Saturday, 9 November 2013

Madonna: The Immaculate Collection

Nowadays, the average time between studio albums is quite significant. The upshot of this, is that when somebody like Kelly Clarkson or Christina Aguilera decides to release their first greatest hits record, it more or less has to include all of their singles, because even though they may have been in the business for nearly a decade, the amount of material they actually released in that time frame is relatively small. It’s difficult to not look at “Keeps Gettin’ Better” and just think to yourself, “Xtina, you should have waited a few more years before doing this, so you’d have more material to choose from. You wouldn‘t have had to do that pointless “Genie 2“ if you‘d have done that”.

When Madonna issued her first hits collection in 1990, it coincided - roughly - with the eighth anniversary of her first 45. And yet “The Immaculate Collection” could have done with being twice as long. Despite the fact that it was a double LP, huge numbers of hits got left off, and you could have a lengthy discussion about what was missing and if it should have been missing or not. Madonna had, basically, been quite prolific during the eighties, and a 17-song singles collection really wasn’t long enough.

But even so, ignore what’s missing from this record, and look instead at what made the final cut. Whilst Madonna would go on to make greater albums in the 90’s and 00’s than most of her 80’s back catalogue (“Like A Prayer” excepted), her early period singles were quite often the work of genius. Some of the albums would have a bit of filler, but the singles were often solid gold, records that invented every pop star that followed and today, still sound glorious, putting to absolute shame the shower of so-called pop stars that we have today (take your pick here. But I‘ll start you off with Justin Bieber).

“The Immaculate Collection” stands as the best of all of Madonna’s three best of sets - “Celebration” suffered from a track listing seemingly put together at random, “GHV2” suffered by having to include interesting, but not very “pop”, singles from the 90’s and beyond - but this one, simply by having the likes of “Holiday”, “Into the Groove” and “Crazy For You” on it, automatically had an unfair advantage over everything that had to follow.

Although this record was Madonna’s first hits set to be released commercially, it was not necessarily her first compilation. In the UK, two promo only releases had surfaced beforehand. Following her North American tour of 1985, Madonna’s two subsequent World Tours in 1987 and 1990 included selected dates in the UK, usually in London only. Each time, the UK leg of her record company decided to create an instore sampler cassette (and VHS collection) to coincide. The first of these was 1987’s “It’s That Girl”, cribbing it’s title from the “Who’s That Girl” single/movie/soundtrack album. It was a 14 track selection of selected singles, running in “hit” order rather than release date order, so 1986 hit (and 1984 flop) “Borderline” thus appeared at the start of side 2, as opposed to being somewhere near the start of side 1.

In 1990, what was effectively a (sort of) expanded version of this release appeared under the banner of “She’s Breathless” - Madonna’s latest studio effort at the time, of course, was titled “I’m Breathless”. Again, the release appeared on both VHS and Cassette, and this latest cassette release was 20 songs in length. Where they existed, the edited 7” versions of the selected songs were usually used - “Holiday”, “Borderline”, “Live To Tell”, “Open Your Heart” and “La Isla Bonita” were all affected. They were joined by fifteen more hits, covering the period from 1984 to 1990 - “Like A Virgin”, “Material Girl” “Dress You Up” and “Angel” from the second LP, the two remaining UK singles from “True Blue”, “Who’s That Girl”, “Causing A Commotion”, “Into The Groove”, and all six of the singles issued in the UK from 1988 onwards, from “Like A Prayer” to “Hanky Panky”. One of the advantages of having the release on Cassette, was that it was able to play for longer than a single CD - indeed, you could argue that when compared to “The Immaculate Collection”, “She’s Breathless” was possibly a better overview of Madonna on 45.

As the end of 1990 approached, the promo campaign for “I’m Breathless” was apparently abandoned (the likes of “Sooner Or Later” and “Now I’m Following You” had been lined up as possible singles, explaining why they had been played during the Blond Ambition tour) and attention instead turned towards putting together Madonna’s first greatest hits LP to be released commercially. The album was a play on words of the religious dogma, the ‘immaculate conception‘, and was to consist of fifteen old hits and two new recordings. The old hits were to be tampered with for the release, many of the songs either being edited slightly (“Crazy For You”), edited heavily (“Holiday”) or totally remixed to make them more dance floor friendly (“Like A Prayer” and “Express Yourself”). The new mixes were to use the relatively new Q-Sound technology, whilst the new songs - despite what Wikipedia says - were also to be mixed using Q-Sound (this confusion comes from the fact that when the first of these new songs, “Justify My Love”, was issued as a single in Germany, one of the remix CD single releases listed one of the mixes as the “Q-Sound Mix” - but this was simply to indicate it was the album version, and not an extended remix). Q-Sound, without getting too technical, was a relatively shortlived attempt at trying to create a 3-D sound system, but no more than 100 albums were ever mixed in Q-Sound before the concept was more or less ditched for LP releases during the second half of the 1990s.

Q-Sound revamping aside, the tracklisting only occasionally followed the concept of “She’s Breathless” - “Lucky Star“, missing from “She‘s Breathless“, was included. Again, the album ran in “hit order”, which is why this song appeared after “Holiday”, despite having been released in the UK back in 1983, several months before “Holiday” first appeared on 45. Meanwhile, “Crazy For You”, having previously been issued as a stand alone 45 on Geffen, was to be included in the set, having been on neither “It’s That Girl” nor “She’s Breathless” due to licensing issues. The upshot of this, was that of the 20 songs on “She’s Breathless”, only 13 appeared on “The Immaculate Collection” - not one of Madonna’s three UK singles from the “Who’s That Girl” soundtrack were to be included at all.

The two new songs, “Justify My Love” and “Rescue Me”, were taped in August 1990, following the final Blond Ambition show in Nice earlier that month. The former was co-written by new soul kid on the block Lenny Kravitz, and was scheduled to be released as the first single from the album. A now famous, and rather smutty, promo video was created, and promptly got banned by MTV in North America, resulting in a special VHS single having to be released that contained the clip, so that US Madonna fans would get to see what all the fuss was about.

Released just in time for Christmas, “The Immaculate Collection” was a critical and commercial success. It was released on the three regular formats of the time - double vinyl, long play cassette and CD, with the two new songs placed at the end of the album. The LP was housed in a gatefold sleeve, with custom designed inner sleeves for each slab of vinyl. In keeping with tradition, copies pressed specifically for the UK market used the “WX” catalogue numbering system, as did the Cassette release. The CD edition, as per all previous UK releases, used the same “7599” numbering system as already in use in Germany, meaning that there was no obvious difference between a UK CD and a German one. There was some difference between the UK editions in terms of the artwork inside, a lack of space on the vinyl edition for example meant that the picture in the middle of the booklet of the CD edition was nowhere to be found on the LP version.

“Rescue Me” was later released (in edited form) as a single to coincide, with most countries using a stunning still from the “Justify My Love” video for the front cover. In the UK, the Q-Sound mix of “Crazy For You” was issued as the next single instead, and also used the video still as it’s front cover. “Rescue Me” was then released as third single in the UK, and was housed in a completely different “wetsuit” picture sleeve. We covered the ins and outs of what was served up as B-sides of these singles in my earlier Madonna Singles blogs.

As well as the three standard audio formats, a boxset version of the album was also released, under the title of “The Royal Box”, retailing at an - at the time - expensive £50 price tag. Housed in a 12” square box using the same “M” logo for it’s picture sleeve as the regular album, this elaborate release included a special version of the album, the normal 17 track affair but in a shiny satin digipack sleeve, and a special version of the accompanying VHS release (also talked about on this site in a previous article). This edition of the VHS used the same front cover as the standard retail release (the image of Madonna from the back of the LP was used on the front of the video), but it came in a card gatefold sleeve, with a bonus video of Madonna’s performance of “Vogue” from the 1990 MTV VMA’s. Also included was a poster featuring an image from that very performance, and a set of postcards, held together in a fancy band. All copies of the box came with a sticker detailing what was inside, so any box that is missing any of these, especially the poster or all of the postcards, is probably worthless. In the USA, where the Music-Cassette format was still immensely popular, the boxset was issued as both a CD+VHS set, and an MC+VHS set. In late 1992/early 1993, there was a Digital Compact Cassette release, another European pressing but sold in the UK as well, and a Mini Disc edition, again pressed in Germany, but possibly sold here, although I don’t think the format had quite taken off here at that point (and never really did).

In the UK, a fourth single was released to help plug the album, although it was the original LP/7” mixes of “Holiday” (rather than the Q-sound mix) that turned up as the a-side of this latest Madonna single, itself being released in the UK for the third time. The CD edition (and limited second Cassette release) were issued in EP style as “The Holiday Collection”, in a claret and blue sleeve replicating the artwork of the album, and included three old Madonna hits that had made it onto “She’s Breathless” but not “Immaculate” - although not necessarily in the same mixes. The tracks were "True Blue", "Who's That Girl" and "Causing A Commotion".

The album has certainly had legs - when Madonna toured Australia for the first time in 1993, both this and her most recent studio effort, 1992’s “Erotica”, were reissued in numbered digipack sleeves, with the CD’s pressed in gold, as opposed to regular silver. And even now, the album remains on catalogue, easily available to get in big shops and online, despite the fact that “Celebration” was supposed to have superseded it. The VHS release has also made it onto DVD, and was later included in a boxset called “The Ultimate Collection”.

Whilst it may have taken until 1989 for Madonna to release her first genuinely classic LP, “The Immaculate Collection” shows just how far ahead of the game she was when it came to making pop singles in the 80’s. It may have taken me a while to realise this, but when you listen to this record, it really shows you that Madonna was leading the pop pack, and simply went even further in front when the likes of “Ray Of Light” and “Confessions On A Dance Floor” appeared later on. It stands today as a great “hits” set, up there with the likes of “Singles Going Steady” or “ChangesOneBowie” as a snapshot of an artist at the peak of their powers. The decision to tart up “Like A Prayer” wasn’t the best decision in the world, but if you want to learn about pure pop music in the space of 75 minutes, this album should help you on your way.


In case you were wondering, this is the fourth instalment in my rambling set of articles looking at Madonna’s UK album releases, so as per the previous articles, the list below shows all of the UK (and sort of UK) releases that were issued at various times. Although Madonna’s “semi compilation” album from 1995, “Something To Remember” has been the recipient of a vinyl repressing this year, following on from the 2012 vinyl reissues of Madonna’s studio albums from 1983 to 1992, there has been no repressing for this album (nor 1994’s “Bedtime Stories”). So this list, I think, is all you need to know about the UK releases.

I have also listed selected UK and overseas singles (and promos) which I think are of interest. The list is not totally complete, but it does - in my opinion - cover the range of notable releases in terms of design and music that surfaced in relation to the promo campaign for the record.


The Immaculate Collection (2xLP, Sire WX 370)
The Immaculate Collection (Cassette, Sire WX 370 C)
The Immaculate Collection (CD, Sire 7599-26440-2)
The Immaculate Collection (DCC, Sire 7599-26440-5)
The Immaculate Collection (MiniDisc, Sire 7599-26440-8, possibly Europe only)
The Immaculate Collection (VHS, Sire 7599-38214-3)
The Immaculate Collection (DVD, Sire 7599-38195-2)
The Royal Box (CD+VHS boxset, Sire 7599-26464-2)
The Ultimate Collection (2xDVD boxset, Sire 7599-38519-2, double pack which also includes a re-pressing of “The Video Collection 93 : 99")


Justify My Love (William Orbit Mix)/(LP Mix)/Express Yourself (Shep’s ‘Spressin’ Himself Remix) (12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve with insert, Sire W 9000 TP)
Justify My Love (Video)/Vogue (1990 MTV VMA’s) (VHS, Warner Music Video 7599-38225-3)
Justify My Love (LP Mix)/(William Orbit Mix)/(Hip Hop Mix)/Express Yourself (Shep’s ‘Spressin’ Himself Re-Remix)/Justify My Love (The Beast Within Mix) (US CD, Sire 9 21820-2, remix of “Express Yourself“ never issued in UK)
Justify My Love (Hip Hop Mix)/(LP Mix)/(The Beast Within Mix) (German CD in light blue p/s, Sire 7599-21851-2, possibly the only release of this single in a “non-white“ sleeve)
Justify My Love (Orbit Edit)/(Hip Hop Mix)/(William Orbit Mix)/(The Beast Within Mix) (US Promo 12” in stickered die cut sleeve, Sire PRO-A-4613, “Orbit Edit“ is a promo only remix)
Crazy For You (Q Sound Remix)/Keep It Together (Single Remix) (Shaped Picture Disc in clear sleeve with insert and plinth, Sire W 0008 P)
Crazy For You (Q Sound Remix)/Keep It Together (12” Remix)/Into The Groove (Shep Pettibone Remix Edit) (12”, Sire W 0008 T, final track exclusive to UK)
Crazy For You (Q Sound Remix)/Keep It Together (12” Remix)/Into The Groove (Shep Pettibone Remix Edit) (CD, Sire W 0008 CD, final track exclusive to UK)
Rescue Me (7” Mix)/Spotlight (Fade) (7”, Sire W 0024, B-side exclusive to UK)
Rescue Me (Titanic Mix)/(Houseboat Edit)/(Lifeboat Mix) (12”, Sire W 0024 T, track 2 exclusive to UK)
Rescue Me (Titanic Mix)/(Houseboat Edit)/(Lifeboat Mix) (12” in stickered p/s with poster, Sire W 0024 TW, track 2 exclusive to UK)
Rescue Me (7” Mix)/(Titanic Mix)/(Demanding Dub) (German CD1, Sire 9362 40034 2, blue “JML” p/s with dub remix unreleased in UK)
Rescue Me (SOS Mix)/(Lifeboat Mix)/(Houseboat Mix) (German CD2, Sire 9362 40035 2, black and white “JML” p/s including mixes unreleased in UK)
Rescue Me (7” Mix)/(Alternate Single Mix) (Japanese 3” CD, Sire WPDP-6267, “JML” p/s, unique b-side)
Rescue Me (Titanic Mix)/(Lifeboat Mix)/(Lifeboat Dub)/(Houseboat Mix)/(Houseboat Dub)/(Demanding Dub)/(SOS Mix)/(Disaster Dub) (US 2x12” Promo, Sire PRO-A-4710, stickered die cut sleeve, several mixes commercially unreleased anywhere in the world)
Holiday (Edit) (Promo CD, Sire SAM 800, black and white p/s)
Holiday (Edit)/True Blue (7”, Sire W 0037, colour p/s)
Holiday (Edit)/True Blue (Cassette, Sire W 0037 C, colour p/s, later copies reissued with interview cassette)
Holiday (Edit)/True Blue (1-sided 12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve with insert, Sire W 0037 TP)
Holiday/Where’s The Party/Everybody (12”, Sire W 0037 T, colour p/s)
The Holiday Collection EP (CD, Sire W 0037 CD)
The Holiday Collection EP (Cassette, Sire W 0037 CT)

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