Has it really been FOURTEEN years since the release of Madonna's 13th album?!
The iconic cover of Madonna's most celebrated album.
Hearing your favorite artist’s new album for the first time is always an incredible experience, because you can only ever have it once. From then on, the album becomes a part of their greater body of work. If it lives up to why they are your favorite artist in the first place, then it becomes a part of you as well. Ray of Light became a part of me on March 2nd, 1998, and is still a part of me now. Although “my favorite Madonna album” is presently Confessions on a Dance Floor, I do not argue that Ray of Light is very likely her greatest contribution, thus far, to recorded music.
The months leading up to its release were almost unbearably exciting. Early rumors that we would all be treated to new Madonna music in time for Christmas 1997 were shot down when her fan club newsletter revealed that the new Madonna album would be delayed because she was working on “something special”. It had been three and a half years since Madonna put out a new studio album, which was unheard of for her. In between she’d made Evita and become a Mom. Her whole life changed in the wake of those two massive milestones, and her public exposure reached a new peak. But while her cultural importance was at its most tangible, the media continued to question her ability to command a listening audience. Despite six U.S. Top 10 singles from 1994 through 1997, Entertainment Weekly published a story in early 1998 suggesting that her relevance as an artist had all but vanquished in the wake of other female artists’ staggering success. They were not the only ones making that suggestion in the American and British media. Thus it was a particularly thrilling day for fans when Ray of Light debuted at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums with sales of more than 370,000 copies—setting a record for best first-week sales by a female artist in the SoundScan era.
Like most fans, I'll never forget the first time I heard Ray of Light. It was March 2nd, 1998, and I’d purchased a copy from a record store owner who begged me not to tell anyone about the early sale for fear that Warner Bros would hunt her down and shut her down. I never did, until now, and only now do I reveal it out of gratitude: how thankful I’ll always be to her for allowing me to experience that album one day before the rest of America. After listening to it, I felt like I’d studied Madonna’s soul under a microscope. The artistic fulfillment rocked me, and I refused to listen to any other music for the next two weeks of my life—even the decade and a half of Madonna recordings that I could never go a day without hearing seemed irrelevant in the glorious wake of Ray of Light.
In celebration of Madonna’s most stunning album, here is a YouTube assortment of alternate versions of its thirteen tracks: it’s Ray of Light on the other side of the mirror. I’ve also linked “Has to Be”, arguably the finest recording ever cut from a Madonna record. Lastly, a beloved, unreleased track, reportedly co-written by Babyface, which was omitted from the LP but has warmed millions of hearts, including my own, since leaking a decade ago: “Like A Flower”.
"No Substitute For Love" (Unreleased version of "Drowned World")
"Swim" (Unreleased Radio Edit)
"Ray of Light" (Extended Demo Version)
"Candy Perfume Girl" (Live from Michigan on The Drowned World Tour, 2001)
"Skin" (Unreleased Remix)
"Nothing Really Matters" (Club 69/Dan-O-Rama Remix Video)
"Sky Fits Heaven" (Live From Barcelona on The Drowned World Tour, 2001)
"Frozen" (Live From Lisbon on The Re-Invention Tour, 2004)
"The Power of Good-Bye"...In Reverse!
(This replaces the demo version of the song, which was, sadly, pulled from YouTube.)
"To Have And Not To Hold" (Unreleased Early Version)
"Little Star" (On "Oprah" In May 1998: The ONLY Live Performance EVER!)
"Mer Girl" (Video Footage for The Drowned World Tour, 2001)
"Has To Be" (B-Side To "Ray of Light" & Japanese Bonus Track)
"Like A Flower" (Unreleased Track From Recording Sessions with Babyface)