Bedtime Stories is Madonna's sixth studio album that was released on October 25, 1994 by Maverick and Sire Records.
- Survival 3:31
- Secret 5:05
- I'd Rather Be Your Lover 4:39
- Don't Stop 4:38
- Inside Of Me 4:11
- Human Nature 4:53
- Forbidden Love 4:08
- Love Tried To Welcome Me 5:21
- Sanctuary 5:02
- Bedtime Story 4:53
- Take A Bow 5:21
In 1992, Madonna released her controversial "Sex" book and her fifth studio album "Erotica" (which both contained explicit sexual imagery and pictures of voyeuristic fantasies).
She also starred in the erotic thriller, "Body of Evidence." All releases were panned by critics and fans alike, calling Madonna a sexual renegade and claiming that "she had gone too far" and that her career was over.
In early 1994, Madonna's appearance on David Letterman's talk show was noted for her controversial behavior. It included the singer using profanity that required censorship on television, and handing Letterman a pair of her panties and asking him to smell it; this made the episode the most censored in American network television talk-show history, while at the same time garnering the show some of the highest ratings it ever received.
A song titled "I'll Remember" was included in the soundtrack of the film "With Honors" in early 1994. The song was well received by critics and was seen as Madonna's first positive step into reconnecting with the general public and repairing the damage that her provocative personality had caused to her career.
Regarding the controversial period of her career, Madonna said: "I feel I've been misunderstood. I tried to make a statement about feeling good about yourself and exploring your sexuality, but people took it to mean that everyone should go out and have sex with everyone, and that I was going to be the leader of that. So I decided to leave it alone because that's what everyone ended up concentrating on. Sex is such a taboo subject and it's such a distraction that I'd rather not even offer it up."
During 1994, Madonna began recording her sixth studio album. She collaborated with R&B producers such as Dallas Austin, Dave "Jam" Hall, and Babyface, and also enlisting British producer Nellee Hooper to the project; it became one of the very few occasions where she collaborated with well-known producers, the first since Nile Rodgers on Like a Virgin."
When asked about the record, Madonna said she wanted people to concentrate on the musical aspects of it, and would like the songs to speak for themselves. She also commented that it was because she was not interested in giving many interviews and being on the cover of magazines. She described the album as "a combination of pop, R&B, hip-hop and a Madonna record. It's very, very romantic."
In an interview with The Face magazine, Madonna explained her inspirations behind "Bedtime Stories" as well as the reason for teaming up with R&B song producers: "I've been in a reflective state of mind. I've done lot of soul searching and I just felt in a romantic mood when I was writing for [the album] so that's what I wrote about... I decided that I wanted to work with a whole bunch of different producers. [Icelandic singer-songwriter] Björk's album was one of my favorite for years—it's brilliantly produced. And I also wanted to work with Massive Attack. So obviously, he was on the list. Nellee was the last person I worked with, and it wasn't until then that I got a grip of what the sound of the whole record was, so I had to go back and redo a lot."
Madonna's initial work on the album had started with Shep Pettibone, who produced her fifth studio album, "Erotica." However, she found out that they were doing the same vein of music from the previous album, which did not please her.
At the time, Madonna was a fan of Babyface's song "When Can I See You" and became interested in working with him, as she wanted "lush ballads" for her record. They would collaborate on three songs for the album in his studio in Beverly Hills, California with "Forbidden Love" and "Take a Bow" ending up on the album.
Recalling the latter's development, Babyface commented, "I wasn't so much thinking about the charts. I think I was more in awe of the fact that I was working with Madonna. It was initially surreal, but then you get to know the person a little bit, and you calm down and then it's just work. And work is fun."
He also said that for "Forbidden Love", "She heard the basic track and it all started coming out, melodies and everything... It was a much easier process than I thought it would be."
Madonna's backup singers Donna De Lory and Niki Haris were called in to provide harmonies on "Survival". She commented: "The minute you walked in [the studio], she was giving you the lyric sheet. That was the atmosphere—we're not here to just hang out. It's fun, but we're here to work and get this done".
De Lory recalls the sessions for "Survival" took a "couple of hours" and there were no retakes.
During recording sessions, Madonna was interested in working with Austin after he produced Joi's debut album The Pendulum Vibe." According to the singer, "She wanted to know, 'Who is this? Who produced it? How did this happen?'"
Aside from this, however, Madonna also wanted to explore the British club musical scene, where genres such as dub had been growing in popularity. In such a way, she decided to work with several European producers and composers within the electronic scene, including Nellee Hooper, who pleased Madonna due to his "very European sensibility."
Inviting Hooper over to Los Angeles sessions started taking place in the Chappell Studios of Encino, California.
Björk accepted the offer to write a track for Madonna's album, and wrote a song initially named "Let's Get Unconscious". Once the song demo had been finished, Hooper and Marius De Vries rearranged the track and the final version was called "Bedtime Story", which became the album's third single.
A major sonic departure from her previous release, "Bedtime Stories" is a more straight-ahead R&B album.
The opening track, "Survival", is a "sweetly funky number" which tries to "convey a loosely drawn narrative of the punishment she endured from the media and her feelings leading up to the release." It has a lyrical allusion to Madonna's 1986 single "Live to Tell", with double-tracked strong vocals and harmonies.
In the song, Madonna enhanced the rhythmic sounds more and compressed the bass sounds, in order to cater to the then musical trend. Containing multiple hooks, "Survival"'s lyrics are about dualities like heaven/hell, up/down, angels/saints.
The second song "Secret" begins with just the sound of Madonna's voice singing over a rhythmic, folksy guitar in descending chord sequence, before opening up to a sparse, retro rhythm section.
A deep percussion starts around the one minute mark, accompanied by wah-wah ascending string line, supporting the descending guitar. Towards the end, an upper harmonic melody is added to display variance.
Madonna's voice remains at the center of the song's production, as she sings lyrics such as "happiness lies in your own hand". Throughout the song, Madonna also sings the lyrics "My baby's got a secret", however she never discloses what the secret may be.
During the next song, "I'd Rather Be Your Lover", Madonna lusts after the unattainable through processes of negotiation: "I could be your sister, I could be your mother, We could be friends, I'd even be your brother".
Towards the middle of the song, an eight bar rap break is taken by singer and rapper Meshell Ndegeocello, who raps: "Tell me what you want / Tell me what you need...". Madonna interrupts, with her voice foregrounded and juxtaposed over the short interjections of Ndegeocello's rap part. It uses a sample from "It's Your Thing" performed by Lou Donaldson.
The album's fourth track, "Don't Stop", is characterized by a pulsating bass overlaid with strings punctuating and accompanying the riffs in sustained and glissandi gestures. The rhetoric of the track is displayed by Madonna's commands: "Don't stop doin' what you're doin' baby, Don't stop, keep movin' keep groovin'".
The next track "Inside of Me" starts with the same tempo as "Don't Stop", with guitars, sustained strings, "throbbing" bass and jazz-y keyboards, with Madonna singing in a breathy vocal register.
The singing conjures an erotic imagery as she sings on the chorus, "Even though you're gone, love still carries on", however the lyrics were interpreted as both about her deceased mother, or a long-lost lover.
The strings and an occasional saxophone sample makes "Inside of Me" a direct continuation of "Erotica", with an interval where the drums drop off, exposing Madonna's vocals.
On the sixth track, "Human Nature", Madonna confronts chauvinism as she sings, "And I'm not sorry, I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me" while telling herself in whispered tones to "express yourself, don't repress yourself."
Consisting of heavy bass and looping drum sounds in its four chord sequence, the song finds Madonna delivering a nasal tone reminiscent of '90s soul style.
Together with "Survival", the song became a vehicle for Madonna to lyrically vent off her frustrations regarding the controversies surrounding her.
"Forbidden Love", the seventh track on the album, finds Madonna comparing rejection to an aphrodisiac and dismissing any relationship untouched by taboo.
Composed in a minor key with whispering voices in the background (one of them being of Babyface's), the song features a string section in the middle eight. The instrumentation is kept at minimum to emphasize the vocals, and the song ends with fading out.
The eighth track, "Love Tried to Welcome Me", is a ballad which was inspired by a stripper Madonna met in a club, and has a fetish about rejection.
The first 42 seconds consist of a string section, following which the verses start. The song projects a sombre and melancholy mood with Madonna lyrically asserting that she is "drawn to sadness" and "loneliness has never been a stranger" on the song.
The next song on Bedtime Stories is "Sanctuary" where Madonna quotes Walt Whitman's poem Vocalism in the lyrics, and aligns love and death.
Musically, it has a "techno pull" and has an atmospheric introduction with an assortment of odd noises, electric guitar and some strings.
The song is linked to the beginning of the next album track, "Bedtime Story", which starts with its chords. It is an electronic song where Madonna wonders "Words are useless, especially sentences, They don't stand for anything, How could they explain how I feel?"
The last song on the album "Take a Bow" is a midtempo pop ballad with a "Sukiyaki"-like Japanese touch. The chorus expresses the theme of saying goodbye to a lover who had taken her for granted.
The title plays upon the verse in the song "all the world is a stage and everyone has their part", a reference to the line by William Shakespeare in his play "As You Like It": "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women mere players."
In the United States, "Bedtime Stories" debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart on the issue date of November 12, 1994, with 145,000 units sold in its first week.
Despite a considerably weaker debut than its predecessor, "Erotica" which opened at #2 with sales of 167,000 copies, its chart longevity made Bedtime Stories outsell "Erotica" in the end.
Following Madonna's appearance on the American Music Awards, sales of the album increased by 19%
The album was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of more than three million units within the country.
As of December 2016, the album has sold 2,336,000 copies (according to Nielsen Soundscan) and an estimated 8 million copies worldwide.
"Bedtime Stories" received generally positive reviews from music critics.
J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of "Madonna: An Intimate Biography") praised the album for being "considerably more tame in tone and image than [Erotica's] ethereal sounding, sexually explicit" content.
AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine gave the album four out of five stars, claiming that it is a "warm album" and that it "offers her most humane and open music".
Jim Farber from Entertainment Weekly gave it a positive review as well, giving it a B+ grade, and writing that "the new tracks work less as individual songs than as a sustained mood" and that Madonna "still has something to reveal".
Barbara O'Dair of Rolling Stone also gave the album a three-and-a-half stars out of five, writing that "Madonna has come up with awfully compelling sounds".
Billboard, while giving the album a positive review, commented that it "sticks to a pop recipe that yields hits galore, with little excess baggage."
Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine gave the album a positive review and four out of five stars, writing that it is "a fluffy-pillowed concept album that unfolds like a musical fairy tale."
The New York Times writer Stephen Holden considered "Bedtime Stories" as "easily Madonna's best album" and concluded that it was a "seductive mixture of soft-focus hip-hop and bittersweet ballads".
Peter Galvin from The Advocate magazine gave a positive review, describing the album as "a gorgeously produced R&B album with lots of funky beats lush keyboards, and soaring Love Unlimited-style string arrangements."
Barry Walters from The San Francisco Examiner praised the album as Madonna's most low-key album and her best work at the date.
J.D. Considine, while writing his review for the album for The Baltimore Sun, declared that the album was more listener-friendly than Madonna's previous albums. He added that it "seems remarkably close in spirit to the singer's first album, emphasizing dance grooves and pop melodies over genre exercises and conceptual statements" while praising Madonna's vocal performance.
Linda L. Labin from the Bangor Daily News, noted that "[Madonna] isn't taking any chances. This time around, her daring has more to do with music than lyrics" while also praising her vocals; "If anything, her singing is the album's greatest strength. Madonna uses every trick from her repertoire. [...] Bedtime Stories turns in some of the strongest performances of her career. 'Madonna sings well' — bet you don't see that headline in the tabloids anytime soon".
Chris Willman of the Los Angeles Times gave it two-stars-and-a-half out of four, writing that the album "seems the least remarkable of all Madonna's albums. But it's not necessarily the least of them. [...] It has a nice, consistently relaxed feel, its slow jams hip-hop-inflected but not as self-consciously as last time."
The Milwaukee Journal's Tina Maples provided a mixed review for the album, criticizing its "hoary cliches" and "bland, mid-tempo soul-pop ballads that confuse sophistication with sonambulism", and added that with the album, Madonna was feeling the "fallout" of building her career on "shock value".
However, she highlighted "Secret", "Bedtime Story" and "Take a Bow" as the standout tracks from the album.
Steve Morse, writer from The Boston Globe journal, criticized the album for lacking "life", and being "flat and listless", and said that Madonna seemed lost throughout the album.
Allen Metz and Carol Benson, authors of "The Madonna Companion: Two Decades of Commentary") opined that "rather than signify(ing) some bold new direction for Madonna, Bedtime Stories takes hardly any risks at all. [...] it offers neither the pop epiphany of Like a Prayer nor the shameless frolic of Madonna's earlier dance hits".
British magazine NME ranked Bedtime Stories as the 30th best album of 1994. At the 38th Grammy Awards in 1996, the album received a nomination for "Best Pop Album."
Slant Magazine included Bedtime Stories on their list of "The Best Albums of the 1990s" at number 63, with Cinquemani writing: "instead of simply following American trends of the time, Madge infused the album with the edgier trip-hop sounds that were happening on the other side of the pond. But it was her refined literary taste, from Proust to Whitman, and both the media and the public's rejection of her sexual politicking that truly informed the singer's seventh album."
To promote the album's release, Madonna talked about the album in an audio message available exclusively online prior to its release; there were promotional advertisements aired on television channels proclaiming that there will be "no sexual references on the album" and Madonna adding that "it's a whole new me! I'm going to be a good girl, I swear."
One of the first promotional appearances Madonna did was in Paris, where she was interviewed by Ruby Wax and talked about the album. According to Wax, she was quite intimidated by Madonna and her entourage and, in her own words, "[my] nerves got the best of me".
On February 18, 1995, Madonna arrived in Europe to promote Bedtime Stories; that same day, she appeared on German TV show Wetten, dass..?, where she was interviewed and performed "Secret" and "Take a Bow."
Madonna went back to United States and performed "Take a Bow" on the American Music Awards of 1995, accompanied by Babyface and a full orchestra. She returned to Europe to sing "Bedtime Story" during the 1995 Brit Awards; she wore a white Versace dress and long hair extensions, and featured a trio of satin-clad male dancers.
Madonna invited Björk, who wrote the track, to feature in the performance; however, the singer turned it down. She also promoted "Take a Bow" by performing on Sanremo Music Festival. At the end of the performance, she thanked the audience in Italian language, and received standing ovation.
In order to promote the video for "Bedtime Story", MTV aired a special titled Madonna's Pajama Party on March 18, 1995, where Madonna could be seen reading a bedtime story in Webster Hall in New York City. At the event, "cutting-edge" tribal and trance remixes, made by disc jockey and producer Junior Vasquez, were also played.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera mentioned that Madonna would play in Italy as part of a world tour to promote "Bedtime Stories" in the spring or fall 1995; however, Madonna and her manager Freddy DeMann cancelled all plans after she was offered the role of Eva Perón on the film Evita, directed by Alan Parker.
Madonna's spokesperson Liz Rosenberg considered a "shorter tour" because of filming; however, Madonna commented, "I've waited years for this role, and I have to put every ounce of concentration into it. I love touring, and I very much want to go out with this album. But I can't—I'd be going straight from months on the road right into filming; I'd be exhausted and strained. It wouldn't be in the best interests of the movie for me to be at any less than my peak of energy."