Yesterday I had a long conversation with Mariano about Madonna. We talked about other things, but it always came back to Madonna. It all started when I was looking for a photo from Madonna’s Buenos Aires shows last December to use in the BA guide that I’m currently editing for Time Out, and I came across some excellent up-close-and-personal shots that Mariano had posted on the fan site Madonna Tribe. One thing led to another, and we got to talking about a few of our favorite things, including, predictably, our essential Madonna albums. Although mine is Confessions On A Dancefloor, I like to tell people that it’s Bedtime Stories because, as Madonna sang on one of her great hits, “I want to avoid the cliche” (although by discussing Madonna in the first place, I was mired in cliché). Bedtime Stories was her pre–Hard Candy foray into R&B and, if you ask me, came off more trendsetter than follow the leaders (in the case of Hard Candy, Nelly Furtado, Gwen Stefani and pretty much every diva who beat her to Timbaland and Pharell). “Human Nature” funked harder than anything she’d done before or has done since, and the Bjork-authored “title” song (technically, “Bedtime Story“) presaged her most critically acclaimed electronic phase, which was probably her ticket into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
As we got to talking about Bedtime Stories, I was reminded of an article I once read which said that Madonna had gotten the inspiration for Bedtime Stories‘ then-progressive R&B sound from Joi’s 1994 album, The Pendulum Vibe, which about only two people other than me probably ever heard (Joi’s mom and her publicist). “Sunshine And The Rain” remains one of the great shoulda–woulda–coulda-been hits of the 1990s. Alas, in the U.S., music lovers like their black female superstars as beauty pageanty and uncontroversial as possible (yes, I’m talking about you, Beyoncé and Rihanna), so the likes of Meshell Ndegeocello (who, incidentally, appeared on the standout Bedtime Stories track “I’d Rather Be Your Lover”), Dionne Farris (who did manage to score one hit, the brilliant, exuberant “I Know,” before dropping off the face of the earth), Kina, and even Lauryn Hill (beautiful, talented, acclaimed, Grammy-winning and possibly absolutely barking mad) never had a chance. Naming her second album The Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome, the most obtuse and pretentious title that Terence Trent D’Arby never used, probably didn’t help Joi’s cause much, but that’s too bad; people missed out on some good stuff. The proof is in the Joi video below.