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Sooner or Later (Madonna song)

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Title: Sooner or Later (Madonna song)  
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Subject: Stephen Sondheim, I'm Breathless, Dick Tracy, Dick Tracy (1990 film), Jimmy Van Heusen
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Sooner or Later (Madonna song)

"Sooner or Later"
Song by Madonna from the album I'm Breathless
Released May 21, 1990
Recorded 1990
Genre Jazz
Length 3:20
Writer Stephen Sondheim
I'm Breathless track listing
"He's a Man"
"Sooner or Later"
"Hanky Panky"

"Sooner or Later" is a song recorded by the American singer Madonna, and written by the American composer Stephen Sondheim, for the 1990 film, Dick Tracy. Released that same year on Madonna's album I'm Breathless, the song won Sondheim an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1991.[1] The song's title as listed in the film credits, and in the official Academy Award records, includes the subtitle "(I Always Get My Man)"; however, this subtitle is not shown on I'm Breathless.


  • Background 1
  • Composition 2
  • Critical reception 3
  • Live performances and covers 4
  • Credits and personnel 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8


In 1990, Madonna was part of the film Dick Tracy starring as Breathless Mahoney—a new role introduced for her— with Warren Beatty playing the titular character.[2] Madonna told Premiere magazine that initially she had waited for Beatty to call her for the film. But when he did not, the singer decided to involve herself voluntarily.[3] She pursued the part of Mahoney, but offered to work for minimum wages to avoid favoritism.[4] The film was released in the United States on June 15, 1990,[5] and was the third-highest opening weekend of 1990.[6] Dick Tracy was the ninth-highest grossing film in the US in 1990, and number twelve globally.[6][7] The film also received positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times praised the matte paintings, art direction and prosthetic makeup design, stating: "Dick Tracy is one of the most original and visionary fantasies I've seen on a screen".[8]

According to J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of Madonna: An Intimate Biography, by the 1980s record labels started to release albums which were closely associated with a film, thereby gain double promotion. These were mostly termed as soundtracks although many of them were not related to the film. After the shooting for Dick Tracy was over, Madonna started working on the soundtrack. She had begun recording three songs by Stephen Sondheim for the film—"Sooner or Later", "More" and "What Can You Lose"—which would be part of the album, but also had to write and develop new songs comparable in style to the previous.[9] In her favor, she produced the entire album, including the Sondheim songs. "I want people to think of me as a musical comedy actress. That's what this album is about for me. It's a stretch. Not just pop music, but songs that have a different feel to them, a theatrical feel", she said at the time.[10]


"Sooner or Later" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1991 at the 63rd annual Academy Awards.

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According to Rikky Rooksby, author of The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna, the harmonic and melodic styles were more "complex" than the songs which Madonna was accustomed to, hence she found it difficult and demanding. She spoke about the "wilderness" of the tunes, saying that she was not confident of doing justice to the songs, and neither was Sondheim. But he kept on encouraging the singer so that the recording sessions would not be affected.[3] Madonna also recruited producer Patrick Leonard and engineer Bill Bottrell to help her with the project. She and Leonard toiled to create music that would fit the style and production of the film, set in the days of the Untouchables law enforcement.[9][1]

One of the Sondheim songs, "Sooner or Later", is a 1930s jazz ballad with comping piano, brushed drum sounds, double bass and horns. Conjuring the atmosphere of a smoky nightclub, the song finds Madonna in her lowest range as the melody shifts continuously.[11] It opens with a "lazy" clarinet solo and casts Madonna as a kind of sexual G-Girl. "I always get my man", she sings "If you're on my list it's just a question of when".[12]

The song is the signature song of nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney (portrayed by Madonna), and primarily performed during a montage just after Dick Tracy has placed a microphone in Alphonse "Big Boy" Caprice's boardroom and operator, "Bug" Bailey, in the attic immediately above it while using a police raid of the building as a diversion. With this information source, Tracy begins a wave of arrests much to Big Boy's consternation. However, for all Tracy's success, his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart, has had enough of his apparent valuing his career over their relationship and packs to leave.[13]

Critical reception

Lucky Lara from Manila Standard Today listed the Sondheim songs as highlights from the album, commenting how they fit Madonna's "nasal voice as a glove", and their addition to Madonna's catalogue of songs would give her "the edge in future career moves". According to Lara, with "Sooner or Later", Madonna "shows off a side to her singing that audiences haven't heard yet, and what a side it is. She proves to her critics that she isn't just the glitter and trash of the dance club scene, and that she can belt it out nearly as well as the best of them".[14] According to Ray Boren from Deseret News "is very much a period piece, with an intimate club feel".[15] Another positive review came from Mark Coleman from Rolling Stone, who said Madonna's "breathy emotionality" fit "Sooner or Later" "like a glove", saying she did not coo the line "I always get my man"; for him, she "spits it out like fire, bringing fresh conviction to a somewhat generic line".[16] According to Jon Pareles of The New York Times, songs including "Sooner or Later" are "typical Sondheim, with agile wordplay and devious chromatic harmonies".[17]

Live performances and covers

On the 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, Madonna performed "Sooner or Later" atop of a piano, clad in elegant attire, as a chanteuse with piano player in a cabaret.[18] Two different performances were taped and released on video, the Blond Ambition – Japan Tour 90, taped in Yokohama, Japan, on April 27, 1990,[19] and the Live! – Blond Ambition World Tour 90, taped in Nice, France, on August 5, 1990.[20]

At the 1991 Academy Awards, Madonna appeared with singer Michael Jackson as her date and performed "Sooner or Later".[21] According to journalist Liz Smith, Madonna had promised to perform at the award show if either "Sooner or Later" or "More" was nominated in the Best Original Song category.[22] She wore a long, tight, white dress designed by Bob Mackie and covered in sequins and pearls.[21] On her neck she wore $20 million worth of jewelry from Harry Winston. Taraborrelli recalled that Madonna had appropriated every move and mannerisms of Marilyn Monroe for the performance, making it a tribute to the actress.[23] When she appeared onstage, there was technical difficulty resulting in the mike not appearing from below the ground, and a stage-hand passing it to her.[24] Billboard ranked it as the seventh "most awesome" Oscar performance of all time, saying that "Madonna gave a performance that took us back to the glamorous days of old Hollywood."[25]

"Sooner or Later" has been performed by CSO conductor Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra,[26] Jane Krakowski, and Karen Akers.[27] Bernadette Peters included the song on her 1997 live album Sondheim, etc.[28] Karen Ziemba performed the song during the concert "Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall" in New York, in 1992.[29]

Credits and personnel

Credits adapted from I'm Breathless album liner notes, Sire Records and Warner Bros. Records.[30]


  1. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 137.  
  2. ^ Morton 2002, p. 98
  3. ^ a b Rooksby 2004, p. 70
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Dick Tracy".  
  6. ^ a b "1990 Domestic Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 20, 2009. 
  7. ^ "1990 Worldwide Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 20, 2009. 
  8. ^  
  9. ^ a b Taraborrelli 2008, pp. 187–88
  10. ^ Taraborrelli 2008, pp. 182
  11. ^ Rooksby 2004, p. 72
  12. ^ Tianen, Dave (June 1, 1990). "Madonna Just a Flash In the Past".  
  13. ^ O'Brien 2008, p. 78
  14. ^ Lara, Lucky (June 3, 1990). "Madonna's New LP Shows Her Versatility".  
  15. ^ Boren, Ray (May 31, 1990). "'"Quick dick Tracy, try to find real Madonna on 'Breathless.  
  16. ^ Coleman, Mark (June 14, 1990). "I'm Breathless by Madonna".  
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Brown, Patricia Leigh (June 17, 1990). "POP; Video and Theater Shape a New Madonna".  
  19. ^ Madonna (1990). Blond Ambition – Japan Tour 90 (VHS). Warner-Pioneer Japan. 
  20. ^ Madonna (1990).  
  21. ^ a b Guilbert 2002, p. 132
  22. ^  
  23. ^ Taraborrelli 2008, p. 218
  24. ^ Hoogenboom, Lynn (March 26, 1993). "Madonna's Missing Mike and Other Oscar Crises".  
  25. ^ Staff, Billboard (February 24, 2012). "10 Awesome Oscar Live Performances". Billboard. Retrieved August 31, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Erich Kunzel Discography". Retrieved May 9, 2009. 
  27. ^ "Sooner or Later"Karen Akers . CD Universe. Retrieved May 2009. 
  28. ^ "Berndette Peters Merchandise". 
  29. ^ New York Magazine 22 June 1992, p. 59, at Google Books
  30. ^ Ciccone, Madonna (1990). "Liner notes".  


  • Rooksby, Rikky (2004). The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna.  

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