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Record Rewind: Madonna – Bedtime Stories

5 min read

What makes a record a classic? I’d like to think that time will tell whether any album is a true masterpiece. So many records get released each and every year and while the charts have been on a constant decline since the age of the reality show and digital download that fully took its grip in the early noughties, there are always records that we look back on that gives us the hope that while music may have soured over the decades, it’s blemished appearance still has some redeeming features well worth appreciating.

Madonna Bedtime StoriesOnce a record hits a milestone like its 20th anniversary, it is worth looking back on and evaluating its place within the music history books and that is what I wanted to do with an album that I have always regarded as one of the finest additions to a legendary musicians repertoire – Madonna’s Bedtime Stories.

While I don’t regard Bedtime Stories as Madonna’s finest release to date, it is certainly up there with the very best of them and with the collection getting ready to blow out its 20th birthday candles on 25th October, we thought it the perfect time to take a stroll through the record and remember everything that was, and is, so iconic about the 11 track studio album.

1994 had already been a musically fruitful year for Madonna. She was still riding high off the success of her last studio album, Erotica, and had found enormous success with her hit I’ll Remember from the film With Honours. While the superstar and icon had toyed with various styles and themes over the course of her 5 studio albums prior, Bedtime Stories was a very different life form and came as just as much of a surprise to fans and critics as her previous Erotica release – albeit for different reasons. While the singer had fully exercised the overtly sexual themes that ran rampant throughout 1992’s Erotica, Bedtime Stories took things down a few notches and introduced us to a much softer and acoustically dressed Queen of Pop. Gone was the bondage and sex-laden lyricism (for the most part) and in its place lay moving ballads and stripped back pop hits that helped carve the singers mid-nineties success and introduced us to several singles that have since become some of her most cherished and most highly regarded career pennings.

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Over the course of the records 11 tracks Madonna dips her toes in the very best blends of mainstream RnB and acoustic pop. The record opens with Survival which gets things off to a mid-tempo yet boppy start with the singer giving us survival tips from a very biographical standpoint as she confesses “I’ll never be an angel, I’ll never be a saint it’s true”.

Secret was the records early hit and had Madonna singing over top an acoustic guitar, something that hadn’t really been heard from the pop icon to this extent prior to the release of this gem. While the track gave the record its first glimpse at commercial success, the record did take its time getting the recognition it deserved back in the day despite it being littered with what would become some of the musicians most celebrated pennings. An unsurprising set back was with the records title track (and my personal album favourite) which was co-written with Icelandic musical extraordinaire Bjork who was enjoying her own mainstream career peak that year with her album Post. The video is still one of my favourite Madonna videos to date and the track was very unexpected for the nineties and very surprising for a pop singer like Madonna to have produced, as well as being a surprise pairing of an American pop star and an eccentric Icelandic singer-songwriter. Despite the tracks genius, the public didn’t seem to taste many of the flavours captured within the electro-drenched track and it still stands as one of the musicians most underrated hits.

While Madonna had previously enjoyed a highly publicized period in the spotlight with 1992’s Erotica, Human Nature could easily have been a single cut from that record but instead it was saved for Bedtime Stories as one of the records key centrepieces. The accompanying video rose more than a few eyebrows at the time with Madge performing scandalous dance moves with her dancers dressed in bondage gear and being dominated with whips, some killer heels and a snappy pooch.

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Sanctuary is one of the real hidden gems on this record and easily one of my favourite Madonna tracks. Its atmospheric and slightly trancy arrangement along with its distinctive Herbie Hancock pipe sampling allowed Madonna to deliver some of the most tender and poetic lines on the album;  lyrics that tell of love dependency and succumbing to whoever she feels could offer her a sense of escapism.

While the record boasts numerous mid-career highlights for Madonna, its success can partly be contributed to the team she gathered around her for this collection. She continued to work alongside long-time collaborator Shep Pettibone, who had helped carved early career hits like Express Yourself, Like A Prayer, Into The Groove and Rain and added his touch to Bedtime Stories through its lead single, Secret. Her work with Iceland’s most controversial newcomer Bjork was evident on the records title track but it was the records subtle RnB influences that created the backbone to the success and timelessness of Bedtime Stories and the contribution of Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds is easily traceable through his work on Forbidden Love and the closing hit, Take A Bow – the latter becoming one of Madonna’s most successful ballads.

Whether it’s the musical avant-garde-ness within tracks like Bedtime Story or Sanctuar; power ballads like Take a Bow; or the acoustic pop rawness of hits like Secret that tick your boxes, Bedtime Stories has a little bit of something for everyone and is pop masterpiece in every sense of the word.