By design, Madonna’s career has had a number of intense peaks and valleys. When an artist does as much shape-shifting as she does, some stuff is bound to hit big while others fall flat. After hitting a series of home runs at the end of the ’80s, the ’90s were full of those extremes, but on this day in 1995, she climbed to her highest point yet when “Take a Bow” ascended to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Take a Bow” came from Madonna’s 1994 album Bedtime Stories, a huge bounce back after the critical and commercial flop that was 1992’s Erotica (perhaps Madonna’s first misstep as an artist). While Bedtime Stories is considered to be a more radio-friendly move for Madonna, it’s actually a fairly radical-sounding album, full of rugged R&B hooks and her first dalliances with the extremes of European dance music (which would be more full explored on 1998’s Ray of Light and 2000’s Music). It ended up spawning a number of hits for Madonna, including “Secret” and “Human Nature,” but “Take a Bow” was by far the biggest smash. Co-produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, it’s a lush album-closing ballad full of layers of strings, sexy beats and a creamy melodic center.
When “Take a Bow” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, it replaced TLC’s “Creep” (which had held on to the pole position for four weeks). It remained there for seven weeks before it was finally replaced by Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” giving Madonna her longest reign on top of the chart. It also ended up being Madonna’s final chart-topper of the ’90s (she didn’t get back to number one until 2000’s “Music,” her last chart-topper to date).
The video for “Take a Bow” was in heavy rotation on MTV during the early part of 1995. Directed by Michael Haussman (who also helmed Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” and Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack”), the clip stars Madonna as a woman in love with a bullfighter and is notable for the extended sequence where she appears to masturbate in front of a television. It’s an excellent performance from the Material Girl — so convincing, in fact, that she later revealed that the video essentially acted as her audition tape for “Evita.”