That The Immaculate Collection is the biggest selling compilation album by a solo artist OF ALL TIME is no big surprise when you factor in the consummate icon that is Madonna Louise Ciccone. That even her greatest hits album would set the bar for all greatest hits albums to follow it is a no-brainer given the astronomical number of bars she's raised. Let's set the stage, though: 1990 was a huge year for The Material Girl even prior to The Immaculate Collection. The movie Dick Tracy, which Madonna starred in with then-paramour Warren Beatty, and the movie's soundtrack, I'm Breathless, which includes the Academy Award winning Stephen Sondheim ballad "Sooner Or Later" and "Vogue," one of the biggest hits of Madonna's career, were both released mid-1990 to much fanfare and many accolades. Madonna also embarked on a huge concert tour in the spring of '90, the Blonde Ambition World Tour, while simultaneously shooting her concert documentary, Truth or Dare. She had already solidified her place as the most successful female artist of the '80s with three number one albums and seven number one singles. So it's only fitting that The Immaculate Collection, which served as a venerable summary of Madonna's entire career up to that point, closed out her mammoth year.
Many artists have used their "Best of" albums to fulfill quota obligations to their record companies. Even if that's all The Immaculate Collection aspired to be, it still would have been damn good. A compilation album, when assembled correctly, is a joyous non-stop reminder of why you really love an artist and what impact their music has played in your life. And love her or hate her (and I LOVE her), Madonna makes insanely listenable and memorable music. It's hard to hear those first Casio chords of "Holiday" or the synthesized intro of "Into The Groove" ("And you can dance! For inspiration!") and not shimmy a little. "Like A Virgin" is a bonafide pop classic, ditto "Borderline." No Madonna collection means much without "Express Yourself" ("Come on, girls! Do you believe in love?") or even "Papa Don't Preach" (sidenote: it took me years after this song was released to realize she was singing about her pregnancy. I thought "[my] baby" was her boyfriend. I was young.) So the anticipation of The Immaculate Collection, even to those of us who already owned all of the albums the songs came from, matched that built by any Madonna release. Her albums were considered huge events back in those days, and this was no different. But The Immaculate Collection had something else going for it, too--two brand new songs. The insanely danceable club banger "Rescue Me" and an achingly sexy, thumping, bass heavy track entitled "Justify My Love" which was co-written by Lenny Kravitz, closed out the compilation. Both of these new songs, the latter especially, began a new Madonna era that would carry over into her next album, 1992's Erotica.
The BDSM art film noir-ish "Justify My Love" video wasn't the first controversial Madonna moment, of course. The frenzy over burning crosses, stigmata and making out with a black saint in "Like a Prayer" the year before had barely died down. Nor was Madonna a neophyte to censorship as her "Like a Prayer" themed Pepsi commercial only saw the light of day once before it was yanked from TV. However, she was new to being banned from MTV, so when they refused to play the video, she was quite pissed. A live Nightline interview soon followed and marks the first and only time "Justify My Love" has been played in it's entirety on network television. Madonna also may have invented the very concept of a video single as "Justify My Love" was sold on VHS soon after it was banned to much success. Twenty years later and the video has still never been played on MTV. But Madonna's an old pro at getting banned by MTV now; her videos for "Erotica," "What It Feels Like For A Girl," and the original version of "American Life" would also later be banned.
The Immaculate Collection has been certified diamond (10-plus times platinum) by the RIAA in several different countries, selling over 30 million copies worldwide; in fact, it remains the best-selling album by a female artist in Britain to this day. The album periodically reappears on the world charts when Madonna releases new music and has also been re-released several times with the addition of new songs, most notably as The Holiday Collection in the UK and Europe and The Royal Box, which includes all the videos from the album as well as Madonna's Marie Antoinette inspired 1990 MTV Video Music Awards performance of "Vogue."