Madonna – Take a Bow

First Hit #1: February 25, 1995

In 1994, when Bedtime Stories was recorded, Madonna was pissed. Erotica was a failure, her sexy adventures had garnered little more than scorn. Yet, other artists had been able to score hits about sex, though they were all men. It might have been the case that Madonna was a bit ahead of her time, but in a world where Bump n’ Grind can ascend the charts Madonna should be able to make records about sex too.

Bedtime Stories was an album from a woman chastened, but pissed off. She did retreat a bit, but then recorded Human Nature and released it as a single, a song that’s an open letter to everyone who objected to Madonna’s last album, a song that explicitly outlines the ways in which Madonna is disappointed in you. Before that, she released Take a Bow, our subject, which implicitly outlines the ways that Madonna is disappointed in you. (There was also Bedtime Story, easily my favorite Madonna song, penned by Bjork, but it’s more resigned than angry.)

The lyrics could be read any number of ways, whether as a response to an actual lover – an actor, whether by profession or by character – or to the media that piled on after the last release. Whoever it is, they’re bearing the brunt of Madonna’s personal and professional frustrations as she sings about how disappointed she is, and how she’s leaving the person in question because, in spite of her continued affection, she can’t be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t reciprocate.

It’s not an angry sounding song, it’s actually a shining example of how to do a ballad in 1995, a very sweetly put together piece of music with a budding electronic influence. In this particular case, apart from Madonna putting in her best vocal performance yet, she’s also got the call and response of the backing vocal, which gives the song a bit of contrast and gives a bit of character to the proceedings. It’s not clear if that vocal is meant to be a character or is just there as a bit of flavor, but it works to give her something to bounce her performance off of, and the contrast between her and the male voice adds a bit of interest to the proceedings. It’s a sad and angry song, but it goes down easy due to the impeccable construction.

Interestingly, it’s weirdly difficult to find a video on youtube, in spite of Madonna having her own presence on the site and it being a fairly major single for her. If it was Prince, who is committed to erasing all traces of himself from the internet, I wouldn’t be surprised, but Madonna singles are usually pretty easy to find. Yet, here, I can only find covers and videos that aren’t available in my country. Weird.

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2 Responses to Madonna – Take a Bow

  1. RBerman says:

    Good review; I never thought to interpret this song as a kiss-off to a public which didn’t line up for her peep show. Who likes to throw a party to which nobody comes? Especially when she got all undressed up.

    As to subject matter, Madonna had plenty of songs about sex that were big hits: Like a Virgin, Like a Prayer, Open Your Heart, and La Isla Bonita for instance. I didn’t think much of the musicality on the Erotica album, but most critics seem to adore it, so what do I know?

    The video had a toreador theme and, unique for her, continued its plot in the video for “You’ll See.” Together they position her as an aspirant to Old Hollywood. Smart to swing the pendulum from burlesque to class outfit, upping the ante in her turn as Evita.

  2. Pingback: Rihanna – Take a Bow | We Are Number Ones

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