Ray of Light

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Ray of Light
Ray of Light cover
Studio album by Madonna
Released February 22, 1998 (Japan)
February 27, 1998 (Switzerland)
March 2, 1998 (Europe)
March 3, 1998 (North America)
Recorded 1997; Los Angeles, California
Genre Pop
Length 64:85 (Regular album)
70:81 (Japanese edition)
Label Maverick Records
Warner Bros. Records
Producer(s) Madonna
William Orbit
Patrick Leonard
Marius De Vries
Professional reviews
  • All Music Guide 4/5 stars link
  • Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars link
  • E! Entertainment Television (A-), link
Madonna chronology
Ray of Light
The Next Best Thing

Ray of Light is the seventh album by American pop– dance singer Madonna. It was released by Warner Bros. Records on March 2, 1998, across Europe. The album was primarily produced by Madonna and William Orbit, and also by Madonna and previous collaborator Patrick Leonard. Upon its debut, critical reception was generally positive, with critics complimenting the album's blend of pop and electronic music. Ray of Light became one of Madonna's most commercially-successful releases, and reached number one in the United Kingdom, where it was certified six times platinum. In the United States, the album was released on March 3, 1998, and reached number two on the Billboard albums chart, where it was certified four times platinum.

The album featured a change in Madonna's music as well as personal lyrics about motherhood, fame, and spirituality. In addition, Ray of Light presented a vocally stronger Madonna, as she had received vocal lessons for her lead role in the film Evita. In 1999, the album received three Grammy Awards including " Best Pop Album" and " Best Dance Recording".

Making of the record

Madonna began working on Ray of Light, her seventh studio album with Warner Bros. Records, in May 1997 when she met with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, whom she had previously worked with on her 1994 album Bedtime Stories. The two wrote a couple of songs together before Madonna decided the collaborations were not going in the musical direction she wanted for the album. According to Edmonds the songs "had a " Take a Bow-ish" kind of vibe and Madonna didn't want, or need, to repeat herself." After abandoning the songs she had written with Edmonds, Madonna turned to musician Rick Nowels, who had previously co-written songs with Stevie Nicks for Celine Dion. The collaboration produced seven songs in three days, but did not display the album's future electronic musical direction.

Later, Madonna began writing songs with previous collaborator Patrick Leonard. The writing sessions in 1997 marked the first time the two had worked together since " I'll Remember" in 1994. Unlike on her previous albums, Leonard's song writing collaborations were accompanied by very little studio input. Madonna believed that Leonard's production "would have lent the songs more of a Peter Gabriel vibe", a sound that she did not want for the album.

Instead, Madonna took her collaborations with Nowels and Leonard to British electronica musician William Orbit. Madonna had been a fan of Orbit's work and loved the "sort of trancy, ambient quality" he gave to the songs he worked on. She began working with Orbit after he had sent her tapes of musical snippets he was working on, which were usually eight or sixteen-bar phrases and stripped down versions of tracks that would later be heard on the album. Madonna would listen to the samples over and over again until she would be inspired to write lyrics. Once she had an idea about the lyrical direction of the song, she would take her ideas back to Orbit, who would expand on his musical ideas.

Ray of Light was recorded over four and a half months in Los Angeles, California, in 1997, the longest Madonna had ever worked on an album. For most of the recording process only three other people were in the studio with Madonna - Orbit, engineer Pat McCarthy, and his assistant engineer Matt Silva. The recording process was initially plagued with machinery problems, as Orbit preferred to work with samples, synth sounds, and Pro Tools, and not with live musicians. The computers would break down, and recording would have to be delayed until they could be repaired. Orbit recorded the bulk of the album's instrumentation over the four month period. Orbit recalls playing the guitar and having his fingers bleed during the long hours he spent in the studio. Madonna's vocals were much easier and quicker to record, as many of her vocal tracks were recorded in one take. When recording came to an end, producer Marius De Vries was brought into the recording process to add some finishing touches to the already recorded songs.

Critical response and awards

Upon release, the album received positive responses from international music critics. Slant Magazine described the album as "one of the great pop masterpieces of the '90s... Madonna hasn't been this emotionally candid since Like a Prayer." Roni Sarig, in a review for Amazon.com, stated that Ray of Light "is her richest, most accomplished record yet". He was most impressed by Madonna's vocal range, depth, and clarity which had become stronger since her voice lessons for the film Evita (1996). American entertainment television channel E! praised the album for its lyrical depth saying, "Ray of Light is about as deep as a yoga stretch — which makes this load deeper than usual. If it took trendy spiritualism to get Madonna to make a good pop record, more (higher) power to her". E! was also impressed with producer William Orbit's "artful beeps and squawks... crunching guitars" and "dashes of Middle Eastern droning". In the review, Ray of Light was given an A-, one of the channels highest honours for an album.

Rob Sheffield's review for Rolling Stone was mostly positive, but did point out the weak aspects of the album. Sheffield called the album "brilliant", but was critical of Orbit's production, stating that he "doesn't know enough tricks to fill a whole CD, so he repeats himself something fierce." All Music Guide's Stephen Thomas Erlewine called Ray of Light Madonna's "most adventurous record" and her "most mature and restrained album". In his review he gave the album four out of five stars.

In 1999, Ray of Light won three Grammy Awards for "Best Dance Recording", "Best Pop Album" and "Best Recording Package", and was nominated for Record and Album of The Year. In addition the album's title track won a Grammy for " Best Short Form Music Video". In 2002, VH1 viewers in the United Kingdom voted Ray of Light as the tenth greatest album of all time. That year Rolling Stone readers also voted the album as the twenty-ninth best recording ever. Later the magazine ranked Ray of Light at #363 on its list of " The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".

The album was also often sold on the CD racks of New Age stores - a venue that many would not have expected Madonna to ever find herself in.

Track listing

  1. " Drowned World/Substitute for Love" (Collins, Kerr, Madonna, McKuen, Orbit) – 5:09
  2. "Swim" (Madonna, Orbit) – 5:00
  3. " Ray of Light" (Curtis, Leach, Madonna, Maldoon, Orbit) – 5:21
  4. "Candy Perfume Girl" (Madonna, Melvoin, Orbit) – 4:34
  5. "Skin" (Leonard, Madonna) – 6:22
  6. " Nothing Really Matters" (Leonard, Madonna) – 4:27
  7. "Sky Fits Heaven" (Leonard, Madonna) – 4:48
  8. "Shanti/Ashtangi" (Madonna, Orbit) – 4:29
  9. " Frozen" (Leonard, Madonna) – 6:12
  10. " The Power of Good-Bye" (Madonna, Nowels) – 4:10
  11. "To Have and Not to Hold" (Madonna, Nowels) – 5:23
  12. " Little Star" (Madonna, Nowels) – 5:18
  13. "Mer Girl" (Madonna, Orbit) – 5:32
  14. " Has to Be"* (Leonard, Madonna, Orbit) – 5:16

* bonus track on the Japanese release


# Title Date
1. " Frozen" February 1998
2. " Ray of Light" April 1998
3. " Drowned World/Substitute for Love" August 1998 (Europe) / September 1998 (Japan)
4. " The Power of Good-Bye" September 1998 (U.S.) / November 1998 (Europe, Japan)
5. " Little Star" November 1998 (UK, promo)
6. " Nothing Really Matters" March 1999 (Europe) / April 1999 (U.S., Japan)

" Frozen", the lead single from the album, became Madonna's eighth number one single on the UK Singles Chart and reached number two on the US Billboard Hot 100. Co-written by Patrick Leonard, the song featured Madonna's vocals over layers of string arrangements and synthesizers. In 2005, a Belgian court ruled that the opening four-bar theme to the song was plagiarized from the song "Ma vie fout le camp", composed by Salvatore Acquaviva. The ruling forbid the sale of the single and the entire Ray of Light album, as well as other compilations that included the track in Belgium.

The second single " Ray of Light", based on the track "Sepheryn" by Curtiss Maldoon (Clive Maldoon & Dave Curtiss), featured a combination of high-energy techno sounds and electric guitar riffs. It became a top-ten hit in the UK and U.S., where it was certified gold. The song was also a dance hit in the U.S., remaining at number one for four weeks and became the top Hot Dance/Club Play single of 1998. Ray of Light was nominated for Record Of The Year at the Grammys but lost to Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On.

" Drowned World/Substitute for Love" became the third release outside of North America and was a top-ten hit in the UK. The music video, directed by Walter Stern, caused controversy due to scenes that featured Madonna being chased by paparazzi on motor-bikes, a scenario similar to Princess Diana's death in 1997. The fourth single, " The Power of Good-Bye", a ballad reflecting on a painful breakup, became a modest chart success, peaking at number six in the UK and number eleven in the U.S. In the UK, " Little Star", a song about Madonna's daughter, was released as a promotional only-single.

" Nothing Really Matters", the final single release, became a top-ten hit in the UK, reaching number seven. In the U.S. however, the song became Madonna's lowest charting single on the Hot 100, although it reached #1 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart. Its music video, directed by Johan Renck, was inspired by Arthur Golden's book Memoirs of a Geisha and featured Madonna dressed as a geisha.

Chart performance

Ray of Light debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 albums chart, where it sold 371,000 copies in its first week. It was kept from the top spot by the soundtrack to the popular film Titanic (1997). On April 22 1998, almost two months after its release, the album was certified double platinum. Since its release it has been certified four times platinum in the U.S., where after fifty-nine weeks, it descended from the top hundred. In Canada the album debuted at number one, and has since been certified seven times platinum. It became Madonna's first album since Erotica in 1992 to reach the top position in Canada.

In Australia, Ray of Light also debuted at number one, and became Madonna's seventh album to reach the top spot. It has since been certified triple platinum. In Germany, the album reached number one and remained there for seven weeks, where it achieved triple platinum status. It has since become Madonna's highest selling album in Germany. Ray of Light failed to reach the top position in France, managing to reach number two and remaining there for seven weeks. In France the album was also certified triple platinum. In the United Kingdom, Ray of Light debuted at number one on the albums chart, remaining in the top spot for two weeks. In January 2003, the album was certified six times platinum. Internationally, it has achieved estimated sales of eighteen million copies worldwide.


Chart (1998) Peak
Australian albums chart 1
Brazilian albums chart 1
Canadian albums chart 1
Finnish albums chart 1
German albums chart 1
Hungarian albums chart 1
Irish albums chart 1
Mexican albums chart 1
Swiss albums chart 1
UK albums chart 1
Austrian albums chart 2
French albums chart 2
U.S. Billboard Top 200 albums chart 2

Certifications and sales

Note: Certifications are based on the number of shipped copies and not the number of copies sold.

Country Certification Estimated sales
Canada (CRIA) 7x Platinum 700,000
Europe (IFPI) 7x Platinum 7 million
UK (BPI) 6x Platinum 1.8 million
U.S. (RIAA) 4x Platinum 3.8 million
Ireland (IRMA) 4x Platinum 310,000
Australia (ARIA) 3x Platinum 210,000
France (SNEP) 3x Platinum 950,000
Germany (IFPI) 5x Platinum 1,000,000
Mexico (AMPROFON) Platinum 250,000
Netherlands (NVPI) 3x Platinum 300,000
Switzerland (IFPI) 3x Platinum 150,000
Norway (IFPI) 2x Platinum 80,000
Poland (ZPAV) 2x Platinum 80,000

Release details

All editions released by Maverick and Warner Bros. Records.
Release format Country Cat. No. Release date
Regular album United Kingdom/Germany 9362 26847-2 March 2, 1998
Limited edition album United Kingdom/Germany 9 46884-2 March 1998
Double-vinyl album United Kingdom/Germany 9362 46847-1 March 2, 1998
Cassette album United Kingdom/Germany 9362 46847-4 March 2, 1998
Mini-disc album United Kingdom/Germany 9362 46847-8 March 2, 1998
Regular album North America 9 46847-2 March 3, 1998
Limited edition album North America 9 46884-2 March 1998
Japanese album Japan WPCR-2000 February 22, 1998
Japanese double album1 Japan WPCR-10556/7 February 22, 1998
Japanese vinyl album Japan WPJR-2003/4 February 1998

1 contains the regular album with a bonus disc titled "Words & Music", containing interviews.

Credits and personnel

  • Lead and backing vocals — Madonna
  • Backing vocals — Donna DeLory, Niki Haris
  • Guitar — Marc Moreau
  • Keyboards — Marius De Vries
  • Drums — Fergus Gerrand
  • Drum programming — Steve Sidelnyk
  • Percussion — Fergus Gerrand
  • Flute Pablo Cook
  • Sound effects — William Orbit
  • String arrangements — Craig Armstrong, Patrick Leonard
  • Conductor — Suzie Katayama
  • Programming — Mike Bradford, Marius De Vries
  • Engineer — Mark Endert, Jon Ingoldsby, Patrick McCarthy, Dave Reitzas, Matt Silva
  • Mastered by Ted Jensen
  • Photography by Mario Testino
  • Art direction by Kevin Reagan
  • Art design by Kerosene Halo, Kevin Reagan

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