Madonna Then and Now: Classic Madonna Songs for Every Mood
From the moment she announced herself with a bubbly, upbeat dance song called “Everybody” in 1982, Madonna has shaped much of the pop music landscape across the world. Whether it’s the 38 Top 10 hits, the record-breaking tours, the fashion trends, or her many awards, few can claim to have had the same impact as she has had on pop culture.
But with 40 years of music to her name, getting a sense of her as a music artist can be a challenge. Since most people choose music based on their mood, rather than simply go through her catalog in chronological order, we chose some typical moods and the perfect Madonna music through the years that fits.
Mood: Excited, Happy, Exuberant
If you’re feeling good and want to listen to some music that’ll help you express your happiness, then you’ve come to the right place. Much of Madonna’s music is upbeat, inspirational, and filled with exuberance and excitement. Naturally, Madonna’s earliest hits exemplify this mood, filled with youthful energy and passion. Try songs off her first eponymous album, such as her debut single, “Everybody,” first released in October 1982. A synth-heavy beat and bright keyboards provide a sparkling background for Madonna’s effective vocals, with their call for “Everybody come and dance and sing.”
A couple of more songs off the album also fit with this mood. “Holiday” features a funk-inflected bass line supporting an electronic drumbeat. Madonna’s appealing vocals dream about taking “a holiday / Took some time to celebrate / Just one day out of life.” “Lucky “Star,” the singer’s first Top 5 hit, also features a groovy rhythm gleaming with synth chords and effects, while Madonna revels in new love: “You may be my lucky star / I’m the luckiest by far.”
But it’s not only her early work that features Madonna in a happy mood. “Give Me All Your Luvin'” her 2012 album MDNA offers a bouncy beat, with a cheer squad style spell-out of Madonna’s name, as well as energetic raps from M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj along with crowd cheers, a tip to the Super Bowl Halftime Show, where she first premiered the song. The song was also a record-setting 38th Top 10 hit for the pop star, and that’ll put anyone in a good mood.
Mood: In Love
There’s nothing else quite like being in love, which tends to be all-encompassing, dominating every thought and feeling. While it’s a feeling of happiness, it’s also more, blending happiness with romance into something like dreaminess. Maybe it was her romance with and marriage to the actor Sean Penn at the time, but her most romantic songs are some of her biggest ’80s hits.
To capture the feeling of being in love, you might start with her first number-one hit, “Like a Virgin,” from the 1985 album of the same name (also her first number-one album). Ironically, considering the controversy the song generated, rather than being drenched in sinful lust, the song instead celebrates how the singer’s lover makes her feel young and innocent. Lyrics like, ” I’d been had, I was sad and blue, but you made me feel / Yeah, you made me feel shiny and new, hoo!” emphasize purity as something desirable, though, of course, it wouldn’t be Madonna without at least a little winking at the audience.
From the same album, the 1985 single “Angel” also bursts with feelings of being in love. The lyrics alone exemplify the extreme emotions love inevitably brings, likening a new beau to an angel from heaven. Over a simple three-chord progression, the music fuses that radiant 80s synth beat with a driving bassline while her vocals build with emotion and energy.
Add her hit, “Cherish,” to your in-love mood playlist. The song, released in August 1989 off her album Like a Prayer, is about appreciating real love after so many disappointments and features an earworm of a chorus: “Cherish the thought / Of always having you here by my side.” For Madonna, those who’ve had their heart broken are the ones who value real love most.
Mood: Sad, Down, Contemplative
When you’re feeling down or blue, there’s nothing like music to turn your mood around. Maybe it’s the feeling of commiseration you might get with a sad song, but it’s got to be a Top 5 cure for the blues. Try “Crazy For You,” from the soundtrack to the 1985 movie Vision Quest,” (and found on soundtrack compilations, too) for the ideal Madonna song to get you out of your funk. While the lyrics focus on a new romance, the slow ballad — Madonna’s first — has a melancholy feel, with a melody that seems to ache for love, rather than revel in it.
You can also add her 1987 hit, “La Isla Bonita,” to the playlist. From her third album, True Blue, the song is written in a minor key, immediately giving it a wistfulness that’s enhanced by its romantic Spanish guitar and Cuban percussion.
Still feeling low? Put on “Take a Bow,” her number-one single released in December 1994. From the album Bedtime Stories, the song has a dreamy feel to it, with Madonna singing gently over a slowed-down beat. Backup harmonies add a particular richness that warms the heart.
Or try “Ghosttown” from 2013’s Rebel Heart. Starting out quietly, almost somberly, it builds into an anthem-like chorus centered on sticking together “when it all falls down.” It’s a song that feels like someone picking herself up and reassuring herself that she’s going to be all right.
Mood: Angry, Frustrated
While she might not offer the fire and fury of a band like contemporaries Public Enemy or Rage Against the Machine, Madonna can be the perfect tonic for when you’re feeling angry or frustrated. Her first Top 10 hit and breakthrough single, “Borderline,” from 1984, is the perfect example. While its shimmering keyboards and effervescent beat might not scream “anger,” the lyrics tell the story of someone frustrated with her lover, tired of his antics: “You just keep on pushing my love over the borderline,” she sings. “Then you let me down / When I look around, baby you just can’t be found.” By the end of the song, the bubbly music has won you over, and you’ve replaced any anger and frustration with joy and ebullience.
“I Rise,” from her 2019 album, Madame X, has a similar effect as “Borderline.” While lacking that song’s pop charms, the lyrics about self-empowerment and resilience are the ideal encouragement anyone needs when angry and frustrated. A slow, steady beat and vocal tracks overlaid to include spoken word give the song a sense of drama and anticipation.
“American Life” from Madonna’s 2003 concept album, also titled American Life, makes another fine choice, with its sense of growing disillusionment. Over a heavy techno beat, the Material Girl goes anti-materialistic, lamenting the American penchant for striving: “I tried to stay ahead / I tried to stay on top / I tried to play the part / But somehow I forgot / Just what I did it for.”
You could also include “Hung Up,” off her 2005 No. 1 album Confessions on a Dance Floor. It features an infectious sample from ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” behind a driving beat, while the lyrics relate a rising frustration with a boyfriend: “Waiting for your call, baby, night and day / I’m fed up / I’m tired of waiting on you.” Like “Borderline” and “I Rise,” the song leaves you in a better mood than when you started it.
Mood: Defiant, Daring, Rebellious
For someone who gained reams of publicity for her mores-defying image and daring stage shows, it’s perhaps unsurprising that she offers her share of tunes that hit just right when feeling a tad rebellious. “Material Girl,” released in 1985 from the album Like a Virgin, showcased Madonna’s rebellious side, featuring a narrator who places wealth over true love: “The boy with the cash is always Mr. Right.”
“Papa Don’t Preach” from True Blue tells of a defiant teen, pregnant but determined to keep the baby. The song opens with strings before the electronic beat kicks in, and the singer addresses her father, breaking the news of her pregnancy: “But you should know by now / I’m not a baby.”
“Revolver,” from her 2009 greatest hits collection Celebration, starts off with a fuzzy synth riff and a mid-tempo beat. The song centers around a chorus about how dangerous the singer’s love can be: “My love is a revolver, my sex is a killer / Do you wanna die happy?” Guest performer Lil Wayne adds backup vocals and a wicked rap that contributes to the vibe. The song would be the last release on a Warner record label, 27 years after first signing with Sire Records in 1982.
Mood: Energetic, Dynamic, Confident
As she’s stated over and over again, Madonna loves to dance. No surprise that much of her music is just the thing when you’re feeling energetic, dynamic, and confident. Music for this mood can be found throughout her career, from the 1986 number one smash, “Open Your Heart,” with its shimmering pop flourishes and driving rhythm, to her 2022 release, “I Don’t Search I Find,” and its rolling bass and rollicking beat.
“Into the Groove,” from the soundtrack to the 1985 hit movie (and found on various compilations if the soundtrack is hard to find), Desperately Seeking Susan, will definitely get your feet moving, and Madonna’s vocals are full of life and vitality. “Express Yourself” from her 1989 album Like a Prayer features a funky bass paired with an electronic drumbeat, with Madonna’s vocals revealing a versatility previously unseen.
“Ray of Light,” from the album of the same name, showcases its EDM and techno stylings, while its lyrics reference the singer’s recent exploration of mysticism. It’s another irresistible dance track, and unsurprisingly debuted in the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. And check out “4 Minutes” off the 2008 album Hard Candy. Featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, it was her 37th Top 10 hit, the most ever for a solo artist at the time, and offers an irresistible beat with plenty of groove, perfect when you’re feeling ready for anything.
Mood: Sexy, Sensuous, Provocative
Considering she made headlines with her coffee table book entitled Sex back in 1992, that Madonna has plenty of music for when you’re feeling frisky is probably unsurprising. Try “Burning Up,” from her debut album. A nasty guitar lick breaks up a simple bass line and electronic beat while Madonna sings about “burning up for your love.” 1990’s “Justify My Love,” from the greatest hits compilation, The Immaculate Collection, takes a more minimalist approach: heavy bass and synth chords are laid over with a subdued, spoken word performance from the singer, talking to her lover, wishing she could “make love in a train cross country.”
Finally, be sure to include “Erotica” from the 1992 album of the same name. Trip-hop loops and a juicy bass provide all the rhythm necessary, and the singer again uses spoken word verses for an intimate, almost sensuous feel.