Song 141: Madonna, “Ray of Light” (1998)


I have weird taste in Madonna songs. It’s not that the ones I like are some obscure non-singles, it’s that they’re minor hits. I like some of the big hits just fine (and I love “Like a Prayer”), but I find her later songs more interesting, especially the stuff she did in the late nineties and early 2000s.

“Ray of Light” is probably remembers for its awesome video, but I also flat-out love the song itself: the way it starts with a gradually ascending guitar, the way that intro ends with the song snapping into focus. Suddenly you’re traveling at breakneck speed, and no introduction could have prepared you for it. It’s as if Madonna and co-producer William Orbit just thought, “Eh, fuck it, let’s just do this,” and flipped the switch. All systems go.

Madonna’s never had a great voice, but I like how it sounds here: a little unsteady, as always, but with a sense of purpose. Its relatively low pitch is a nice balance to the track, which chirps and beeps behind her like she’s being pushed along–or chased?–by technology. There’s probably some kind of end-of-the-century techno-angst to be explored here, but I’m not the one to do that (Radiohead did it just fine a couple years later).

Instead, I’ll take this song at face value. It feels, sounds, and looks like liberation. In a way, that’s what Madonna has always been about.


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