’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Justify My Love”
The twenty-seventh No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Justify My Love” by Madonna. Appearing as one of two new tracks on Madonna’s greatest-hits album Immaculate Collection, “Justify My Love” is best known for its horny-sounding vocals, sultry production and semi-explicit video that MTV decided not to air. The song is co-written and co-produced by Lenny Kravitz, who, as an aside, has never had a No. 1 song as a lead artist.
Among the more divisive aspects of “Justify My Love” at the time of its release was Madonna’s prominent use of speaking as opposed to singing. This technique was repeated on “Rescue Me,” the other new track on Immaculate Collection, and throughout her next studio album, Erotica. There was speculation that perhaps this was a permanent new direction, but with Madonna nothing is ever permanent.
Let’s listen to “Justify My Love”:
This was a risky and odd song to release, and in retrospect, it doesn’t seem particularly radio-friendly. But it certainly broke ground and grabbed everyone’s attention. Perhaps the best thing about it is the beat, which is sampled from a Public Enemy song called “Security Of The First World.” Overall it’s a very cool track that represents the climax of Madonna’s exploration of sexuality into her art.
Was it dope? Couldn’t possibly have been doper. The MTV controversy sparked attention and even VHS sales, as it was the first music video to be released on tape for sale or rent. There was a forbidden, alluring quality to this track that gave it a dangerous feel.
Does it hold up? “Justify My Love” didn’t sound like anything else at the time and still doesn’t, so in that sense it is very much a product of its time and place. But the quality of the production itself doesn’t sound dated at all. In fact it’s very crisp, catchy and engrossing. Perhaps not too many people are listening to “Justify My Love” these days, but we are, and it’s still a fantastic, first-of-its-kind breakthrough.
Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?