Bed Time Stories

Nostalgia is the closest thing to a sin in Madonna’s world. So expect little of it on her current tour. Close to 90 percent of the set’s songs are from her last two albums, the better to stress her career’s one constant: change. Those looking for a rewind through her material, then, will have to rustle through the catalog. Here’s a guide.

MADONNA (1983) She might have wound up just another post-disco dolly if these songs didn’t announce her ability to fuse club beats with peerless pop. Hits like ”Holiday” satisfied both worlds, while ”Burning Up” showed she could rock, too. Grade: A

LIKE A VIRGIN (1984) In addition to raising the madonna/whore ante with songs like the title cut, Virgin cradled the kind of ’80s hits (”Dress You Up”) built to transcend the Dynasty era. But she’s still trying to live down ”Material Girl.” It gave ammunition to her critics and has remained a thorn in her side ever since. Grade: A

TRUE BLUE (1986) Though a bit diffuse, Madonna’s third project finds her adding to her palette with Spanish pop (”La Isla Bonita”) and messing with our heads with its seeming anti-abortion song (”Papa Don’t Preach”). Also notable for ”Live to Tell,” her best ballad to date. Grade: B

WHO’S THAT GIRL? (1987) Though not as god-awful as its accompanying Judy Holliday-wannabe movie, this soundtrack disc includes nothing of note outside the title ditty. Grade: D

YOU CAN DANCE (1987) Remixing past club-hit glories, this set features beats so infectious that even someone with two left feet could shake it. ”Into the Groove” never sounded deeper. Grade: B+

LIKE A PRAYER (1989) The gospel-infused title track demonstrates that her writing and performing had been raised to heavenly new heights. And if little else here soars to that level, at least ”Oh Father” sees her beginning to write her autobiography in song. Grade: B

I’M BREATHLESS (1990) Why didn’t anyone send out an APB and arrest everyone involved in these songs ”inspired” by the movie Dick Tracy? Madonna’s vamp routine sounds gruesomely forced. The arrangements drown in syrup. Even Stephen Sondheim’s songs slouch. The sole bright spot? The finale of ”Vogue.” Grade: D

THE IMMACULATE COLLECTION (1990) More than a mere greatest-hits set, it’s hands down the catchiest collection of ’80s singles. The album also provides a home for some stray greats like ”Crazy For You” and ”Into the Groove,” not to mention the taboo-tweaking (and headline-grabbing) ”Justify My Love.” Grade: A

EROTICA (1992) Marking the start of Madonna’s dark period, Erotica is the patent-leather showcase for her most forbidding and challenging dance cuts. Think of it as music for S&M clubs — shrouded, cool, and more than a little over the heads of the mainstream. Grade: B+

BEDTIME STORIES (1994) With help from such producers as Babyface and Dallas Austin, Madonna made Bedtime a new jill swing record, her answer to Teddy Riley’s sound of that moment. It’s the most dated of her records and the most lyrically self-indulgent, fired by her bitter rebukes to those critics who, rather prematurely, pronounced her ”over.” Grade: B-

Bed Time Stories
  • Music