R.E.M.’s ‘Monster’ Is Much Better Than the Critics Say

11.18 R.E.M._-_Monster

It was the Summer of 1983, and I was working as a waiter/bus boy at a small resort in Southern Wisconsin when I first heard R.E.M. The band had just released their first full-length album on I.R.S. Records, and the local alternative radio station was playing “Radio Free Europe,” when I was bitten with the bug. Immediately, I recognized that R.E.M. was going to join U2 as the bands of my generation, even if few others had. Within that one song, I heard all the important rock milestones of my generation: the jangling guitars of folk rock by artists such as The Byrds, the muddy sounds of the Velvet Underground, the eschewing of all things that seem to be of the moment like the great punk bands that emerged during the years of 1975 through 1977, and an arty nod within the obtuseness of the lyrics much like the beat writers many of us were rediscovering in college. Plus, you could hear other points-of-references important to people our age: bubblegum music over Woodstock musicians, a love of AM radio of the early Seventies and a disdain for arena rock and irony, truckloads of irony like Late Night with David Letterman.

11.18 R.E.M.-portrait-1994-billboard-1548

So, as the Eighties progressed, both U2 and R.E.M. rose to prominence within the music world. As we all know by now, U2 put their collective foot down on an international scale during a primo performance during Live Aid, one that was so significant that it took Queen’s performance of a lifetime to cast a shadow over U2’s. But, by 1987, U2 delivered upon their promise when The Joshua Tree propelled them to the mantle of the greatest band in the world. Still, 1987 was significant for R.E.M. as well because that was the year in which they were finally establishing themselves as a commercial force with their brilliant album Document, their first Top 10 single “The One I Love” and their immortal sensory-overload induced song of eternity “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

Slowly, R.E.M. arose from the Athens, Georgia, music scene into the lexicon of the mainstream without nary a compromise. And the three subsequent studio albums launched them into the stratosphere alongside U2. Now, those two bands WERE the bands of a generation. It was into this strange land of musical acceptance and world domination that R.E.M. found itself. During it’s first decade as a band, they grew increasingly insular with their lyrics and musical motifs. And, if you ever got to witness R.E.M. in concert, you knew that no matter how beautiful these increasingly acoustic albums were, they did not truly represent the band while onstage. Au contraire, R.E.M. was reared in the punk era, and the immediacy of their concerts sat in complete contrast to their plaintive albums. Plus, the very musical landscape they created was now becoming the whole voice of a generation as Grunge and Lollapalooza brought the whole underground scene to the masses. In other words, the music world was loud, so how was our heroes going to react?

11.18 REM Speedwagon

Well, they took a page out of U2’s playbook. If you remember well, U2 was at the very same crossroads in 1990. So, they tore up their sound and did a David Bowie-like turnabout by releasing a pair of albums that took something of a dadaist approach to their sound. They created more claustrophobic music with obtuse lyrics, and the move was very successful.

R.E.M. are well-known record bin divers, not unlike myself. So, it was not the least bit surprising that they knew the musical landscape that was in shape around them. But, instead of reaching out toward Bowie, as U2 did, our heroes made a sidestep toward the trashier side of Glam Rock and tried to make a record dripping of sex. Now, sex within a bookish band like R.E.M. is going to be warped all over the place, since they cannot be pigeonholed. What came out was extremely jarring and unsettling, and the band called the album Monster. Of course, the album’s sales blew out of the gates, but all I kept hearing from the bandwagon crowd was how R.E.M. no longer sounded like the pastorally elegant Automatic for the People. The band triumphantly toured the world to sold-out gigs, all the while running into one medical emergency after another along the way. Drummer Bill Berry had a nearly-tragic aneurysm while onstage in Europe, bassist Mike Mills had emergency surgery to remove an intestinal adhesion and singer Michael Stipe had emergency surgery for a hernia.

11.18 R.E.M. - Live @ Omni, Atlanta, USA, 19-11-1995

Yet, and this may be an urban legend, Monster has been purported to be the CD most often sold to second hand music stores. So, why is that? And, why is everyone making a bigger deal out of this album being re-released this month for its 25th anniversary? Simply put, this album is much better now than it was ever perceived to be in its time. You see, R.E.M. may have unwittingly rung in the whole stupid MTV Unplugged movement of the day with their Top 5 performance on the fledgling program a few years earlier. When the band decides to be in the studio exactly what they are onstage, the public was sonically taken aback. Then, throw in the abrasiveness of some songs, even though Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails were doing similar sonic sounds, the fair weather R.E.M. fans of the past two albums were not ready for Monster, and quite honestly, neither were the music scribes of the day. But, the true R.E.M. fans from the beginning knew this WAS the band’s original identity.

First, the lyrics were still cryptic but now taken from a third person’s point of view and not Stipe’s. Next, guitarist Peter Buck put down his acoustic and Rickenbacker guitars, along with his mandolin, and rediscovered his guitar hero stances. Finally, the crack rhythm section of Berry and Mills played as if they were attempting to be heard over a Sonic Youth or Nirvana concert of the day, setting the stage to be heard all over stadiums throughout that upcoming tour. This was an alternative amalgamation of arena rock and punk rock, not unlike many of the songs on that aforementioned Document album, which seemed to be predicting the whole grunge era.

11.18 rem-monster-25-anniversary

Let me just say that Monster is much better than the reviewers of the day ever gave it credit. No, it’s not the masterpiece of their earlier albums, nor is it their Achtung Baby. But, if you judge it for what it is, I like to make a parallel of it to Prince’s vastly underrated Around the World in a Day or Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, a moment where an artist realizes that he/she/they can no longer be constrained by their past and their success. If they are to grow, then they must be willing to jettison the bandwagon fans who believe artists that won’t “play the hits” are self-absorbed, and stretch their musical vision into new territories. The so-called betrayal is not to the pop radio fans at all, because the true fans will stick around.

Unfortunately, this is the last true classic album R.E.M. will deliver, though I will anxiously await each album’s 25th anniversary re-release just to do my own re-evaluation. The band’s next album ended up being the last recorded with Berry as he will choose a simpler life of farming. Their next album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, will be recorded during soundchecks on the Monster tour, making it somewhat disjointed and hurried.

11.18 rem tour

On a personal note, my wife and I attended the local stop of the Monster tour. I had seen them on the Document tour with some friends from work, a point of contention with my wife who remains a huge R.E.M. fan to this day. But, when we saw them, our older son Graham, a ten-year-old at the time, thought he should have been allowed to go to the concert. Maybe now that he is a father, he will realize how important it is for his parents to get away from their kids no matter how much they love them? Anyway, to this day, he says that we owe him a R.E.M. concert, if they ever regroup. Remember, this is the child who entertained the college kids at the local yogurt store in Oxford, Ohio, by singing R.E.M.’s version of “Superman” when he was just 27 months old. Then, my younger son learned from me that the guitar on “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was recorded backwards, just like The Beatles did first. As a matter of fact, I told them that tidbit so often that #2 would answer “The Beatles!” immediately when the solo came on, and he was six years old at the time. Needless to say, the whole family is huge R.E.M. fans.

11.18 REM SNL 1994

I gotta tell you, there is going to be a huge battle between my boys for the rights to my R.E.M. collection. And, they want me to decide while I am alive! This is a no-win situation!

My Favorite B-Sides of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties

11.15 colored-vinyl-row-5

I remember back when I was just a little bit cool, like in college, when the music of my youth was new and exciting, that I kept hearing about some very cool songs being released on the B-side, or the side of a 7-inch 45 rpm slice of vinyl with the A-side being the song traditionally played on the radio. Kids today have no idea about this kind of thing, which is a shame. From the beginning of the 7-inch record, there have always been gems placed on the B-side of a hit record. Some of those B-sides became hits in their own rights, such as The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” (B-side of “Hello Goodbye”), “Come Together (“Something”), among others. Sometimes, DJs often turned a record over and made a hit out of the B-side, as in the cases of the Doobie Brothers’ number one hit “Black Water,” and Kiss’ “Beth.”

11.15 led zeppelin
Led Zeppelin

As the punk/new wave era got going, more and more special B-sides were being released instead of cuts from an album. This practice was used to bolster sales of the single. In the meantime, artists were beginning to place new unreleased material on these B-sides. And when the Eighties rolled in, many of the B-sides became nearly as famous as their A-side counterparts. Suddenly, Gen X was caught up in a B-side frenzy, as these songs were often heard as much on the radio as the hit song.

11.15 the police
The Police

Then, at the height of the MTV revolution, artists began to make the single an artistic statement in its own right. In 1982, Marshall Crenshaw backed up “Someday, Someway” with his most brilliant statement “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.” Prince followed suit by starting his huge Eighties run by putting some of his finest music on the B-sides of his singles in a way that complimented the supposed hit. By the time the summer of 1983 rolled around, everyone was putting special songs out as B-sides. The Pretenders had “My City Was Gone,” then The Police dropped the immortal “Murder by Numbers,” and we were off to the races, as it seemed as though everyone was jumping onto the bandwagon. Disparate artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and XTC were joining the ranks of the B-side craze.

11.15 xtc

Unfortunately, every great trend must come to an end. The single was slowly phased out as the CD rose to prominence, although we did get some brilliant non-album hits by the likes of Coolio, Weezer and Pearl Jam. But, this whole B-side faded somewhat during the advent of mp3s, though some artists continue to release some special tunes as electronic “B-sides.” But, since I’m an old geezer, I will stick to my wheelhouse of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. The pre-Seventies stuff is mostly foreign to me outside of the Beatles and Stones, while I lived these three decades.

11.15 Pearl-Jam
Pearl Jam

With all of that said, allow me to list for you 50 of my favorite B-sides of the Gen X era, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties.

  1. Billy Joel – “Elvis Presley Boulevard” (“Allentown,” 1982)
  2. Bruce Springsteen – “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” (“I’m Going Down,” 1985)
  3. Bruce Springsteen – “Jersey Girl (live)” (“Cover Me,” 1984)
  4. Bruce Springsteen – “Johnny Bye Bye” (“I’m on Fire,” 1984)
  5. Bruce Springsteen – “Pink Cadillac” (“Dancing in the Dark,” 1984). This one was a radio hit in its own right.
  6. Bruce Springsteen – “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (live)” (“My Hometown,” 1985). My favorite Christmas song to this day.
  7. Bruce Springsteen – “Shut Out the Lights” (“Born in the U.S.A.,” 1984)
  8. Bruce Springsteen – “Stand on It” (“Glory Days,” 1985)
  9. Chicago – “Colour My World” (“Beginnings,” 1971)
  10. Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise” (“Too Hot,” 1995). That’s right! It’s life began as a B-side.
  11. Depeche Mode – “Route 66” (“Behind the Wheel,” 1988)
  12. Fleetwood Mac – “Silver Springs” (“Go Your Own Way,” 1977). Can you believe this song was left off Rumours? On the other hand, which song on that album would it replace?
  13. Green Day – “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” (“Brain Stew,” 1996). Of course, this song was re-recorded for the Nimrod album.
  14. John Cougar Mellencamp – “Under the Boardwalk” (“R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” 1985)
  15. John Fogerty – “Centerfield” (“Old Man Down the Road,” 1985). Technically, this was on Fogerty’s 1985 comeback album, but few remember the A-side.
  16. KC & the Sunshine Band – “Boogie Shoes” (“Shake Your Booty,” 1976). That’s right! This disco gem’s life began as a B-side.
  17. KISS – “Beth” (“Detroit Rock City,” 1976). Everyone’s favorite slow dance number who were in middle school when this song was released.
  18. Led Zeppelin – “Hey Hey What Can I Do” (“The Immigrant Song,” 1970). How did this song never make a Zeppelin album?
  19. Madonna – “Into the Groove” (“Angel,” 1985). If “Into the Groove” had been released as an A-side, it would have become a HUGE hit.
  20. Marshall Crenshaw – “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” (“Someday, Someway,” 1982). I simply love this song.
  21. Nirvana – “Aneurysm” (“Smells like Teen Spirit,” 1991)
  22. Paul McCartney – “Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)” (“Coming Up,” 1980). This is a case of the B-side being WAY better than the studio version. That’s why radio played it to death in 1980.
  23. Paul McCartney & Wings – “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” (“Band on the Run,” 1974)
  24. Pearl Jam – “Yellow Ledbetter” (“Jeremy,” 1992). Who wasn’t blown away by this gem?
  25. Prince – “17 Days” (“When Doves Cry,” 1984)
  26. Prince – “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” (“Let’s Work,” 1982)
  27. Prince – “Horny Toad” (“Delirious,” 1983)
  28. Prince – “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” (“1999,” 1982)
  29. Prince – “I Love U in Me” (“The Arms of Orion,” 1989)
  30. Prince – “Irresistible Bitch” (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” 1983)
  31. Prince – “La, La, La, He, He, Hee” (“Sign o’ the Times,” 1987)
  32. Prince – “Love or Money” (“Kiss,” 1986)
  33. Prince – “Rock and Roll Is Alive! (And It Lives in Minneapolis)” (“Gold,” 1995)
  34. Prince – “Scarlet Pussy” (“I Wish U Heaven,” 1988)
  35. Prince – “Shockadelica” (“If I Was Your Girlfriend,” 1987). Yes, Prince copped this title from former Time guitarist Jesse Johnson’s excellent album. Yet, it is a brilliant mixture of psychedelia, funk and rock.
  36. Prince & the Revolution – “Alexa de Paris” (“Mountains,” 1986)
  37. Prince & the Revolution – “Another Lonely Christmas” (“I Would Die 4 U,” 1984)
  38. Prince & the Revolution – “Erotic City” (“Let’s Go Crazy,” 1984). Sheila E. says they were singing “funk” not the f-word. I guess she gets the final word.
  39. Prince & the Revolution – “Hello” (“Pop Life,” 1985)
  40. Prince & the Revolution – “She’s Always in My Hair” (“Raspberry Beret,” 1985)
  41. R.E.M. – “Last Date” (“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” 1987)
  42. Talking Heads – “Get Wild – Wild Gravity” (“Burning Down the House,” 1983)
  43. The Police – “Murder by Numbers” (“Every Breath You Take,” 1983). Sometimes, I would much rather hear this side than the other one, that’s how good it is!
  44. The Pretenders – “2000 Miles” (“Middle of the Road,” 1983)
  45. The Pretenders – “My City Was Gone” (“Back on the Chain Gang,” 1982). Remember the days before Rush Limbaugh and his fat ass copping this song for his stupid radio show? This song was so exciting as a back-up to The Pretenders’ biggest hit.
  46. The Smiths – “How Soon Is Now?” (“William, It Was Really Nothing,” 1984). This actually started as a B-side because some label idiot thought it didn’t sound enough like The Smiths! This is the band’s calling card to greatness.
  47. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Heartbreakers’ Beach Party” (“You Got Lucky,” 1982). Wanna hear Petty and his mates at their most relaxed and fun? This is the place.
  48. U2 – “The Sweetest Thing” (“Where the Streets Have No Name,” 1987). Long before U2 released this one as a hit in the late-Nineties, it was relegated to a B-side during The Joshua Tree era. Like with “Silver Springs,” where would have this song fit on that perfect album?
  49. Weezer – “Holiday” (“Undone (The Sweater Song),” 1994)
  50. XTC – “Dear God” (“Grass,” 1986). Once again, another example of the B-side getting flipped to become the hit. Then, XTC’s classic Skylarking had to be reprinted with this song added to it. And the album actually improved with its inclusion!

Am I Crazy If I Think Coldplay Is Alright?

11.12 Coldplay in concert

If you love all kinds of weather, then move to Indiana. For Chrissakes! It’s prematurely cold here. Yesterday, the temperature dropped twenty-some degrees in a couple of hours, froze the rain water on the streets and caused a couple inches of snow to fall on us. WTF!!! This stuff is two months early! Still, on an artistic note, this quick weather change has played right into my blog because I have been working on all artists but Coldplay.

11.12 Coldplay 2000

I know! Coldplay! Lately, they have become something of my dirty little secret. Remember, I am a children of the “Do It Yourself” music world of the late-Seventies and early-Eighties, so how does Coldplay, a band that I once described as U2-lite, Radiohead-normal become a band for whose latest album I am actually somewhat excited about hearing? I mean, I have purchased several of their albums, only to sell them back after six months. Am I so desperate for a new U2 album, or any new album by a rock group, that I would settle for the strawberry Frosty of the rock world? Heavens! Have I allowed my musical standards to be lowered this much?

11.12 Coldplay snl 2019

Hell, I really don’t know? But, what I do know is that Coldplay’s newest song, “Orphans,” is a nice little pop/rock song that has burrowed its way into my brain, and I cannot shake it out! It’s like the song has triggered some flashback chemical in my brain fooling into thinking this is 1982, and I’m hearing Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out” again convincing me that I HAVE to purchase this upcoming album. The only difference is that I had developed a running relationship with Joe Jackson back then, and I’ve only had a passing relationship with Coldplay. I know it’s NOT the hype, because I have not read Rolling Stone in months, allowing my subscription to end due to apathy. And, for the past five years, I have become ambivalent toward Pitchfork and the other millennial-driven music sites (C’mon kids! Kanye has lost his mojo! It happens to all the greats, except Prince and Tom Petty.).

11.12 Coldplay today

So, what has happened to me? I’m a grandfather now! I shouldn’t be getting all giddy about a song now. But, for some reason, “Orphans” caught me off guard. I know! I know! It’s not The Clash, The Police nor even the second coming of “Der Kommissar.” But, this damn song has gotten me excited about hearing an album like no other since my older son was still living under our roof (He’s basically been a guest here since 2003).

11.12 Coldplay live

So, I pulled out the old iPod (remember those?), and plugged into it to listen to Coldplay. Yes, I still have an iPod and, get this, rarely stream anything! And, I still buy the occasional CD, but I have been sticking to vinyl lately. But, as I said, I have gotten rid of all of my Coldplay from my physical collection. So, am I going to be disappointed again? Who knows?!?!

11.12 coldplay concert

So, instead of worrying about the future, let’s stick with the past, particularly Coldplay’s past. You know what? They could release one helluva greatest hits compilation! And, their music is fairly diverse now. I love how they have grown from the sullen band of “Yellow” in the beginning to an artistic entity that dabbles in pop/rock-based music where they incorporate flourishes of current musical trends, much as U2 experimented with during the Nineties. And, while Coldplay does appeal to a more watered-down version of my taste of rock music, they are growing and taking music into some interesting places here in the 21st century. Therefore, I AM interested in seeing if this upcoming album will be a new-level vision, or just another Coldplay album. After going back through their catalogue, Coldplay does seem to be reaching for a new plateau. Maybe this new album will be the culmination of this search.

With that said, here is my Top 25 list for Coldplay, perhaps the best rock band of this generation, warts and all.

11.12 25.Christmas_Lights

25. “Christmas Lights” (single, 2010)

24. “Violet Hill” (Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, 2008)

23. “Sparks” (Parachutes, 2000)

22. “Hurts like Heaven” (Mylo Xyloto, 2011)

21. “God Put a Smile upon Your Face” (A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002)

11.12 20.everyday life

20. “Everyday Life” (Everyday Life, 2019)

19. “Life in Technicolor II” (Prospekt’s March, 2008)

18. “In My Place” (A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002)

17. “A Sky Full of Stars” (Ghost Stories, 2014)

16. “Miracles (Someone Special) (featuring Big Sean)” (Kaleidoscope, 2015)

11.12 15.A_Head full of dreams

15. “A Head Full of Dreams” (A Head Full of Dreams, 2015)

14. “Princess of China (featuring Rihanna)” (Mylo Xyloto, 2011)

13. “Something Just like This (The Chainsmokers & Coldplay)” (Memories…Do Not Open, 2017)

12. “Lost+ (featuring Jay-Z)” (Prospekt’s March, 2008)

11. “Charlie Brown” (Mylo Xyloto, 2011)

11.12 10.Yellow_cover_art

10. “Yellow” (Parachutes, 2000). This song has always been a very “floaty” song that is something of an anthemic ballad. Everything about it says I should make fun of it, yet I seem to fall for its sincerity every time.

9. “Speed of Sound” (X & Y, 2005). The best song on the band’s much maligned third album. It is the perfect follow-up to the band’s terrific “Clocks” with the similar piano-driven melody.

8. “Don’t Panic” (Parachutes, 2000). Personally, I love this song more than the big hit “Yellow,” even though both songs harvest the very same emotional plot in the field.

7. “Paradise” (Mylo Xyloto, 2011). Coldplay throws everything in the mix in order to make this song sound bigger, and I feel like they succeed. From the string opening to the hip hop beat to the club thud of the bass to Chris Martin’s vocals, it just works.

6. “Orphans” (Everyday Life, 2019). From the moment Coldplay started playing this song on Saturday Night Live a week and a half ago, I was mesmerized. I can’t wait to see how this ages in my mind. But, right now, I think it’s pretty hot!

11.12 5.Adventure_Of_A_Lifetime,_Artwork

5. “Adventure of a Lifetime” (A Head Full of Dreams, 2015). I gotta say right here, that even though this is more of a danceable pop/rock song, the guitar is straight U2. Usually, when I hear a band go in that direction with their guitar, like most Contemporary Christian bands, I just cringe. But, Coldplay makes it an enjoyable texture in this rock club song.

4. “The Scientist” (A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002). It’s a toss-up for me as to which song on this album I like better. Personally, I enjoy the lyrics in this one more, being a scientist and all.

3. “Clocks” (A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002). I think this was the bigger radio hit from this album. I remember just loving the use of the piano as something of rhythm instrument.

2. “Viva La Vida” (Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, 2008). What is it about this song that I love? Simply put, everything. It is near perfection. And, the song just gets better the louder I play it. Is it an anthem? I’d say so!

11.12 1.Every_Teardrop_Is_a_Waterfall

1. “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” (Mylo Xyloto, 2011). Damn it! I KNOW I should just hate this song, but I absolutely love it! This IS an anthem of the first order. I really don’t know if Coldplay could ever top it. I simply love how this song begins loud and soars from there. This is what rock music is all about. If I were still coaching, my teams would be hearing this damn song once a week.

There you have it! That’s my lesson on Coldplay. To quote Jack Nicholson’s Joker, “I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it!”


Finally, I’m Covering Madonna (I Wish!)

The Costume Institute Benefit celebrating the opening of Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between, Arrivals, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA - 01 May 2017

Ever since I first saw her on American Bandstand, I have had a special place set aside for Madonna. Hey, people! I’m a full-blooded male! I remember discussing with my other friends in a bar in the Summer of 1984 about the musical merits of Madonna, and one of my buddies told me I was only hearing her with my groin. And I replied, “No kidding!” Then again, I did love the way she flirted with the camera, much like The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs would. But, as the years past, Madonna’s artistic stock continued to rise. Now, she is an icon on the level of Cher. And, they are admired for their strength of womanhood and artistic vision with an innate ability to adapt. Hell, we all praise David Bowie for this as a man, why aren’t these two woman beloved in the same manner?

11.7 Madonna 1983

Madonna had me at “Holiday.” That song broke around the time I turned 21 and could legally enter the two dance clubs in Muncie. And, no song, other than those by Prince, Michael Jackson or Rick James could jam a dance floor like Madonna did at the end of 1983 and beyond. Her beats, along with a brilliant use of a high hat that had been neglected by musicians after the disco days, brought dancing to Gen X. Suddenly, girls were dressing like her everywhere. Then, just as the younger kids caught up, many of my peers left her behind, unless they were females or gay. To that crowd, Madonna ruled. And, once again finding myself swimming upstream, I remained a ardent Madonna fan. I continue to this day to anxiously await her new releases, just to see what current sounds she is co-opting. And, even though Lady Gaga has taken Madonna’s place within the hearts of the Millennials, Madonna remains my favorite dance artist.

11.7 Madonna 1991

What many forget, or refuse to acknowledge, is that Madonna changed everything for a female artist. Yes, The Runaways, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, Pat Benatar and The Go-Go’s all paved the way for her, but it was Madonna who challenged all the stereotypes of a female musical artist. She was strong, intelligent and in control of her sexuality. She brought a certain male toughness to her image that women before her were afraid to, or discouraged from, exerting. Like she said on Bandstand during that infamous interview with Dick Clark, “I want to rule the world.” And, I would say she did from 1984 through the turn of the century. Now, with nothing more to prove, she can be something of a mother to all the aspiring artists, male or female, wishing to follow her footsteps. Besides Gaga, Madonna has beget Lizzo, Britney, Christina, Gwen, Mika, and countless other artists currently on the scene.

11.7 Madonna 2000

On a personal note, I still have a Madonna picture disc of her first album hanging on a wall in my music room, right next to my Purple Rain picture disc, signifying that fateful year when both Prince and Madonna caused a seismic shift in the musical lives of Gen X. So, a day after paying homage to George Michael, let’s give it up for Madonna with my 40 favorite songs of hers.

11.7 40.Don't Cry for Me Argentina

40. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (Evita, 1996)

39. “Medellín (with Maluma)” (Madame X, 2019)

38. “Drowned World/Substitute for Love” (Ray of Light, 1998)

37. “Deeper and Deeper” (Erotica, 1992)

36. “American Pie” (single, 2000)

35. “Rain” (Erotica, 1992)

34. “I’ll Remember” (With Honors, 1994)

33. “Rescue Me” (The Immaculate Collection, 1990)

32. “True Blue” (True Blue, 1986)

31. “Oh Father” (Like a Prayer, 1989)

11.7 30.Angel_Madonna

30. “Angel” (Like a Virgin, 1984)

29. “Cherish” (Like a Prayer, 1989)

28. “Secret” (Bedtime Stories, 1994)

27. “Give Me All Your Luvin’ (featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.)” (MDNA, 2012)

26. “Bitch I’m Madonna” (Rebel Heart, 2014)

25. “Open Your Heart” (True Blue, 1986)

24. “Burning Up” (Madonna, 1983)

23. “Frozen” (Ray of Light, 1998)

22. “Erotica” (Erotica, 1992)

21. “Material Girl” (Like a Virgin, 1984)

11.7 20.Justify_My_Love_single_cover

20. “Justify My Love” (The Immaculate Collection, 1990)

19. “Papa Don’t Preach” (True Blue, 1986)

18. “Holiday” (Madonna, 1983)

17. “Lucky Star” (Madonna, 1983)

16. “Santa Baby” (A Very Special Christmas, 1987)

15. “Hung Up” (Confessions on a Dance Floor, 2005)

14. “4 Minutes (featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland)” (Hard Candy, 2008)

13. “Take a Bow” (Bedtime Stories, 1994)

12. “This Used to Be My Playground” (A League of Their Own, 1992)

11. “Crazy for You” (Vision Quest, 1985)

11.7 10.Beautiful_Stranger_cover

10. “Beautiful Stranger” (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, 1999). Madonna has created some absolute classics for various movies, but few are as strong as this single from the second Austin Powers film. This was the perfect segue from Ray of Light to Music.

8. “Like a Virgin” (Like a Virgin, 1984). The impact of this song at the time is totally has been dissipated over the years, but let’s just generally say that girls rarely opened up about their sexuality before this song. Then, there was her performance of the song on the first MTV Video Music Awards that totally made this song a cultural milestone.

7. “Live to Tell” (True Blue, 1986). Just when critics were saying that Madonna couldn’t sing, she releases this ballad and literally blows us all away. Bottom line: question Madonna at your own peril.

6. “Express Yourself” (Like a Prayer, 1989). The song would be the best song on most other artists’ albums, but it was only the second best song on undoubtedly her best album. It’s so killer that 20 years later Lady Gaga stole it and made a soundalike hit of her own.

11.7 5.Borderline_(single)

5. “Borderline” (Madonna, 1983). Okay, this one is more nostalgia than anything for me, but it reminds me of meeting my wife.

4. “Vogue” (I’m Breathless, 1990). Of course Madonna popularizes dance crazes in the gay clubs! Would we have it any other way?

3. “Music” (Music, 2000). This song represents Madonna at her finest, most confident flexing her musical prowess upon an unsuspecting world.

2. “Like a Prayer” (Like a Prayer, 1989). THE Madonna musical statement! ‘Nuff said.

11.7 1.Into_the_Groove

1. “Into the Groove” (Desperately Seeking Susan, 1984). Can you imagine just how big this song would have been if it had (1) been initially included on Like a Virgin and (2) been released as a single in the U.S.? This is her “Billie Jean,” “Born to Run” and “Little Red Corvette” all rolled into one surefire pop/dance gem. And it still hogged up all kinds of radio play back in the day.

30 From the Edge of Heaven: My Favorite George Michael Songs

11.6 george michael 2006

I cannot believe that it’s been nearly three years since we lost George Michael. It was a tragic loss for the people who loved great pop music based upon the soul of our youth. And, from everything that I have read about the man, he did wonderful things for others, making the loss not solely about the music world but for humanity in general.

11.6 george michael 1985

Like most Americans, I discovered George Michael through the simplistic pop of Wham!, especially during the Fall of 1984 when “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was released. At the time, I was still riding a huge crest of Motown-inspired pop music from the likes of Spandau Ballet, The Style Council, Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book,” Culture Club and so many others from the Second British Invasion. But, that song somehow knocked me for a loop. Everything about it just screams at me to hate it, yet I still loved it. And, when the album Make It Big dropped, I found myself switching constantly from Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom and this Wham! album. I guess it just goes to show you that when talented songwriters bow at the alter of Motown, great things will continually be created. That may be exactly what I am missing from today’s music which emphasizes the beat over the melody. George Michael made the two co-exist in splendor.

11.6 george michael 1987

I will not go into how I performed “Wake Me Up…” in an Air Band contest at Ball State, but I did. Our group from my fraternity did it, and I suppose the performance did live up to the hokie-ness of the song, which is cool. Thank God smartphones did not exist back then!


I feel like George Michael has become something of a forgotten man. It seems that people have forgotten that he was every bit as big as Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen during that 1985 to 1990 stretch. Good Lord, you could not escape his videos on MTV nor his songs on the radio. He was everywhere. Yet, he aspired to be considered an artist more than a hit machine. And, he, much like Prince, fought hard for that right, although it cost him dearly on the charts at the height of his popularity. Still, I challenge you to listen to his music critically and tell me it was any less intricate as Prince or less exciting than Michael Jackson. Hardly! The man was a tunesmith on the level of Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder. So, someone, explain to me why this man and his music is not as recognized as any of those listed? And, furthermore, why has he yet to be nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Hopefully, after Whitney Houston gets in, George will become the next Eighties pop icon to get further review.

11.6 george michael 1996

With that said, I present to you 30 songs that I feel best represents George Michael’s towering talents both as a songwriter and a talent.

11.6 30.Wham_Rap

30. “Wham Rap” – Wham! (Fantastic, 1983)

29. “Spinning the Wheel” (Older, 1996)

28. “Monkey” (Faith, 1987)

27. “The Edge of Heaven” – Wham! (Music from the Edge of Heaven, 1986)

26. “Where Did Your Heart Go?” – Wham! (Music from the Edge of Heaven, 1986)

11.6 25.I'm_Your_Man

25. “I’m Your Man” – Wham! (Music from the Edge of Heaven, 1986)

24. “Outside” (Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael, 1998)

23. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” – Aretha Franklin & George Michael (Aretha, 1987)

22. “Kissing a Fool” (Faith, 1987)

21. “Jesus to a Child” (Older, 1996)

11.6 20.i cant make you love me

20. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (Older, 1996)

19. “As (featuring Mary J. Blige)” (Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael, 1998)

18. “Heal the Pain (featuring Paul McCartney)” (Twenty Five, 2006)

17. “One More Try” (Faith, 1987)

16. “Last Christmas” (single, 1984)

11.6 15.freedom

15. “Freedom!” – Wham! (Make It Big, 1984)

14. “Everything She Wants” (Make It Big, 1984)

13. “Killer/Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (Five Live EP, 1993)

12. “Praying for Time” (Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, 1990)

11. “Careless Whisper” – Wham! featuring George Michael (Make It Big, 1984)

10. “Too Funky” (Red Hot + Dance, 1992). George Michael was only this funky on a few songs, but this one is the topper. This non-album gem can now be found on his Twenty Five compilation.

11.6 10.Fastlove

9. “Fastlove” (Older, 1996). Michael took a brilliant sample for Patrice Rushen’s 1982 hit “Forget Me Nots” and took it to an unimagined higher place.

8. “Somebody to Love” – George Michael with Queen (Five Live EP, 1993). When I watched this performance on TV during the Freddie Mercury Memorial concert at Wembley, I was literally blown away. No offense to Adam Lambert, who does a yeoman’s job, but no one else came closer to Freddie’s charisma and talent than Michael. That moment changed everything for me.

7. “I Want Your Sex” (Faith, 1987). Few remember just how groundbreaking this song was at the time. Nowadays, songs are played on the radio in stupid edits. Yet, a song about monogamy was vilified by conservatives throughout the world who were offended about relationships being carnal in nature. This was one brave move by George to make this is first solo single.

6. “Faith” (Faith, 1987). The number one record of the year was basically a Bo Diddley rock song dressed up for the Eighties. And, it was brilliant, even the the video did make a star out of Michael’s butt.

11.6 5.Wake Me Up Before You GoGo

5. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” – Wham! (Make It Big, 1984). That’s right! I really do hold this song in high regard, without an ounce of irony or sarcasm.

4. “A Different Corner” – Wham! featuring George Michael (Music from the Edge of Heaven, 1986). This heartbreaking song was the first indication to me that Michael struggled with mental illness. There’s just something about it that screamed to me that this physically beautiful man with gifts from the gods had demons haunting him that were much more than sexuality. This song does not get enough credit for its brilliance.

3. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” – George Michael and Elton John (Duets, 1991). What can I say? Michael’s performance pushed Elton to quit coasting and to dig deeper in himself. This is just a moment in which both men are pushing each other further and further into the context of the song.

2. “Father Figure” (Faith, 1987). I love the sexiness of this song, even though I know that Michael was explaining his struggle with his sexuality. How he was able to make heterosexuals believe its was a sex song for them is beyond me. It simply screams lovemaking.

11.6 1.freedom 90

1. “Freedom! ’90” (Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, 1990). If anything, this song emphasizes Michael’s confidence in his talent and his sexuality. There’s no more playing around, he’s going to take control of his career and his life and make this whole thing his. And this song is his mea culpa.