The Immaculate Collection reached number two in the United States, while topping the charts in the United Kingdom. It became Madonna's second album to be certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of over ten million copies in the United States. It also spent the second highest number of consecutive weeks at number one for a female solo artist in the United Kingdom, being at number one for a nine-week stint, before being surpassed by Adele's 21. Additionally, the album topped the charts in Australia, Canada and Finland, and the top five in France, the Netherlands and Spain.
"Justify My Love", the album's lead single, became Madonna's ninth number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. Its music video included sexual themes and was banned by MTV, becoming one of Madonna's most controversial singles. "Rescue Me" was released as the second single and became the highest-debuting single on Hot 100 by a female artist at that time, entering the chart at number 15 and eventually peaking at number nine. "Holiday" was reissued in Europe as the album's third single, and peaked at nine in the UK. The album has sold 31 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling compilation album by a solo artist and one of the best-selling albums of all time.
The actual title of the album, The Immaculate Collection, is a loose pun on the Immaculate Conception, the conception of the Virgin Mary without the stain of original sin. In the booklet, Madonna dedicated the album to "The Pope, my divine inspiration". This led to many believing it was dedicated to Pope John Paul II, but it was actually dedicated to her brother, Christopher Ciccone, who had spent the year on tour with Madonna on the Blond Ambition World Tour and whose nickname is "The Pope".
All the songs on The Immaculate Collection, with the exception of the two new songs, were remixed by Shep Pettibone alongside Goh Hotoda and Michael Hutchinson through QSound, a then-new technology that gives recordings three-dimensional sound on standard stereo systems. It became the first album to feature the technology. Tracks have been edited down from their original lengths to decrease the overall running time. Minor changes and additions have been applied to every track, for example, "Material Girl" has a new outro in place of the original fade-out. "Into the Groove", "Like a Prayer" and "Express Yourself" have been remixed by Pettibone for this compilation. Pettibone commented,
Well, actually some of the songs we changed up a bit, but most of the songs we kept in their original form. Like "Holiday", "Lucky Star", et cetera, et cetera, those were all the original productions. The remix was just really to create the Q Sound, and make the song kind of envelop you when you listened to it in a certain sweet spot in front of the speakers [...] That wasn't easy to do. But then again, that was one of those -- you know, "Hurry up, this has to be out last week". That was a rush rush job.
"Ingrid had written some of the lyrics on the verses. For certain personal and professional reasons at the time, we agreed not to put her name on it. We signed a contract. She gets the royalties. It became a big hit and she tried to make like she did the whole thing".
Two new songs were added to the album along with Madonna's greatest hits. "Justify My Love" was originally written by Ingrid Chavez, Prince's protégé and friend, and Lenny Kravitz; he and producer André Betts composed the music while Chavez penned the lyrics based on a poem she had written for Kravitz. Kravitz added the title hook and chorus to the demo while Madonna altered one line. Chavez was not credited for the song and later sued Kravitz in 1992: she received an out-of-court settlement, and gained a co-writing credit for her work. When the lawsuit was settled, Chavez's attorney Steven E. Kurtz clarified that Madonna's additional writing credit was not questioned in the lawsuit.
"Justify My Love" is a trip hop song which contains spoken word vocals by Madonna. A remix of the song, titled "The Beast Within", was included on some single releases. The remix uses only the chorus and certain lines of the original song, with the verses being replaced by passages from the Book of Revelation. The song first garnered media attention early in 1991 when the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the song of containing anti-semitic lyrics, specifically the lyric "those who say that they are Jews, but they are not. They are a Synagogue of Satan". Madonna promptly responded: "I certainly did not have any anti-Semitic intent when I included a passage from the Bible on my record. It was a commentary on evil in general. My message, if any, is pro-tolerance and anti-hate. The song is, after all, about love".
An upbeat dance and house track called "Rescue Me" was also added to the compilation as a new song. Lyrically, "Rescue Me" expresses the extinguishing of deranged behavior in a relationship. The song opens with a heartbeat and thunder, followed by a prominent bass line, a piano, snaps, and percussion. Madonna begins singing "I'm talking /I believe in the power of love /I'm singing /I believe that you can rescue me" before engaging in the breathy, spoken word vocals, like on "Justify My Love". She sings "Rescue me /It's hard to believe your love has given me hope /Rescue me /It's hard to believe I'm drowning, baby throw out your rope" over the chorus. At one point of the song, Madonna sings the line "And right while I am kneeling there I suddenly begin to care", which was likened to oral sex.
"Justify My Love" was released as the album's lead single on November 6, 1990. It became her ninth number one on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the top two weeks, and made number two on the UK Singles Chart. Around the world, "Justify My Love" also topped the charts in many countries including Canada, Finland and the top five in many countries including Australia and Spain. The black and white music video was banned from MTV, due to its explicit content, including sex, lesbianism, homosexual kissing, and nudism. Due to this prohibition, the music video was released as a VHS video-single, the first video-single released in this format, and went on to become the most-selling in this format of all time.
"Rescue Me" was released as the second single, debuting at number fifteen, becoming the highest-debuting single on Billboard Hot 100 by a female artist at that time, peaking at number nine. but reaching number five on Billboard’s Airplay chart. The single also reached the top ten in Ireland and the United Kingdom. "Rescue Me" has sold 134,767 copies in the United Kingdom as of August 2008.
The Immaculate Collection received universal acclaim from critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic graded the album five out of five stars. He starts by saying that "On the surface... [the album] appears to be a definitive retrospective of Madonna's heyday in the '80s". However, his opinion is that remastering in Q-Sound, making some of the songs faster than the original versions and other changes, makes it so "while all the hits are present, they're simply not in their correct versions." Nevertheless, he concludes that "until the original single versions are compiled on another album, The Immaculate Collection is the closest thing to a definitive retrospective."Billboard commented that it was "irresistible holiday buying fare", and noted that the QSound process added "unheard detail and depth to the recordings".Lucy O'Brien in her book Madonna: Like an Icon deemed the album a "seamless marriage of high-octane pop and dance", as well as "the ultimate party record".Robert Christgau gave the album an A+ rating and called it "the greatest album of [Madonna's] mortal life". He said that the album features "seventeen hits, more than half of them indelible classics."Select's Andrew Harrison wrote: "Given that she's had the good grace to leave out second-raters [...] it's hard to fault this wonderful collection. You might find better music this Christmas but you'll never hear better pop".
Rolling Stone gave the album five stars, and called it the "standard bearer for Madonna compilations", as well as "one of the greatest greatest hits albums of all time", summing up the first stage of Madonna's career "flawlessly". Danny Eccleston from Q magazine said its "ambitious title" was justified by "magnificent content: 17-track best of enhanced by the hard-faced sexiness of Lenny Kravitz-aided Justify My Love (and Rescue Me)". David Browne from Entertainment Weekly opined that the album was "as relentless as the woman herself", and "refocuses our attention on how brilliant her records have been over the years — and gives us a peek into the obstacles she might face as her career enters the '90s". Jim Farber of the same magazine gave the album an A rating, saying: "More than a mere greatest-hits set, it's hands down the catchiest collection of '80s singles." Ross Bennett from Mojo called the album "truly the best of best of's" and stated: "This has to be right up there with Abba Gold as a collection of singles so deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness [...] But there is no denying the pop nous behind Ms Ciccone's first 15 years of hits, here brilliantly packaged in, gasp, chronological order". Kevork Djansezian of Tulsa World commented that "if the controversy, the outrage, the boycotts, and the sexual revolution it created don't spark your interest, at least you can have a great time dancing and lip-synching to its acclaimed and definitely catchy pop tracks." Marcus Berkmann stated that the album "is perfectly named, as it was released at the very moment that she became no good at all, and so includes none of the bilge she has recorded since".
Blender magazine ranked the album at number one on their list of "100 Greatest American Albums of All Time". In 2012, the album was ranked number 184 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In September 2020, an updated edition of the Rolling Stone list was published, showing the album rising 46 spots, at number 138.
In the United States, The Immaculate Collection debuted at number 32 on the Billboard 200 chart on the week dated December 1, 1990. It later reached number two, and remained 141 weeks on the chart, and has sold 10 million copies across the nation. The album was certified Diamond (10× Platinum) by Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after its shipments. As of 2016 the album has sold over 5,992,000 copies in the US after the advent of the Nielsen SoundScan era in 1991.
On November 24, 1990, The Immaculate Collection debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart, remaining there for nine weeks, becoming the biggest selling UK album in 1990, also breaking the record for the longest consecutive weeks at number one by a solo female artist, a record that would not be matched until 2011 by Adele's album 21. In the United Kingdom, The Immaculate Collection was certified 12× Platinum by British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipment of 3.6 million copies. In France, the album was certified Diamond for shipment of one million copies of the album. In August 2018, the album was confirmed by the Official Charts Company to have sold 3.77 million copies, making it the biggest-selling album by a solo female artist in British history, the fourth biggest-selling greatest hits album in the UK by any artist, and the 12th biggest-selling album of all time in the UK.
All tracks are remixed using QSound by Shep Pettibone, with the exception of "Justify My Love" and "Rescue Me", which was later released on each single. The remixes are composed featuring elements of the originally available 12" remixes on corresponding singles.
Chavez sued Kravitz in July 1991, claiming that she wrote "Justify My Love" but received no credit. She received an out-of-court settlement and gained a co-writing credit.
La Isla Bonita, Like a Prayer & Express Yourself are represented as their 7" remix versions on this album.
CD Limited Edition Box Set — The Royal Box containing a Satin Digi-Pak CD with VHS containing "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards), a 24" × 36" color poster and postcard assortment, housed in a lingerie-inspired LP sized box.
CD Limited Edition Gold Edition — Rare 1995 Taiwanese exclusive limited 'Gold' edition in a unique gold-bordered slipcase.
CD Australian Tour Limited Edition - unique picture disc with a collectors number stamped on the front cover. Issued in Australia only in 1993 to commemorate The Girlie Show Tour, Madonna's first tour of Australia.
Cassette — containing the 17-track compilation album.
Cassette Limited Edition Box Set — The Royal Box containing the Cassette version with VHS containing "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards), a 24" × 36" color poster and postcard assortment, housed in a lingerie-inspired LP sized box.
Mini Disc — 17-track compilation, released October 25, 1999.
VHS — 13-track video compilation, contains "Oh Father", not included on the audio releases, and "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards).
Laserdisc — 13-track double disc video compilation, contains "Oh Father", not included on the audio releases and "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards).
VCD — Asia only, 13-track video compilation, contains "Oh Father", not included on the audio releases and "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards).
DVD — 13-track video compilation released in November 1999, contains "Oh Father", not included on the audio releases and "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards).
iTunes version — released digitally in 2005, contains different versions of: "Lucky Star" (U.S. remix) – 7:15 and the album version of "Borderline" – 5:17 all other tracks are the same as the original release.