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‘The Immaculate Collection’: How Madonna Reinvented The Greatest-Hits Album
Warner Music
In Depth

‘The Immaculate Collection’: How Madonna Reinvented The Greatest-Hits Album

Breaking sales records and pushing the bounds of technology, Madonna’s ‘The Immaculate Collection’ set the bar for all hits albums to come.

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When Madonna issued her first “best of” album, The Immaculate Collection, towards the end of 1990, it shattered sales records and acted as a victory lap for an artist who had been responsible for many of the best 80s songs. No mere consolidation of the past, however, The Immaculate Collection also included two exclusive new tracks which set the direction for the next stage of the “Queen Of Pop”’s ever-evolving career.

This is the story of how Madonna reinvented the greatest-hits album, and why The Immaculate Collection remains the “best of” by which all others must be judged.

Listen to ‘The Immaculate Collection’ here.

Madonna had released so many hit songs, they didn’t all make the tracklist

In the 80s, every single that Madonna issued after her Holiday breakthrough, in 1984, would go on to be a big success. In the UK, only Borderline needed an extra push (a reissue would go all the way to No.2 in 1986), while each of her singles would go Top 10 in the US (with the exception of 1989’s experimental Oh Father). In the UK, meanwhile, the “Queen Of Pop” had enjoyed 22 consecutive Top 10 singles, including seven No.1s – but, incredibly, not even all of those chart-toppers would make it onto The Immaculate Collection’s 17-song tracklist. With a running time just shy of 74 minutes, there was no room for True Blue’s 1986 title track or Who’s That Girl, which had topped charts on both sides of the Atlantic in the summer of 1987.

The production would employ a new technology called Q Sound

Anticipation was high when it was announced that The Immaculate Collection would feature a new production technique called Q Sound, a filtering algorithm that created 3D effects. Madonna’s inaugural hits set would be the first major album release to use the system, and producer Shep Pettibone, along with engineers Goh Hotoda and Michael Hutchinson, were given just a few weeks to perfect the mix of the record.

This gave Pettibone the chance to rework some of the the best Madonna songs to date, including creating new mixes for Express Yourself, Into The Groove and Like A Prayer. “The remix was just really to create the Q Sound and make the song kind of envelop you when you listened to it in a certain sweet spot in front of the speakers,” Pettibone would later tell Billboard magazine. Q Sound was subsequently used for other major releases across the 90s, by acts such as Michael Jackson and Sting.

Shep Pettibone became Madonna’s principal collaborator of the new decade

The Immaculate Collection would be Shep Pettibone’s first major studio project for the “Queen Of Pop”, following his work on Vogue (originally intended to be issued as a B-Side) and after remixing some of her early hits and much of the You Can Dance remix album.

The pair went back to Madonna’s early days in New York City, when Pettibone had been working at local radio stations, and their professional partnership would deliver one of the best Madonna albums of all time, 1992’s Erotica. For The Immaculate Collection, Pettibone also co-wrote the gospel-tinged dance track Rescue Me, which was issued as the album’s second standalone single and peaked in the UK and US Top 10, after becoming Billboard’s highest debuting new song since The Beatles’ Let It Be, in 1970.

New song Justify My Love signalled the start of Madonna’s most controversial era

The Lenny Kravtiz co-composition Justify My Love (also credited to Prince’s Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge-era collaborator Ingrid Chavez) was The Immaculate Collection’s other brand-new song, and the opening act of Madonna’s controversial period exploring – and exposing – sexual politics.

Up to this point in her career, the “Queen Of Pop” had been the master of the seductive tease, but this erotic, urgent jam saw her move way beyond first base. When the Jean-Baptiste Mondino video was delivered to MTV, the station announced a ban on it, immediately fuelling a press controversy the likes of which Madonna was no stranger to.

While Madonna went on TV defending her right to present unapologetic art, her label was quick to start producing VHS video singles so fans could take a look. It went on to sell a million copies – not a bad return for a day (and night) spent shooting at Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris. The clip featured Madona’s then boyfriend, Tony Ward, and the performance was clearly inspired by the 1974 erotic drama The Night Porter. While Madonna’s next single after The Immaculate Collection project was the safe ballad This Used To Be My Playground, created for her role in A League Of Their Own, there is a direct line from Justify My Love, which topped the US charts and made it to No.2 in the UK, to between the Erotica album and the wildly controversial Sex book of 1992.

‘The Immaculate Collection’ led to a Madonna singles reissue campaign in the UK

With a groundbreaking run of No.1 singles to her name, Madonna is the female champion of the UK singles chart and, in 1990, everything she released was guaranteed a run at the top. At the start of 1991, her label reissued Crazy For You in a remix so light no one could really detect it. The ballad went all the way to No.2, matching its peak six years earlier. In the summer of 1991, as the legendary Blond Ambition Tour began its global trek, another single was reissued to maintain the staggering sales of The Immaculate Collection. This time it was Holiday, returning to the UK Top 10 for a third time in less than a decade. The release was promoted with a video performance from the tour and featured on an extended EP called The Holiday Collection, which included the two No.1s missed from The Immaculate Collection, plus 1987’s Causing A Commotion, from the Who’s That Girl soundtrack album.

‘The Immaculate Collection’ broke records for album sales

Originally released on 13 November 1990, The Immaculate Collection has sold more than 30 million around the world, making it the best-selling “best of” by a solo artist. Going diamond in the US, it sits in the 30 highest-selling albums of all time, even though it never topped the Billboard 200. In the UK, it topped the Official Chart Company’s listings for nine weeks – including seven straight weeks at the No.1 spot.

Madonna has returned to the greatest-hits concept many times – most notably with 2009’s relatively comprehensive Celebration and 2022’s Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones. Her Celebration World Tour of 2023-2024, marking her 40-year reign as one of the most influential musicians of all time, is actually Madonna’s first greatest-hits show, and is widely anticipated to launch an ambitious reissue programme, which was announced earlier in 2023.

From it’s all killer, no filler tracklist, to breaking sales records and pushing the boundaries of new technology, The Immaculate Collection set the bar for all greatest-hits sets to follow. Like Madonna herself, however, it is, ultimately, inimitable.

Buy Madonna box sets, vinyl and more at the Dig! store.

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