With all due respect (and possible future apologies) to Beyoncé, whose path recently overlapped with hers on the “Vogue”-sampling “Break My Soul (The Queens Remix),” Madonna is set this week to remind the world why she is the best-selling female recording artist of all time and one of the most influential stars in pop history. Even without torch-passing MTV “triple kisses” with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, or the conspicuous similarities between “Express Yourself” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” the single-monikered singer, songwriter, and actress has made a singular and irrefutable impact on music, videos, stage performance, filmmaking, and the very notion of celebrity. Madonna has the most number one singles by a woman in Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, and the U.K., holds the number two spot on U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and has the highest grosses of any worldwide-touring female artist.
The compilation Finally Enough Love, due on August 19, commemorates another of her achievements: being the only recording artist with 50 Number One songs on any Billboard chart. To prevent our staff from descending into chaotic factions as they debated which of her albums—or eras—was her best, The A.V. Club decided to rank just Madonna’s number one songs on the Billboard Pop Chart. For some, the remarkable takeaway of this ranking will be the number of stone-cold classics that are excluded because they didn’t reach the top spot. Still, the 12 tracks featured here chart a path through Madonna’s chameleonic career while underscoring her growth and versatility as arguably the defining pop artist of the past four decades.