Lenny Kravitz helped Madonna write and produce this sultry song, where Madonna whispers most of the lyrics. It was the first single from her highly anticipated Immaculate Collection compilation album, and created plenty of sales-generating controversy for the singer, who was known for pushing the limits of sexual content.
Ingrid Chavez, a singer who had worked with Prince, sued for royalties, claiming she wrote the song with Kravitz. According to Chavez, Kravitz came up with the title, but the rest of the lyric - minus one line Madonna changed - came from her. "Lenny recorded a synth line and then he asked me if I had something I wanted to say," she told Vibe
. "I had a letter on me (my letters are like poems) and so I got on the mic and basically read the letter. One take and the rest is history."
The case was settled out of court in 1992, with Chavez getting a composer credit along with Kravitz and Madonna.
This samples a beat from a Public Enemy song called "Security Of The First World," an instrumental from their album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
, which in turn samples "Ashley's Roachclip," a 1974 track by The Soul Searchers that has been used hundreds of times. Public Enemy used many samples themselves and had no claim to the original beat, so they didn't sue Madonna or Kravitz. Public Enemy's producer, Hank Shocklee, capitalized on the publicity by having a group called the Young Black Teenagers record an answer song using the same beat called "To My Donna
The video contains partial nudity - a female dancer flashes a bit of nipple under her suspenders. MTV banned it, but eventually agreed to play it late at night. With the controversy brewing over the video, ABC aired it on Nightline, with anchor Forrest Sawyer asking Madonna questions about the video as it ran. It was unusual for an entertainment story to be the focus of Nightline, but this one made the news because it raised censorship issues. It also didn't hurt that Madonna was a huge star and was sure to draw lots of viewers. While the video played, Madonna talked about how women in her videos are always in control sexually.
The video was directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who had a photography/graphic design background and made clips that looked more like art films. He usually worked in black-and-white, which he did here and also in his other famous video: Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer
The clip was shot at a Paris hotel and featured Madonna's boyfriend at the time, Tony Ward.
This was one of two new songs released on Madonna's Greatest Hits album Immaculate Collection. The other was "Rescue Me."
After the video was banned by MTV, it was released for sale on VHS. In an era when your phone can play just about any video with a few taps of the glass it's hard to comprehend, but in the early '90s people would buy certain music videos to play on their VCRs. This one sold well thanks to the controversy (and the low, low price of $9.98), eventually selling over one million copies.
Lenny Kravitz shared his thoughts on this song in a 1991 interview with Q magazine: "It was fun, man. Just fun. That song came out of nowhere. I think it's a classic of its type, like an old Donna Summer song. And I like Madonna a lot. She's the best; the queen of what she does. She's very articulate, elegant, and she has taste up the ass. It's unbelievable. Her house is full of this incredibly famous art you've only seen in books."
The video was parodied on an episode of Saturday Night Live in which Madonna appeared. In a Wayne's World skit, Garth appears as one of the dancers and Madonna plays truth or dare with Wayne.
Kravitz, who produced the track, had to re-record it because the version they sent to Madonna was the only copy, and it never made to back to him (it was sent via FedEx with the wrong address and not recovered in time).
Jay-Z reworked this song as "Justify My Thug" on The Black Album in 2003.
Madonna and Kravitz also released a remix titled "The Beast Within," which replaced the verses with passages from the Bible's Book of Revelation. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, took issue with the song's alleged anti-Semitic lyrics, especially the line, "those who say that they are Jews, but they are not. They are a Synagogue of Satan."
This was used on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in the 1991 episode "72 Hours." It was sung by the Banks' butler, Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell).
After the success of their collaboration, Kravitz wanted Madonna to join him on his star-studded version
of John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance
." According to Vox
, Madonna would only conduct a meeting while she and Kravitz were on exercise bikes; after an hour, Kravitz was too exhausted to negotiate and continued the project without her.
Rapper Mase sampled this on his 1999 song "Stay Out Of My Way." In 2004, Insane Clown Posse also sampled the tune on their single "Bowling Balls."