Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Classic Albums No.3: Like A Prayer

Most artists who release a career defining, genre re-defining LP, usually find that upon doing so, they establish their place in music history. If said act continue to make records thereafter, there will usually be the odd grumble about “haven’t they split up yet”, but this is usually because the career defining album was so good, that trying to top it is proving to be difficult. It’s hard to mention the Stones without fawning over “Exile On Main Street”, and even though you might bemoan the release of yet another Macca solo LP, you then remember he was involved in “Revolver”, so you have to let him off.

But Madonna. Poor Madonna. For the last thirty years, tabloid hacks have been relentless in their abuse of this woman. She can’t sing they say, she can’t dance. She’s a shock merchant with no discernible talent, whose only skill is her reinvention of her image with each album. Last year, you couldn’t move for UK newspaper reports surrounding the “MDNA” tour, with every week one of them featuring a photo of Madonna in some skimpy garb, with the caption “you are told old to dress like this Madonna” printed below, or an article about how there had been some controversial “incident” somewhere. What the tabloids failed to tell you, was how both Q and The Observer reviewed separate shows each with glowing reviews. Madonna’s show in Birmingham was probably the greatest gig I have ever seen her play.

Why is this relevant? Well, in 1989, Madonna released not just her greatest LP, but the single greatest LP made by a pure “pop” act ever. That record was “Like A Prayer”, a dazzling, mind blowing about-turn that simply left her contemporaries miles behind her, so far behind in fact that none of them ever caught up. Even Madonna has not made another record quite like it since. Up till this point, Madonna had divided critics with her 1980’s dance-pop sound, but “Like A Prayer” changed things forever. It took everything she had done before, and pushed it all to it’s boundaries. It didn’t even sound like a Madonna album. Just like Bowie when he went ambient on 1976’s “Low”, Madonna simply reinvented herself so drastically on this record, it was difficult to believe it was the same singer. The lyrics were darker than ever, the voice much deeper, the “Minnie Mouse On Helium” accusations now dead and buried. The sound was far more mature than ever before - yes, “True Blue” had a roll call of ’real’ musicians listed on it’s sleeve, but it still sounded like it had been processed through a computer. “Like A Prayer” simply sounded like a proper grown up record.

And then there was the sheer diversity on offer. Madonna attempted, in the space of 50 minutes, to do what Bowie had spent the whole of the 70’s doing - finding a specific genre, nicking the best bits, and passing it off as her own before people had time to catch up. And so, “Like A Prayer” jumped from gospel (the title track) to funk (“Express Yourself“, “Keep It Together“), from country (the slide guitars on “Till Death Do Us Part” and “Oh Father“) to psychedelia (“Dear Jessie“), from minimalist P-Funk (“Love Song”) to baroque/piano balladry (“Promise To Try“, “Oh Father“ again). The final song, “Act Of Contrition”, featured the backing track of the opening song played backwards, whilst Madonna recited a prayer over the top as Prince unleashed a mighty guitar solo. On the rare occasions where Madonna dared to reference her past, she did it in the extreme - so whilst “Cherish” was the closest she came to her pop past, it was so joyous and beautiful, it was in danger of making “Into The Groove” sound like Leonard Cohen. The flamenco sound of “La Isla Bonita” was revisited tearfully on “Spanish Eyes”, a sombre lament about the AIDS virus. And this, coming at the end of an album detailing the traumas of the death of her mother when she was a child, her subsequent awkward relationship with her father when he remarried two years later, through to the explicit detail of the violent break up of her own marriage…well, suffice to say, the likes of Yazz weren’t making records quite like this.

The NME gave it 10/10. Rolling Stone famously described it as being “as close to art as pop music gets”. It featured in the NME’s Top 100 Greatest Albums Of All Time in 1992. And yet, today, you hear barely a mention of this album. Why? Because it’s Madonna. Had a tabloid darling like Kylie Minogue made it, you wouldn’t be able to move for the amount of Heat and Sun journalists kissing it’s ass. But as it was made by the woman that did that “Sex” book, it’s sort of been written out of history, not helped by the fact that out of all the classic albums made, it’s seemingly the ONLY one not to have been given any sort of expanded or deluxe reissue. Christ, even REM’s “Around The Sun” got reissued once and nobody except me and Michael Stipe even like that one.

It’s not the best album ever made, we have already established that. But, in the world of pop, it’s simply head and shoulders above everything and everybody else. The next best pop album after this? “Ray of Light”, by, err, Madonna. (Remember, Jacko is Soul, and Pet Shop Boys are Electronica, so no “Thriller” or “Behaviour” in this list.) And as much as I like Lady Gaga, given the amount of filler on the otherwise quite good “The Fame”, it seems unlikely that Madonna’s so-called successor will manage to get her fourth LP to sound as good as this one. We shall see. But it ain’t gonna happen.

The reason “Like A Prayer” is so good, is that it is not really a pop record at all. Pop, in it’s purest form, is about making a song that sounds like a hit. And a pop album therefore consists of a whole collection of them. But pop is a genre that has it’s limits, that is frightened to venture beyond the three minute verse-chorus-verse structure, and thus usually reigns itself in. But “Like A Prayer” broke through the constraints of the genre. Before it’s release, Madonna was there alongside the likes of Bros, Brother Beyond and Johnny Hates Jazz. After it’s release, it made more sense to place her alongside singer songwriters like Kate Bush - she had simply elevated her song writing and musical abilities to a much higher level than other pop acts could manage. This was the album where she really obtained her “Queen Of Pop” title, albeit by making a completely un-pop record. And everything she has done since, has been informed by this LP.

As I type this, “Like A Prayer” is fast approaching it’s 24th anniversary. There is nothing on the grapevine to suggest any form of 25th anniversary reissue is being planned for 2014. So, I thought it would be fun to celebrate the genius of this record by telling you what I would put in a deluxe boxset edition were it ever to be reissued. It’s my blog, so I’ll do what I want to. So, let’s start with…

Disc 1: Like A Prayer

Obviously. The original album would come first. In an ideal world, this and all the other discs in the box would come in their own card picture sleeves, replicating the original artwork where it exists, or using a “new” sleeve for any “new” discs, a la Springsteen’s “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” box.

“Like A Prayer” was originally issued in the UK on LP, Cassette and CD. Initial copies were sprayed in Patchouli Oil, but later pressings were “un-perfumed”. Any copies that were sprayed in the Patchouli should still, in theory, have kept their scent. Initial copies of the LP and CD included an AIDS fact sheet, later pressings apparently stopped including them, although this was seemingly done at a much later date, as in our house, we have a perfume-less CD version, but with the insert still intact. For the cassette, the fold out inlay included the AIDS info printed as part of the artwork. Later pressings of the LP included stickers on the front listing “the hits”, and I think all of these are “un-perfumed”, but quite how many different variant versions there actually are of this record, I really don’t know.

There were minor variations for each of the three formats. The LP was the standard sleeve. For the CD edition, because the format was still quite new and “space-age”, the idea of a digitally recorded album being released on CD was seen as some sort of out of this world experience, and so the rather tacky “A Digital Recording” legend was printed across the front, the idea being that listening to this record on CD and not Vinyl was going to be so monumental, you would never listen to music in the same way again. It wasn’t quite like that of course.

The cassette, simply because of it’s shape, opted for a different approach. Firstly, the sleeve was printed in landscape rather than portrait format, and the cover image was printed, minus logo, on the left hand side of the cover. This left a space on the right, and the “Madonna - Like A Prayer” logo was thus printed here instead. It’s also worth pointing out that different pressings of the record referred to the second from last song as either “Spanish Eyes” or “Pray For Spanish Eyes”, depending on the date of the pressing.

Although it has never been reissued in a special edition, “Like A Prayer” did get a second lease of life in 2012 when Warners indulged in their “cash in” reissue campaign to coincide with the Interscope release of “MDNA”. All of Madonna’s studio albums were included, in card sleeves, in a CD boxset called “The Complete Studio Albums”. The sleeve was based around the original vinyl pressing, and as it was included in a box set, and was thus “not to be sold separately”, there is no barcode on the back. The actual disc itself replicates, design wise, the 1989 original.

There was also an ‘edited highlights’ version of the box called “Original Album Series”, a 5-CD selection featuring Madonna’s five best albums (IMO). Suffice to say, “Like A Prayer” is included in this one as well. However, even though the catalogue numbers of the two boxsets are, of course, different, the catalogue number printed on the back of the “Like A Prayer” sleeve is the same for both versions in both of the boxsets - it is obviously more economical to print a load of one ‘version‘, rather than two smaller amounts of different versions, but it’s a bit cheap and nasty if you ask me.

There was also an EU 180 Gram Vinyl repressing. This does a fairly good job of reproducing the original release, using the same back cover artwork, inner sleeve and label design, but there are, obviously, give away signs - notably a totally new catalogue number appearing on the labels in place of the old “WX” ones from the original pressing. Suffice to say, there was no Patchouli Oil or AIDS inserts second time around. The cover, close up, looks a bit fuzzy, as the decision was taken to photograph the original artwork, rather than reprint from the original source, but you can’t have everything. Initial copies were shrinkwrapped, and you should still be able to get sealed copies for not much more than their original retail value (£15-20).

Tracklisting: Like A Prayer/Express Yourself/Love Song/Till Death Do Us Part/Promise To Try/Cherish/Dear Jessie/Oh Father/Keep It Together/Spanish Eyes/Act Of Contrition

Disc 2: I’m Breathless

Huh? I hear you say. Well, if U2 can include “Zooropa” in their “Achtung Baby” box, then I’ll have this 1990 lost classic in mine. There is a reason.

As the promo campaign for “Like A Prayer” was just getting underway, Madonna signed a deal with Pepsi Cola. Pepsi would sponsor the forthcoming tour that Madonna was planning, and in turn, Madonna was to film a commercial for the company extolling the virtues of their beverage, now known as the “Make A Wish” advert.

The advert was hyped up, and broadcast to a worldwide audience of 250 million. So far, so good. Then, Pepsi saw the promo clip for the first single from the album, “Like A Prayer” itself. Black Jesus, Burning Crosses, Madonna cutting her hand with a knife. They baulked. None of these things were felt to be “family friendly”, unlike their soft drink, and the sponsorship deal was pulled. And with it, the planned tour.

So Madonna had to find something else to do, and so in the summer of 1989, signed up for the big screen comic book adaptation of “Dick Tracy”. Madonna was to play a singer called Breathless Mahoney, and thus got to sing a couple of numbers. A soundtrack album was planned but Madonna, for whatever reason, decided to do a whole album of songs inspired by the big band sound of the period in which the movie was set. Come the summer of 1990, and with the film ready to hit cinemas, “I’m Breathless” appeared alongside the official soundtrack album for the film.

None of Madonna’s songs appeared on the soundtrack, and instead all of them appeared on “I’m Breathless”. Billed as “Music From And Inspired By the Film”, it was thus marketed by Warners as a second soundtrack LP, despite the fact that three quarters of the songs on here ARE NOT IN THE ACTUAL MOVIE! Suffice to say, when they issued the “Complete Studio Albums” boxset, “I’m Breathless” was excluded. Baffling. Even more so when you realise that Madonna once claimed this to be her favourite album.

So, the only way this album would get a second lease of life would be for it to get included in my boxset. Spurious? Not at all. When Madonna finally got around to touring the “Like A Prayer” LP in the spring of 1990, “I’m Breathless” was completed and ready to be released. Madonna took to performing some of the songs from the at the time unreleased LP onstage, and the album was eventually released in May 1990, whilst the tour was still ongoing. The upshot of this was that the tour ended up plugging, effectively, two albums in one - just like the second half of U2’s “Zoo TV Tour”.

“I’m Breathless” is a brilliant and joyous record. What it also has in common with “Like A Prayer” is a maverick spirit, a sense of adventure missing from most pop albums. Again, the big band 1930’s Jazz stylings mean that, like it’s predecessor, it doesn’t really sound like a pop record at all. The slow burning “He’s A Man”, the quiet/loud bouncy romp of “Back In Business”, the saucy-seaside-postcard thrill of “Hanky Panky”, it would take Robbie Williams, Westlife and The X Factor another ten to fifteen years before they all “went swing”, and they all did it really badly as well. Madonna’s vocals here are perfect, and on the songs from the movie, she more than handles the complexity of the tunes - “More” probably does have some sort of Verse Chorus Verse structure in there somewhere, but it’s difficult to see, as it builds and builds and builds, Chicago/Cabaret-style, to a big grandiose finale, with Madonna acquitting herself perfectly through to the very end.

The only thing letting the record down is the 80 seconds of nonsense that is “I’m Going Bananas” - quite why this got trawled out for the tour in 1993 is beyond me. And some of you will hate the “comedy” voice on “Cry Baby”. But apart from that, again, nobody in pop was making a record like this at the time. OK, had she not done “Dick Tracy”, then I guess this LP would not exist. But exist it does, and it’s such a fun, upbeat, breezy romp, that it doesn’t deserve to get lost in record company politics. Oh, and also because it’s got “Vogue” on it - Madonna’s futuristic dance record that effectively invented every pop act from after 1991.

Again, “I’m Breathless” was issued on the three standard album formats of the time in the UK - LP, Cassette and CD. I’ve always wondered why the glamorous back cover shot did not appear on the front, the cover image of Madonna seems to show her looking half asleep. US CD editions came in longbox packaging, which basically featured a much longer version of the front cover photo.

Now that we have established that my “Like A Prayer” box is, effectively, covering the period from Spring 89 to Autumn 1990, this should make the next set of choices more understandable.

Tracklisting: He’s A Man/Sooner Or Later/Hanky Panky/I’m Going Bananas/Cry Baby/Something To Remember/Back In Business/More/What Can You Lose/Now I’m Following You (Parts 1 & 2)/Vogue

Discs 3-5: Remixed Prayers / Keep It Together / Vogue EP

The Japanese never really did 12” singles. 7” singles, yes. But the 12”, no. By the end of 1988, only two Madonna singles had been issued on 12” in Japan that bore a vague resemblance to their overseas versions - 1986’s “Papa Don’t Preach” and 1987’s “Causing A Commotion”.

Instead, the Japanese issued EP’s or Mini Albums on 12” and (usually) CD at selected points over the years. The objective of these releases was to cobble together the 12” mixes that had appeared in the UK or US but not in Japan. Each release would usually have a lead song that had been issued somewhere as a single, and the EP would appear in a picture sleeve using a photo that had been used for that single somewhere in the world.

The first such EP was 1984’s “Like A Virgin And Other Big Hits”, housed in a sleeve not too dissimilar to the UK version of the “Like A Virgin” 45. It included the 12” mixes of “Like A Virgin“, “Borderline”, “Lucky Star” and the LP mix of “Holiday”. The last song seemed a bit pointless, but it had been used on the 12” version of the single in the UK, and at least increased the running time of the EP.

1986’s “Super Club Mix” included a few oddities - led by the 12” mix of “True Blue”, it also included the Instrumental of “Live To Tell”, plus both sides of the 1982 US 12” edition of “Everybody”. I can only assume somebody had forgotten about this release during the intervening four years. 1987’s “La Isla Bonita Super Mix” went one better, by including both “Crazy For You” and “Gambler” off the “Vision Quest” soundtrack LP. This is, as far as I am aware, the only Madonna CD upon which “Gambler” is officially available. Equally odd was the decision to issue on CD, in 1992, the “Material Girl” EP. Originally issued on 12” only in 1985, it cobbled together the 12” mixes of “MG” and “Angel”, plus “Into the Groove”. It was never released on CD at first because of it’s rather scant running time, but somebody had obviously had a change of heart by this point.

By the start of 1989, multiple remixing of singles was becoming common place. The 12” format could no longer house all of the rarities that were being generated, and thus, the Mini Album releases generated by “Like A Prayer” onwards were to be issued on CD only.

It would make sense, in my mind, to include repressings of the three mini albums in my boxset that appeared during this period, as between them, they give a thorough overview of the remixed Madonna tunes from the period. Furthermore, as the objective of these releases was to collate mixes from the US and the UK, it meant that one or two mixes appeared on these CD’s that were not available in either the UK or the US at the time.

The first release was “Remixed Prayers”, using a sleeve similar to the 12” edition of “Like A Prayer“, and featuring mostly - as you’d expect - remixes of “Like A Prayer” as well. Five mixes of the track were included, along with three mixes of “Express Yourself”. To place these mixes in context, the five mixes were the ones found spread across the two 12” singles that were issued in the UK and the US 12“, whilst the “Express Yourself” mixes were the three taken from the US 12”. The “Local Mix” of the latter is of interest, as it has never been commercially released in the UK.

Next up was “Keep It Together”. This included six mixes of the song, plus the 12” version of “Cherish”, which was actually track 1 on the disc. Again, to place it all in context, the six mixes of “KIT” are the six mixes released on both the US 12” and the Promo only UK White Label 12”. The 12” mix of “Cherish” was never released in the US. This was because, at the time, Warners would only issue a 12” in the USA if there were multiple mixes available to fill up the release, and as this was the only remix made for the single to be issued, they declined to issue it on 12” (or CD), but it did appear on 7” and Cassette. The mix made it onto the UK 12” and CD Single editions.

The “Vogue” EP includes three mixes of “Vogue”, and the ’Bare Bottom 12” Mix’ and ’Bare Bones 7” Mix’ of “Hanky Panky”, along with “More”. The inclusion of the latter again, seems pointless - perhaps it’s on here because it was taken from a so-called Soundtrack LP, or maybe it’s just to pad out the running time. The three “Vogue” mixes are from the US 12”, the remaining three songs from the US/UK 12”/CD versions of "HP". Again, one of the “Vogue” mixes has never been released in the UK.

For years, it was quite easy to get hold of these releases, as they were reissued at various points over the years, and indeed, the first time I got to hear most of these 12” mixes was when I got hold of these Mini Albums in my local record store. HMV in Romford used to stock seemingly all of them all the time. However, it would make sense to reissue them in a boxset as copies are now not completely easy to find, and when you do, they’re not going to cost you less than a tenner each. Plus, they do provide a good starting point for understanding what Madonna songs were remixed, and how many times. Radio edits? Now that’s a different story. We shall cover that later on.

Tracklisting (Disc 3): Like A Prayer (12” Dance Mix)/(12” Extended Remix)/(Churchapella)/(12” Club Version)/(7” Remix Edit)/Express Yourself (Non Stop Express Mix)/(Stop + Go Dubs)/(Local Mix)

Tracklisting (Disc 4): Cherish (Extended Version)/Keep It Together (12” Remix)/(Dub)/(12” Extended Mix)/(12” Mix)/(Bonus Beats)/(Instrumental)

Tracklising (Disc 5): Vogue (12” Version)/(Bette Davis Dub)/(Strike A Pose Dub)/Hanky Panky (Bare Bottom 12” Mix)/(Bare Bones Single Mix)/More

Disc 6: Blond Ambition World Tour Live

As I type this, plans are being made for an “MDNA” tour DVD, which will mean that footage from every Madonna tour will continue to exist. However, a couple of tours were not the recipient of full blown concert films on either VHS or DVD, but benefited instead from documentary films which intercut gig footage in between selected scenes.

Two such tours were the 2004 Reinvention tour, and the 1990 Blond Ambition tour. The former was documented on the “I’m Going To Tell You A Secret” film, the latter on “Truth Or Dare” AKA “In Bed With Madonna”. However, it’s the Blond Ambition tour which is the odd one out, because even though no VHS release was issued for the tour in the UK or the US, there was actually a concert film made as well. But it was simply issued only on a format nobody really used at the time - the now defunct Laserdisc format.

Let’s rewind to 1987. Before she played her first ever UK dates, Madonna toured Japan in the summer. A show in Tokyo on 22nd June 87 was filmed for a TV broadcast, and video and audio bootlegs did the rounds, including some which included the entire audio of the broadcast, including adverts - one of which featured Madonna music as the backing track! The Japanese always did things different and Warners in Japan issued a VHS exclusively in that country using this show as the source, entitled “Who’s That Girl - Madonna Live In Japan”. For the rest of the world, Madonna’s final shows of the European leg of the tour were filmed, and Warners issued a VHS culled from these shows called “Ciao Italia”, so named as the final gigs were in Italy (although some Tokyo footage was ‘flown in’ where required).

In 1990, Madonna again toured Japan before heading to Europe, and again, a gig in Yokohama was filmed. I had long been led to believe the second show she played here was the one shown on TV, but internet sources state it was the third and final show the next night, April 27th, that was the show that got broadcast. Again, Warners in Japan issued the show as a VHS release called “Blond Ambition Japan Tour 90”, but this time around, also issued the release on the relatively new Laserdisc format.

The Laserdisc was basically a 12” version of the DVD, but ten years too early. It’s selling point was that the picture quality was better than VHS, and that you could “jump” to specific chapters on the disc just like a CD, something you couldn’t do with a VHS Tape. But Laserdiscs were the size of a vinyl LP, despite the fact that at the time, CD’s were beginning to take over from Vinyl as the format of choice for album buyers due, in part, to their convenience as regards space and storage issues. The other odd thing about Laserdiscs was that they were, like an LP, double sided - you would have to turn the disc over halfway as there was only limited storage space on each side of the disc. Yes, you even had to do it with movies which you might have seen un-interrupted in the cinema! Just as RCA had failed to get the even earlier Videodisc format off the ground in the early 80’s, Laserdiscs hadn’t quite taken off by 1990.

After the Pepsi debacle, Pioneer had eventually stepped in to sponsor Madonna’s latest tour. Pioneer were big supporters of the laserdisc format, and struck a deal - they would issue a Laserdisc only release of one of the latter Blond Ambition shows outside of Japan, the idea being, I suppose, that all the Madonna fans would rush out to buy a Laserdisc player to play the thing on. The final show of the tour, in Nice on 5th August 1990, was being filmed for TV, and it was this show that would be used as the source for the Laserdisc release.

In December 1990, Pioneer thus issued “Blond Ambition World Tour Live”, which interestingly used a photo from the earlier leg of the tour when Madonna wore her hair in a ponytail - it was “loose” for the Nice show. Trouble is, people did not rush out en masse to buy a laserdisc player, and instead, bootleg copies of the show - both in audio and video form - continued to change hands within the fan community. I do have this Laserdisc, but no Laserdisc player, so it’s just sitting in a box somewhere gathering dust.

As the years have passed, no DVD release of this show has been conducted. I understand that the master tapes of the show have gone missing, which has prevented any sort of reissue from being conducted, even though Madonna’s people had shown interest in making the show available again. But for the purposes of my fantasy boxset, let’s just pretend that somebody has found the tapes. The original Laserdisc was housed in a gatefold sleeve, albeit in portrait form, so that when the sleeve is unfolded, you get a full length image of Madonna, and this would be quite easy to replicate in a card sleeve replica.

It is worth pointing out that a semi-official DVD of the tour has surfaced in recent years, titled “Blond Ambition Tour 1990”. This is a German release of what is, effectively, bootlegged footage from a show in Houston on 5th May 1990. The previous night’s show was filmed professionally for MTV, but this footage remains officially unavailable. I am not quite sure why neither Madonna nor her people have tried to have this release banned, as the poor quality has seen just about every review of it on Amazon to be full of hatred and bile, but perhaps they figured that whilst they try to find the master tapes of the Nice gig, they may as well leave it out there. There also seems to be a second version of the same show doing the rounds now, albeit in a completely different sleeve, using a photo from 1998!

Tracklisting: Express Yourself/Open Your Heart/Causing A Commotion/Where’s The Party/Like A Virgin/Like A Prayer/Live To Tell/Oh Father/Papa Don’t Preach/Sooner Or Later/Hanky Panky/Now I’m Following You (Parts 1 & 2)/Material Girl/Cherish/Into The Groove/Vogue/Holiday/Keep It Together

Discs 7&8: London Wembley Stadium 21.7.1990

As I have said before, I have never quite understood the concept of including a CD version of a gig alongside it’s DVD counterpart. I guess it’s so people can put it on their iPod. But an audio version of a Blond Ambition gig would make some sense. The reason for this is tenuous, but given that Peter Gabriel has both a CD and DVD of his 1987 Athens show in his recent “So” boxset, I would like to have an audio CD in mine - but from a different show.

As the Nice gig was the final show of the tour, Madonna decided at the end to do a list of “thank you’s” from the stage to people who had worked on the tour. Various behind the scenes personnel came out to accept their thank you’s in person (including her now estranged brother, Christopher), and the band had to keep playing the final section of the final song, “Keep It Together”, over and over whilst she went through the roll call. What this means, basically, is that all other BA shows were several minutes shorter. OK, it’s not quite like The Cure doing a different set every night, but in the world of the stage-scripted stadium show, the fact that at least two Madonna gigs on the same tour were slightly different is worth mentioning.

A large number of shows on the tour were bootlegged, although quality obviously varies, but some shows seem to be more popular than others. The show at the Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles on 15th May 1990 was documented on the double LP “Blond Ambition World Tour 90 Los Angeles” (Skald DA R 120), whilst the show at Rome’s Stadio Flaminio on 10th July was issued on a CD called “Obsession” (Vox Populi WORK 5537-2), featuring a cover image of a Madonna look alike, and also a double LP called “Strike A Pose” (UNI 1101), housed in some beautiful packaging, albeit using images from the 1987 tour instead of the 1990 one.

In terms of professionally taped (but not filmed) gigs, Madonna’s shows in Dallas on May 7th and 8th were taped for use on a promo only LP called “Madonna’s Blond Ambition”, a 3xLP set issued by Westwood One to numerous US Radio Stations for a planned simul-cast on 27th August that year. The shows were edited to remove much of the between song banter, but all of the songs that Madonna played on this tour were included in the broadcast. Wikipedia also reports that a Swedish radio station taped the 30th June show in Gothenburg, but only opted to broadcast parts of it, although I have a full version of the same gig, presumably from an audience source (I haven’t listened to it for about 15 years so can’t remember how good or bad the quality is).

It seems that only one gig was taped and broadcast in FM Quality in full, and that was the second London show Madonna played on 21st July 1990. Recorded by BBC Radio 1, it was part of a series of “Summer Saturday Specials”, with the station broadcasting a live gig at least one Saturday every month during the summer. A Billy Joel gig from Wembley Arena had featured in May, and in June, it was the big Knebworth shindig featuring Pink Floyd, Elton John, and a temporarily reformed Dire Straits amongst others.

The Blond Ambition tour had garnered a lot of attention as it trundled around the globe, and some BBC reps went out to watch the first London show on Friday 20th July to see what all the fuss was about. The only thing that was un-radio-friendly was some of the swearing (you can‘t hear somebody masturbating on a bed on radio), and after the gig, the Beeb contacted Madonna’s people asking if she could “tone it down” for the following evening, as the show was to be broadcast live.

Of course, this was red rag to a bull time, and after a scowling “Causing A Commotion”, Madonna went into an F-word strewn rant, accompanied by huge cheers from the crowd, but undoubtedly giving headaches in the control room at the Beeb. Nonetheless, the transmission continued uncut, and Madonna generally calmed down thereafter, but she got herself a BBC ban soon after, where they decided they would never again broadcast a Madonna gig live. When Madonna played the same venue in September 1993, Madonna’s two shows were taped by the BBC for a later broadcast, in case she did the same thing again. Suffice to say, Madonna didn’t utter a single obscenity either night.

Unsurprisingly, bootlegs of this show have done the rounds for years, best of which is probably the 2-CD “Sexual Exposure” (Red Phantom RPCD 2043/2044), but it would be nice for an official version to be made for the boxset. The original master tapes are still in the hands of the BBC, so there could even be a bit of remastering made if need be, although the quality of the bootleg is near perfect.

Tracklisting: same as disc 6

Disc 9: The Promos

One argument about deluxe boxsets is what to include, and what not to include. Unless you are doing deluxe reissues of every album by a particular artist, is it worth going to town with a particular album which would then leave the others looking “unrepresented” to the same level? In other words, if you include a disc of B-sides for your deluxe reissue, what do you do about the missing B-sides from the other albums that AREN’T getting re-released?

One theory is that deluxe boxsets should be the final word on the subject, so it would make sense to include Madonna’s promo videos on a DVD from the period, if only to make some available for the first time ever, and to get the rest into one place at last.

1990’s “Immaculate Collection” included the clips for “Like A Prayer”, “Express Yourself”, “Cherish” and “Oh Father” from “LAP”, and “Vogue” from “I’m Breathless”. No video was made for “Keep It Together”. But the clip for “Dear Jessie” was excluded, as was the “live” clip Warners made for “Hanky Panky”, and neither made it onto 2009’s “Celebration” either, so a boxset like this would be the perfect opportunity to finally put them all in one place.

Seven clips would make for a scant running time, so you could probably add a few bonus clips as well. Already available on the DVD version of “Immaculate” is Madonna’s 1990 MTV Awards version of “Vogue”, but it would be nice if the other “one offs” from the same period could be included here, namely the 1989 MTV Awards performance of “Express Yourself” and the 1991 Oscars performance of “Sooner Or Later”.

What else is in the vaults? Well, the US VHS version of “Truth Or Dare” added unedited performances of “Like A Prayer” and “Hanky Panky” that did not make it into the final movie, so we could have those for starters. And assuming the original tapes that were used to provide the concert sequences still exist, then you would assume that performances of “Sooner Or Later”, “Now I’m Following You” and “Cherish” were filmed and are thus sitting in the vaults. Footage for “Truth Or Dare” was sourced from the three shows Madonna played in Paris on 3rd, 4th and 6th July 1990, so who knows - perhaps footage from all three nights for all “LAP” and “Breathless” material exists? However, watching three versions of all these songs one after another might be a bit too much.

Similarly, you would assume that the tapes used for “I’m Going To Tell You A Secret” are still sitting around in a cupboard somewhere. Again, material from the 1989/90 period featured on the 2004 tour, but did not make the final cut of the film, so it would be nice if the “missing” songs - “Express Yourself” and “Hanky Panky” - could be resurrected for release. You could even, if the masters still exist, use material from Madonna’s 1st August 1990 Barcelona gig, another “filmed for TV” job and heavily bootlegged over the years. The entire show, including all the “LAP” and “Breathless” material, was broadcast.

Tracklisting: Like A Prayer/Express Yourself/Cherish/Oh Father/Dear Jessie/Vogue/Hanky Panky/Express Yourself (1989 MTV Awards)/Like A Prayer (Paris 1990)/Sooner Or Later (Paris 1990)/Hanky Panky (Paris 1990)/Now I’m Following You (Parts 1 & 2) (Paris 1990)/Cherish (Paris 1990)/Sooner Or Later (1991 Academy Awards)/Express Yourself (Live 2004)/Hanky Panky (Live 2004)/Keep it Together (Barcelona 1990)

Discs 10-12: The Rarities

While the Japanese Mini Albums do a decent job of covering the commercially released remixes from the time, what they don’t give you are the radio edits, B-sides, later remixes and commercially unreleased mixes.

Let’s start with the radio mixes. “Like A Prayer”, “Express Yourself”, “Cherish”, “Oh Father”, “Keep it Together” and “Vogue” were all edited/remixed for single release. The “Cherish” mix is sometimes listed as the “Fade” version, whilst the edit of “Oh Father” removed the entire “radio/orchestra” intro, stripping a good 30 seconds off the entire running time. “Vogue” featured a reworked “boom” intro, and completely omitted the “finger click” intro of the album version. Strangely, even though there was a 7” mix of “Hanky Panky”, this was only included on the 12” and CD editions of the single - the 7” played the album mix instead!

B-sides were in short supply during the period, and only one such song surfaced - “Supernatural”, which appeared on the flip of “Cherish”. Strangely, the song got a second lease of life in 1991 when a remix of the same track appeared on the “Red Hot And Dance” compilation album. Neither version is easily available, so I would have both on my boxset.

Even though “Like A Prayer” was the moment at which Madonna “grew up”, and thus seemed to be the least dance-y record she had made so far, it’s release coincided with the rise of the “promo only” remix. Basically, so many mixes were made of some of the singles, that they appeared on promo releases in the US, but failed to get a commercial release when the single hit the shops. To date, the only way to get hold of these mixes is to hunt down the original promo only issues.

In America, “Like A Prayer” appeared on a 5-track Promo CD, using the same sleeve as the UK 7”. This release includes an alternate 7” edit, shorter than that found on the UK 7”, known as the “7” Version with Fade”, which was used on some editions of the 7” in other countries (notably in Japan) and also includes the exclusive “7” Dance Edit”. Alongside this, there was a 6-track Promo 12”, using the same “Praying” photo, but zoomed in quite a lot so that it fills up most of the front cover. This release is home to three promo only mixes, the “Instradub”, “Bass Dub” and “Dub Beats” mixes.

“Express Yourself” was also issued as a promo CD, a 4-track release with no picture cover, and only a backing insert with the track listing detailed therein. This release includes the “Remix/Edit” version of the song, unavailable elsewhere. Promo CDs were made for the likes of “Cherish” and “Oh Father”, but featured nothing that could not be picked up on the regular singles. The “Keep It Together” promo CD includes the unreleased “7” Remix” of the A-side. A promo only 12” was also issued Stateside, but includes no rare mixes.

A number of songs from the period were later remixed in “Q Sound” for the audio version of “The Immaculate Collection” (still on catalogue), and the remix of “Express Yourself” was used as the B-side for most editions of the “Justify My Love” single. In the US, where chart rules were not so stringent, an extended version of the mix called the “Shep’s Spressin Himself Re-Remix” was included on the CD Single edition, which remains unreleased in the UK to this very day.

Now, this is where it gets a bit more awkward. When you start to try and look at genuinely “unreleased” material. I obviously don’t know quite what’s in the vaults, so I can only guess - for the purposes of my boxset - as to what’s apparently sitting in a safe somewhere.

What I DO know exists are demo recordings of some of the “Breathless” material, namely the songs featured in the “Dick Tracy” movie. A bootleg 7”, called “Ma Honey”, was issued some years ago, featuring two alternate takes of “Sooner Or Later”, and an alternate take each of “What Can You Lose” and “More”, the former a solo Madonna piece, unlike the duet version on the LP, whilst the latter sounds near identical to the LP version. The sound quality is crackly, but given that plenty of “mono” recordings have been shoe-horned onto reissues by other artists in recent years, I can’t see why this 7” could not be included.

There is also an unreleased 12” mix of “Now I’m Following You”, done by Mark Saunders, and then left to rot after Warners cut short the “Breathless” campaign in the run up to the “Immaculate Collection” release. Saunders was seemingly, at one point, unaware that it never got released, and as I type this, you can listen to it on his own website. There also exists an unreleased alternate 12” mix of “Cherish”.

Wikipedia has a page listing “unreleased Madonna songs”, broken down into time periods, and eight songs from this period are listed as being completed, at least in demo form, then being forgotten about - “Possessive Love”, “Love Attack”, “First Is A Kiss”, “Just A Dream“, “Angels With Dirty Faces”, “Dick Tracy”, “Dog House” and “To Love You”. Of course, for any of these to get the nod, Warners would have to get Madonna to agree, and now she’s no longer on the label, well, what chance would you have?

Beyond this, it gets really difficult to work out what exists. A 1991 Record Collector article (written by somebody who I actually used to know in my Madonna stalking days) on the then top 200 Madonna Rarities was topped by an entry for a pair of “Express Yourself” acetates, each featuring an ‘unreleased mix’ of the song. Even if one is from the US promo CD, what’s the other one? Other acetates in the same list seem to detail mixes available on other commercial/promo singles, so without actually listening to it, it’s difficult to know what it sounds like. There does exist a Sterling Sounds Acetate promo CD for “Express Yourself”, which includes four other mixes - “Shep’s Dub 1”, “Shep’s Dub 2”, “Local Remix Edit” and the “Local Radio Edit”, so I would guess it’s one of those. Another acetate exists with the “House For Video” mix.

Tracklisting (Disc 10): Like A Prayer (7” Version)/(7” Dance Edit)/(Instradub)/(Bass Dub)/(Dub Beats)/Express Yourself (7” Remix)/(7” Remix Edit)/Cherish (7“ Version)/Oh Father (Edit)/Supernatural/Keep It Together (Single Remix)/(7” Remix)/Express Yourself (Shep’s Spressin’ Himself Re-Remix)/Supernatural (Original Arms House Mix)/Vogue (Single Version)

Tracklisting (Disc 11): Like A Prayer (7” Version with Fade)/Possessive Love/Love Attack/First Is A Kiss/Just A Dream/Angels With Dirty Faces/Dick Tracy/Dog House/To Love You/Now I’m Following You (Mark Saunders Remix)

Tracklisting (Disc 12): Express Yourself (Local Radio Edit)/(Shep’s Dub 1)/(Shep’s Dub 2)/(Local Remix Edit)/(House For Video Acetate Mix)/Cherish (Hank Shocklee & Phil Castellano 12” Mix)/Sooner Or Later (Alternate Take)/More (Alternate Take)/Sooner Or Later (Alternate Take 2)/What Can You Lose (Alternate Take)/Like A Prayer (Alternate Mix With Unused Prince Guitar Solo)


Listed below are the relevant releases from the UK and overseas that would provide the basics of the boxset, along with others that don't quite offer anything rare, but are listed for completeness. It would be nice if Warners could somehow come up with a boxset to celebrate this record, as it is in danger of being "lost". Whilst most classic albums either get their adoration at the time of release ("Sgt Pepper") or get discovered at a later date ("Village Green Preservation Society"), "Like A Prayer" has gone the other way. Hero worshipped on the day of release, but now rarely talked about when classic albums are discussed. If you don't already own this LP, miss it at your peril.


Like A Prayer (1989, LP, Sire WX 239)
Like A Prayer (1989, Cassette, Sire WX 239 C)
Like A Prayer (1989, CD, Sire 7599-25844-2)


I’m Breathless (1990, LP, Sire WX 351)
I’m Breathless (1990, Cassette, Sire WX 351 C)
I’m Breathless (1990, CD, Sire 7599-26209-2)


Like A Prayer (7” Version)/Act Of Contrition (1989, 7” in “Praying“ p/s, Sire W 7539)
Like A Prayer (12” Extended Remix)/(12” Club Version)/Act Of Contrition (1989, Cassette in “Praying“ p/s, plays same both sides, Sire W 7539 C)
Like A Prayer (7” Version)/(12” Extended Remix)/(12” Club Version) (1989, 3” CD Single, Sire W 7539 CD)
Like A Prayer (12” Extended Remix)/(12” Club Version)/Act Of Contrition (1989, 12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, Sire W 7539 TP)
Like A Prayer (12” Extended Remix)/(12” Club Version)/Act Of Contrition (1989, 12” in white p/s, Sire W 7539 T)
Like A Prayer (12” Dance Mix)/(Churchapella)/(7” Remix/Edit) (1989, 2nd 12” in mustard p/s, Sire W 7539 TX)
Express Yourself (7” Remix)/The Look Of Love (1989, 7”, Sire W 2948)
Express Yourself (7” Remix)/The Look Of Love (1989, 7” in fold out poster bag, Sire W 2948 X)
Express Yourself (7” Remix)/The Look Of Love (1989, 7” in “Jeans“ outer sleeve, Sire W 2948 W)
Express Yourself (7” Remix)/The Look Of Love (1989, Cassette, plays same both sides, Sire W 2948 C)
Express Yourself (Non Stop Express Mix)/(Stop + Go Dubs) (1989, 12”, Sire W 2948 T)
Express Yourself (Non Stop Express Mix)/(Stop + Go Dubs) (1989, 12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, W 2948 TP)
Express Yourself (Non Stop Express Mix)/(Stop + Go Dubs) (1989, 3” CD Single, Sire W 2948 CD)
Express Yourself (Non Stop Express Mix)/(Stop + Go Dubs) (1989, 2nd Cassette, possibly withdrawn from sale at time of release, existence unconfirmed, Sire W 2948 CX)
Cherish (7” Version)/Supernatural (1989, 7”, Sire W 2883)
Cherish (7” Version)/Supernatural (1989, Cassette, plays same both sides, Sire W 2883 C)
Cherish (Extended Version)/(7” Version)/Supernatural (1989, 12”, Sire W 2883 T)
Cherish (Extended Version)/(7” Version)/Supernatural (1989, 12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, Sire W 2883 TP, some mispressed with wrong images on disc)
Cherish (7” Version)/(Extended Version)/Supernatural (1989, 3” CD Single, Sire W 2883 CD)
Dear Jessie/Till Death Do Us Part (1989, 7”, Sire W 2668)
Dear Jessie/Till Death Do Us Part (1989, 7” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, Sire W 2668 P)
Dear Jessie/Till Death Do Us Part (1989, Cassette, plays same both sides, Sire W 2668 C)
Dear Jessie/Till Death Do Us Part/Holiday (1989, 12”, Sire W 2668 T)
Dear Jessie/Till Death Do Us Part/Holiday (1989, 12” in fold out poster sleeve, Sire W 2668 TW)
Dear Jessie/Till Death Do Us Part/Holiday (1989, CD Single, Sire W 2668 CD)
Dear Jessie/Till Death Do Us Part/Holiday (1989, Picture CD Single, Sire W 2668 CDX)
Vogue (Single Version)/Keep It Together (Single Remix) (1990, 7”, Sire W 9851)
Vogue (Single Version)/Keep It Together (Single Remix) (1990, Cassette, plays same both sides, Sire W 9851 C)
Vogue (Single Version)/Keep It Together (Single Remix) (1990, 7” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, Sire W 9851 P)
Vogue (12” Version)/Keep It Together (12” Remix) (1990, 12”, Sire W 9851 T)
Vogue (12” Version)/Keep It Together (12” Remix) (1990, 12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, different photo to 7“ Picture Disc, Sire W 9851 TP)
Vogue (12” Version)/Keep It Together (12” Remix) (1990, 12” with free poster in stickered sleeve, Sire W 9851 TW)
Vogue (12” Version)/Keep It Together (12” Remix) (1990, CD Single, Sire W 9851 CD)
Vogue (12” Version)/(Strike A Pose Dub) (1990, Remix 12” with free “X-rated” poster, Sire W 9851 TX, some copies later supposedly issued minus poster)
Hanky Panky/More (1990, 7”, Sire W 9789)
Hanky Panky/More (1990, Cassette, Sire W 9789 C)
Hanky Panky (Bare Bottom 12” Mix)/(Bare Bones 7” Mix)/More (1990, 12”, Sire W 9789 T)
Hanky Panky (Bare Bottom 12” Mix)/(Bare Bones 7” Mix)/More (1990, 12” Picture Disc with insert + poster, Sire W 9789 TP)
Hanky Panky (Bare Bottom 12” Mix)/(Bare Bones 7” Mix)/More (1990, CD, Sire W 9789 CD)


Like A Prayer (7” Version)/Act Of Contrition (7”, Sire 9 27539-7)
Like A Prayer (7” Version)/Act Of Contrition (Cassette, Sire 9 27539-4)
Like A Prayer (12” Dance Mix)/(12” Extended Remix)/(Churchapella)/(12” Club Version)/(7” Remix Edit)/Act Of Contrition (12”, Sire 9 21170-0)
Express Yourself (7” Remix)/The Look Of Love (7”, Sire 9 22948-7)
Express Yourself (7” Remix)/The Look Of Love (Cassette, Sire 9 22948-4, two different sleeve designs)
Express Yourself (Non Stop Express Mix)/(Stop + Go Dubs)/(Local Mix)/The Look Of Love (12”, Sire 9 21225-0)
Cherish (7” Version)/Supernatural (7”, Sire 9 22883-7)
Cherish (7” Version)/Supernatural (Cassette, Sire 9 22883-4)
Oh Father (Edit)/Pray For Spanish Eyes (7”, Sire 9 22723-7)
Oh Father (Edit)/Pray For Spanish Eyes (Cassette, Sire 9 22723-4)
Keep It Together (Single Remix)/(Instrumental) (7”, Sire 9 19986-7)
Keep It Together (Single Remix)/(Instrumental) (Cassette, Sire 9 19986-4)
Keep It Together (12” Remix)/(Dub)/(12” Extended Mix)/(12” Mix)/(Bonus Beats)/(Instrumental) (12”, Sire 9 21427-0)
Keep It Together (Single Remix)/(12” Remix)/(12” Mix)/(12” Extended Mix)/(Instrumental) (CD, Sire 9 21427-2)
Vogue (Single Version)/(Bette Davis Dub) (7”, Sire 9 19863-7)
Vogue (Single Version)/(Bette Davis Dub) (Cassette, Sire 9 19863-4)
Vogue (Single Version)/(12” Version)/(Bette Davis Dub)/(Strike A Pose Dub) (Remix Cassette, Sire 9 21513-4)
Vogue (12” Version)/(Bette Davis Dub)/(Strike A Pose Dub) (12”, Sire 9 21513-0)
Vogue (Single Version)/(12” Version)/(Bette Davis Dub)/(Strike A Pose Dub) (CD, Sire 9 21513-2)
Hanky Panky/More (7”, Sire 9 19789-7)
Hanky Panky/More (Cassette, Sire 9 19789-4)
Hanky Panky (Bare Bottom 12” Mix)/(Bare Bones 7” Mix)/More (Remix Cassette, Sire 9 21577-4)
Hanky Panky (Bare Bottom 12” Mix)/(Bare Bones 7” Mix)/More (12”, Sire 9 21577-0)
Hanky Panky (Bare Bones 7” Mix)/(Bare Bottom 12” Mix)/More (CD, Sire 9 21577-2)


Remixed Prayers (1989, CD, Sire 20P2-2900)
Remixed Prayers (1989, CD reissue in slim line case, Sire WPCR-1505)
Keep It Together (1990, CD Sire WPCP-3200)
Keep It Together (1990, CD reissue in slim line case, Sire WPCR-1506)
Vogue EP (1990, CD, Sire WPCP-3698)
Vogue EP (1990, CD reissue in slim line case, Sire WPCR-1507)


Like A Prayer (7” Version with Fade)/(7” Remix Edit)/(7” Dance Edit)/(12” Dance Mix)/(12” Club Version) (CD, Sire PRO-CD-3448, p/s)
Express Yourself (7” Remix)/(7” Remix Edit)/(Non Stop Express Mix)/(Stop + Go Dubs) (CD, Sire PRO-CD-3541)
Cherish (7” Version)/(Album Version) (CD, Sire PRO-CD-3608)
Keep It Together (Single Remix)/(7” Remix)/(12” Mix)/(12” Remix)/(12” Extended Mix) (CD, Sire PRO-CD-3791)
Oh Father (Edit) (CD, Sire PRO-CD-3798)
Hanky Panky (CD, Sire PRO-CD-4304)


Like A Prayer (12” Dance Mix)/(Instradub)/(Bass Dub)/(12” Club Version)/(Dub Beats)/(7” Remix Edit) (12”, Sire PRO-A-3472, p/s)
Keep It Together (12” Remix)/(Dub)/(12” Mix)/(Bonus Beats) (12”, Sire PRO-A-3791)


Express Yourself (1989, Acetate CD, white “Sterling Sound Inc” sleeve with black titles printed on cover, nine mixes including unreleased “Local” and “Shep’s Dub” mixes)
Blond Ambition World Tour Live (1990, Laserdisc, Pioneer PLMPB 00041)
Ma Honey (1990, Bootleg 7”, Full Stop FS 1)
Like A Prayer (2012, reissue LP, Rhino 8122 797357)
The Complete Studio Albums (2012, 11xCD Box Set, Warner Bros 8122 797404)
Original Album Series (2012, 5xCD Box Set, Warner Bos 8122 797405)

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