at the stereo, "YOU'RE MADONNA'S FUCKIN' KID, THAT'S WHO! AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT!"
So naturally, she's now my wife.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:02 PM on February 17 [15 favorites]


Popular music and culture would never be the same.

Really? Maybe you mean in America. Because in the UK and Australia "electronic dance music" was already having a major impact on the charts e.g. the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy, Leftfield. From the Chems wikipedia page:
They sent Gallagher a tape of what they had done so far. He worked on it overnight, and left a message with them early the next morning that he was ready to record it. The track was called "Setting Sun" and was finally released in October 1996. It entered the UK charts at the top, giving the duo their first ever Number One single.
I would argue that in the nineties Maddona was inspired more by what was happening in the UK (hence choosing to work with William Orbit) and the rise of EDM in America was a more a case of America catching up to where the popular music in the UK, Europe and Australia had already gone.
posted by awfurby at 4:02 PM on February 17 [38 favorites]


Wasn't Madonna already dabbling with electronica with Bedtime Story in 1995?
posted by needled at 4:07 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


I first heard Ray of Light (the single) in an episode of Blue Jam.

I was 19 and driving to collect my girlfriend (now wife) from a bar in town. It was late, I'd been working very long hours on some very complicated programming coursework and was starting to straddle the borders of reality. Maybe 20 hours in a tiny office with no window and then I came out into the world and while still mulling over some really complicated structures in my mind I had a borderline religious realisation of the clarity of the world. It was very strange, it felt like I'd taken off some foggy goggles - everything felt hyperreal.

Into this impressionable mind I tossed Series 2 , Episode 4 of the radio program Blue Jam. The section starts approx 9:15 into this video.

There is a story which runs until approx 22m in that recording. I think it is a stupendous bit of writing but I've already confessed to having been in no position to judge. The start of the Madonna track loops under the last couple of minutes of the story and then burst into full volume (sadly cut off in the youtube rip) as it ends, just as I pulled into the bar parking area.

I still can't hear the start of that song without the hairs on my arm standing up. It triggers a really really vivid memory. I can remember every turn of the road. The colour of every railing. The clothes people I passed were wearing. I can remember the car I parked next to. Every word of the conversation I had with my girlfriend when she came out to meet me.
posted by samworm at 4:07 PM on February 17 [17 favorites]


awfurby: that's pretty much the story. Madonna's ability to see the trends coming up from the underground (or at least sub-pop) made her career as much as her talent did.
posted by MillMan at 4:09 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Ray of Light hit me at a time when I completely lost, having just finished a too-long stint hiding from the real world by maxing out my student loans. I'd just moved from my tiny college town to the big city of Houston TX, and I was working as the front desk clerk of a gay bathhouse (nothing wrong with that -- it was just a dead-end kind of job), dealing with depression, an anxiety disorder, and multiple forms of substance abuse. I was still hoping to become a writer or a philosopher and so I was trying to read a ton of critical theory but had no one to talk to about it and so it all kind of went nowhere. I was deeply frustrated and couldn't see a path forward.

At any rate, this song came on the radio while I was at work one evening, and I just felt this incredible sense of inner joy, hope, and peace. It was really quite transcendent and completely unexpected. I just felt so glad to be alive. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. All my worries seemed so small and trivial, and I felt like an integral part of the whole. I felt held, cared for, nurtured. And no, I wasn't on any mind-altering substance at the time. To this day, looking back on that moment still brings me a sense of peace and hope.

So while I'm not a huge Madonna fan in general, I think it's safe to say that this song of hers changed my life for the better.
posted by treepour at 4:09 PM on February 17 [9 favorites]


Really? Maybe you mean in America. Because in the UK and Australia "electronic dance music" was already having a major impact on the charts

Don't bother. American "EDM" fans will continue to insist that people discovered drum machines last August.
posted by Jimbob at 4:09 PM on February 17 [11 favorites]


Never been a Madonna fan, but Ray of Light turned me on to William Orbit and his Hello Waveforms got me a dozen business cards when I mixed it in with some world stuff at a New Year's First Night show I DJ'ed four years ago.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 4:10 PM on February 17


Ray of Light is arguably one of the better Madonna songs, and her vocals improved quite a lot with training, but I just can't get behind it being earth shattering. Maybe I lived in a little hole where it felt like Madonna was catching up more than reading trends, but it always sounded like a modest change from works like björk's much earlier (1993) Big Time Sensuality.
posted by Muddler at 4:16 PM on February 17 [18 favorites]


And today is the day I officially feel old, because I FUCKING LOVED THIS ALBUM. I probably still do. I don't care how uncool it is. I'm sure they're still playing it on some Lite FM station I refuse to listen to.

Then, a year or so later, she released her cover of "American Pie" and that was pretty much the moment I stopped liking Madonna.
posted by Sara C. at 4:22 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Ray of Light turned me on to William Orbit, but yeah, that's mainstreaming, not creating.
posted by immlass at 4:24 PM on February 17


Really? Maybe you mean in America. Because in the UK and Australia "electronic dance music" was already having a major impact on the charts e.g. the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy, Leftfield.

I recall a hilarious ad for The Fat of the Land saying that The Prodigy was going to be the next big thing in music. (Any advertiser who has to say that has already lost.)

Sadly, in the US it was looked at mostly as music for nerds.

It's pretty good to be a nerd.
posted by Foosnark at 4:24 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


More on topic, Ray of Light is a fantastic album. The only Madonna album I have and chances are, it'll stay that way.
posted by Foosnark at 4:25 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Granted, everything after is.... Well you know

Don't tell me that.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:30 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I remember this was two years after Aphex Twin's "Richard D James" album. Apparently Madonna was a bit of a fan of Aphex's sound at that time, and (to my ears) you can hear the influence. Madonna also hired Chris Cunningham (who had recently done a couple of groundbreaking Aphex Twin videos) to do the Frozen music video, and sometime after Ray of Light approached Aphex Twin to discuss collaborations.

In response, apparently Mr James proposed an idea that involved Madonna making various animal noises over a musical backing track. Sadly, it never saw the light of day.

"I wanted her to do these animal impressions," he says. "I had a whole list of them."
posted by memebake at 4:31 PM on February 17 [8 favorites]


I think it's easily the best-produced Madonna album and pretty damn good. But yeah, Bjork. Homogenic came out 5 months before this and blew my damn mind, and still blows my damn mind. (I think it holds up better than OK Computer, in fact.) Also need to call out 1996's Walking Wounded by Everything but the Girl.
posted by naju at 4:31 PM on February 17 [17 favorites]


her cover of "American Pie"

this should not exist. She should have done "Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting" instead, or, hell, anything, "The Year Of The Cat" or "Night Moves".
posted by thelonius at 4:32 PM on February 17 [9 favorites]


I can't wait til her country album comes out.
posted by goethean at 4:32 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


You are so awesome, hippybear.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 4:35 PM on February 17


I read an interview with Victor Bailey where he was talking about the tour he did with Madonna. He said, whenever he and Omar Hakim did anything too slick, she'd be all "Don't play that Weather Report shit". Um, not hiring the Weather Report rhythm section is a good way to avoid that kind of thing?
posted by thelonius at 4:35 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I love this album (and "Don't Tell Me" too, even if it is "Sweet Home Alabama"). I really like Madonna, even if she does sound like Kermit a lot of the time, she is willing to take risks and try new things, even now, and she will put herself out there for people to like or mock or whatever. Of course it's not "Homogenic", but the world can only hold one Bjork at a time, because black hole of awesomeness or something.
posted by biscotti at 4:50 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Popular music and culture would never be the same.

i'm sorry, but this is sheer hype about an artist and an album that can stand without being hyped like this

chemical bros, fatboy slim, prodigy, kfm, soul 2 soul all had big american hits before madonna came out with that album - my impression when she came out with ray of light was "neat - she decided to keep up with the times"

funny enough, there WAS, for better or for worse, a song from that year that really did change popular music and culture for good

autotuned cher, anyone?

that was a pretty exciting time in pop music - i thought it was going somewhere interesting and then sometime in the mid '00s it mostly went to hell

not hating on madonna or the album, but her contribution to that year's music scene was one of many worthy ones, not THE contribution
posted by pyramid termite at 4:54 PM on February 17 [18 favorites]


Great post!
posted by crossoverman at 5:07 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


awfurby: that's pretty much the story. Madonna's ability to see the trends coming up from the underground (or at least sub-pop) made her career as much as her talent did.
Millman: no that's my point, that kind of music was already mainstream, just not in America. But it was commercially huge the UK, Europe and Australia.
posted by awfurby at 5:18 PM on February 17


I remember when Ray of Light came out and I thought, Wow, Madonna's being kinda hip, has something to say, isn't just pure content-free gloss this time, who'd a thunk it. I thought maybe she would be someone I could pay attention to who would provide content to interest me. Pop culture figures with interesting content that I had access to as a pre-internet 8th grader in 1998 were rare. Then the first video for Music was a violent swing back into the realm of content-free gloss. I was kind of disappointed.
posted by bleep at 5:18 PM on February 17


Never noticed before that the "Ray of Light" video is so "It's A Fine Day"...
posted by en forme de poire at 5:19 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


autotuned cher, anyone?

Did that come out the same year? I don't remember hearing it until '99.
posted by Sara C. at 5:20 PM on February 17


Worth noting that William Orbit co-wrote "Ray of Light" with Christine Leach, singer of Baby Fox, a trip-hop / dub group from the mid 90's ("Curly Locks," a great cover of the Junior Byles/Lee Scratch Perry Track). According to Leach, the origin of the song goes back as far as the 70's - some additional background here.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:24 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Thanks, needled. When I started reading through this post I was thinking, which track is the one with that really dark, sparse electronica sound that had that weird trippy video, like The Cell (a benign version without the rapey murder stuff) a few years before The Cell?

And thanks, hippybear. This is a fantastically impressive post that has (somewhat regrettably) shuttled me back to the last two years of college.
posted by eric1halfb at 5:27 PM on February 17


I was 20 when this came out, and already thought Madonna was passe, so I had no interest in this album.

It was my 76-year-old grand-aunt who finally insisted that I give it a chance because it was something, in her words, "really new."
posted by 256 at 5:29 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


And it's funny, the older Madge gets, the more she reminds me of said late Aunt Margaret...
posted by 256 at 5:32 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


I like to think Madonna's deep spirituality is what motivated her to tell me to shove hydrangeas up my ass on Reddit last year.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:38 PM on February 17 [10 favorites]


Wait, was "Don't Tell Me" not on that one? I love that song. Her brother-in-law, the amazing Joe Henry wrote that, and outside of being a relative by marriage, he's about as unlikely a Madge collaborator as you could imagine. His version, called "Stop" is more like an evil tango from the alternate universe Tom Waits lives in.

But anyway, back to the point, hell yeah on Ray of Light.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:38 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


At any rate, this song came on the radio while I was at work one evening, and I just felt this incredible sense of inner joy, hope, and peace. It was really quite transcendent and completely unexpected. I just felt so glad to be alive. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. All my worries seemed so small and trivial, and I felt like an integral part of the whole. I felt held, cared for, nurtured. And no, I wasn't on any mind-altering substance at the time. To this day, looking back on that moment still brings me a sense of peace and hope.

This is why there is music and it is my fervent wish that everyone in the world could have a song that does this for them.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:40 PM on February 17 [7 favorites]


Great post. It's interesting to look back on Ray of Light as a watershed in American music. I really loved the videos for "Frozen" and "Ray of Light." Though I liked "Frozen" because I loved the visuals.

My only nitpick is that, because of its Jewish origins, Kabbalah isn't generally thought of as "eastern" mysticism. Then again, I'm not sure how many students of the occult consider what Madonna is into authentic study of the ancient practice.

Sara C.: “Did that come out the same year? I don't remember hearing it until '99.”
"'Believe' was first released on October 19, 1998[.]" However, it didn't really chart in the U.S. until 1999, and was number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 from March 13, 1999 to April 3, 1999. The record won the 2000 Grammy for "Best Dance Recording" and was nominated for "Song of the Year."
posted by ob1quixote at 5:41 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


In the 90's, in terms of originality Madonna always seemed to be 2 years behind Bjork.

In more recent years, of course, Bjork has moved on to a different realm entirely.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:44 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Two fucking years of "Believe" by Cher.

No wonder those were the two worst years of my life.

(Actually that had nothing to do with Cher, but she didn't help matters.)
posted by Sara C. at 5:53 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Is that a rain coat?
posted by fullerine at 5:58 PM on February 17


BTW, Björk wrote the original demo for Madonna's "Bedtime Story".
posted by needled at 6:01 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Well, this is one of my all time favorite albums, it is like comfort sound, like going to the ocean. She did a great creative effort on this, silken masterpiece. Another album I return to again and again, is different but also a singular effort, Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting. Not exactly the spirit uplift, but a classic for the broken anthems, and rich and rusty voice of Johnette Napolitano.
posted by Oyéah at 6:19 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Concrete Blonde were great, hadn't thought about them in years
posted by thelonius at 6:24 PM on February 17


Damn, Hippybear. Once again, you've slain me with an amazingly detailed music post. Thanks!
posted by brand-gnu at 6:26 PM on February 17


Interesting. I haven't paid any attention to her music for a long time. I never thought of it as being important, culturally. I do like a few of the songs on Ray of Light, so I'll give the whole thing another listen.

And the remixes? I found quite a few of them on Grooveshark and put them on a playlist, in kind-of album order, if it makes anyone's life any easier...

PS I like Madonna as a star. Like, maybe she's a horrible person, who knows, but she seems to be handling life pretty well.
posted by surplus at 6:31 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I listen to Bloodletting quite often. It's such a great L.A. album.
posted by mykescipark at 6:58 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Great post. I love(d) this album.

And, PSFU, to all of you remarking about how it 'makes you feel old' because you were 'in high school', etc.: This album was released two years after I graduated college.

In my defense: My first concert ever? Madonna at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, MA
posted by GatorDavid at 7:54 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I remember dancing to jungle and garage tracks in college in 1998/1999 and hearing this album come on the radio like a damned tidal wave. I knew with a cold certainty that if anyone could kill the resurgence of dance music in the USA for a few good years it was Madonna.

And then more recently I saw her dancing on stage with MIA and a dark chill went through me. Madonna picking up on a trend means it's nearly reached its natural end and is about to be mercilessly beaten into pulp.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:59 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


I was never much a fan of the record, but this post is amazing.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:14 PM on February 17


Madonna's ability to see follow along with the trends coming up from the underground (or at least sub-pop) already quite evident in the mainstream

Come on...1997 was the year pretty much every mainstream artist was "embracing techno". By 1998 it was just the done thing for somebody trying to appear relevant.
posted by anazgnos at 8:15 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


I remember the nadir of the "we're totally hip with the techno kids" craze in 1997... the Spawn soundtrack.
posted by naju at 8:28 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Oh goddamn. I got my first (AND ONLY) perm in a failed attempt to recreate her hair on this album cover. No, I have no idea why I thought it would work (I was 15 okay?). I only know the evidence of my brief but intense Madonna fixation is still hanging on the wall of my high school.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:19 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


I am 27 now, I can't believe I was only 11, when this came out. Anyway I remember this album as the zenith of her music album artistry.
posted by Zandile Williams at 9:56 PM on February 17


For me Frozen will always be the "Why am I hearing a Madona song in a Goth club?" song. Well other then a certain cover of "like a prayer"
posted by cirhosis at 10:48 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


The loop in the title track that asserts itself during the "and I feel..." bits has buried itself into my brain.

It's true that Madonna was mining a well-established vein, especially in Britain -- the indie/beats collaborations on the first two Chemical Brothers albums, Björk, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack etc. But the execution, the ability to deliver it to a broad audience, is undeniable. And very very Madonna.

If we're talking about context, then Gus Gus's Polydistortion came out in '97, with heavy beats-and-loops pop Seeing them tour that album, supported by Thievery Corporation on their debut, was one of the very best gigs of my life. And UNKLE's Psyence Fiction in late '98 is exhilarating for its rough edges.

Of course it's not "Homogenic", but the world can only hold one Bjork at a time, because black hole of awesomeness or something.

My god, that album ages like Chateaux Margeaux. Ray of Light is a fine album that feels like it perfectly belongs to 1998, but Homogenic would sound new and urgent and thrilling if it came out tomorrow.
posted by holgate at 12:56 AM on February 18 [7 favorites]


My opinion on Madonna, particularly on Madonna adapting/appropriating/getting inspiration from club music, has forever changed by listening to DJ Sprinkles' track Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone).

Quote: "When Madonna came out with her hit Vogue you knew it was over. She had taken a very specifically queer, transgendered, Latino and African-American phenomenon and totally erased that context with her lyrics, "It makes no difference if you're black or white, if you're a boy or girl." Madonna was taking in tons of money, while the Queen who actually taught her how to Vogue sat before me in the club, strung out, depressed and broke. So if anybody requested Vogue or any other Madonna track, I told them, "No, this is a Madonna free zone! And as long as I'm DJ-ing you will not be allowed to Vogue to the decontextualized, reified, corporatlized, liberalized, neutralized, asexualized, re-genderized, pop reflection of this dancefloor's reality!"

To what extent this applies to Ray of Light-era Madonna is up for discussion though.
posted by Herr Fahrstuhl at 1:32 AM on February 18 [7 favorites]


It was my 76-year-old grand-aunt who finally insisted that I give it a chance because it was something, in her words, "really new."

256, that's fantastic. So Aunt Margaret was around 61 when "Holiday" came out? I hope I'm paying attention to new music at 61 to the point where I can comment on an artist's late-career shifts fifteen years later.
posted by rory at 2:33 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Yes, Herr F, I've always thought it was interesting that when the arch-appropriator Malcolm McClaren (who was completely shameless in his appropriation), "did" vogueing on his 1989 Waltz Darling album (along with trying to set Viennese waltzes to a strict 4/4 beat - I'm not claiming it's a great album, it left the world largely unchanged and and it's hugely 80s-tastic, but I have a great affection for it), his references were about the subculture and intended to celebrate them (although there's no doubt that he gained a lot by putting himself forward as a public, white, spokesman for that culture - he was appropriating their hipness, but recognised that for that to work he had to emphasise and accentuate it - it couldn't belong to him). When Madonna did it the following year, it was entirely about her.

Madonna is a capitalist of popular culture - her primary talent is for hiring people who make her various records and videos. That talent is not inconsiderable, and explains her longevity (as she has relied on other people's shorter-lived creativity), but her actual work is a lot less interesting than that of similar artists - Bowie, Prince or Björk, for example - who burned out a bit after a few years.
posted by Grangousier at 3:09 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I remember 1998. This was my sophomore roommate's favorite album to crossdress to.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:52 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


256, that's fantastic. So Aunt Margaret was around 61 when "Holiday" came out? I hope I'm paying attention to new music at 61 to the point where I can comment on an artist's late-career shifts fifteen years later.

Actually, my aunt Margaret died at 89. She was 76 when Ray of Light came out.

Edit: Oh, sorry, "Holiday." Yes, quite so.
posted by 256 at 5:25 AM on February 18


Jimbo: Don't bother. American "EDM" fans will continue to insist that people discovered drum machines last August.

What the fuck's a drum machine?
posted by brokeaspoke at 6:01 AM on February 18


16 years ago? Shit!
posted by stormpooper at 6:57 AM on February 18


I will always love this album for the platform it gave William Orbit, who I adore. hippybear, I hope you do a Superpinkymandy post at some point.
posted by Lazlo Nibble at 7:22 AM on February 18


This was my sophomore roommate's favorite album to crossdress to.

I think this a really important point in the "appropriation" conversation.

One of my biggest associations with "Ray Of Light" (as a bi teenager) was that it came out right at the point when a lot of my friends were leaping out of the closet.

On the one hand, it is shameful that Madonna took a queer cultural moment like vogueing and turned it into a top 40 hit and profit for herself. It is especially embarrassing that she did it without sharing the limelight or even maybe kicking some money to the individuals who started it.

On the other hand, the accessibility of Madonna's music meant that kids in the rural south who would never ever in a million years even remotely get a chance to go to the clubs where vogueing was happening got thrown a bit of a rope.

Is it kind of shitty that Madonna was one of our few links to queer culture back then? Yeah. Does her role there make her an absolute good? No. But, hey, at least we had it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


God damn, "Polyesterday" was pre-Madonna too? This is really disorienting. I listened to Homogenic and Gus Gus and Massive Attack on loop as a late-HS/early-college-age kid, and all the other gays in college played the fuck out of some "Vogue"-era Madonna, but I basically never listened to "Ray of Light" until, well, now. It could have been a really good crossover moment. Oh well.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:17 AM on February 18


That live version of Polyesterday is dope btw, better than the album version IMO.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:18 AM on February 18


Most of the tracks on Polydistortion had been released earlier in Iceland, too. That '97 tour with the big lineup and massive rack of synths (nine people, I think, including then 17-year-old Hafdis Huld) was astonishing: part band gig, part hardcore club night.
posted by holgate at 11:45 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I am so not buying the "Madonna was ahead of the trend" thing here, when the sound of the album was mostly lifted from already popular trip-hoppy bands like Portishead, Hooverphonic, and Poe.
posted by speicus at 12:29 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Ok so obviously there's a whole conversation happening here, but I have to run out very soon, and I want to say:

Thank you so very, very much, hippybear. This album came out a few months after I did--or, to be more accurate, the year that 'out' stopped being 'to certain people,' and became 'to everyone.' It was the year of my first real-out-of-the-closet boyfriend. The year my parents kicked me out. The year I had my first grownup job--grownup as in, no job means no food and no roof over my head. The year I first did MDMA. The year I finally fell head over heels in love with electronic music. The year that saw the end of an era (RIP Rumors Bar & Cabaret). My first rave, my first love, my first oh my god I'm a grownup paycheque. My first apartment, my first roommate, my first time donning the fabulous mask that is drag. My first death of a close friend.

1998 was a hell of a year, is what I'm saying. I was 19 and cute and gay and carefree and reckless and finally not hiding anything from anyone. And this album, in so very many ways, was the soundtrack for that year.

Ray of Light became kind of my anthem for a while. I used to do it in drag. I still throw it on sometimes when I need the kind of energetic pick-me-up that only Madge can bring. I remember, my best friend's mum, who'd known me since I was five years old.. he persuaded her to come see me perform. RIP, Janet; I'll never forget your smile in the audience that night.

This post has stirred up an amazing well of memories and feelings, as well as a very specific time and place in my life and all the people who were around me then.

There's some onions around here somewhere so I'm going to get going, but thank you again hippybear. I think later tonight I'm going to be taking a very long trip down memory lane.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:10 PM on February 18 [8 favorites]


BTW, Opus III's It's A Fine Day, for reference
posted by en forme de poire at 1:55 PM on February 18


I'm not sure I meant to imply in my post that Madonna was somehow ahead of the curve as far as creating electronica. Many excellent, already existing artists were making great electronic music and were receiving their share of attention. Many have already been named in this thread.

But I think what I was trying to say (and I'm not the only person to say this, really), is that Ray Of Light brought electronica into the pop music charts for the first time with any real influence. (And more specifically, the US music charts.)

Here is the top 30 chart for the week Ray Of Light and "Frozen" was released.

Madonna has basically never been a leader with music. She's always been great at popularizing trends she recognizes as rising. Artists like Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk and Gus Gus were already there, already making the music. But they hadn't blown through into popularity on the music charts. But Madonna recognized the importance of this music and pulled it out of the underground and into the mainstream.
posted by hippybear at 6:28 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Didn't Tranceport also make the mainstream charts that year? Or have I got dates mixed up? I know that's right around when Fatboy Slim exploded into the mainstream.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:49 PM on February 18


Fatboy Slim hit the charts in a big way with "Praise You" in October of 1998. "Going Out Of My Head" did hit the US Alternative charts in 1997, but was not in the main pop charts.

Oakenfold's Tranceport was November 1998.
posted by hippybear at 8:12 PM on February 18


Wow, my brain isn't the lace doily I thought it was.

If I weren't so lazy I'd grab some Binary Finary from YouTube because well obvs.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:15 PM on February 18


hippybear brings up a good question. What was the mainstream moment for electronica in the US? Prodigy's "Firestarter" hit #30 in the US overall charts in 1996, which I've always considered the breakthrough moment. It wasn't really pop though, kind of a weird fluke in retrospect. I guess Ray of Light really was it.
posted by naju at 9:30 PM on February 18


This really is an amazing throwback. I was living in Chile at the time as an exchange student and one of my classmates--a fan so unrepentant that he claimed he'd buy Madonna-endorsed diapers given the opportunity--excitedly played "Ray of Light" for me for the first time at a house party he and his DJ roommates were hosting. I was about to comment that it sounded like she was cribbing from The Cure (of all things), and then the guitar intro gave way to the electro beat; I can only imagine my WTF expression based on his gleeful laughter.

I still think it holds up as her most musical album; the songs are less saccharine and more substantive generally. The odd cringeworthy lyric aside, "Swim" and "Nothing Really Matters" are unabashed joys.

Madonna's outspoken advocacy of Kabbalah and yoga created a popular culture surge in interest of both practices. Yoga sessions became mainstream...

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.
posted by psoas at 8:05 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I feel like Moby charted before Madonna did. And where was BT in all this? I can't remember when Movement in Still Life came out.

And The Prodigy were very very much pop. Everyone in the underground basically viewed them as a joke/sellout.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:05 AM on February 19


I feel like Moby charted

Maybe in a minor way (I remember being aware of him in maybe '96), but "Play" was in 99-2000.
posted by Sara C. at 9:09 AM on February 19


Moby had quite a bit of exposure on the US Dance charts consistently from early on, but he as only charted once on the US overall chart, in 2000 with "South Side".

Play as an album hit 38 on the album charts in 1999, while 18 got all the way to #4 in 2002.
posted by hippybear at 6:51 PM on February 19


Stardust - Music Sounds Better With You was also a monster hit in 1998. Memories!
posted by dave99 at 12:23 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, dave99, you just gave me one of the most intense flashbacks I've ever had.

And oh my god, skylab2000 - Rollergirl. Oh man that song.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:04 PM on February 20


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