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The greatest pop star(s) of all time?
The Rolling Stones?
The Stone Roses?
Wake me up when it’s over.
Sure The Beatles had a couple of jolly singles, no argument.
Yes, that funny dance Mick Jagger does where he looks like a stick insect being given electroshock therapy is entertaining.
No arguments about how divine Bowie was between 1971-1977 (Hunky Dory to Heroes). The Smiths changed the language of pop music.
Ian Curtis was one of the few poets in pop.
The Stone Roses had great haircuts.
And lots of people really like Oasis.
But the greatest?
Not for me.
There is only one contender and her name is Madonna.
A fiercely intelligent, constantly evolving, provocative, sensual, political, genre hopping, genre creating, hilarious, arch, viciously creative and endlessly fascinating. No other band or artist can come close to matching her. Even her few moments of being less than astonishing are better than some of the best at their peak.
She is the best-selling female recording artist of all time with total sales of over 300 million units worldwide. Let that sink in for a second. Three hundred million records sold. Given that The Beatles released their first single two decades before her and that they were playing to an audience who didn’t have the alternatives that a modern audience has, this makes her achievements even more remarkable. While her sex shouldn’t come into it…it has to, she is operating in a male dominated industry, facing hostilities and discrimination that male artists never do. To achieve what she has is worth your respect on its own…regardless of your feelings on her output.
As she approaches the fortieth anniversary of the release of “Everybody” in 1982” and on the occasion of her 63rd birthday, the creative cats and kool kids over at Italians Do It Better have released an album of cover versions to celebrate this most incredible of careers. With contributions from the likes of Glüme, Joon, Desire, Orion, Number One Poster and Jorja Chalmers this album serves as a testament to the influence of Madonna on new artists and to the quality of the songs.
Despite some of these songs being four decades old everything sounds fresh, modern, current and futuristic…sometimes all at the same time. These are pop, electro-pop, synth-pop and synth wave artists who are paying homage to the Queen of pop and who are doing so by taking that which is hers and crafting something completely new from them. Jorja Chalmers take on “Justify My Love” is a great example of that.
Bundled together this may just be the best collection of cover versions ever assembled. It is impossible to find a single moment that isn’t worth your attention and time. All killer and no filler. But that isn’t to say that every song is a cover of a hit, there are deep cuts here like Farah’s cover of “Gang Bang” from Her Majesty’s “MDNA” album, released in 2012. Maybe only ardent fans will recognise some of the other cuts, even if they were singles but that doesn’t diminish the power of the song or the ways in which they have been approached by the artist.
Two moments stand out for me, Glüme’s take on “Material Girl”, a slow, brooding, sultry take on one of the biggest songs in the Ciccone catalogue. Album opener “Papa Don’t Preach” by the magnificent Joon is a delicate, Lynchian, atmospheric version of a song that everyone knows. Doing something different with such cherished material from the pop history books is brave…but that is what Italians Do It Better does best, brave music by brave artists.