BBMAs 2018

Madonna's 15 Best Songs: Billboard Staff Picks

Michel Linssen/Redferns
Madonna performs at the Feyenoord stadium during the Blond Ambition tour on July 24, 1990.

From the 1982 release of her debut single "Everybody" to Rebel Heart's "Living for Love," Madonna has given the world some of the best pop songs of all time.

Madonna's 40 Biggest Billboard Hits

While there are dozens of Madonna songs the Billboard staff collectively adores, we sat down to hash out our absolute favorites -- these being the most elite entries on an already elite list. After voting, discussing and singing, we agreed upon this list of our 15 favorites. [The years in parenthesis are for the single's release date, not necessarily the same as the album release date.]

Also: Check out the Billboard staff's ranking of Madonna's albums from least to most adored. 

15. "Justify My Love" (1990)

 

With a Public Enemy sample and a Lenny Kravitz co-writing credit, "Justify My Love" is an outlier in Madonna's canon. But her trip-hop-indebted spoken word ode to sadomasochism is alluring, mesmerizing and unforgettable. -- Joe Lynch

14. "Borderline" (1984)

One of the most musically mature tracks on her 1983 self-titled debut, "Borderline" became Madonna's first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 when released as a single in 1984. It's also one of her best early vocal performances: While her voice aches with unfulfilled desire, it's still peppered with playfulness. -- JL

13. "Material Girl" (1984)

Some boys kiss you, some boys hug you, but all boys (and girls) love "Material Girl." The song that gave Madonna one of her infamous nicknames manages to giddily celebrate and criticize the superficial excess of our culture -- all with an unforgettable staccato chorus that reminds us exactly whose world we are living in. -- Denise Warner

12. "Live to Tell" (1986)

One of Madonna's greatest ballads is also one of her most personal, finding the famously self-possessed pop icon embracing her vulnerabilities. It's the rare jilted lover ballad that emcompasses so much more, including lingering pain from childhood, self-doubt and resolve. -- JL

11. "Papa Don't Preach" (1986)

The melancholy tune about a girl confessing her unplanned pregnancy to her father pushed the boundaries of pop lyrics for its time. The song showed Madonna beginning to address more mature themes on her third album, and it remains a quintessential part of her button-pushing oeuvre. -- DW

10. "Take a Bow" (1994)

While the ballad might have been overshadowed by its iconic bullfighting video -- a theme Madonna still evokes today -- the song's lyrical depth helps this one stand the test of time. Not everyone can relate to the concept of dating an entertainer (like Madonna definitely can), but the idea of someone not being genuine with their heart and emotions is universal. -- Katie Atkinson

9. "Music" (2000)

Do you like to boogie-woogie? In addition to making the bourgeoisie and the rebel come together, "Music" peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart and the Dance Club Songs chart. At the time of release, Billboard gave a very enthusiastic review of the song: "Music" is a stunning enterprise, a ballsy testament to [Madonna's] insistence on being a style-setter and one of the industry's most savvy-and now critically accountable-tunesmiths. Call this one dance, pop, even alternative… listeners will be shocked then mesmerized by this composition, showcasing yet another side of an artist, who after twenty years, continues to be a true industry artisan and the by-the-book definition of 'evolutionary.'" -- Leslie Richin

8. "Open Your Heart" (1986)

Try not to get up and dance to this sparkly, uptempo beat. Brimming with sexual innuendo, Madonna yearns for a man to open her lock with his key. And yes, that means exactly what you think it does. -- DW

7. "Holiday" (1983)

This song is four minutes of pure happiness. A "holiday" can mean taking a literal vacation or just escaping real life on the dance floor. "It's time for the good times/ Forget about the bad times," Madonna sings over the peppy beat. Bad times are officially forgotten. -- KA

6. "Hung Up" (2005)

The most recent entry on our list, "Hung Up" finds Madonna reaching back to her dance floor past -- via a sample of ABBA's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" -- to create one of the most undeniable dance jams of the 21st century. -- JL

5. "Ray of Light" (1998)

Madonna's "Ray of Light," taken from the first album released after the birth of her daughter Lourdes, marked a new chapter in her illustrious career. The song -- which Billboard's Larry Flick described as "Madonna at her absolute best" -- won two Grammy Awards (best dance recording and best short form music video) in 1999. It peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 but remains more iconic and enduring than several of her No. 1s. The music video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, is a sped up "day in the life" on our planet from sunrise to sunset -- and when it's quitting time, Madonna hits the clubs to unwind. -- LR

4. "Express Yourself" (1989)

In 1989, Madonna had something to say about love and female liberation. Actually, she had a lot to say about it. First: You deserve the best. Second: if you aren't receiving that (or the timing is off), you should look elsewhere. Third: you're better off alone vs. settling -- you gotta respect yourself. Is there something you need? Ask for it. Demand it. -- LR

3. "Into the Groove" (1985)

"Into the Groove" is more than just another Madonna club track -- it's the Madonna club track. It set the framework for the many "lose yourself to dance" songs that followed and could still work on radio today (can't you imagine a Rihanna cover?). -- KA

2. "Vogue" (1990)

Inspired by the New York underground ballroom scene, "Vogue" introduced a new word, a dance trend and an NYC subculture to the mainstream. What's interesting about "Vogue" is that it's rarely associated with the album from which it was taken. In 1990, the song became the first single on the I'm Breathless soundtrack, yet had nothing to do with the Dick Tracy film Madonna co-starred in. That is, except for the fact that both the film and the music video are inspired by the glitz and glamor of the '30s. -- LR

1. "Like a Prayer" (1989)

While we hotly debated the placement of several singles on this list, there was no doubt about which song would take the top spot. Fearlessly melding the sacred and the sexual (both musically and lyrically), "Like a Prayer" was a crowning achievement for Madonna and pop music in general. -- JL