Four Madonna number ones down; four very different sounds from the soon-to-be Queen of Pop…
La Isla Bonita, by Madonna (her 4th of thirteen #1s)
2 weeks, from 19th April – 3rd May 1987
‘La Isla Bonita’ is a Latin-funk tune, with a nice strong bass line, some horn blasts and a sharp Spanish guitar. Everything is fine-tuned, and tight. It has a gloss to it, a modernness to the production, that suggests Madonna had available to her the best studios and equipment. It’s got a steady beat, but it’s still likely to fill a dancefloor.
Except, yeah… I don’t love this one. It’s my least favourite of the four so far. Something about it feels gimmicky to me. Why is she singing in Spanish, for a start? Como puede ser verdad, she purrs in the intro. How can it be true…? If Madonna knows one foreign language, surely it’s Italian?
Anyway, Madonna has fallen in love. Not with a Cuban hunk, rather with an island. I fell in love with San Pedro… Tropical island breeze, All of nature wild and free, This is where I long to be, La isla bonita… Problem is, when non-Latina stars go Latina, they tend to resort to these cliches of warm breezes and Spanish lullabies.
To be fair to Madonna, ‘La Isla Bonita’ may have been her first attempt at Latin music, but it was far from her last. She has a love for it that goes beyond mere musical shapeshifting. Problem is, Madonna is a bit of a trendsetter. She opened the floodgates for every female pop star going to have a ‘Latin phase’: from Lady Gaga to Geri Halliwell. And I’m a traditionalist: no woman has done Latin nonsense better than Rosemary Clooney back in 1955!
So, to me, ‘La Isla Bonita’ feels like a default chart-topper from the biggest star in the world. It was the fifth single to be released from the ‘True Blue’ album, and you have to be pretty darn popular to get the fifth single off your album to number one. This was her 3rd of four #1s between the summers of 1986 and 1987. Again, not many artists manage four chart-toppers in a year.
I was amazed to see that this was Madonna’s 4th most listened-to song on Spotify, above ‘Like a Virgin’, ‘Like a Prayer’ and ‘Vogue’. It just feels like such an average moment in her back catalogue… Not terrible – far from it – but nowhere near her best. Rolling Stone has it as her 40th best song, apparently, and that sounds much more reasonable.