This groundbreaking, high-energy techno song is based on the track "Sepheryn," which was written by Curtiss Muldoon and Dave Curtis. The British producer, dance remixer and musician William Orbit re-recorded the song with vocalist Christine Leach before he started working with Madonna. When Madonna recorded the Ray Of Light album with William Orbit at the helm, they decided to alter the song's melody and instrumentation but retain Ray Of Light's lyrics with only a few changes. The original track "Sepheryn" can be heard on Curtiss Muldoon's album, which was released in October 2000: Sepheryn: Ray Of Light.
The lyrics reflect Madonna's interest in spirituality and her faith in the teachings of Kabbalah. The singer explained that the 1996 birth of her daughter, Lourdes, prompted her to "search for answers to questions I'd never asked myself before," leading her to the religion.
She told Q magazine: "I started studying the Kabbalah, which is a Jewish mystical interpretation of the Old Testament. I also found myself becoming very interested in Hinduism and yoga, and for the first time in a long time, I was able to step outside myself and see the world from a different perspective." In this song, that perspective shows how small humans are in the vast universe.
This single entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #5, which was at the time the highest new entry for a Madonna song.
The video is a day in a life filmed in four minutes. It was filmed in Sweden, New York and Las Vegas using time-lapse photography. The shoot took 14 days. Madonna had the idea for doing the closing nightclub scene. It won the 1998 Grammy for Best Music Video Short Form and the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year.
The Ray Of Light album won the 1998 Grammy for Best Pop Album and 1998 MTV Europe Music award for Best Album.
In 1990 William Orbit, using the name Bass-O-Matic, had a #9 hit in the UK with "Fascinating Rhythm" and his 2000 classical crossover album, Pieces In A Modern Style, was awarded Best Selling Classical Album at the inaugural Classical BRIT Awards in that year. The re-mixed single "Barber's Adagio For Strings" peaked at #4 in the UK.
In 2003, UK DJ Mark Vidler created a mashup of this song with The Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant
" and "Anarchy In The U.K.
" This creation was called "Ray Of Gob," and it got substantial radio play once Vidler got clearance to use the songs.
Microsoft used this in a 2001 advertising campaign to promote its Windows XP operating system.
This song originally clocked in at well over ten minutes. "It was completely indulgent, but I loved it. It was heartbreaking to cut it down to a manageable length (5:21)," Madonna told Billboard.
In true Madonna fashion, the singer caused a stir during her 1998 performance of this song at the MTV Video Music Awards - and this time she wasn't even trying! The World Vaishnava Association, a religious group, lambasted the star for wearing a Hindi mark on her head during the provocative performance, which included a simulation of a sex act while wearing a see-through top. Because the symbol is supposed reflect a "dedication to God" through chastity, harmony and purity, the group claimed the whole production was a mockery and offensive to Hindus and Yogis.
Co-writer Curtiss Muldoon was completely unaware the song had been recorded until a friend heard it on the radio. He told Q magazine: "I was a bit annoyed at first because Madonna wanted 30 percent just for changing a couple of lines, but then I realized that 15 percent of millions is a lot better than 100 percent of nothing. I did very well out of it. It's been a life-changing experience. I'd say I'm financially secure for at least the next five to 10 years as a result of 15 percent of one track by Madonna."
In 1996, before recording the Ray Of Light album, Madonna portrayed former First Lady of Argentina Eva Peron in the musical film Evita. In response to a journalist calling her voice on the Ray of Light album "almost operatic," the singer credited her Evita vocal coach for opening up her voice in a whole new way. "Before, I just believe I had a really limited range and was going to make the most of it," she explained to Q magazine.