Madonna – the soundtrack albums
By Andy Jones | November 22, 2023
Despite having so many links to the film industry and roles within it, Madonna has so far only released three official soundtrack albums, and one of those doesn’t even feature her own songs. No matter, they’ve still managed to shift millions of copies between them, and spawned some of her greatest singles…
With the success, the acting ambition, the changing images, the Hollywood boyfriends, and, of course, the songs, it was inevitable that Madonna’s music would feature on the soundtrack to many a movie.
What’s perhaps surprising then is that, thus far, only three albums have been released that officially constitute proper Madonna soundtracks: Who’s That Girl (1987), I’m Breathless (1990) and Evita (1996).
The first, Who’s That Girl, was the soundtrack to the film of the same name, originally called Slammer, and Madonna’s first film since the critically-mauled Shanghai Surprise.
Perhaps as an attempt to echo the success of Susan Seidelman’s1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna’s character in Who’s That Girl is a similarly street-smart sassy lead, and the soundtrack also feels like classic Madonna.
In fact, the Who’s That Girl album can almost be considered as the successor to the mighty True Blue. Not only was it the first Madonna record to be released after that mega-album, it even features the same production and songwriting team of Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray.
But if you are expecting a full Madonna album then you may be disappointed. Only four of her tracks appear on it: Who’s That Girl and The Look Of Love (written by Madonna and Leonard) and Causing A Commotion and Can’t Stop (by Madonna and Stephen Bray). All bar the last were released as singles to promote both soundtrack and film.
Each single had an accompanying video, with debut 45 Who’s That Girl’s being the standout… of a pretty bad bunch it could be argued. Of course it was being used to promote the film of the same name so focuses on Madonna effectively watching the film.
But at least we get all-new footage of Madonna plus extras, all within a couple of new sets, and even a ‘plot’ of sorts… that leads to more film watching. Which is more than can be said for the video for second single, Causing A Commotion.
Avoiding the need for any new film to be shot at all this time, we get movie edits interspersed with Madonna live footage – well, those concert tickets aren’t going to sell themselves.
For the third and final single, The Look Of Love, the video was just largely the same shots of Who’s That Girl from the first two videos… again!
The videos, then, do not do the songs justice because this trio of tracks is widely regarded as some of Madonna’s best work, and indeed the fourth song from the album, Can’t Stop, is Stephen Bray’s favourite Madonna track (“That’s a song that got away,” he told MLVC: The Madonna Podcast).
You could even argue that with these songs, Bray, Leonard and Madonna were a mere five tracks away from a great True Blue follow-up album.
But instead, the rest of the nine numbers on Who’s That Girl were performed by artists on Madonna’s label, including Scritti Politti and Club Nouveau.
The soundtrack itself was handed over to Stephen Bray, his first time taking on a full film-composing role.
“I remember being terrified the entire time,” he revealed to The Madonna Podcast. “I was so honoured and thrilled that they asked me to do that. Thank God they liked my concept which was, ‘Let’s just make this whole thing a house mix!’”
Thanks largely to the singles – not so much the film which bombed at the box office – Who’s That Girl went on to sell six million copies. This was nowhere near the juggernaut success of True Blue, of course, but if you were one of the other chosen artists on it, you’d have been very happy to tag along for the ride.
- Read more: Who’s That Girl: Madonna on film
What the album also helped do was shift tickets for the Who’s That Girl Madonna tour in 1987 – 1.5 million of them to be precise.
However, after Shanghai Surprise, people were now starting to suspect that Madonna’s live and recorded music was always going to be way more successful than any films that she was linked to. For her next move project, then, she needed something completely different.
Unlike Who’s That Girl, I’m Breathless is a proper Madonna album, of that there is no doubt. With 12 Madonna songs, it could really be the follow-up to Like A Prayer, only it couldn’t be further from it in terms of concept and sound.
That because I’m Breathless is the soundtrack album to Dick Tracy, the film starring Madonna and Warren Beatty (among many others), and a comic-strip-style action-comedy blockbuster set in the 1930s that is the biggest movie that Madonna has appeared in.
For the soundtrack, she again employed the talents of Patrick Leonard to help write and produce the bulk of the album, although none of these tracks appeared in the actual film; instead, three Stephen Sondheim tracks were sung by Madonna’s character, Breathless Mahoney.
While these tracks are certainly highlights – just check out Madonna’s Monroe-like Some Like It Hot performance of Sooner Or Later at the Oscars in 1991 – history has rather swept them aside, thanks to the single releases from I’m Breathless. Well, one in particular…
Madonna and Patrick Leonard’s brief when creating the tracks for the rest of the I’m Breathless soundtrack was to try and create new songs in the style of the 1930s setting in which the film was based.
And second single Hanky Panky certainly takes its cues from that era and has that post-prohibition feel and speakeasy performance vibe.
On first glance Vogue is a ‘how did that get included?’ track on I’m Breathless. And on second glance, come to that. The track was initially put together by producer and remixer Shep Pettibone who had worked on Madonna tracks including Express Yourself and Like A Prayer.
Pettibone had been commissioned by Warner Bros’ head of dance music, Craig Kostich, to work on a new dance project for Madonna.
“He asked me to come up with a track for her. I did. She liked it,” Shep said of Vogue to Billboard in 2015. Before completing the record, Madonna visited the Paradise nightclub (which Shep now owns) and was mightily impressed by the dancers vogue-ing there – that is, doing the dance she made famous in the video.
Shep: “She came into the studio and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to call it Vogue’. She went back to L.A. after she sang the song and I got to finish it off in New York.”
Neither Madonna nor Shep thought it would ever be more than a B-side to a single from the album Like A Prayer. However, the record company were so impressed that they decided to put it out on I’m Breathless. Shep: “So they just kind of like tacked [it] on, so to speak.”
Vogue, then, doesn’t fit in at all with the I’m Breathless aesthetic. While it has references to 1930s film stars and that retro-chic video, it is, when all is said and done, a dance banger, and one that still fills the floors some over three decades years later.
But while it might not fit, it certainly helped shift copies of the soundtrack, some seven million in all. So it was another Madonna hit album, and even a hit movie. Whatever next? Why a complete gear change of course.
The story behind the production of the film Evita is about as complex and political as that of its subject, Eva Perón.
But the long and the short of it is that Madonna had long wanted to take the lead role and director Alan Parker agreed, on the understanding that she would not try to make it an extended Madonna video.
It was also agreed that Madonna would have vocal training for the role as one of the composers of the songs, Andrew Lloyd Webber, had misgivings about her voice.
“I studied with a vocal coach for several months before I went into the studio,” Madonna revealed to Entertainment Tonight in 1997. “Before we even started work on the material she basically taught me how to sing – I had to start all over again. I’d never had any formal training before and she taught me how to use parts of my voice that I never thought I had.”
The soundtrack itself features Madonna singing on most of the 30+ tracks, with other cast members occasionally taking over, including Antonio Banderas and Jimmy Nail.
The recordings were initially fraught with difficulty, with many cast members out of their comfort zones, and they also took place before the filming began which caused some nervousness.
“We took a huge risk recording the soundtrack before we filmed,” Madonna told US TV show This Morning in 1997, “and there were many times when we weren’t really sure what we were doing, weren’t really sure if we were making a huge mistake, that we might have to go into the studio again when it was all over and redo everything, but it worked out.”
It certainly did. The soundtrack, while an oddity in the Madonna back catalogue, still shifted seven million copies and the film was greeted positively, with Madonna gaining a Golden Globe for her acting performance.
There were three singles released from Evita. You Must Love Me was written specifically for the movie, and has the pick of the videos with Madonna demonstrating her all-new vocal range with some aplomb while gracefully standing at a grand piano; it’s a far cry from the Open Your Heart video.
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina is actually a great Madonna performance of a classic Rice/Lloyd Webber track with the accompanying video, as you might expect, being a straight lift from the film (well, why not?).
Final single Another Suitcase In Another Hall is probably the most ‘traditional’ Madonna-sounding song on the soundtrack, so possibly released because of that, and did manage to hit the Top 10 in the UK.
Evita, so far, marks the last Madonna foray into the full soundtrack world, and that was over 25 years ago. But it may not be the last.
One movie that would be guaranteed to feature a full Madonna soundtrack would be, well, a Madonna biopic. And indeed such a project was in the process of being put together last year, but was put on hold in January 2023.
Rumours are that Madonna plans to revisit the idea in the future, but if you can’t wait that long, the soundtrack is already available, and called The Immaculate Collection.
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